[As Emily Winslow awaits the launch of her debut novel, The Whole World on May 25th — one week from today –, she reflects on her journey, mixed feelings, and the fact that it is a celebration and you’re invited to the party.]
Getting past the query stage to agency representation, and then a book contract, is huge. I’ve reveled in the relief and then security of those milestones. But there are other kinds of rejection ahead: reviews and sales. Essays and blog posts aimed at aspiring writers have become meaningful to me again, now that my book is about to launch.
An old favorite is Slushkiller by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, which gives an editor’s view of rejection. To the writer, rejection is personal and bloody. To the editor (or agent), it’s necessary, impersonal, and fleeting. The wording in form letters is meant to be kind, but there is no way to make ‘no’ nice to hear. After reading Slushkiller, one learns to empathize with the so-called “gatekeepers” of publishing.
One comment in the long response to that post has always stood out to me. It’s number 109, by someone called Madeline. She writes:
“I think I’ve got the answer to the “why do they take it so personally?” bafflement, though, or at least one good answer… I imagine that everyone reads over their [own] story and thinks, “I think this is great! People like me are going to just eat this up!” Then the rejection comes back: “There are no people like you. We’re all over here, and you’re all by yourself over there, where the wolves will be certain to pick you off first.””
The offense of rejection hurts on many levels, most obviously on the level that you who want publishing are being told you can’t have it. But the realization that Madeline describes, that this story makes profound sense to you but not to others, is emotionally isolating. Like Holly Lisle, I’m keen to avoid the too-common metaphor that a book is like a baby. Nor is a protagonist necessarily an avatar or mouthpiece for the author. But a book is, often, an expression of an author’s view of how people work, how relationships work, how the world works. When it’s rejected, one can feel painfully misunderstood, as a person.
Slushkiller is about rejection from publishers, but rejection comes also in the form of reader reactions (whether in reviews or with their wallets). I feel like I’ve come full circle, from humbly querying agents and editors to humbly peddling my published book to readers. In the month that I think I’m supposed to feel the most triumphant, I feel the most vulnerable.
Am I happy? Yes! Excited, and proud, and pleased, and nervous and self-conscious and exposed. One of the small themes in my book is that emotions don’t dilute each other. You can be “thrilled” and “wary” at the same time, and they don’t mix to create a kind of neutral state. They both just are, side by side. Nor do I believe that the negative of any two emotions is by definition the “honest” one. Often, the positive emotion is interpreted as a “brave face” covering up the “truth” of the negative one. But I don’t think that’s so. I think both can be real, together.
So here I am, in my publication month: thrilled and wary, proud and vulnerable, bold and shy. I’m happy too. Not happy all by itself, but happy along with everything else. It’s not the moment of pure, awesome triumph I imagined when I was querying. It’s a good time, in that real way that’s three-dimensional with self-doubt. It is, for all that, a celebration. It’s an open house. Come on in.
Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of Thaisa Frank’s Heidegger’s Glasses in a random drawing to anyone who comments only on this specific post, Thaisa Frank and Heidegger’s Glasses. Comments left on other posts during the week are not entered into the contest. The deadline is Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winner to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return on Thursday to possibly claim your book.