Three days ago, I got my first full manuscript rejection on the novel I’m querying.
I should preface this by saying: the agent was incredibly kind. He provided wonderful feedback – both encouraging and critical – read and responded to my manuscript in a very reasonable amount of time, and even emailed me back to thank me for sharing my work with him after I thanked him for the feedback. My agony is in no way his fault. I would query him again with a different project in a heartbeat.
But it still hurt.
He was, at this point, the only agent I’d queried who had yet asked to see my full manuscript, and one of my dream agents. And while I’m pretty desensitized to rejections on short story submissions by now, a novel rejection landed differently.
I had crossed so many hurdles already just to get here! This was my ungainly baby, the thing I had spent four years of my life pouring my heart and soul into! I had attempted, somehow, to capture the essence of its 127,000 words in a single page, and flung that query letter to the wind, hoping one of the agents I’d spent weeks researching would bite. At this point in my writing career, I can send my short story submissions off secure in the knowledge that the editors of a few magazines sort-of know me, and that, even if it takes years, almost all of my stories are eventually published somewhere. But with my novel queries, I had no idea what to expect.
I spent the day after my rejection attempting to put on a brave face, but inwardly agonizing over what it meant.
I opened my new novel document and worked on that, feeling it was the only thing I could control – working on something else – while my queries were out of my hands. But the heavy emotion in my novel didn’t exactly improve my mood (more on this later). I posted on Twitter that I’d had a full rejection and was now doing the only thing I could do – continuing to write. And I spent the rest of the day vacillating between stubborn persistence and absolute despair.
Reader, I cried. A few times.
Was my writing career over, I wondered? Would it fail to ever get off the ground? Due to working on novels, I was hardly writing short stories anymore, and was down to an average of one major short story publication a year. And though I’d been assured this was normal in the time of Covid, in the two months I’d been reaching out to agents, my queries had generated only a small amount of interest.
Should I just give up now?
The following morning, I woke up to dozens of Twitter notifications. My post had gotten popular with other writers on Twitter, and was covered in comments expressing encouragement, admiration at my persistence, and the idea that we were all in this together. Fellow querying authors showed an outpouring of understanding and support that I was unprepared for. I read all of the comments with a huge smile on my face and cried again.
And then I opened my email. The one short story I’d written this year had been accepted for publication – a small, angry story I thought might never find a home. It will be appearing in Kaleidotrope, likely sometime next year.
Today I got my second full manuscript request – from another of my top choice agents. I ran upstairs to tell my husband, dancing like a maniac. The universe was not ready to let me give up just yet. But man, was this week an emotional roller coaster.
The truth is, of course, that writing is all about emotion.
The highs. The lows. Everything in between. That short story I sold? It’s 1,400 words of pure rage and sorrow over my childhood, wrapped up in a weird little fairy tale form. I wrote it in a single two-hour writing binge, literally shaking with the need to get it all out. The new novel I’m working on? It’s actually painful to spend too much time inside of it, because it’s so filled with the knife-edge of loss and desperate longing, full of characters determined to carve out a found family and safe home for themselves – by their fingernails, if they have to.
I know how that feels. If I didn’t, could I write it?
I’m still receiving comments of encouragement on Twitter, and I appreciate every one. It’s rare and pretty wonderful when social media behaves the way it was (perhaps naively) intended – by bringing people together in support. I’ll continue to fling my query letter into the void, hoping this desperate dream I’m carried for most of my life – to make books – will come true. I’ll continue working on my new novel, and continue submitting short stories, when I have them. And maybe next time the roller coaster dips, I’ll remember that this emotion, too, is part of writing. Is part of being alive.
And that usually the roller coaster comes back up again.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Rainer Maria Rilke, “Go to the Limits of Your Longing”
2 thoughts on “Riding the Writing Roller Coaster”
Thank you for this post. I’m rooting for you too. I’m much earlier in my writing journey. I’m getting desensitized to short story rejections and recently got my first acceptance to a more prominent magazine. I have been reading stories published in the magazines I aspire to see my name in and so many authors share their personal journeys on their websites too. It’s encouraging, to see the ups and downs you all go through too. It helps me believe I can get there.
I’m polishing my novel after beta reader feedback and I’m growing more apprehensive about querying agents. I fear your experience. I’ve researched them obsessively and everything looks so promising on paper. But I know the rejections will come. I hope I will have your strength and resilience to keep pushing.
Good luck. 🙂 If your novel is anything like your short stories, you will certainly land an agent.
Erin, thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement, and congrats on your first major publication! It sounds like you’re doing everything right in terms of learning how and where to submit your short stories and polishing your novel. I think an issue a lot of writers face is constantly comparing themselves to everyone around them. I know it can be heart-wrenching to me to read tweets and blog posts from people who have a full manuscript under consideration with 7 different agents, or a 25% request rate. (But, like, good for them.) I hope when the time comes you’ll be brave enough to send your novel out and push past the rejection!