A recap from last week’s post that begins this series:
Merriam-Webster’s definition(s) of failure:
1a: omission of occurrence or performance
b: (1): a state of inability to perform a normal function
(2): an abrupt cessation of normal functioning
c: a fracturing or giving way under stress
2a: lack of success
b: a failing in business (bankruptcy)
3a: a falling short (deficiency)
b: deterioration, decay
4: one that has failed
The TL;DR version of last week’s Embracing Failure is that we often jump to definition number four instead of all the others.
First up in this series on failure: my novel.
If you know me, or have followed me on social media for a while, on July 22nd, 2020, I signed a contract with a publishing company to publish my science fiction novel. It’s been a labor of love, a book that I just can’t quit. My previous two books I gave up on—one permanently shelved (I’m not even writing in that genre anymore and don’t have a desire to pick it up again) and one that needs a lot of rewriting, and even then, it might be a book just for me.
But this third novel—oh, this third book. Third time’s the charm, right?
I wrote this novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2016. Remember November 2016? Eight days into the month and everything changed. I didn’t write November 9th, but I did on November 10th. This book took shape and flew. I finished with close to sixty thousand words by the end of the month.
After my initial revisions and beta readers, in the spring of 2017, I sent my very first query letter for this novel, and to my surprise, landed a full request with a big-time literary agent. And I was sure it was THE ONE. The book that would get me signed on, the book that would be my big break. Eight weeks later, I received a rejection from that agent. By this time, however, there were more requests from queries, and I didn’t sweat it. Both of my previous books had maybe one or two requests from literary agents. This one received a full request from four literary agents after only twenty queries.
They all, eventually, came back as rejections. I sent over fifty queries and heard nothing more. I submitted the novel to PitchWars (an online competition in which those selected are paired up with an author who mentors them, helps them revise, and concludes with an agent round as the grand finale, where literary agents can request the full manuscripts). I was not chosen but received personalized feedback from two authors who loved the premise. I sent more queries, and received a few “revise and resubmits,” which either were ghosted on (yes, this happens—some agents request full manuscripts and rewrites and NEVER respond to further correspondence) or later turned into rejections.
I decided to move on and wrote and queried a YA science fiction novel (my fourth manuscript), that didn’t receive nearly as many requests. I began writing another book set in the same universe that third novel, thinking maybe it could get me signed on, and then that beloved book would be picked up as well. I set that aside for yet another YA science fiction novel that I’m just now completing.
That third novel, though—it’s the book that I want out there so badly. And finally, last summer, I found a brand new publisher willing to take it on.
I passed my contract by another friend in the industry and negotiated for terms I wanted. I worked with an editor and had a wonderful process (there were things I pushed back on, and that’s normal—I would recommend my editor again). We started talking formatting with the publisher, what I wanted pages to look like, what my acknowledgments page would say, back cover matter, a map (YES!) and initial cover designs. For the first six months, everything seemed to go well. The publishing company officially launched, started a newsletter and shared about my book.
And then … nothing. There was no progress on my book for another six months. There was a book in the queue before mine and things fell behind, and eventually, the publisher announced on July 22nd, 2021—one year to the date that I signed my contract—that the company was closing, and all rights would be returned to authors. I received my rights back, and that was that. There’s always a risk with new presses—I’ve definitely searched on Writer Beware and the SFWA site and knew going in that there was a good chance this press might close—but still, given the amount of effort in the first six months, I believed publication would happen for me.
Failure, definition 1a: omission of occurrence or performance.
I’d told everyone my book was coming out in 2021. I’d changed my Twitter bio. I’d participated in debut 2021 Tweet chats. I’d talked about it on my Facebook author page and posted about it personally. I created a new Instagram just as an author and *gasp* even created an author TikTok that I’ve used only once because I don’t know how it works yet (another failure).
Failure sucks. No matter how much of this might be out of my hands, it still sucks. It would be easy to embrace definition number four and believe that I have failed. And for a while, I did. I cried big tears.
Then I dusted myself off, reread my manuscript (and changed a few word choices back to my original choice, because it’s my novel again) and sent it back out.
Still receiving mostly rejections.
Maybe it’s not the right book for the market. Maybe it’s not as good as I want to believe it is. That latter statement can be true, even if it’s hard to hear. It’s the first book I’ve written that I believed had a genuine shot, but for some reason, has fallen short.
I’ll say it again: failure sucks. But I am NOT a failure.
I’m (painstakingly) completing revisions on my latest YA novel. It’s taken me much longer (over two and a half years) with this book than I did with any of my previous manuscripts because I’ve learned a lot in this process. I probably made the mistake of querying that third novel too soon, and it’s an even more difficult market than it was four years ago to get a foot in the door. Whatever I put forth now needs to be as close to perfect as it can be. My standards are higher. The critical feedback is easier to take now than it was four years ago. Before, I would need to let it sit for a week or more, then I could read it more objectively. Now, about twenty-four hours is good. Critique is intended to make it a better manuscript, not to try to crush my soul as a writer.
It still hurts, though. I thought this book would be published this year. I thought I’d be sharing copies with friends and family. Even if it didn’t get rave reviews, it would be out there and the writing friends who have read it would see it come to fruition.
For me, self-publication requires too much—financially, mentally, emotionally—that it’s not the path for this book at this time. That isn’t to say I won’t make a different decision next year. It’s also not to say that perhaps another small press will come along and love it as much as I do. For now, this book is, as we say, trunked. Shelved. On the back burner. It’s not dead yet, but it’s not going to be my primary focus going forward.
Failure sucks. But I am not a failure. And neither are you. Whatever it is that has been a failure—whatever your dreams may be—you are not a failure. Keep learning, keep dreaming, keep pursuing and learning and growing. Embrace failure as part of your experience, part of what has happened to you—but know that you yourself are not a failure. You will do amazing and wonderful things—they just have not happened yet.