Over this past weekend, I opened one of those envelopes we all hate: the SASE with the single sheet of paper in it, saying, “Thanks, no, thanks.” In short, Guideposts Books rejected Rainman’s Bride…and the editor said nothing about any of the other books that I had proposed as a trilogy with RB, only encouraged me to consider Guideposts with my future writing.
Now, for those of you who don’t know the drill, that encouragement is good news…but only to a point. It could have been worse—the letter could have closed with one of those say-no-evil sorts of endings that neither encourages you to submit anything else nor enjoins you never to darken the door again, just wishes you “luck” in your writing career (which most authors, being naturally paranoid, will look at and wail, “She hates it! She hates me!”).
Or, it could have been much blunter and conveyed the editor’s dislike for something particular about your work or your style—thereby effectively shutting the door on you for any further conversations. (And yes, I have gotten letters like that!) So in that context, being told to feel free to consider them again for other work is encouragement of its own sort.
It also must be said, in fairness to the editor in question, that she did not send a form letter. Far from it. This was two to three paragraphs in which she told me, quite specifically, what she liked and didn’t like about the premise and the story. So in that sense, it’s kind of like that MasterCard commercial: there are some things money can’t buy. In that context, there are authors out there who would kill for that much detail in a note from an editor, and the sage multi-pubs among us would be nodding their heads in agreement: Yes, this is very good. Personalized, detailed, it means you’re very close.
Trouble is, I was getting letters like this back in 1988. And sage multi-pubs were nodding their heads meaningfully then.
Twenty years ago.
So I think it’s only fair to wonder, at a point like this, just how long one can be in very close land before one has to face the possibility that one really hasn’t gotten any better in twenty years…or that one really is only kidding oneself.
That’s not a question you want to be mulling on a Saturday afternoon.
The added complication in this mix, of course, is that this work in question wasn't exactly "recent" work. What I did was take a pretty darn good book (Golden Heart good, in fact), tweak it, polish it up a bit, and send it along. I've toyed with completely rewriting this book several times; every time I do, however, I get into it and start thinking that if it was good enough to win a national award ten years ago, doesn't that mean it's good enough to sell...to the right place...today?
Apparently not. Because in the subsequent time I’ve been submitting it to various places, it’s gotten reactions ranging from polite indifference to a return with grammar markups on it (!) to—probably the most interesting one—a multi-page “rant” from a publisher who all but advised burning the thing and starting over.
What it hasn’t gotten is a read sympathetic enough to merit the letter that says, “…should you elect to make this change, and this one, and this one, we’re inclined to go to contract.”
It’s bad enough when one’s ten-year-old work is treated this way, but when work that’s more recent than that—or work that is revised and redone, based on the much-improved talent one has now—also gets a similar reception...
Well, it's not like I've never "quit" before.
Many authors do. Or want to.
We get to some point or other in this endless cycle of euphoria and despair/disgust where we don’t want to do this to ourselves anymore. We don’t want to keep hoping. We don’t want to keep pursuing a dream that seems “stalled out” at a point two decades old.
So we quit.
And that is what I’m going to do.
I decided that Saturday afternoon at the kitchen sink.
Again, maybe not an optimum situation in which to make an important decision about one’s writing. But I’ve spent a generous amount of time thinking stories through, mulling over plot problems, and dreaming of success at the kitchen sink—so when I come to an important crossroads, thinking about it with my hands in water is not necessarily a bad way to go.
But before you howl too loud...
Hold tight and I’ll explain what “the Q word” is going to look like in my life.
In the next post.