#FicFest: Perspective on Not Getting Picked

After a long hiatus involving international travel, illness, and general adjustment to SAHMness, I am at last back at the blog!

I wanted to put down a few thoughts about not getting picked by a FicFest mentor.

First, I was a lot more depressed by not advancing in the contest than I thought I would be. The last (and first) time I was sending a book out into the world, it was right before my wedding. In other words, I had a ton of wonderful things happening to distract me from the fact that I wasn’t getting any interest in my work. I did eventually have a couple of tea

ry nights and a big meltdown around Christmas when it really sank in that the book was not going to find a home, but by that time I also had half of a brand new book (the one I’m currently edging out of the nest), and I don’t think I ever felt the full weight of my baby’s failure.

This time, it’s different. There is no wedding or honeymoon or looming dissertation deadline to distract me. Although I’m starting a couple of new projects, they’re not far enough along to provide a substantial feeling of “at least I’ve got this other thing.” There’s just the terror that nobody will ever want my story.

I know I’m not alone in this, so I wanted to put down a few thoughts, both to help me sort through what I’m feeling and maybe to be encouraging to somebody else in the same situation.

First, I think it’s ok to be scared of rejection and to feel sad when it happens. This is, after all, a project I’ve worked on for three years (with substantial breaks here and there to do things like finish my PhD and have a baby). That represents a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of me, and to be unable to interest other people in it is genuinely discouraging.

I was talking about this with a friend a while back, and she—in a sincere attempt to be encouraging—said, “It’s not publication but the journey as a writer that matters.” I felt offended. Of course, in one sense, I absolutely believe that’s true. The greatest value here is the improvement I’ve made as a writer in creating a book that is the best thing I’ve ever done. But on the other hand, people usually don’t try to become storytellers to tell stories to themselves. Stories are meant to be shared, and if I can’t do that, then on a certain fundamental level, I fail.

What I’ve realized is that it’s fine for me to feel sad over being rejected. It’s legitimate. I don’t have to be noble and tell myself that as long as I’m on the journey the destination doesn’t matter. If you’re in a place where that’s true for you, then that’s wonderful, but it’s not true for me and I don’t think I’m under any obligation to pretend that it is.

Second, I’m learning to accept the luck factor. With incredible kindness and generosity, one of the FicFest judges offered to provide a couple sentences of feedback to any YA entries who asked for it. Obviously, I was all over that! What she told me both encouraged and frightened me. She said that she found my entry “super intriguing” but that it simply wasn’t a good fit for her. So on the one hand, I’m doing a lot of things right. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter how many things I do right if I don’t get lucky and find someone who shares the vision I have for my stories. It’s something that I cannot control. It doesn’t matter how hard I work, how much I improve. It has to be the right story for the right person at the right time.

I have a friend who finished a book a couple of years ago. She worked her fingers to the bone over this thing—rewrites, workshops, critique partners. Along the way, she networked like crazy, even securing the enthusiastic support of an acclaimed published author, who introduced her to agents. And she still couldn’t find literary representation. What she got were multiple letters from agents who raved over her story and writing but concluded, “I just can’t sell it.” This is truly terrifying, but now that I’m getting a tiny taste of what she went through, I’m learning something else: it’s fine to feel sad over being rejected. But it’s very important not to take it personally. Although the story is failing to move ahead in its journey, as long as I’ve done everything I know how to do, it’s not my fault. And (I can’t emphasize this enough), it’s also not the fault of anybody who rejects it. They’re not doing it out of personal animus or because they disapprove of me in some way. It’s just not the right fit. It’s not that story’s lucky moment.

Which brings me to the third thing I’m learning: the best way to get lucky is to chase luck. That friend whose book couldn’t find a home? Yeah, she’s writing new books. And continuing to network and stay involved. She’s an incredible inspiration. I have no doubt that before very much longer she is going to get an agent, because luck is like lightning. Everybody has a chance to get hit by lightning, but my risk goes way up if I start chasing storms. Fortunately, getting lucky hurts way less than getting struck by lightning 😉

And finally, if I let it, every rejection will make me tougher. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the place where it doesn’t hurt at all, but I know for sure each time try again, I do it faster, with a better attitude. My goal is to become like rubber—every time I get thrown down, I bounce back.

By way of bouncing back from FicFest, I’m entering #PitchWars! The submission window opens next week, and I can’t wait!

I know nothing I’ve said in this post is original, and I’ve certainly heard all of it many times before. But some of it, I wasn’t able to truly understand until recently, so it was worth saying again, if only to remind myself!