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.

It May Not Be the End of the World…But it Can Feel Like It

When I was very young, I had a toy called “Puppy Surprise”. For those who are too young to remember (or too old to care), this was a stuffed “mama” dog with little beanbag puppies in her tummy. The surprise part was in how many puppies you got, since it could be anywhere between two and five. I was one of the lucky kids who ended up with five puppies, and I was ecstatic. I loved those puppies, gave them all names, and played with them constantly.

Then one day one of the puppies went missing. I searched high and low but I couldn’t find it. I was certain it had gotten left at my neighbor’s house, but they were unable to find it either. For all I knew, that puppy was gone forever.

That night, I recall, my mother was working a backshift and I’d asked my father if I could sleep in their bed with him. And at some point during the night, as I was laying in bed unable to sleep, I thought about that lost puppy. I started crying. I tried to hold it in, but my shoulders shook and a little gasp or two escaped. Before I knew it I’d accidentally woken my father, who asked me what was wrong. I told him, and though I don’t remember exactly what it was he said, I do recall that it more or less amounted to what any parent in the same situation would say: “It’s just a toy; it’s not the end of the world.”

It’s not the end of the world. These are words that have probably been spoken by every parent on the planet at one time or another. They are words that can be very true…but also very, very wrong.

See, the problem with becoming an adult is that we tend to completely forget what it feels like to be a child. My father’s response was a completely reasonable one from the viewpoint of an adult, but not from the viewpoint of a child. At the time of this story I was about six or seven years old, and at that age losing one of your favorite toys is the end of the world.

We change dramatically as we grow, and bit by bit we begin to learn about what is and isn’t really important in life. Children haven’t gained that knowledge yet. A toddler doesn’t understand why they can’t have cookies for breakfast because they have no understanding of the concept of “health”. All they know is that you are refusing to give them something they want very badly. A child who is being teased at school can not grasp the idea that someday the opinions of their peers will mean little to nothing. They only know that the teasing hurts their feelings and maybe even makes them depressed. Even as teenagers we still haven’t grown enough emotionally to avoid these traps. Have you ever been around a teenager who just got dumped? It’s pitiful. Beyond pitiful. But you can’t explain to them that it’s “not the end of the world” because to them it is. Yes, as adults we know that the pain of a dumped teenager is nothing in the grand scheme of things, but to that teenager it is the worst pain they have ever felt.

So try to remember that the next time you’re dealing with a toddler who won’t stop crying, a child who is scared and upset, or a teen who believes their whole world has just come to an abrupt end. Remember that they don’t understand that it’s not the end of the world because that’s exactly what it feels like to them. All pain, physical or emotional, is relative, and the younger the child the less they have to compare to.

Most of all, remember what it feels like to be a kid. I promise you’ll be a better parent – and person – for it.