Monday, August 23, 2010


by Joan

I’ve had a file lingering for a while in my blog folder. The title is Disappointment and the page is blank. Somewhere on my messy desk are notes where I fully expected the idea to flourish and mature, with just the right amount of cleverness and humility worthy of the topic.

But I don’t need notes to remember the hours spent writing, revising, editing, critiquing. The joy about an idea or scene I wanted to write and the pain at my inability to get it just so. Who am I to call myself a writer? Dani Shapiro is a writer. Dara Horn is a writer. Kate Morton is a writer.

I’m minutes away from putting my third manuscript in the drawer. Even now, I can't describe my disappointment at this decision. The anguish of leaving behind not only a story I've spent so much time with, but characters I will mourn and a setting that won't fade from my mind, no matter how hard I try. Just the other day I got another Bodleian Friend's Newsletter, and in it, a eulogy on one of the Bodleian's first women librarians, there at just the same time as my character Gigi Dottie.

A recent post by Janet Reid linking to Tawna Fenske’s blog post got me thinking: I’m not alone in my disappointment. And I’m not embarrassed by it either. There are probably thousands of writers just like me, putting endless hours and painstaking devotion into their manuscripts. Honing their prose, chasing the perfect word or phrase. Searching for the perfect agent. Tawna Fenske found hers and so will I.

Some might think I’m wrong to share my stats, but here's how they played out:

Manuscript #3: 104 queries or conference pitches resulting in 11 full and 12 partial requests

Manuscript #2 (co-written with Pamela): 127 queries or pitches resulting in 15 requests (full and partial)

Manuscript #1: 45 queries or pitches resulting in 5 full and 4 partial requests

There were plenty of non-responses to queries, but most disappointing were the non-responses to partial and full submissions, six months, a year, two years later. Like many writers, I’ve moved on to my next project. And although I’m deep into the story, I still hold out hope that I'll get the chance to resurrect one or more of my earlier manuscripts--or that the sole outstanding full submission on #3 will turn into a yes.

Yes, receiving rejections is disappointing, whether they're non-answers, form rejections, or no-thank-yous based on a partial or full. But mostly I’m disappointed in myself. That I sent out my manuscripts before they were ready. Sent them out before they could have been the best that they could be.

Instead of wallowing in my disappointment, though, I’m going to use it. I’m going to harness the negative energy to fire up my current WIP. To take my joy and excitement about number four and make it just so.


  1. Joan, what a moving post. I feel your pain as I am maybe weeks away from putting my project in the drawer (similar stats).

    But I think you should give yourself a little more credit -- just because you got rejections didn't mean the manuscripts weren't the best they could be. Yes, everything can be improved but what I mean is that I don't think you should assume that it was solely your manuscript's shortcoming that resulted in non-publication.

    The publishing industry is a storm right now. The stats you've given bear out your potential. Your book -- the very same that you sent -- might have met with different results two or three years ago.

    I don't say that to mean "It's not you, it's them," but to remind you of the number of wonderful fiction books that will never see the light of day because they are not YA, huge thrillers, or celeb memoirs.

    The result is the same, of course -- disappointment. But your drive and attitude is inspiring. I will be right there with you!

  2. Jenna, I've had similar conversations with Joan. And Julie. And Kim and Elizabeth and Susan. It might sound like sour grapes to blame the industry, but I read enough novels to know that good writing isn't always the barometer for getting published. Sometimes it's just the right book for the time, filling a niche that apparently had been gaping.

    I'm a firm believer in perseverance and timing. When the book you write is the best you can write and one that fills your heart like none other has before, you know. And you find someone just as passionate to be your advocate. And look at the people you meet along the way! That's why I'm still here.

  3. Jenna,

    Thanks for your words and for the reminder that I"m not alone in my quest! All good things..., right?!

    That's why I'm still here, too! Surely I'm not a masochist!

  4. Yep, I've been there, Joan! (As if you didn't know ... ha.) But don't you also love that moment when you are way over the hump in the new manuscript and the excitement starts to bubble in your chest, saying to you, "Oh, I'm better than that old thing anyway! Get ready!"

    We're both almost there again! And your Bodley girl and my Colin and his mom will wait patiently in that drawer, just in case.

  5. Or is that, hear hear? Oops.

  6. Not only is your post inspiring, Joan, but all the comments it generated.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...