Today, as everyone knows, is Leap Year. (Leap Day?) Since I have been musing lately on how very much has changed in four years, I thought it was fitting that I blog today about where things stood for me last leap year.
Let’s rewind to our last leap day, February 29, 2008. I had been writing for five years, seriously pursuing publication for three years. I had signed my first agent in January of 2006, two years prior.
The novel I signed her with, THE JETSETTER’S SOCIAL CLUB, had already crashed and burned on submissions. We had about twelve rejections, all of them oh-so-very “meh.”
If the road to publication is comprised of all the circles of hell, the first circle, I am telling you, is the “not right for me” or “didn’t connect with the voice” circle. Those piddly, two sentence rejections that dismiss your novel like a cold, overcooked steak. (Wait, can a steak be both cold and overcooked? If so, I guess that was THE JETSETTER’S SOCIAL CLUB.)
I had lived in that first circle for more than two years—throughout all of 2005 as I queried, and then in 2006, until my agent decided that maybe another project would be a stronger debut.
And so she sent out PRADA & PREJUDICE.
And that’s when I reached the next circle of hell. The “I really love this, like this, this is so great, and yeah… I still don’t feel strongly enough to take this on.”
If my book was a steak, I guess it had reached luke-warm status. But then… someone saw something in it.
And they asked me to revise it.
Revise and Resubmit requests are a staple of the industry, something not a lot of people necessarily aspire to receive, but I was overjoyed. I had reached the next circle of hell.
Also, I may have just realized that in this analogy, the final result (publication) is still hell. I have realized it, and I am amused by it, so let’s just roll with it.
Throughout the months leading up to leap day in 2008, I continued to revise PRADA & PREJUDICE, seeing it through drafts four, five, and six. In fact, I received more than one revision request, so I would revise both for specific editors, and as we gathered rejections/criticism.
I continued to bounce back and forth between the second and third circle—between lovely detailed rejections and revision requests.
But by February 29, 2008, I had been agented and on submission for more than two years. Prada & Prejudice had spent 14-15 months making the rounds, and I’d amassed 20 rejections.
I once likened the feeling to standing at a door, pounding on it with all I had, and wondering if any one would ever answer. If any one would ever just open the damned door and let me inside, where all my published friends were.
That’s what it’s like, isn’t it?
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If so, let’s just agree that writers are insane, shall we? I’m allowed to say that because I am one. I think that’s how this stuff works.
So, apparently, I insanely wrote and wrote and revised and revised and I just kept waiting for a different result. I kept waiting for a yes instead of a no.
That leap day in 2008, I didn’t know if I would ever be published. I didn’t know if I was good enough to be. I knew that at any moment, my agent could email me and tell me we’d had a good run at it, and that we needed to trunk PRADA & PREJUDICE. And it would have been a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
She had more than done her job and my book hadn’t sold, and I had nothing else to give her. In fact, at this point I’d showed her lots of ideas and proposals and even one entire full manuscript, and to all of them, she’d given me, “meh.”
Nicely, of course, but she meant they weren’t good enough.
And so on this day I felt I was stuck. Stopped completely. She’d loved the two novels she’d shopped and they’d not sold and nothing else was good enough, and I started to wonder, really wonder, if that door was ever going to open.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my biggest revision request was still to come. It wouldn’t arrive for several more weeks, in late March or early April, as I recall.
It turns out the next circle of hell is Rewrite and resubmit. We had an enthusiastic response to the general idea of Prada & Prejudice—and the title—but this editor wanted me to go in a new direction. An entirely new direction.
I’d been standing at that door for so long, and now it seemed like I could hear someone on the other side, and all I needed to do was convince them to open the door. And this time, I refused to fail. So I tried a whole new approach.
I opened a blank word document.
I stared at the empty page.
And I started over.
After six drafts of the novel, I pitched everything I had and started again.
I wrote on the train every day—30 minutes each way. And during my lunch breaks, and at night. My daughter was 10 months old and my husband worked nights—so that we could avoid day care—and that meant I had to keep her up as late as possible so that she would sleep in and allow him even a few hours of sleep. I was exhausted by the time I put her to bed but I stayed up late anyway, working on the new draft.
Eventually, we resubmitted the book, and I held my breath.
And it was rejected. It’s funny, all these years later, because as an agent I still submit to this editor, and I’ve actually met her in person, and she’s absolutely lovely. And I have NO hard feelings whatsoever for her rejection, because I actually credit her for helping me get published.
I tell this story at conferences—of the editor who asked me, essentially, to rewrite my book and then rejected it—and I think people expect me to be, at the least, annoyed with her.
It was the challenge—the carrot on the stick—that forced me to take a hard look at the book and do what it had needed all along. To dig much deeper.
Still, there is an especially deep circle of hell on the way to publication called, “Getting your hopes really, really high before you get rejected,” because, well, it’s agonizing to still be standing on the wrong side of that door, staring at the doorknob so sure you're about to watch it turn, and instead you hear the footsteps as they walk away.
Amazingly, my agent still did not give up. We were now 22 rejections in, and she said, “you know what? You worked really hard and the book has been totally rewritten. Lets take it out again.”
And she did. And two weeks later, we had two offers from major publishing houses. It sold in a two book deal to Penguin.
And now on this leap year of 2012, my career looks like this:
But I didn’t know that, on February 29, 2008. I only knew I was still banging on a door that may never open.
I’m writing this not just to reflect on my own career changes, but to say this: Today is your leap year of 2012. All you know is what your career looks like right now, at this very moment. Four years from now you’ll look back and remember where you were, and maybe you’ll marvel at how far you’ve come. If not becuase you're published, but becuase you've committed to a dream. Becuase your writing has improved. Because you've made friends you never would have met otherwise.
Let this day be the day you make a commitment.
Let this day be the day you decide you’ll keep banging on the door-- for another four years.
Maybe they’ll be four years of rejection and dejection and struggle, but maybe they’ll be four years of triumph and success.
No one can promise you success. But you can earn it.
So today, we celebrate… OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY!
Just kidding about that last part.