I told my chiropractor I was trying to get a book published. He always asks me what’s new and exciting before muscling my spine into place. I usually don’t have anything to say. But that particular day, I shared my writing journey with him because I was on pins and needles waiting for news. I had an agent promising to have my full manuscript read within two weeks.
My “yes” was in reach.
It happened so fast. The pendulum in my mind swung back and forth. This is it. This is ridiculous. She’ll hate it. She loves it. I’m a talentless hack. This book is damn good. Lather, rinse, repeat for a week.
I had never gotten that far. Last year, I queried agents for the first time to resounding silence. When you’re in the query trenches, checking your email is like strapping a bomb to your chest and hoping it doesn’t explode. Two times out of twenty that bomb didn’t go off. It was thrilling.
I kept myself from stray thoughts of grandeur. No imagining swag or book signings or anything that wasn’t within the parameters of having a manuscript accepted by the agent. I tried to stay grounded knowing it was more than likely I would be rejected and I needed to prepare myself emotionally for the fall.
Waiting was hell. I knew there were two possible endings: she says, “Yes, I love it!” and I have an agent; or she says, “No, thanks” and I start all over again. There was nothing in the pipeline at the time aside from this agent and an opportunity I turned down.
The email came on a Monday afternoon, one hour after I’d received another rejection. The content in the shrunken snippet on my phone always starts off the same. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your work…” I always look for the word “unfortunately.” As soon as I read it, I know there isn’t any possible conclusion to the rest of the sentence aside from a pass. I didn’t see it, so I proceeded with caution. Several sentences of praise later, I spotted it.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m the right person to represent this.
My legs shook. I read it again, and again, and again. I dissected words and their meanings like they weren’t in my native tongue.
I contacted all my trusted critique partners and writing mentors and my mom and gave them the bad news. I cried. I wallowed. I drank most of a bottle of wine my husband went to get for me and screamed at Becca for picking Garrett on The Bachelorette when Blake was an obvious choice and Garrett was just a puppy in human form. Then I raised my empty glass to Blake because I knew his rejection intimately. Lucky for me I didn’t have to endure it on prime time TV while wearing a suit in The Maldives as sweat literally poured off my eyebrows. But I digress.
In an instant, my little spark of hope was gone. Over the next several days I looked at my agent list with bitterness in my mouth. My eyes glazed over with submission requirements and names until I couldn’t decipher the difference anymore. I just saw one word.
It took a few days to shake the heartbreak and make a plan to move on. My writing was rusty, I hated my current project, my sour mood infiltrated every part of my life. Then I remembered something my chiropractor mused on when I told him how hard it was to wait: “We spend a lot of time waiting. We work hard for degrees and wait to get hired. We meet people and wait for the right spouse. We wait to have kids and then we wait even longer for them to be born. And what happens when it doesn’t work out? We put ourselves together and start again.”
Rejection is part of the process of writing and I was well aware of how many levels of it I’ll have to smash through until I get where you want to be. But I wasn’t prepared for how much it would hurt. I allowed myself to be sad but, as a fellow writing partner said, I couldn’t stay there. It’s taken me a few weeks to process all that happened and I have to set new goals and look forward and try again. That hard pass ripped the BandAid off, allowing me to take new risks. I submitted the first page of my manuscript for a critique, which helped me improve the entry into my story. I’m considering a few contests. I’ve got a new idea for a series of short stories. No matter what, I have to push through it.
This week, authors posted their #shareyourrejection stories to Twitter to show the universality of being told no. It’s cliche as hell but getting rejected means you tried. So much of writing is done in solitude and putting it out there for public consumption is terrifying. Rejections are hard, but they showed me what I was made of. In the meantime, I’ll be petitioning Merriam-Webster to have the word “unfortunately” removed from the dictionary forever.