Gosh darn it.
My daughter’s 4th birthday is just around the bend, so yesterday I walked to the mailbox in the sweltering Calgary heat to see if any goodies had arrived from the east coast. I hadn’t picked up the mail in a while and wasn’t surprised to see that the box was stuffed to the brim.
I flipped through the pink birthday cards, glossy flyers and utility statements until I came across an envelope with a familiar logo and return address. It was a thin, clinical-looking letter addressed to moi, from a publisher who must have just received my manuscript two weeks ago. I didn’t have to open it to know what it said inside. (But of course I did open it there on the sidewalk, in the suffocating heat, while my heart, hopes and dreams melted out of my body and onto the simmering concrete below.)
I absolutely knew that the chances of my children’s poetry collection being picked up by a publisher was teeny, tiny, don’t-get-your-hopes-up small. The publisher I sent it to produces just a few (wonderful) picture books a year, most of which are solicited and not from the slush pile. I knew that practically nobody gets lucky on his or her first try. I knew that practically no publisher is looking for a children’s poetry collection. I knew this. But I didn’t know the sting of rejection would come so soon. I thought I had six weeks, at minimum, to live in my fantasy world of what if? And the truth is, there was a part of me that really, really believed this might happen. I knew it was unlikely, but reading, “Unfortunately, I have decided to decline your submission…” in the glaring mid-day sun was deeply, deeply disappointing.
My husband, bless him, felt immediately called into action. He asked, so what’s our game plan? I said I didn’t have a game plan, aside from eating this entire can of Pringles while I wallow in the closet. My old game plan was to be one in a million and triumph against all odds with little to no effort or rejection, but it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that I have to shift my tactics.
Since submitting that first manuscript, I started focusing on another project. I was working on it all week while taking a writing boot camp from a group of literary agents. For kicks, I asked one of the agents if there was a market for children’s poetry collections. Her response was the polite version of ummmmm… no. That doesn’t mean you give up, but as I learn more about this elusive industry, I begin to understand that writing well isn’t always enough. You need to know the market but be ahead of the trends, you need to fit the bill but still stand out, and you need to keep trying, trying, trying. Plus you have to write well.
Talent is common, but tenacity is what sets success apart. This is the message you get over and over again in the pursuit of something big. I’m not sure if I have tenacity. Mainly because I’m too lazy to go look up its definition. (Is it like elasticity? Like, after three pregnancies my abs have lost all tenacity? Although this would imply they had some tenacity in the first place.)
Of course I know what it is, and of course I’m willing to work hard. In fact, I’m eager to work hard. I know this writing gig is a long road. And I know for sure that it’s the road for me, in some form or another.
My letter of rejection is now pinned to the cork board above my desk next to some pictures of my kids and a very loaded July calendar. The letter was neatly typed and spaced. In the corner, the editor included a short hand-written note. She invited me to try again with something that better fits their publishing bill.
Well, I guess now my game plan is to do just that.