I could’ve started this post off on a happier note, but a) no, b) it does suck, and c) the title is catchy, and the first thing people tell you about writing is that you need to hook your reader in.
But here goes: about two months ago, I finished my first novel. It took over a year to write (although almost half of it was written over the summer), and in its rough form, clocked in at almost 70,000 words. I’d survived writer’s block with most of my sanity still intact.
I’d made it through those marathon periods of inspiration that left my fingers stiff and sore.
I had made it.
I was happy—ecstatic, even, because my problem was finishing stories and the longest original piece I’d finished before that was eight thousand words long—and finally, my manuscript was complete. Finished. Fini. Terminado. Finito. I was done. I felt like the proud mother of an extraordinarily unconventional child. I could lay my characters to rest, content in the knowledge that I’d left them where they were supposed to be, that I’d solved their problems. I had succeeded—I’d finished writing the monstrosity that had occupied a space in the back of my mind for the last fourteen months. Now, all I’ll have to do is edit this thing, I’d thought to myself, a peaceful smile dancing upon my lips.
I was wrong. So, so wrong.
I was on a deadline—my goal was to have my second draft completed before school started. Two days before my first day of junior year, I discarded this goal because I was only five chapters in and I was so not going to be able to find the time to edit 50 000+ words between stressing about school and attempting to have a social life. It just wasn’t possible. I couldn’t do it. So I gritted my teeth and said to myself fine—you win this time, Universe. I’ll just set my final draft deadline to my birthday. This goal was more doable than the last one; I met it at the end of September with three weeks to spare, after four revisions and much grumbling.
Here’s something people don’t tell you about revisions: when you read through what you’ve written after you’ve finally finished it, you’ll think wow, this needs a lot of work. And then you have to prepare yourself for the operation of a lifetime: resuscitating your manuscript and making it the most awesome thing in the history of awesome. You’re no longer a writer—you’re a plastic surgeon and your story is the patient. You’ll slice a little off here and a little off there. You’ll give it a few facelifts and several tummy tucks, maybe even a round of botox or two. You’ll completely cut your story apart and then stitch it back together into an entirely new entity. And then when everything’s over, you’ll recline in your office chair with your hands behind your head and gaze proudly at the computer screen, thinking I wrote this blob of words, and it’s actually not half bad. I am awesome. I am so cool. I am the coolest person ever. And then, firm in your belief that you’ve bettered your story to the best of your abilities, set your manuscript aside because if you don’t, you’d just keep on revising and revising until you’re forty-five and working on The Manuscript: Revision One-Hundred and Thirty Two.
And then came the hardest part of all: writing query letters.
If there’s one thing I suck at, it’s explaining anything to do with myself, especially my stories. I just can’t seem to be able to do it. I can write them just fine, but when someone asks, “Oh, cool, you wrote a novel? What’s it about?” I freeze up, elevator pitch be damned. So writing query letters and explaining who I am and what my book is about and would they please look at my story because my mom thinks it’s really good is absolutely nerve-wracking. Tell us a brief bio about yourself—i.e. your achievements, any awards you’ve won, etc. Uh, once I ate an entire family-sized bag of salt-and-vinegar chips?
Yet somehow, with the help of lots of junk food and many a whine of, “I can’t do this!” I managed to scrape together a query letter. It sat in the drafts folder of the email account I’d made for my writing for a while as I shouted at myself to just click the bloody send button, Alex. Eventually, I did click the bloody send button. And over the course of the next few weeks, I sent query letters to a few more agents.
Let me just say it: with my ADHD, I’m impatient at the best of times. So waiting an indefinable amount of minutes and days and seconds and wondering have they opened it yet? Do you think they like it? Why haven’t they answered me back? Was it too juvenile? Was the summary too boring? Oh God, did I make a spelling mistake? was a kind of very personal, very painful torture.
My first rejection came two days after I sent the first query letter: Dear A.C., thank you so much for allowing our agency to consider your material. Unfortunately, after carefully reviewing your query, we’ve determined that this particular project isn’t the right fit for our agency at this time. I was kind of sad and maybe a little mad, because I was so sure that this particular agent would like my story. But I decided to wait on feeling sad until I got a response from another agent.
Two days later, I got another response. One of the agents wanted a partial submission of the first 30 pages of my manuscript! I was ecstatic; I skipped around the house for the rest of the day. Someone was interested in my manuscript! Of course, the excitement soon faded into nerves again and I spent the next ten days waiting and worrying and giving myself premature wrinkles.
Then, eleven days after the agent asked for the submission, they emailed me back and said thanks but no thanks. After a careful reading, we are sorry to say that we don’t believe this project is right for our agency. Again, I felt my hopes plummet. I’d poured my soul and whatever was left of my sanity into writing this thing. Shortly thereafter, I’d amassed a grand total of six rejections and all of them said the same thing: my novel wasn’t a good fit for them. Somewhere inside my brain, a voice reminded me that everyone gets rejected—hell, J.K. Rowling was rejected something like a dozen times, and look where she is now. So I just told myself to shut up and stop worrying. With a renewed sense of calm, I revised my query and sent it off to more agents…and then watched my rejection total break eleven (and then fourteen, and then sixteen).
Don’t get me wrong—I’m grateful for even the ability to write this story. I’m not trying to sound like a whiny little kid. And I’m sure that if my manuscript ever gets picked up, I’ll look back at this post and laugh at it. But trying to get published sucks.