It’s been a lousy writing month. After the exhilaration of the San Francisco Writers Conference in early February, I received rejections from two agents. That makes a total of five rejections for my novel The Mothers’ Group.
Five rejections doesn’t sound bad, you might say. Many writers get dozens of rejections. Scores of rejections. Hundreds of rejections. And then they finally publish The Naked and the Dead (12 rejections). Or Gone With the Wind (25+ rejections). Or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (121 rejections).
And most of the rejections I got were lovely rejections – not form letters, not generic “dear writer thank you for your submission but we must decline” letters, but thoughtful, personal notes saying they liked many things about the book BUT.
For a while, I veered back and forth about how to deal with this. One option was to soldier on, and keep sending the manuscript to more agents, figuring it would just take perseverance until I found someone who “clicked” with it.
The other option was to go back to the drawing board – WAY back, beyond the continuous small revisions I’ve been doing – and dramatically revamp things.
It’s tempting in this kind of situation to feel like a victim. There are so many things you can point to, and some of them are true. Publishers are all chasing the mega-million-dollar celebrity best-seller. Publishers are less willing to take chances these days on new writers whose work doesn’t involve exploding tanker trucks or vampires. Some agents really just want formulaic genre books. Some agents just don’t “get” what I’m trying to do.
And so on… down the slippery slope to the point of: They are all idiots and they don’t recognize brilliant talent when they see it!
I don’t like people who act like victims. Certainly there are many people who suffer injustice in this world, but to me, the most admirable victims don’t act like victims – they don’t sit around feeling sorry for themselves but they get out there and do something. Organize a union or a petition or a boycott. March into City Hall and demand action. Move their child to a better school. Etc.
It’s been written about before, but it continues to be disturbing how America – the most powerful country on earth – seems to have developed a nationwide victim mentality. Everyone is a victim! The Tea Partyers and Fox News moguls say they are being victimized by Obama. Politicians in trouble say they are victims of the Mainstream Media. (And you wondered what Sarah Palin and Charles Rangel had in common!) Conservative Christians say they are being oppressed by the Gay Lobby….
As a reporter, the sure-fire sign that I had a wacko on the phone was when a caller would careen through a long unhappy story blaming every other possible person for his or her misfortunes, without admitting even a tiny iota of responsibility himself or herself.
So it was with some misgiving that I realized I was starting to think that way about my book: They are all idiots and they don’t recognize brilliant talent when they see it.
In any event, I decided to try and fix the manuscript before sending it out to more agents. Perseverance is a virtue, but so is being able to hear criticism. I got in touch with Alan Rinzler, a very experienced freelance editor whom I had hired in December for input on my other novel, and asked him for help with this one. (Alan has a blog about writing and publishing, which you can find here.)
We’re meeting tomorrow morning.
I don’t think I’m going to like what he tells me. I suspect I am going to have to make some big changes. It will be hard. It will be scary. It will be discouraging. If these were easy changes, I would have made them already. Coming home from our meeting, I will probably have to remind myself to get on the BART train, not in front of it.
But I hope the input helps me get to the other side of this valley of writerly death.
The alternative is to keep sending the manuscript out, and keep getting rejected, while waiting for the One True Agent who recognizes my incredible brilliance.
The alternative is to become that wacko on the phone, or Charles Rangel or Sarah Palin.