Balancing the Highs and Lows of Publishing

There’s little in a writer’s life like the euphoric feeling one gets when a book is coming out. Before the launch date for Mr. Neutron (March 7, 2018, from 7.13 Books) the possibilities of success seem limitless (despite my publisher’s caveats not to buy that yacht). Hey, why not a bestseller, and critical acclaim?

So to counter the high of the book release, I’ve embarked on a project that’s almost guaranteed to be a downer. I’ve started querying agents for the book I recently finished. I feel the need to do this while my book launch is still in the positive (prelaunch) stage, because once it’s out and hardly anyone’s buying it I probably won’t be able to handle that much rejection at one time :-)

I’ve queried a couple of novels before—unsuccessfully—and know both the realities and the fantasies of the query process. I’ve seen the numbers: many agents receive dozens of queries a day, thousands per year, so the odds are stacked against every writer, regardless of talent, connections, and experience.*

And so the rejections cometh. It’s human nature to finish work on a novel, having taken, in this latest case, nearly five years to get the story right, as well as to be optimistic that this will be the story that captures an agent’s interest. But how quickly that confidence begins to erode when the cavalcade of “not for me” responses piles up in one’s inbox. I think no matter how much one believes in the work there is a point when doubt tilts the balance, and an author starts questioning whether the book is truly publishable—could I have made the protag more sympathetic, tailored the story more to the market, revised the whole thing one more time?

All this while I am trying to immerse in another novel, one based on an idea that is somewhat topical, and therefore needs to be pushed along before the window of opportunity closes. But it’s hard to stay motivated when all one hears is “no.”

It would be helpful if I could separate each aspect of the writing biz and not let the outcome of one part affect the others, if I could go full on capitalist, ignore rejection, and coldly calculate a strategy for maximizing success. But all are connected to a central value—who am I as a writer and a person? And what kind of writer would it make me if I could so easily disengage from projects that require years of effort?

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*I’ll admit that the rejections are much nicer this time around—having a book coming out, and having been a lit journal editor and publisher lets agents know I’m legit, and they seem to respect that—but bottom line is that every agent must decide if what I’ve written is salable in today’s market.

 

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