Obstacles often present themselves as opportunities. Today, I get to wrap my arms around that life lesson and give it a little squeeze. Here’s what I received from my prospective agent this afternoon:
“Dear Ms. Willis,
Thank you for your patience while we gathered a number of readings on THREE OF EVA. Prospective Agent #1 ultimately passed your manuscript to me, thinking I’d be the best match for it here. While we agree that you’re a strong and talented writer, unfortunately we just didn’t feel the level of connection to your work that would take us to the next step. So with regret, we must step aside.
This industry is dependably subjective, and other readers may well see immediate possibilities. All who work in publishing know of many instances where such has been the case. We hope you find a champion who loves the story as you’ve written it, but if you don’t secure representation and would like to submit future projects, we would be happy to hear from you again.
In the meantime, I apologize for the dilatory response, and hope you’ll accept our best wishes for success with THREE OF EVA.
Prospective Agent #2″
Yeah, I had to look up the word “dilatory,” too.
And I’m a writer.
At least I think I’m a writer.
When these things happen, I lose my footing a bit. The deck gets a little slippery when a highly-anticipated “yes” turns into a heart-crushing “no.”
Yes, I cried.
Yes, I listened to Brandi Carlile.
Yes, I wallowed. Still am, in fact. It waxes and wanes.
Being a writer is a tough gig. Some love you, some don’t. Some fawn, some gag. It’s subjective, shifty, a constantly-moving target. Sometimes my own words make me want to throw up. That’s how it goes.
Getting a “yes” from a highly-respected NYC agent would have been the pinnacle of my writing career. Funny, isn’t it? I’ve supported my family with my words for 20 years. I’ve been hired by numerous corporate clients, have written multiple books, have been published a number of times, have won my fair share of awards and accolades, have a loyal blog following. But all my self-confidence lies in an unknown literary agent giving me her stamp of approval. The stamp that reads, “Yes, you’re good enough. Yes, the world will love you. Yes, your words need to be read.” (That’s what the stamp says… really. You’ll just have to trust me on this one.)
It’s a bit fucked up, don’t you think? This notion that someone else has to say I’m good enough before I believe it? Before the rest of the world gets the opportunity to determine whether or not its true?
But when a Big No comes my way, I always go back to wondering if this is really what I’m meant to do. At 42, my little-girl knuckles feel like they’ve been slapped with a nun’s ruler. The nun who says, “No! Don’t do that!”
I hear you, Sister Mary Mean. I hear you.
I just wish I could stop listening.
Tonight, I spent a little time wallowing in my own disappointment. The defeat always seems a little more poignant when you’re close enough to taste the victory. It’s like missing the winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, this kind of rejection. But, as my dear husband so accurately pointed out, I’ll face that team again in the play-offs. This is not the end.
The big question then becomes… what next? There are two very distinct paths from which I could choose.
Path Number One: Find another agent. Find the right agent. Find the one who says, “Yes, I see you. I hear you. Now everyone else should, too.” Send a bajillion more queries until the right hands finally reach out and grab it. This is the traditional route to publishing.
My very successfully published author friend, Christopher Coake (whose latest novel, “You Came Back” is coming out in June — BUY IT!) advises me to stay this course. The eventual rewards are worth it, he says. The path can be long and arduous and many others who have traversed it have given up too soon. He makes me think about what it would be like to step off the Appalachian Trail, weary and fatigued and chafed in unimaginable areas, when the most beautiful vista of all is right around the next turn.
Path Number Two: Take matters into my own hands. This is what my brilliant, entrepreneurial cousin has suggested from Day One. “The publishing industry is a dinosaur,” he says. “Don’t chase a dying breed. Do it on your own.” My forward-thinking, marketing-minded brother-in-law would agree. So do many others. As dear Mary (Friend Mary, not Daughter Mary — it gets confusing, I know) would attest, “Think about George Washington. He won a battle against all odds. Think about Thomas Paine. He didn’t wait around for anyone, he published on his own. You can always turn to history to remind yourself of the great success stories. Heck,” she adds, “think about Jesus. He did it all on his own.”
WWJD? Apparently, he’d self-publish. That’s tough to argue.
Lately, I’ve been inundated with self-publishing success stories, with articles expounding on the process, with people embracing art for the sake of art — not to feed the industry, with little signs arriving here and there from the universe that there might be another way.
“Do you know the story of the Fosbury Flop?” my dear hubby asked me tonight. I listened intently, wine in hand, tear stains on cheeks.
“Dick Fosbury was the Olympic athlete who revolutionized the current high jump style,” he said. My long-ago failure as a middle school high jumper explained why I had never before heard of Fosbury. “His high jump was radical, different, untested. And it became the gold standard of high jumping.”
“And did he publish a book about it?” I asked.
Chris rolled his eyes. “What I’m saying is that maybe it’s time for you to try the Fosbury Flop. Maybe what used to work isn’t necessarily the best way. Just because the ‘traditional’ way is the most well-known path doesn’t mean that in today’s day and age, it’s the most effective path. If you’re going to do the Flop, get in on it early. Get the edge. Go now.”
I spent many restless hours last night thinking about why I write. And the answer that kept popping into my head — in between dreams about cutting my toenails… really… analyze that — was connection. I write because I must, but ultimately, I want those who read my words to feel some kind of connection to this great big, vast universe. And with that as an ultimate goal, I can’t make connections unless my words are reaching others. And my words aren’t reaching others if they’re locked tightly on my laptop waiting for an external go-ahead.
I am reminded at these junctures of the brilliant Robert Frost who so wisely said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
You’ll notice the picture I chose to include with this post features a windshield smeared with bug guts and bird shit. It happens when you’re traveling. On every road, it happens. But look at that sunrise.
And now comes the choosing…