Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No rejection before breakfast

Of the literary variety I mean. Although while I’m at it, I sincerely hope I never have the misfortune of dating someone who would dump a gal before she’d had her coffee and eggs. Anyone who knows me even a little knows how seriously I take breakfast. Breakfast first, questions later. This is why I have to restrain myself from running over and firing up my laptop the moment I wake up in the morning; anxious as I am, I know it’s not wise to court big news on an empty stomach.

Number one on my list of things to do before I’m thirty (and in life really) is get a book deal. A week ago I started sending out queries for an agent for the novel I just finished. I had an agent for the last one but she’s left the business so I’ve got to find someone new to help try to usher my work out into the world. Now, because I’ve been through this all before I’ve been talking a really good game about how it’s all going to be different this time. I am not going to turn into a crazy person who picks totally irrational fights on dates and disgraces herself while dressed as Wonder Woman (true story). As a dear writer friend told me about ‘handling’ the submission process (the prettier, more evil sister of the query process), ‘honey, if you’re not on the bathroom floor with a bottle of vodka you’re doing fine’ which is a good dose of perspective, though I think it might have been better if I HAD locked myself in the bathroom some of those nights, especially the ones where there was any vodka around.

But not this time! This time I had resolved to be mature about it. And you know it has felt different. For one thing I happen to like this book more than the last one. Not that I didn’t like the last one and not that I didn’t work very hard on it but I remember feeling some deep ambivalence about it too. I dreamt from time to time while I was doing revisions of burning it page by page with a lighter in the kitchen sink or sitting on the edge of the dock at my parents’ place and releasing each manuscript page into the wind one by one until the entire book was floating on the water. No one could tell me, by the way, whether or not feeling this way about one’s own work was normal. And this was before all of the rejection started. After the rejections letters—first from some agents and then from rather a great number of publishers—after the close call that broke my heart, after the dream slipped away, then I really didn’t want to think about that book. It was like an ex boyfriend who I would always in some way love but didn’t really want to talk about let alone hear from again.

But this one is different. I’ve never dreamed of burning it for one thing. My dear former agent did me a solid and sent me a handful of great referrals as did a close friend of mine who is an assistant editor and what do you know, a bunch of them asked to see the book in the first couple of days! And you know, I was feeling pretty great about things. I had conquered a demon just by finishing the book. I had gone back to the blank page after the biggest disappointment of my life and I had triumphed over it. And aren’t I lucky that I have a passion that I care about? Aren’t I lucky that I don’t live in a war-torn country or have to raise three children on my own; that I have the kind of life where I can even aspire to be a novelist in the first place? I reasoned that the pursuit of publication is like the pursuit of love: the first time you get your heart broken, you are SHOCKED by how much it hurts; you think I will never get over this but then lo, you do get over it. One day you wake up and you start feeling better and then you meet someone else and the pain becomes a memory faster than you ever thought it could. After that first time, it still hurts when a relationship ends but it’s never that bad again because you know that you will someday get over it; after all, you’ve been there. So I reasoned it could never quite hurt like the first time. I felt I had the situation in hand. I was saying things like ‘que sera sera’ and ‘if it doesn’t work out, I will just write another one’ and believing these things. Secretly I wondered how long this feeling of Zen could possibly last. Answer: until this morning.

I woke up this morning with an all too familiar feeling in my stomach. You know how you totally forget how really truly awful a stomach virus is until you get one again? It was like that. You see, this is the point at which my email in-box becomes angel and executioner, and there’s no knowing which until I open it on any given day. Mondays are the worst because there is always the possibility that one of those agents decided it was too cold to go outside and curled up with my manuscript to get a jump on the week. By the time I open my email in the morning its midday in New York (where books are born and agents get their wings); plenty of time for an agent to have had her coffee and get down to the business of making dreams come true (or you know, not). My Zen mind says not to fret over this because, again much like dating, ultimately you want to be with someone who wants to be with you and if they’re not the one, better they just let you know so you can move on and keep looking for true love. Because after this comes submission (aptly named that) and that is its own fresh hell; if anything, it’s worse than querying because there are not one tenth as many good publishers to try for as there are good agents. I know this; this is not my first rodeo. A writer needs someone who really believes in her; someone who will join her in the folie a deux in which both agent and writer believe that—though the odds are so supremely against it—she will be the one who makes it. I’m trying to maintain perspective but all the perspective in the world doesn’t keep those letters from hurting when they come. And there will be rejections, just as sure as there will be tears and anxiety and moments of unbridled hope. And vodka. 

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