Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Say Die

My first real impulse was to shave my head. My second was to get drunk. I ended up doing neither.

I wasn't sure I was going to blog about this, but what the hell, right? We're all writers around here. You'll understand.

Last night, I got the mother of all rejections. It's a long story, what happened, so here's the quick version. Last summer, I started shopping my first "real" novel--or at least one that felt ready and that my readers loved. The first company that looked at it called the next day and requested exclusivity. They ultimately passed, but I was excited. We had something cooking. You could feel it. Another big publisher passed quickly, but with a very nice note: "This author can really write, but it's not right for our list." And then on the third submission, we seemed to hit pay dirt. A Big Publisher was interested. In fact, THE Big Publisher was interested. We were going to acquisitions. 

What followed were the longest 18 months of my life. They liked the book, but not quite enough to offer a contract. They wanted revisions. So we went through two rounds of serious revisions, each round with a penetrating, single-space, multipage rewrite letter. I worked round the clock some weeks. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote. I've never worked this hard on anything. I deconstructed the book a dozen ways. 

I submitted the final draft last September. They had it for a long time, and in the meantime, the economy tanked, publishing ground to a halt, fads came and went, and we heard nothing. Slowly, painfully, I started to become convinced they weren't going to buy it after all. And they didn't. Ultimately, although there was much to like about the project, they said it wasn't character-driven, that it was plot driven. It was fun and fast and smart, but there was no transformation of character. Or at least not enough. 

So. What do you feel when something like this happens? My first reaction, when my agent told me they were passing, was something like shock. I was simply numb. I had prepared myself to hear the word NO, but hearing it in real life was still a hard thing. My second reaction, oddly enough, was relief. I could write again. I was out from underneath this massive stone that has been hanging over me all this time. Sure, I would have preferred to sell it, but I also needed this chapter in my writer's journey to end. Later, I thought the worst part would be telling my family and friends that the book got rejected. Many people have lived this drama with me. I'm so grateful to the people who were happy for me. My mom was so excited ...

But I can honestly say I never felt sorry for myself, and I never felt bitter. I never railed against the publishing industry, and I never said, "But so many other WORSE books get published! Look at the crap that's out there! Why not mine?!" Perhaps because I never thought the universe owed me this. And perhaps because, even now, the morning after, I can't say this was a negative experience. I learned an incredible amount about how to write a novel, and I'm not sure I could have learned it any other way. I might have missed the lesson had it not been delivered with the business end of a sledgehammer. Finally, because I think writing is about growth as a person. You can never quit if you're serious about it. So I've got a new book ready to go, one that I strongly believe in. And I'm working on another after that. 

So there it is. My story. I started this blog because I was at the end. I knew we were waiting for an answer, and some days, the pressure was just brutal. I virtually stopped writing because we were stuck. We couldn't shop the new book. We couldn't shop the old book. We could do nothing but wait, wait, wait ... 

All that's over now. I'm free again. Yeah, it pretty much sucks, but I'm really not back at square one. I'll never be the same writer I was last June, when my agent called and said, "I think we've got a sale!" And I remain convinced of one thing: my call is still waiting out there. I just have to find it.

25 comments:

Alex said...

When the second one becomes a total hit, they'll come back begging for the first one.

Erica Orloff said...

My first instinct was to shave MY head, and then get drunk. ;-)

I really, kick in the stomach, felt this one with you, and yet . . . I also know the stuff you are writing now. It's a journey and man . . . you're a blackbelt now, a sensai.

Listen, when I sent you that article yesterday, not the same emotional thing at all, but I was like, "WHY do I do this to myself?!?!?!" And the answer is because I'm a writer and sometimes the lessons are in the brutal stuff and the sledgehammer rewrites.

Still, if I was there, we'd go out for sake and sushi. I'd be your designated driver. ;-)

Jude Hardin said...

That's brutal, man.

Would it help if I shave my head and get drunk tonight for you? I was planning to anyway...

There still might be hope for that book with another publisher, no?

LurkerMonkey said...

Alex,

Ha ha. My list of people on the "I'll show them" list is disturbingly long :)

LurkerMonkey said...

Jude,

I always appreciate a good buzz, even if it's someone else's.

As for the book still being viable, well, I guess so. JP is all fired up to start sending it out, and we've got another that's just waiting to go. Truth is, it's nice to be back in motion. I'm not very good at doing nothing.

LurkerMonkey said...

Next time you're down this way ... we can preorder a gallon of sake. What else is there to say? Except thanks. And you're definitely driving.

Mark Terry said...

You know, when you and I talked on the phone you mentioned this and I hemmed and hawed and tried not to go all negative on you because, well, what good does that do?

But what I was really thinking was along the lines of, "If they think it's good enough to publish, they should offer the contract THEN ask for the rewrites."

That's my stubborn business side kicking in, by the way, and I know you've got one too because you're making a living as a freelancer.

Anyway, it's a near-miss and if you're having a number of near-misses it's pretty much just a matter of time until you hit your target. Break a leg and all that.

LurkerMonkey said...

Mark,

Yeah ... well, it was a funny thing. We knew we were exposed, and of course, there is no contract until there's a contract. We tried to nail something down, trust me, because I initially thought the same thing you just said: that if they liked it, they would buy it and THEN work on it.

Turns out, that's not exactly true. During this process, I wrote a lot of authors and editors, asking for insight and advice. Turns out people are willing to give insight more often than not. And I found out this isn't as uncommon as I thought. Some writers end up with a contract. Some don't. I didn't.

Ultimately, it came down to this: it would have been foolish not to pursue an opportunity like this, no matter what the outcome. Everybody I asked agreed on that point. "What do you have to lose?" they said. "You work with top editors at a major house, you get a better book, and you have a good shot at landing a nice deal."

But believe me, there were LOTS of times I wanted to chuck the whole deal. Like you said, I'm not accustomed to giving away my time. Still, in the end, I wouldn't trade away this experience ...

spyscribbler said...

Totally with Mark: it's just a matter of time. If Erica says you're a sensai, I believe it. :-)

For the first four or five years I wrote, I could not write a single word while I was waiting to hear. Not one word. Not for my life.

I'm looking forward to jumping out of the little pond and trying to swim in the big pond this year. Hopefully no crippling while waiting, because, man, the big pond moves SLOWLY.

Mark Terry said...

Well, I don't doubt I would have done the rewrite, too. But I'd probably be cursing and swearing (is there a difference?) about how if they wanted this they should just offer a contract and I'd do all the rewriting they wanted.

That's us, contract sluts.

Erica Orloff said...

Mark:
I have a nice contract with Penguin for a book coming out next year. It was a year-long process of rewriting it to get my deal and that was without a contract. It's pretty common, I think . . . though that was the first time it happened to me, I have a dozen friends with decent houses who have been through it. Until you are a totally known entity to them, it's tough for them to make the call and know for sure the end product will be what they want.

I think the best (i.e., most sane) way to look at it, is if you love the book . . . it's basically being workshopped with a top editor and at the end, even if it's NOT bought, you did all this work and got all this insight.
E

L.C. Gant said...

Ugh, that's rough. My heart goes out to you. Seriously.

At the same time, I admire your positive attitude in the face of such rejection. I'm sure many, many other writers would have curled up into the fetal position, sucked their thumbs and vowed never to write again.

You didn't. You're moving forward. You've chosen to see the cup as half full (drunkenness and head shaving aside). That. Is. Awesome. I bow to you, sensai. And I wish you better luck next time around.

LurkerMonkey said...

Spy,

No kidding. If you had told me in the summer of '07 that I wouldnt' actually have an answer until the beginning of '09, I would have laughed out loud.

Good luck in the big pond this year!

LurkerMonkey said...

L.C.,

Thanks! Honestly, I think it helped a lot that this wasn't my real "first" book (it was actually my fourth or fifth) and that I didn't stop writing after I finished it (except for a six-month period in there). By now, I'm actually two projects away from this one, so it helps a lot when it comes to keeping it in perspective ...

Amy Nathan said...

I admire your honesty and your attitude. I don't waste time (well, not too much) complaining or feeling sorry for myself - not when I could be doing something else instead. You seem to be so ready to channel your energy and enthusiasm in another direction...and writers like you are the ones who make it.

They cynics and skeptics just piss everyone off.

Are you putting that first novel to bed or are you going to do "something" with it? Just curious.

L.C. Gant said...

Jon,
Your post inspired me so much that I linked to it in my post today. Feel free to read if you like. Just wanted you to know. Have a great night!

LurkerMonkey said...

L.C.,

Cool! Thanks ...

LurkerMonkey said...

Amy,

I asked my agent the same question: "So do we put this to bed?" He pretty much said, "Hell no!" The way he sees it, the book has only been submitted to a few publishers, and really only one has seen in its current form. Will we find a home for it? I don't really know, but I'm just going to let him do his thing and maybe he'll surprise me one day.

Zoe Winters said...

That sucks, I hate that that happened! :(

What are you going to do with that book now? You worked really hard on it, and you know it's good enough. What now?

Zoe Winters said...

Oh, also, I heart you, but I'm not shaving my head. :P

LurkerMonkey said...

Zoe,

I'm going to leave the book in the hands of my trusty agent to do with as he will ... I'm finishing another this week. With any luck, this story isn't over yet.

And no big deal about the hair. Here's how it went down at my house:

Me: "I know. I'm gonna shave my head ..."
My wife: "No."
Me: "C'mon! I've always wanted to ..."
My wife: "No."
Me: "Well, I've got to do something ..."
My wife: "No."

And so it ended.

Zoe Winters said...

hahaha. I want Tom to shave his head. He looks sexy bald. Right now he's got a tiny tiny amount of hair. (length, not like just a little bit and a big bald spot, lol)

But Tom is too lazy. He claims he might do it when the weather warms up. I'll tell you what sucks though...About a year ago, actually closer to a year and a half ago, I left him. We were separated, and he KNEW one day I was coming by the house to get some stuff, and he KNEW I'd wanted him to shave his head. So he was passive-aggressively shaving his head at me. I wanted to beat him with a stick.

But we really like each other again now.

LurkerMonkey said...

This sentence should be cast in bronze for its SHEER AWESOMENESS:

"So he was passive-aggressively shaving his head at me."

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