I’ve put off writing this post for a while, not because I didn’t think there wasn’t value to it, but because I was afraid to come out and admit weakness. I wanted to explore why after so many years of working to get published, and after finding some success, my writing came to a dead halt.
When Shell came out of the woodwork, I had nothing but rave reviews from beta readers. Agents raved the same, and within 24 hours of being out in the querying world, I had offers. Publishers complimented my writing, world-building, and the book itself. So why didn’t anything happen? I made two vital mistakes that many others warned me about.
1) This is a subjective business. I knew this going in, I knew it every step on the way, but for some reason I let it slip my mind that even the best written books cannot stand on their own. If you have a really amazing book, then you have to find the right agents and editors, who really love, love your book, you have to hit them at the right time, and they have to have the right market to sell it in. If all the cards don’t line up, then it doesn’t matter how amazing your book is, if you’re an unpublished author, the odds aren’t exactly in your favour.
The kind of rejection that I faced wasn’t usual for me. Up until this point in my career, each time I had been rejected, it had been a direct result of something in my writing, even if that had just been someone’s opinion. But here it felt as though I had done nothing wrong, got no real criticism at any point, and at the end, Shell was left to rot with everything else I had ever written. It is kind of shameful to say that I hit the wall after this point. I was just supposed to do it again, create another book, but the child in me was saying, “But I did it right. Why don’t I get my sticker?”
If there’s anything to learn from this, if my experience can help anyone else, it’s this: writing isn’t about filling in all the right holes, and sometimes it won’t work for no goddamn good reason. But you have to keep writing anyway. Because the alternative is to stop, and I can tell you that is a sucky feeling. When I realized not writing wasn’t what I wanted and returned to it all, I realize all quitting got me was a lot of wasted time.
2) Don’t stop working because someone’s working for you. I knew that an agent didn’t mean easy street. That an editor didn’t mean easy street. And yet I still grew lazy after I got my agent, thinking I could focus all on writing now that I had someone else taking care of my professional career. And that is where I made a big mistake. This is my career. When I get published, it will be through my hard work and effort. When I gave up this power in my head, I really believe I failed my own book. I kept my ideas for pitching to myself, I kept a lot of my requests for certain publishers to myself, and it caused my book to suffer. If I had been more on top of things, realized my agent wasn’t putting in the enthusiasm I wanted, I would have pulled back, found a new agent, and might have actually made the sale. But I surrendered that power, and I will regret that. Shell may live one day in print, but it doesn’t today because I didn’t try hard enough.
I think many people realize that an agent doesn’t mean the end of work. An agent is just a person, and sometimes they don’t make the right decisions, or it isn’t the right match. Don’t rely on other people to pull your weight. And if you can take anything from this, it’s this: Work on your career as well as your writing. Know who you are querying. Understand what your agent is doing. Always, always, always put yourself in the driver’s seat.
I have returned to writing, obviously, and don’t regret my hiatus, as I accomplished a lot in other areas of my life. But what I do regret is all that missed time. I hope there is something useful here in my shame. Don’t let the professional side of writing overwhelm your passion. Write for writing’s sake. And for the love of all things literary, don’t forget that in this business, “no” just means “keep trying.”