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I’ve become so accustomed to rejection over the years that now when I see an email reply from a literary agency, I brush it off and dismiss it for lack of getting my hopes up in regards to my writing career. I have been submitting (and getting rejected) to agents for the better part of seven years with my memoirs and essays when all I have been focused on other than making a living is becoming a published author. I want a book deal, I want a book out, I want something published. Since 2012, I’ve been published in magazines and e-books from literary contests and other outlets, but nothing substantial like seeing my name on a shelf at a Barnes and Noble and hearing that someone read about my life story – my life – and felt moved by it in some positive way.
Fast forward to this week. Then rewind to January when my grandfather passed away. He was the oldest surviving prisoner of war in New York and served in Germany in World War 2. He was the most bad-ass, sweetest, understanding human I’ve ever come into contact with and his death has been something I’ve had difficulty coping with since the beginning of this year. Not to mention a particularly nasty break-up in February that derailed me from a proper grief, I’ve felt as if I was shot out of a sling shot this year and lost my footing for a bit.
After Pop died, I revisited a box of old letters exchanged between him and my grandmother during the war – most of them from 1943. There are also miscellaneous letters from my grandfather’s twin brother who died tragically in Japan in November of 1942. That always kills me to know that Pop had to live 75 years without his literal other half; When Arthur died, people said he was lucky for being blown up instead of captured and placed into Japanese prison camps. Pop was already a POW at the time of his brother’s death, and wasn’t informed of it until after he returned from the war in the Fall of 1945 to try and keep his stress levels to a minimum.
Anyway, I digress. With the death, the break-up, an earlier death of my dog of 15 years, and work stress I had what I’d like to call a creative snap where I sat down and pumped out 15,000 words in less than three days based off the letters and stories from Pop. It was a necessary catharsis; it was therapeutic, and in many ways helped more than the therapist I began speaking to in February. I continued on with this story – with his story – and after a couple of months, a trip to Savannah for war research at the Mighty 8th Air Force Museum, some exchanges with the descendants of the 388th Airborne in England, and a lot of tears (and a lot of editing), I produced a book just shy of 300 pages that encapsulated my grandfather’s experiences in life, love, and loss during the war.
Like I said earlier, I’m so adjusted to rejection that I sometimes find myself blindly submitting my work to agent after agent after agent in an attempt to see what sticks like spaghetti on the cabinet that is the saturated literary market. Just this past week I received three (or four?) rejections with reasons ranging from, “Thank you for your query, but I can’t market you,” to, “Thank you for your query, but I’m actually not taking on any projects right now,” to, “Thank you for your query. Your writing is really good but I can’t take on the project.” The last one was kind of a punch to the gut honestly. That one lingered a little, mostly because I so desperately wanted someone to take a chance on my own story for so long and I wholeheartedly believe that my grandfather’s story takes precedence over everything in my immediate world. Especially with the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Pop and his letters belong to a group of forgotten heroes; good men who went through unspeakable horrors and came back home and still got shit done. I was present for his nightmares – I was there for his recounts of terror. His story deserves to be told and now that he isn’t here anymore, I want nothing more than to be a voice to the voiceless.
Yesterday afternoon started with me waking up from an overnight shift to another rejection letter that was emailed to me earlier that morning. “…it’s a subjective market, keep sending out your work.” I respect that. I get it. The literary market it a spiderweb of just finding the right match. Never in the 100 or so agents who rejected me over the years did I take one personally. I just kept thinking to myself that I had to keep writing. Then, a few hours later in the midst of loading my dishwasher I received another email that started like the rest. “Thank you for your query…” My hopes deflated until I see, “The project sounds very interesting, and we’d be pleased to have a look at 50 pages. Please feel free to send it along at your convenience as either a PDF or Word document. We look forward to hearing from you.”
OH MY GOD. OH MY GOD.
I read the same lines over about 46 times. Cue ugly crying. Cue calling my dad in an incoherent, Ron Burgundy in a glass case of emotion sob. Cue my dog not knowing how to deal so he just kept sitting on my foot every time I moved. Cue crying in my kitchen like a Desperate Housewife minus the glass of Pinot. Not even to put all my eggs in one basket because NOTHING is set in stone, but just the mere opportunity to share my work with an agency (who I am yet to name because nothing is set in stone) made my insides melt. After seven years – seven years of no’s, of “thank you, but,” someone is maybe taking a chance on me. All I’ve been doing for seven years is try. And if this opportunity takes off, if I’m able to share the story about my grandfather that he deserves – if I can give justice to men like him – I could seriously die happy.
This is about failure.
This is about the inevitability of failure, the understanding and acceptance that sometimes your work may just not fit into the criteria of what an agent is looking forward. Does it mean your work isn’t good? No. Does it mean you have more work to do? Always. Failure is not infinite and improvement should never be finite. This rejection email – my nth one – doesn’t make me cry in the dark, wondering why I’m not good enough to have my book published. It doesn’t make me want to give up writing; it makes me want to write more. Failure and rejection makes me realize just how much this means to me, and how much being an author and a writer means to me.
In a technological world, my phone has become the hub of games, social media, various apps, texting, email – whatever I could imagine. There is no escaping social media if you want to be a known writer in 2019 and I am noticing more and more how I have to mold my image on the internet to become acquainted with other writers and readers of the world in order to share my stories. I’m not a huge fan of social media, but what I have noticed is, the more serious I’ve become about writing, the less serious I’ve become about maintaining a social media image. My output has gone from posting a photo (or more) a day on Instagram to writing something everyday – whether it is a poem, an essay, a thought, or a handwritten entry in my journal. My energy has shifted from image through immediate visual stimulation to providing a story that allows someone to create an image for themselves. And honestly? I love it. I feel like the “me” I write about rather than the “me” I post about is the more genuine form of who I truly am. I feel like I am living a better and more sincere life by letting my words define me than my carefully taken photos of moments in my life I’d rather hold onto than moments I need to express in order to be a healthier version of myself. So yeah, in a sense, in this email, I failed to meet whatever this agency was looking for. And that’s OK, because whoever comes across me and selects me will select the genuine me, the real me, and the business aspect will be a much more enjoyable one. I’m grateful to each agency who read my words and whether or not they want to take on my projects is relative to whatever impact my words may have. I can take the failure because it isn’t really failure. And any failure is a forward failure as I stumble towards the future I want to create for myself.