When I started writing this post, it felt kind of funny.
I mean… this is the blog I explicitly started on the banner of shifting focus away from success stories and happy endings, and towards talking about rejection. My first post was powerful precisely because of my particular position at the time–a writer who, for many years, had consistently failed to get her stories published, and despite this, continued to believe in her work and to keep trying. Without the “and then.” Because there doesn’t need to be an “and then” for that effort to be worth something.
But if you don’t give up, if you keep creating, and keep trying, and keep saying “yes” to opportunities, and keep risking rejection… one way or another, one day, you will have some kind of “and then.”
I am now 29, with another novel, a novella, and a handful of short stories under my belt… and more than 200 rejection letters to show for all of it.
That’s it. Not one of them has been published.
Two months after I wrote those words in my introductory post to the Rejection Survival Guide, my short story, Immersion, was published in the Jewish Literary Journal.
And then, my short story Scarf Sisters was accepted for publication in arc 25, literary journal of the Israel Association of Writers in English (to be published this winter).
…And then, I found a publisher for my novel.
Yeah. You read that right.
I’ve been sitting on this news since the end of September, waiting until it was on paper before making official announcements. We just signed the contract.
It was one of those crazy situations where all the components have been slowly building and lining up for several years unbeknownst to me, and all it took was one conversation to make everything fall into place. The first piece of the puzzle was a poem I wrote on a whim, in response to a submission call years ago. This led to its publication in the Veils, Halos & Shackles anthology. The publisher, Yael Shahar of Kasva Press, contacted me to give me my contributor’s copy. She happened to be someone I sort of know from various online settings and through mutual friends; an author in her own right. From here to there, we ended up exchanging books and ideas, and when I mentioned that I write fiction as well, she enthusiastically invited me to send her my manuscript. Two days later she called me to tell me that she wants to take it on.
This is the “yes” I’ve been dreaming of for almost 15 years.
Well… sort of.
Technically my fantasy was a “yes” from a literary agent. I dreamed of getting published by a major publishing company–without any prior credentials or platform–and then sitting with my feet up waiting for the rave reviews, fan mail, and royalties to come pouring in.
I may as well have imagined using a unicorn as a footrest.
So, this is the “yes” I’ve been waiting for… adjusted for deflation of my ego and expectations over the years.
And in this rare, very long-in-coming moment of accomplishment… here’s what I want to say to those of you still drowning in “nos.”
I KNOW HOW ANNOYING IT IS TO HEAR THIS FROM ME RIGHT NOW.
If I were reading this entry six months ago I would have wanted to throw a book at myself. A few months ago I posted an entire tirade against telling people not to give up! But let me clarify what I mean when I say “Keep going.”
I don’t mean “Keep sending the same submission to the same exact market forever and ever and eventually someone will like it.”
What I mean is this:
Keep doing what you love.
Keep listening to yourself.
Keep creating when that is right for you.
Keep engaging with your work and embracing constructive criticism and opportunities for growth.
Keep taking breaks when you need to.
Keep your mind open to other possibilities and solutions–and be humble enough to try “lower-prestige” opportunities. You gotta start somewhere.
Keep trying new things.
Keep putting yourself out there.
When you do this, when you are persistent and flexible and in love with what you’re doing, eventually, magic will happen.
The magic may not look like what you dreamed. But you know what? Up close, even getting everything you ever dreamed can be, in the immortal words of Wicked lyricist Stephen Schwartz, “a little… well… complicated.”
Once upon a time, I thought of a literary agent as a kind of fairy godmother who would swoop in, wave her wand, turn my manuscript into a magic carriage, and sweep me away to Authorland.
But in the past few years I’ve learned that that’s not how it works. Even if you are lucky enough to have an agent, you don’t just hand off your manuscript and sit back waiting for the world to be blown away by your genius. You have to put yourself out there, you have to make connections, you have to keep writing and keep promoting until the book is pouring out of your ears and you never want to look at it again.
But I do have some good news about Authorland: you don’t get there via magic carriage. You get there by writing a book! No fairy godmothers required!
I got to live my dream of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on display, not because of an agent-fairy-godmother, but because I believed in my work enough to publish it myself and put it out there without the validation of a higher authority.
And it was that–the putting myself out there, the daring greatly, the thinking outside the box, the grinding, consistent, difficult work of submitting and revising and clarifying for myself what success means to me–that got me a publisher for my book in a totally unexpected way.
I mean… I’m not exactly on my way to being a literary superstar here. I probably never will be, and I’m okay with that. Because at the end of the day–that’s never really what I wanted. And that fact is something I had to clarify for myself very carefully before I got to this point.
There are no glass slippers in my story. Just my own tired, blistered feet.
So… to those of you with equally tired feet. Those of you with inboxes and mailboxes and phone calls full of “nos.” Those of you who are questioning whether it’s really worth it to keep pursuing this dream. Those of you who are brave enough to keep going and who continue to believe in your work despite all the rejection and criticism.
To that brokenhearted woman I was, a year and a half ago, crying her eyes out at 3 a.m. because she finally let herself feel the pain of all the disappointment after a particularly difficult rejection.
Someday your “yes” will come.
It might take 15 years.
It might take hundreds of rejections.
It might require a serious shift in expectations and flexibility about what that “yes” will look and sound like.
And I know how hard it is to keep hoping for so long after so much disappointment. God Almighty. Trust me. I know.
Throw a book at me if you must. I know your pain.
But it will come. I promise you. It will. It will, if you just. keep. going.
P.S. If you want to know more about my forthcoming book, be sure to sign up for my newsletter here!
ETA P.P.S. The book was published in October! Check it out on the Kasva Press website or Amazon!
Nadia L King says
A hearty congratulations! Well done!
Daniella Levy says
Jenny Milchman says
At writers’ events, I give a talk called “Happily Ever After & What Happened After That” and I find what you said about adjusting expectations and thinking of different kinds of yesses so incredibly smart. It keeps happening to all of us who want to write, during every part of the writerly journey…until one day we can look back at the long and winding road behind us and say, “Hey, I wrote my a– off to get up this hill. I worked my butt off and I never stopped climbing. And now look where I am.”