I know. You’re invested. You spent how-many weeks, months or years living with your significant other. It’s not just a relationship either, it’s a place where you get to meet up with old friends, reminisce about old times and thrill to the earlier days when sparks flew.
But things get stale. Reminiscing about the old times is starting to feel like you’re watching repeats of some show you used to follow. Now it stalks you. Nobody else wants to bother with it. That old favorite has become toxic, haunting you with visions of affection and the accolades of peers and critics. Everyone else has moved on, but you.
Am I talking about ditching your spouse or significant other? No. I’m talking about that thing called your manuscript. Your book. That giant, heavy-duty, heart-heaving mess that you’ve been writing off-and-on since college or even high school.
It’s Your War and Peace. Your Great American Novel. Your Pulitzer Prize-winning literary masterpiece. It’s your book. And that unsellable book is not going anywhere anytime soon. Like Elsa sings, it’s time to “Let It Go”.
It’s a lesson that’s hard to accept. I know this feeling well. As writers, we dig into blogs, buy helpful guides, read about what other writers did to succeed. If they did it, you can do it! Just because everything and anything can get into print doesn’t mean it should. Some stories were meant to be read and enjoyed. Some stuff is just … meh.
I’m going to set the way-back machine to 2003. Back then, my book was that book. I had been writing it, trying to sell it, rewriting it, trying to sell it and rewriting it again for years. It was an eternal merry-go-round. I had no thought of what else I should be doing except trying to sell that book.
In my short-sighted mind, I had the million-dollar idea. I had a story that was going straight to the top of the bestseller lists and then it was going to be made into a fabulous motion picture loved by all and starring the most wonderful movie stars ever (insert squeee here). And just because I was special, they were going to let me direct it.
Because that happens. All the time.
Back then, the whole process of submitting to publishers was paper, stamps, envelopes and time. Lots of time. I consulted The Writer’s Market (the bible for all wanna-be, serious writers), found the publishers in my genre and submitted away. I kept notes and collected the rejection letters as they poured in over the weeks. Just because I loved the torture, I sent it off to more publishers and collected even more rejection letters.
“Be persistent,” the experts said. “Be true to what you write.” “Write what you love.” Such phrases are nice and uplifting, but they don’t get you published. I entered contests. I collected prizes (oh so close, but never the grand prize) but enough to get me noticed, so I thought.
Finally, one reader from a major house (which I’m not going to mention by name) said they wanted to read the whole thing. Joy! Rapture! I was on the road to success. Now someone was going to know how good I was.
Then I waited.
And waited some more.
Three months go past. What should I do? It doesn’t dawn on me to start something else or wonder about my next project. I want my book published! I want it now!
Six months. I send a cautious, timid little letter of inquiry . Could someone check their lists? Was the manuscript possibly lost?
Nine months. No response. Not an inkling. Not a drop of reassurance. Once jubilant, I’m harried and bothered. What the hell is taking so long? Some folks read a book in a single day! What was the matter with them?
Twelve months. An entire year has gone by. I have sent polite letters asking for a reply to my manuscript. No response. The publisher is still in business. They’re making books left and right. But as a media company, they are not interested in talking to me.
Fifteen months goes by. A skinny envelope appears in the mail. I’m expecting a congratulations and a contract. What I get is a rambling excuse about a change in editors. Oh and by the way … we’re not interested in your book. We don’t think it will sell.
[Cue music. Let It Go, Let It Go…]
But I don’t let it go. I won’t let it go. I’m right, everyone else is wrong.
The magazines tell me don’t bother contacting the publishers. What you really need these days is an agent. That person will be on your side. That’s the ticket to the six figure advance and the accolades of the New York Times. So the whole process begins again, but now it’s with literary agents. They are quicker to reject, but no less helpful. They won’t give you a critique. They only glanced at your manuscript, if you were lucky to get past the intern. The form letters come pouring in. It doesn’t fit their needs. It won’t sell in the current marketplace. Finally, one agent is kind enough to write up a little paragraph. He actually liked my book. He thought it was a cool idea. But it won’t sell, he promises. Not in today’s market.
[Cue music. Let It Go, Let It Go…]
The relationship wasn’t working any more. My book wasn’t making me happy, it was making me sad. I have the skills, but I’m not writing the story that people want to read. I went back to the same idea, over and over, trying to come up with new plots, different characters but the story was still in essence the same War and Peace that I started out with many years ago.
I self-published it on Cafe Press and sold five copies. Two are on my shelf. One belongs to my son. The other two went to strangers. I have no idea if they liked it or not.
Writing should bring you joy. No matter what. When your writing stops doing that, when selling your book becomes a matter of principal and damnation instead of a means of storytelling and making others laugh, thrill, weep and think, then it’s a chore.
Your writing should be yourself, only dressed up in a pirate costume and sailing across uncharted waters … or even the skies.
And when your book doesn’t do that for you…
Let it go.