Note from Aimee: This is the first post in a new series of blog posts I’m affectionately calling the Not the Darling series. You can read more about the concept of the series HERE. On a personal note, I am so in love with this particular post because it’s raw, real, brave, and completely encapsulates what I had envisioned when I opened this space up to querying writers. I am so proud to be able to host it here.
The Querying to Quitting Pipeline
By: Jean Levasseur (Follow Jean @jeanmlevasseur on Twitter)
I wrote my first novel when I was 19, a sophomore in college.
I’ve since apologized to those few who read it. But I’m glad I wrote that cliché-filled vampire novel, because it taught me that I could write a whole book.
Over the next twenty years, I’ve written six more, and actually queried the last three.
The first novel I queried I was so excited about. I’d written it as my graduate thesis project, and my professors and readers all loved it. It was a science fiction novel set in a distant star system with all the things I love – religion behaving badly, people betraying one another, and cool fight scenes in zero gravity.
I queried that one to about twenty agents over a year, and received mostly no response. After reading it to see what I could do to make it more appealing, I realized it was missing interesting characters and a coherent plot, so I shelved it. I wasn’t that upset, because I knew I could do better.
I’d already gotten excited about another novel.
This one was a fantasy novel about a supernatural assassin and master of disguise who could hear the literal voice of Justice and was empowered to act on that voice, serving as judge, jury, and executioner. This was a story about someone losing faith in the face of people using false Justice to grab power, even though Justice was literally a known variable.
I queried that one to about 100 agents. Had a lot of compliments from critique partners and beta readers. Even had 2 partial requests and a full. And 100 rejections, plus the rejections from the various mentorship programs I applied to.
So I shelved that one. I’d already gotten excited about another novel.
This one was based on one of my wife’s favorite short stories that I’d ever written. It was about what happened when the Chosen One failed and died, and her father was asked to take up her mantle, but refused. What would it be like to hate the person that your child had become by achieving every honor that your society had to offer, while being racked with guilt and grief at her death? Plus, it had demons, so that’s always neat.
137 agents this time. One full request, one partial. All rejections, plus the rejections from the various mentorship programs I applied to again.
That one almost broke me. I stopped writing anything but the occasional short story for nine months. But I missed writing. So I decided I was trying too hard to produce something great, and maybe I just needed to write something fun. After all, this is supposed to be fun, right?
I’d fallen in love with the idea of writing a western where cowboys ride dragons. I was going to fill it with all the best tropes from all the westerns that I love so much. Waterfalls and caves and single combat and chases through the wilderness and farmers on the frontier and the conflict between encroaching “progress and civilization” and the appeal of the wild. It was supposed to be a self-gratifying exercise in pure fun for myself.
I hated almost every moment of writing it.
And when I finished and read it back a month later, I hated almost every moment of reading it, to the point that I shelved it without editing because I couldn’t find a worthwhile thread to even base my editing from.
It’s been three months and I haven’t written any fiction since. When I took months off after my previous novel, I never really thought I’d quit, even though I debated it. This time, I don’t really think I’ll start up again, even though I’m debating it.
Hundreds of queries have said to me that I don’t write the kinds of books that the traditional industry is interested in.
So self publish, I can hear you saying.
I can. I actually have a background in marketing and am married to a designer. Between the two of us, we have the skills required to do 80% of self publishing ourselves. And we are lucky enough to have the savings to pay someone to do that other 20%, as well as support some small marketing and advertising efforts. We have the resources and knowledge needed to succeed.
What I don’t have is enough belief in any of these stories to be willing to invest that much time and money into them. So I’m not going to.
And if I’m not going to be traditionally published, or self published, then what’s the point?
People say to write for yourself first, and I don’t necessarily disagree. But I’ve always written with an aim of getting these stories in front of readers. Even when I was writing stories for school, I was always consciously writing them for my teacher. I can tell myself the stories in my head without writing them down, and without going through the effort and agony of editing over and over. If I’m not going to ever have readers, why bother with all that?
Michael Mammay wrote a great blog post about how it’s OK to give up, which is the opposite of most advice given in the writing community. But I found that permission so helpful. Anytime you say that you’re thinking about quitting, the number one thing you hear is to never give up, and how your agent could be just one query or one novel away. But the math says otherwise. For the vast majority of us, there is no agent around the corner, no publishing deal on the horizon, and no standout self published novel just waiting for you to design a cover and press publish.
And I’m pretty sure that I’m one of the majority of us, not the minority.
I think it’s time to give up. And even though the idea of giving up makes me sad, and my brain keeps coming up with “but what if” scenarios, I haven’t missed writing over the past few months. If another twenty years of failure and rejection is what’s coming if I keep pursuing the dream, then I’m not sure I want it anymore.
Bio: Jean is a stay-at-home dad, freelance writer, and woodworker. Follow him on Twitter @jeanmlevasseur