I’m gonna get real for a second here. I hate insta-success stories. It’s not because of jealousy or hate (though writer jealousy is so much fun), but there’s nothing to learn. They’re the exceptions, the flukes we have little control over. So while there’s some success to my story, it’s already been a hell of a long journey to get to where I am. And maybe there’s something to take away from the climb to get to my tiny peak of success.
Back in 2014 I had been working on this whole writing business for a few years, and I’d written a few manuscripts. Then I got my first little achievement to put on my small shelf: I got into a writing contest. Little did I know at the time that writing contests are awesome not because of the agent or publisher opportunities, but because of the amazing community they help you develop. Those writers took me in and helped me grow up and understand this insanity I’d gotten myself into. The fact that I got an agent from the contest didn’t hurt, either.
Until said agent wrote me a few months in and said they weren’t “enthused” enough about the project to represent it anymore. A form rejection to end an agent-author relationship. (They’re no longer an agent, so querying writers who are reading: you don’t have to worry about querying this one.) As an author, of course I didn’t take that at face value. What did I really do wrong? Still, my group of writer friends scrapped me back up, set me on my feet, and I queried. I got into that contest the next year with a different novel.
Then worse than crickets. I had a few rejections stating my bad writing and cliché ideas were the reasons for passing. People who are normally no-responders seemed to go out of their way to reject me. Honestly, I thought for sure that agents must have some blacklist of writers never to sign, and my ex-agent put me on that list for whatever real reason he dumped me. So when I got in contact with an indie pub that wanted one of my books, and indie publishing was a path that might have been the right fit for the book, I grabbed at it. Until I saw their predatory contract.
At this point my emotions about writing were the equivalent to a black hole of depression. I tried to remember why I wrote, but it didn’t matter when the universe seemed to be pointing and laughing at me and my silly, stupid dreams. My feeds were filled with good news and opportunities and friends trying to cheer me up, but it became static. Sometimes I mustered up enough hope to send something out, enter a contest, even write down a couple of words. It never came to anything. I even sat down and prayed for any sign I should keep writing, something small. Within the hour I had a rejection in my inbox. Not the sign I expected or wanted.
The week following that rejection, I was stalking my Twitter feed and grumbling about how unfair everything was when I saw a MSWL post from an agent at my dream agency. I took advantage of that tiny, teeny little spark that kept me checking the hashtag and sent off a query. Which then turned into a full request. Hope bubbled up, but I punched it back down into the black hole and kept slogging, placing the achievement on temporary display on my tiny shelf of victories. About a month later she wrote back. After a few probably unhealthy heart palpitations, I opened it. And… it wasn’t a rejection. It was a revise and resubmit.
By then my brain was trained to expect the worst and proceeded to bring up every case of every friend I knew who was devastated by rejection after doing an R&R, but what did I have to lose? And I loved the changes she suggested anyway, so I went to town and had fun writing for the first time in at least a year. After running it through readers and praying it was good enough, I sent it back. Insert much pacing and internal screaming. Then after what felt like an eternity (but in reality was extremely quick), she wrote back. It wasn’t a rejection. She wanted to schedule a call.
I tried not to get excited. Maybe it was another R&R. Maybe it was one of those fabled horror stories I’d heard about agents rejecting potential clients on the phone. No matter what, she wanted a call with me (again I glance into the shelf and look at my accomplishment of getting a full request from the dream agency), and I just had to try and hold onto that, because I’m slowly learning that it’s those small victories that have to be your fuel in writing. Because “success” is always going to come hand in hand with failure.
Phone call day came. My stomach was beyond a mess. But she was just as nice and awesome as she seemed in her e-mails, and we seemed to have the same perspective on where we wanted to go. And, as the title gives away, she offered.
It still feels a little surreal to be able to tell people I’m represented by Samantha Wekstein of Writers House. And the worry that one day she’ll decide she’s not enthused about my writing anymore haunts me, but she’s awesome and signing with her totally deserves to be up on that shelf of accomplishments. I have to keep reminding myself every time those thoughts creep in that no matter how much writerly brains like to obsess over it, I can’t change what’s coming.
I was having a rough time with my work-in-progress a few days ago, and whined to a friend asking her why any of us even write. She jokingly said that it was a compulsion, but honestly, I think that’s the truth. I think we need it to be the truth. Let your curiosity and need to know drive you to find resources, join groups, send that one last query to that person you saw on the MSWL hashtag. Because sometimes you’re not going to have the hope or the motivation to do diddly squat about your words. Sometimes your small shelf of success is going to feel nonexistent, but that stupid annoying inner storyteller will probably never stop asking questions.
So. Answer them.
K. Kazul Wolf (aka Bacon) is a fantasy author, leegndrary typoer, chef of all trades, and a dragon that prefers capturing cats and dogs as opposed to princesses. You can find her at her website, http://kkazulwolf.com .