The Success in the Failure

My Facebook friends and Twitter followers already know about this, but I thought that, considering the subject matter, it bore repeating as a blog post.

Yesterday morning, a little less than one month since I sent out my first real manuscript submission to a publisher, I received an email back from said publisher.

It was a big, fat rejection letter.

And it wasn’t even an overly impressive rejection. It basically read, “Ms Tobin, sorry, but your story isn’t for us, good luck in the future.”

Now, here’s the thing. I’ve been expecting this since the second I hit the “send” button on my submission. While I wanted to have a glimmer of hope, I had a dozen voices shouting pessimism (reason?) at me. I thought, “It’s my first submission, and who the hell ever gets published on their first submission?” and, “You don’t even read romance novels, so what makes you think you would be able to write a decent one?” I wasn’t terribly hard on myself, I was just trying to be reasonable. I didn’t want to get my hopes up when the chances are so terribly low of getting a deal with a publisher these days, particularly on your first try.

But, here’s the other thing: I’d be a dirty, dirty liar if I said the rejection didn’t sting. Despite my 99.99% certainty that nothing good would come of my submission, there was still that tiny little glimmer in the back of my mind, holding out hope. And that glimmer imploded in upon itself when I read the words “your project isn’t right for us”. I had a wave of disappointment, followed by a wave of anger, followed by a wave of almost physical pain – all this within a 30 second span.

But then something wonderful happened. It was over. After weeks of checking my email fifty times a day, wondering if I would get a response today or not for months, telling myself that it was going to be a rejection but also praying for it to be an acceptance, it was over. My story was rejected. Submission saga complete. Nothing left to worry about.

I learned several things about myself and about the system by submitting that manuscript…

For one thing, I learned that I hate the traditional publishing process, not because it rejected me, but because of the time and waiting required. I only had to wait a month to get that rejection letter, and the waiting drove me right up the wall. Most big publishers quote up to 6 months or more, and many of them make it very clear that they expect to be the only one looking at your manuscript at any given time (if they find out you’ve submitted to multiple publishers at once it’s an automatic rejection). So say for a moment that I start submitting my zombie apocalypse novel and that it takes 5 publishers before one says yes (which is generous, as some people submit to dozens of publishers before hitting pay dirt). Now say that each of those publishers requires that you can’t submit to anyone else until they’re done with you, and say that each one of them quotes a 6 month waiting period, which they dutifully use every second of. That means that it would be two and a half years before that fifth publisher decided to take a chance, and that’s before the long process of contracts, cover design, copyediting, etc that can also take years. In other words, by the time my zombie apocalypse novel was actually in print people might not give a flying rat’s tail about zombies anymore, and my sales might be abysmal. Alternately, I could self-publish the book by the end of this year if I put my heart in it…I’d have to do all the cover/editing/marketing work myself, but it would be out years earlier, during a time when there are tons of zombie movies and games around because zombies are in right now.

Another thing I learned is that I’m not nearly as delicate as I thought I was. Sure I had my moment of depression that sparked anger and frustration as well, but it was all over in less than a minute. I didn’t mope or tell myself that I got rejected because my story was crap. I didn’t turn into a miserable ball of self-loathing. I had a burst of emotion, and then it was over. I’ve moved on. Back on the road and heading into the great beyond. No turning back now.

And another thing that I learned is that I’ve gathered a great community of family, friends, and fellow writers around me over the past months. When I took to Facebook and Twitter to announce my first official rejection letter, the response I got was just wonderful. Amongst the messages I got were:

“Some day your writing will pay off for you. You love it too much for it not to!” – my father

“Just save it for when you do sell your book. You can frame it next to a glowing review.” – @writerreese

“Celebrate! It means you’re a dedicated, professional writer!” @SaraMThorn

There were many others, and it really gave me a burst of confidence, an invaluable thing to me. So I want to say thank you. Thank you to the people who rallied around me to make sure that I knew this wasn’t the end of the world (or, at least, my writing career), thank you to all the writers and references that have let me know what I can expect from both traditional publishing methods and self-publishing methods, and thank you to the editor who gave my manuscript a chance and was relatively quick in letting me know that it wasn’t what they were looking for. Now I can move forward, which is the direction that one definitely wants to be headed in.

5 Reasons You Should Be Writing Fan Fiction

As I mentioned yesterday in my accountability post, for the next little while I’m setting aside my work-in-progress and picking up my Final Fantasy III/VI novelization fan fiction. Now here’s the thing… There are a lot of writers (and readers) out there who think very poorly of fan fiction. They think its not “real” writing, or they associate it with a bunch of creepy, sweaty fanboys/girls sitting in a dark room, plucking out a wish fulfillment fantasy where a disturbingly perfect character who just so happens to have their exact name gets it on with Buffy or Edward Cullen, or one of the My Little Ponies (*wigged-out-shudder*). And yes, that stuff does exist, and there’s a special place for it far, far away from me, but there is also a lot of good fan fiction out there if you care to look for it, and I personally believe that fan fiction serves several very important purposes in the writing community.

1. It gives you a break and let’s you enjoy writing for a while.
Even those of us who love writing with all out heart and soul want to smash our computer against a wall and/or burn all our notebooks every now and then. Things happen (writer’s block, bad critiques, lost work that wasn’t backed up, etc) that enrage us and make us want to give up on writing forever. That’s where fan fiction can be helpful; it’s easy (because the world is already created for you), it’s fun (because you get to write your favorite characters), and it keeps you moving forward. You might even find, while writing fan fiction, that you come up with a great idea to continue that original fiction you so recently considered tossing off a cliff. Seriously, give it a try…you might find that writing a bit of fan fiction considerably lowers your writing-related stress.

2. It gives you practice and let’s you get the “bad” out.
Yes, I’ll admit it, a lot of the fan fiction out there is beyond awful. But have you ever heard that oft-repeated adage: “Practice makes perfect”? Lame, perhaps, but true. No one ever wrote a masterpiece on their very first try. With the vast, near limitless options to toy with, fan fiction offers you that ability to keep practicing and practicing and practicing, which can only help you become better. Scrawling fan fiction helps you to get down your bad writing, see that it’s bad, and then make it better. Any writing will do this, of course, but fan fiction makes it easier because instead of struggling with your one story over and over again, or constantly wracking your brain to come up with new ideas, you can just jump in someone else’s sandbox and play away.

3. You can just jump in someone else’s sandbox and play away.
Some people say that nothing worth doing is easy. I beg to differ. Yes, effort is a big deal and most things in life are going to be difficult, but sometimes, to keep ourselves from going mad, we have to find the easy out. Fan fiction is that in spades. This is a whole world that has already been created for you, with established characters who have already had tons of work put into them. All you have to do is think of something for them to be doing. That’s it. Play away. Have some fun! Explore! As children this is how we learn and grow, but as adults we forget the importance of real play. Take a page out of the book of babies and toddlers and learn via good old fun and exploration!

4. The community is extremely powerful.
There are lots of websites out there for sharing fan fiction, but the one in particular that I use is FanFiction.net. It’s a great site with a great community, and chances are if you share something there someone is going to find it, read it, and comment on it, and that is pure gold for a writer. We crave feedback, even if its not necessarily good feedback. We want to know, at the very least, that someone is reading. Fan fiction is wonderful for this because of the vast numbers of people who enjoy it. For example, years back I wrote a Harry Potter fan fiction featuring the Marauders. I finished that story years ago, and to this day I get the occasional review landing in my inbox. It might not sound like much, but a single review on a story you wrote ages ago can really mean a lot when you’re currently struggling with your current works. Community is important to keep a writer sane and moving forward, and the fan fiction community is a surprisingly strong one.

5. It keeps you writing.
When you’re a writer (or you aspire to be) actually writing is the most important thing to do. In this brave new world of writing conventions, social media, and author platforms, writers tend to forget that the real deal is putting words to paper. Fan fiction helps with this. Any kind of writing – even the creepy kind I mentioned earlier that I have a restraining order out against – is worth doing if it keeps you putting words to paper. There is no writer without the process of writing, so whatever you can write to keep that process moving forward is a good thing to write.

So now that I’ve thoroughly convinced you, what are you waiting for? Fan fiction could be just the thing you need! I know it’s what I need right now, so I’ll see you all on the other side of a new chapter of Returning Hope.