2018: My Big Year of Fail

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Yeah. It’s been that kind of year.

OK, so. This is not a fun update to write.

Compared to 2017, 2018 was a tough, painful year in terms of my writing and where I was hoping to be by now.

Everyone tells you not to take this stuff personally, but give me a break. We all know better, right? You can tell yourself “It’s not personal, it’s just the business” hundreds of times, but when you’re staring at the latest rejection, those words are meaningless. You love your book, your characters, your story. But nobody else does, no matter how hard they try to let you down gently. (And let’s be real—some don’t actually try all that hard.)

I know that actually admitting this flies in the face of everything aspiring writers are told about how they’re supposed to feel. We should be glad we’re getting our stuff out there! Yay us! It’s not personal—we just need to keep trying!

But the hell with it: I’m sick and tired of trying to act like Yay Me. Forcing myself to push on, to keep querying and creating new works, knowing I’m leaving myself open for more rejection, is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do this year.

As was probably obvious from my silence after the BoostMyBio entry, I didn’t get into Pitch Wars 2018. I’m not going to lie: That hurt. A lot. Now I knew it was always a possibility—there were way more applicants and far fewer mentors this year—but it still felt like a kick in the stomach when the YA mentor/mentee list went up and my name wasn’t there. Not only had I not landed an agent from the 2017 Pitch Wars showcase, I wasn’t even good enough to score a return invite in 2018. Ouch.

I tried my best to put on my game face, shake the hurt off, and keep moving, but I quickly followed up that non-triumph by also not getting into Author Mentor Match. Although I didn’t want to wallow in it, the double rejection really shook me.

I think I got spoiled by having an early run of luck with Brenda Drake’s contests; my YA novel was chosen for Pitch Madness 2017 and my adult horror was picked for Pitch Wars 2017 (and then Query Kombat 2018), so it hit pretty hard when nobody wanted THE KEEPER OF THE KEY. I’m taking the book back to the drawing board to see if I can get any insight on why it’s being met with a massive round of “Nah” so far. I know the book needs work, which was why I entered it into mentoring competitions in the first place. But I still think—and have had verified by readers—that the story’s bones are solid.

As for TIDEPOOL, that’s been a rough, frustrating road too. The good news is I’ve had several partial and full manuscript requests, plus one shortlisting when a well-regarded publisher was having an open submissions period. The bad news is that they all turned into rejections. Some were form letters and some were incredibly nice personal emails that explained how hard their decision was, but so far nobody wants to take TIDEPOOL on. And that hurts too.

I love that book. It’s the first thing I’ve written that feels authentically mine, and I still have hope I’m going to find a home for it somewhere. What little feedback I’ve had from agents has been all over the map, contradictory and vague, with no consistent criticism that gives me any real sense of where the book might be running aground. They liked the characters but thought the concept was thin. Or they liked the concept but thought the characters were thin. The first chapters were too slow-moving. Or the first chapters were really interesting, but the book just didn’t turn out to be their thing.

Sigh.

My short fiction didn’t fare any better: lots of rejections, a couple of shortlistings that turned into rejections, and one entry for a contest that was canceled with no winner named.

I’m starting to remember why I gave up writing and submitting short fiction back in the early 90s. Why keep subjecting myself to this? The world’s already horrible and depressing enough without me actively seeking out rejections that remind me over and over that I’m never good enough.

But every time I think about throwing in the towel, another agent who takes horror hangs out a shingle, or another magazine solicits submissions that sound like my work, and I realize I’m not ready to surrender yet. And the thought has occurred that if I’d stuck with my writing back in the early 90s instead of giving up, I might be a lot further along in my career by now. I don’t want to quit for 20 more years and go back to querying my first novel when I’m in my 70s. I already feel ancient enough at a newly-minted 50, and while lots of agents and writers insist that this isn’t too old to be starting out, I wonder sometimes.

On the plus side, and there actually was one:

The exception to my Big Year of Fail was writing workshops. I submitted to the Borderlands Press Boot Camp and was pleasantly surprised when I was accepted. It’s in Baltimore this coming January, and I’m excited. I’m also scared shitless. I’ve never been to an honest-to-god intensive workshop like this one, led by writers I’ve actually heard of.

And once I get through that one, I’ve got only a couple of months of downtime before the next one. I applied to Futurescapes after seeing the instructor list, and given the extremely high profile of those instructors, I figured they’d be inundated with applicants and so my chances of making it in would be very poor. And so I was shocked to be accepted into that one too. Bill and I will be going to Utah in mid-April; he wants to explore the area while I hash over my fiction.

I’m hopeful that if I’m still no closer to my dream of an agent and/or a book deal, I will at least be able to say by the end of 2019 that I’ve worked hard at these workshops and improved my craft. When you get right down to it, those are the only things that are truly under my control.

Here’s to having more uplifting news to share in 2019.

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