How Having Your Book Rejected Makes You a Better Person

Our first snow fell on Sunday – also Jackson’s first-ever snow. He lasted about two minutes before dashing back inside to furiously clean between his toes.

When I was in my early twenties, I used to argue that everyone needed to have their heart broken at least once. Not only was this a great way to soothe a friend who’d just had his or her heart broken – hey! this will make you a stronger person! – but I also believe it to be very true.

Falling in love is a fabulous, giddy and wonderful thing. Loving relationships are what sustain us through life. Most of us want to find that special someone (or someones) and find our own happily ever after. But that quest can be a trial. With each busted relationship, we lose not only that person, but also the dream of what could have been.

I’ve been there – the sense of failure, the certainty that I would never love again and would be alone for the rest of my life.

Simply awful.

But, over time, your heart begins to heal and you discover that you learned some things. Thinking about a new relationship changes – it’s no longer a laundry list of “wants.” After a shattering break-up, you get a a really good idea of what you do NOT want. The new Dealbreakers List is usually short, but it’s backed by experience. It provides you with a much better compass for knowing what is likely to work for you.

Heartbreak also teaches the very valuable lesson that nothing is easy. Even if the falling in love part was, the maintaining of it can be damn hard work. If you take the relationship for granted, fail to nourish it, it can fall apart in the blink of an eye.

Finally, that rejection, the sense of failure – from those things grows resolve to do better. To be better. Hope grounded on this kind of foundation is a powerful force.

Then, when you love again – you’re better at it. Wiser. More careful with what you’ve been handed.

I think career-heartbreak can be just like this.

A friend of mine recently had her option book rejected. In most contracts with publishers, they say they’ll publish two or three books in a series and then have right of first refusal to see the next book in the series. This means you have to show it to them first, before you try to sell it to someone else. The rub, however, is that very few publishers want to buy the third or fourth book in a series. To them the series has been done already. So, when her option book was refused, she knows that’s the end of those characters and that world.

(And yes – she can self-publish more books in the series, and she might, but that’s a different kind of effort.)

This kind of thing happens All The Time. Of my three crit partners, all three have had their option books refused after the first two in a series. They grieved, wailed and gnashed their teeth – and moved on.

While I see my friend going through the stages of grief over this, I also see her wrestling with the heartbreak and healing from it. She now knows what she does not want in a new publisher, a new book contract. She was lucky to begin with – a Cinderella story of many offers and a very nice deal. The courtship was great but working under contract was crushing. She knows now what she needs to maintain a creative and productive writing pattern.

Best of all, when we discuss her options – like self-publishing – she shows an increased resolve. She’s working on a new story and she’s going to focus on that. She’s stronger and wiser now.

It’s funny to me, that in my 20s the conversations were about busted relationships and now, in my 40s, they’re about busted careers.

We know now what we learned then – there’s always another one, just around the corner.

On Fires and Hubris

Smoke in the valley today. There’s a 60,000 acre fire near Alpine, Arizona. The smoke and ash blew in on us last night. Our patio cushions have ash all over them.

Apparently it’s worse in the valleys. People in Albuquerque were calling 911 to report fires. They were broadcasting bulletins to tell people to knock it off, that the smoke was from Arizona.

Where there’s smoke, there’s not necessarily fire.

Not right *there* anyway.

It’s a funny thing, how what happens to our neighbors affects us. We forget that things are different for people just a state away, the weather, their politics, disasters. Until it spills over into our own lives.

A friend of mine is up in Yellowstone right now and it’s been snowing. She’d asked me for advice on the best route home. Then she found out that one direction isn’t a possibility because the roads are still closed due to snow. I lived in Wyoming for over 20 years and already I’ve forgotten that early June can still mean snow there.

How quickly we adapt, focusing on our immediate world.

I think it’s easy to fall into this pattern, thinking that how things are for us is how they are for everyone.

Maggie Stiefvater, who is a very successful author of young adult novels, and at quite a young age herself, wrote a blog post the other day that kind of took me aback. I agree that jealousy is a worthless emotion and something to be overcome. However, the relentlessly self-congratulatory tone is a bit off-putting to me. It can be a trap, I think, to believe that your own success is a direct result of your awesomeness.

Clearly, if the juice is lacking, you have little to go on. Still, success in any endeavor is made up of many factors. Timing, serendipity, personalities. It’s like wondering why one woman is able to have babies easily while another is infertile. Is it because fertile woman is a better person? Because she deserves it? Why does one guy develop pancreatic cancer and another live to be 106? We like to try to trace cause and effect, but there isn’t always one.

With producing art, we’re talking about something that necessarily grows out of the deepest parts of ourselves. Sure, a writer can try to target what sells, but if the story isn’t genuine to her in some way, it’s not going to work. Not everyone has the story that becomes a phenomenon. That’s just how it is.

We all follow different paths in life. Our joys and sorrows, failures and successes are part of that. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what hand we’re dealt, but rather how we play it.

Not everyone gets to be a bestselling author. Not everyone gets to live to be 106. Some people die young. Some can’t have babies. Some artists are discovered after they die.

I sometimes wonder if I’d take Jane Austen’s lot – to be so revered long after my death and never get to enjoy it myself.

Maybe so. Hubris is a poisonous thing. Not getting too excited about one’s own awesomeness can be dodging a bullet. Hard to control a raging ego, once its been overfed.

More and more I’ve come to believe the real test in life is not how well we do, but how we handle what happens.

Remembering that not everyone sees the same thing when they look out the window is part of that.