This is the photo I posted on my instagram today and it's one of my favorites from the last few months.
Why did this shot in particular speak to me? Because it’s perfectly imperfect.
It was taken at the end of a workday when I'd received several query rejections (more below on what that means). My husband and I drove from Perpignan to the coast. Of course, having carried towels, swimsuits etc in our travel bags for the last month, we finally end up at the Mediterranean with none of it. Not even paper napkins to wipe sand off our feet before getting in the car. And yet, I was determined to run into the water.
So, the shot wasn't at all staged. In fact, it's not a great pose and there’s a shadow in the bottom left (my awesome new husband), because at that moment I wasn’t thinking about instagram or not wearing makeup or shadows in photos. Just the joy of getting my feet in the Mediterranean for the first time in years.
The next morning, debating whether to share this photo, I started to ponder why I haven’t posted a writing update to my blog in a year?
In part it’s because I was focused. Focused in late 2017 on finishing and polishing the draft of my book I intended to use to query agents (ask for representation). Then, after a few rejections, I realized this version wasn’t quite ready, and committed to a another full revision. I aimed my energy at finding the best developmental editor to work with, and over the last twelve full months, I've completed a three stage revision and rewrite with the amazing Tiffany Yates Martin of FoxPrint Editorial.
And so a few months ago, confident I had made this book the best I was able, I started seeking representation for a manuscript that, this time, I knew was ready to meet the world.
Let me point out here that, in general, this is a moment in my life when I should be overjoyed. I’m newly married in April to an amazing, authentic man who supports my writing growth quest. And we’re loving working as digital nomads in France for several months; the land of romance, croissants, great cheese and cheap wine.
And yet, after sending 108 queries on a book into which I’ve invested three years of my life, I’ve racked up over 70 rejections since February, that is if you count no response three plus months later as a rejection (which it is).
So, naturally, I’m struggling with thoughts of failure. I believe in this book, for the same reasons as I did when I started writing, but the reality is it may not find an agent. And as my author friends on submission are painfully aware, even finding an agent guarantees nothing; because not all books sell to publishers.
As a result, I’ve been pondering the thoughtful question Tiffany Yates Martin (said amazing editor above) posed: what exactly do I want out of this?
And then last week Tiffany wrote this amazing article and pep talk just and only for me, which quotes Laura Drake, one of my other most admired and wise writing mentors. (I’m joking about the article being written for me, but seriously folks: read it!).
"One Random Yes"--my latest post for Writers in the Storm about defining success in your career for yourself, instead of being at the whims of a mercurial marketplace.https://t.co/pxFgN0kjD5
— Tiffany Yates Martin (@FoxPrintEd) May 30, 2019
Tiffany's point is that you cannot wait for someone else to convince you your creative work has worth.
First you find that confidence in your work's value, then you determine the path that meets your goals.
And that is exactly what has stood in the way of writing a blog post about my progress. Not the fear of failure, but feeling like I didn’t have a right to feel proud of my creative work if I didn’t have new external indicators of success to prove its worth (awards, agents, sell the book darn it!).
But you know what? I am proud, and I’m confident of the work I’ve done on this book.
My measure for its success has always been hoping one day someone will pick up this novel and feel better about the exact point of life they are at in that moment because they read it (at least that’s my greatest wish). And there are lots of different perfectly imperfect ways I can achieve that goal.
Sure, it's possible I may land an agent and larger publisher. Or I might find a better fit with a small publisher who publishes in electronic, not paper. Or I could invest in a great company like She Writes Press and/or indie-publish myself, taking the risk of carrying my own costs. That’s the marvel of today’s industry - that so many options exist. Perhaps no solution will be 'perfect' but any of them would meet the goal of getting this novel in reader's hands.
So going back to that photo: I realize now there’s magic in perfectly imperfect.
I know that when I look back on it, I won’t remember how many "your writing is strong but I didn't fall in love enough to offer representation" responses I got that particular day. What I will remember is my new husband capturing a moment of pure joy, and be grateful he’s in the photo with me, even if only making his appearance as a shadow.
And hopefully when I look back in a few years, I’ll also have a book in the world that someone has read and found valuable. Because making a difference in one person's perfectly imperfect life is the goal I originally set for getting my work into the world.