Eleven months ago, in the midst of a cold snap that would freeze even Hell over because it was about -5 degrees here in Rhode Island, I was inking up a contract with my mess of a signature. With Hell freezing over I was signing my very first BOOK contract!
By the 18thof January 2018 was already exceeding any expectations, which wasn’t hard, since I, long ago, had given up on believing in expectations, especially when it came to writing and publishing.
My publishing story is long, sad, and at times, even funny. If I ever get it together enough to write a memoir (terrifying thought!), I would call it Failing Forward. It’s not that original or clever but, then again, titles are NOT my forte—see all of my previously (self) published novels.
I’ve detailed my story in various writing forms and across various blogs. A year ago, I tried to cram it all into what I referred to as a “blogmoir”. Click HERE to read.
I only reached chapter four, but with this recent turn of events, let’s skip all the way to chapter…let’s say, ten.
Failing Forward: Chapter 10
It’s the end of 2015, and I break up with my agent, but we are still “seeing each other”, so-to-speak, as we await to hear from some publishers we had submitted to prior to our break-up.
By early 2016, I receive the final rejection, and so begins a new journey in writing and publishing. One of total and utter, delicious FREEDOM!!!!!
For the first time in 10 years, I will be completely and totally free from obligation to someone else about MY writing. From 2005 to 2009, I was signed with my first agent (actually, she was my second, but like many “firsts” in life, that one didn’t actually count), which resulted in countless misses and a few near-hits. From 2009 to 2011, I was at the Solstice MFA program where I was (albeit happily) beholden to multiple mentors and deadlines. Then, from 2011 to 2015, I was signed with this most recent agent, a relationship that wasn’t right for me—though she was a funny and interesting woman—it wasn’t a match. I knew this from the start, but back then, I was desperate for a book deal…about as desperate as I was in high school for the attention of a certain soccer player…so desperate I allowed him to drunkenly slobber all over me at the homecoming dance my sophomore year, even though he already had a certain cheerleader girlfriend…desperate was a theme for me for a long time.
[By the way, that story was fictionalized and featured in volume three of Sucker Literary – shameless plugs will begin now!]
Anyway, after the break-up, I am lost but in a really good way. I go back into therapy (What else do you do when you have failed at something for almost 20 years, that is your passion for your entire life?) and together, my therapist and I come up with a plan: instead of the goal being success, it would now be FAILURE.
My shrink, a total CBT kind of guy, believes that I need to become desensitized to failure.
The objective of this plan is to seek out as many publications as possible, big and small, and submit…anything. Articles, manuscripts, whatever. Submit and get rejected. He even advised for me to send out some really bad writing to increase the chances of FAILURE.
So, I go NUTS with my submissions…old blog posts, old short stories, new pieces, bad pieces and good pieces. The rejections come flying in pretty quickly. Sometimes I don’t even read past the first line of, “Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately…”
After about the fifth rejection, the sinking sensation of failure in my stomach is gone. By the tenth, I don’t even care. At some point, I start to write new pieces about failure and mental health. I begin to realize that I actually don’t want to be the next Judy Blume (somebody once referred to me this way). I just want to be me, a woman who writes about whatever she wants.
By this point, my success or failure to become a published writer no longer defines me. I devote my time to my family and to finishing school for mental health counseling. Along the way, I also encounter some major health issues in both 2016 (a colon operation for a noncancerous yet sizeable tumor) and 2017 (a small bowel blockage). Each moment in the hospital reminds me of what I really value, and it isn’t a book deal with Random House.
In between hospital stays, summer of 2016 and then summer of 2017, something amazing and unexpected happens—success. One after another, over the span of about a year, I have some first-person essays published by internationally read mental health sites ( The MightyMindBodyGreen and OC87 Recovery Diaries.) I even get a nice check for one of those essays. Every one of those pieces had been previously rejected, multiple times by multiple places.
Yet, suddenly, it is my time.
And then, January of 2018, the most significant success of all—a book contract from Black Rose Writing for my novel Till It Stops Beating. Mind you, Black Rose Writing is a place that I previously received one of those rejections from, a rejection that, for all intents and purposes, I sought out!
Till It Stops Beating was published this summer and just last week, Black Rose Writing released my back list of self-pubbed titles in an exclusive box set entitled The Maddie Chronicles.
I want to take a moment to underscore this story with the fact that I had EVERY reason to believe that I would be successful as an author. Whether it was creating a literary magazine that landed me in Publishers Weekly or winning first place of a Writer’s Digest contest or simply that both agents I had sought me out, rather than me seeking their representation. So, my failure to launch as an author was all the more depressing because the expectations were so very high. Everyone—from mentors to fellow writer friends to agents—thought I would make it.
But I didn’t make it.
Yet, that failure has been my greatest success.