The Importance of Disappointment

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from life so far, it’s that everything has its place and time.

I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve discussed my previous publishing journey on this blog, but I’ve been pondering things and figure now’s as good as time as any to put what I learned from it out there.

When I ponder, I make a face like this.

Once upon a time, I was an agented writer.

Way back in 2007, two years post-college graduation, I had just finished revamping the book I was working on. It was an early incarnation of Peculiar Dark, then called Keeping Back the Dark and before that titled Sphinx Awakened (don’t ask). After collecting a fair number of rejection letters (all snail mail in those days – woah!) with Sphinx Awakened, I had overhauled it and rewritten quite a few sections. I had finally taken to the intrawebz to make sure I knew what I was doing with this whole querying process (news flash: I didn’t) and leveraged Query Shark to finally get a halfway-decent query letter.

I wasn’t quite geared up to full-scale query yet, but a friend alerted me to an agent who was setting up her own, brand-new agency and looking for my genre. For funsies, I sent a letter her way. It was read by her assistant at that time, who loved it and passed it on, and less than two months later, I got The Call.

I was BEYOND excited. I knew – I just knew – that I’d have a publishing contract within the year. I started practicing my autograph.

It never came.

I went on sub late that spring, and by the fall, I knew what neither my agent nor I wanted to say out loud.

Keeping Back the Dark wasn’t selling. And it wasn’t going to.

With 13-year-old characters but cussing and dark shit happening, it didn’t fit in either MG or YA. In my attempt to be honest about a moody, teenage protagonist, I had written a decidedly unlikeable main character. It just…wasn’t marketable. Looking back on it now, I’m not surprised it didn’t sell, but at the time, I was crushed. I let it overwhelm me. I couldn’t get anywhere on the sequel or any other project, so my writing just kind of shuddered to a stop.

Then, in December, the recession took its toll and my agent had to close down her agency.

I didn’t recover for awhile. I dabbled in other projects, but I embraced every distraction I could to avoid a blank page. I made up stories, but I left them in my head. I didn’t write. There’s no other way of putting it – I just didn’t. I felt like a failure.

Last year, I got back on track. I overhauled Dark into a book I can believe in again, and I’ve started on a brand-new project. I’m in a pretty good place now. But for awhile there, I really wasn’t. I was bitter. I was broken.

It’s only months after getting my shit together that I’m able to see what I learned from that period and how important that disappointment was for me.

  • I grew as a writer. We grow creatively with every experience, and even though I wasn’t actively writing, the constant input that life itself generates still affected my output. My voice matured. I gained confidence in what I had to offer (more or less, anyway – there is still quite of a bit of neuroses in my brain). I leveled up. And then I leveled up my manuscript.
  • I learned what I want in a professional relationship. If I ever sit down again and have another chance at The Call, I know what to ask this time. I know what I want from an agent, from an editor. I know what I can contribute and what I need in return. And I’m fully prepared to say no thank you if I don’t think it’s going to work for me. Just because someone is offering doesn’t mean you have to take it. I’ve learned the value in walking away.
  • I’ve learned the value of both practicality and humility. Not that I’m inclined to be super-braggy, but landing an agent so quickly with a book that I realize now I hadn’t even begun to understand or attack correctly could have had a terrible effect on my ego if it had resulted in a publishing deal. I’ve seen authors who go big right out of the gate with books that really aren’t great, and you know what? I’ve subsequently watched them stagnate as writers. They don’t get better; they usually get worse. (I have a specific example of this in mind.) As for practicality, it’s awfully fun to dream big. We wouldn’t be writers if we didn’t, and sometimes those dreams come true. But what I didn’t understand in 2008 is that this is the exception, not the rule, and all the glamorous stuff of ARC giveaways and book launch parties are surrounded by months of flailing and screaming and crying and opening veins onto word processing programs and fingerpainting in the blood until it resembles your heart. I didn’t really get that then. I do now.
  • I’ve discovered the value of a community. In all fairness, a lot of social media stuff wasn’t as big in 2008 as it is now, but even if it were, I was of the opinion that I didn’t really need to go out, network, commune with other writers. I didn’t share my writing with anyone but an old college friend, and anything beyond that was just whatever, man. I barely knew about the writing community out there; I certainly didn’t realize the support and affection they could generate.

And all of that rambling above is just a long-ass way of saying what I said in the beginning: Everything has its place and time. It sucks in the moment because we’re walking around in the foggy dark with a lantern that only shows us the path three feet in front of us at any given time, but when we look back, the pattern is often much clearer and less random. I’ve experienced this with my day job. I’ve definitely experience this with my love life. I’m starting to see this with my publishing journey.

That disappointment was vital. It’s laid the groundwork for my future.

20 thoughts on “The Importance of Disappointment

  1. ❤ you. You know this. I'm also very proud of you and what I've seen you accomplish in the time I've known you – how you've grown as a writer.

    Also – with my current hormonal state – you just made me cry. Kudos there ❤

    Looking forward to many more years of community with you, because you rock.

  2. *hugs* It makes me sad to hear about other’s hardships, but it also makes me feel like I’m not alone. And I agree, Some advice I’ve given CP’s, when they’ve been querying but we do major edits: they aren’t sure whether or not to write the agents who have fulls and tell them they’re working on the MS to make it better. I always say, If the book the agents have right now was published AS IS, would you be happy with it? Or is this newer version we’re hacking away at The One? (I know they don’t publish as is, but it makes you decide what’s right for the MS).

    Thanks for this post. Keep going! That applies to all of us. 🙂

    1. I definitely wanted to share it so that others could feel better. It’s so easy to get closed off with this and start feeling like everyone is zooming forward around you, powering into the deep end while you flail in the shallows. But the truth is, we’re all there – we all flail, and we all have to find our footing again.

      And lord, yes, even having completed so many revisions that I think are solid, I still sent off my first round of queries without getting it 100% sorted. That anxiousness to get it out there and see how it fares is intense!

      Keep going! That applies to all of us.

      Yes, it definitely does! 🙂

  3. Wow! Girl, I couldn’t imagine PD NOT getting an agent now! Or subbed! Or published! You can so do this! ❤ glad you've accepted the bad with the good! Glad to see you've grown, matured, and gotten better! YAY! I'm cheering for you!

  4. *hugs* Yeah, sometimes the paths become obvious, in retrospect, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck badly along the way. And you’ll get there eventually. You’re a great writer, it’s just a matter of matching up a story and an agent who’s just as passionate as you are about the story.

    1. Thanks, hon ❤ I won't lie – it did suck pretty badly at the time. But I'm so glad I was able to grit my teeth and try again because I've come quite a ways and met some lovely people – like you! 🙂

  5. You are an amazing, strong, talented woman – but you’re right, you wouldn’t be the person you are today with the disappointments you’ve had in the past. I’ve been there too – not with my writing, but with other expectations in life. Writing is one of the few things that has gone consistently well for me, but only because I’ve learned to be absolutely sure in my decisions because of the other disappointments.

    *hug* Your time is coming. It’s right around the corner. I can’t wait to get to say that I knew you when 🙂

    1. It seems to be life’s all-around lesson for me: When you THINK it should happen and when it’s actually BEST for you to happen are two VERY different things. 🙂

      I think you, too, have a lot of awesome coming your way. Keep up all that fabulous hard work on your writing. It’s gonna pay off in spades!

  6. Wow! I actually remember reading your query on Query Shark. (I thought it sounded REALLY familiar when you posted it for The Writer’s Voice contest earlier this year, and found it again when I was rereading the QS archives not long ago.) And I remember thinking, “You know, I’d love to read a book like this; I hope it gets published.”

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us, and best of luck to you on the road ahead!

    1. Ha! I can’t believe you remember it! That was way back in the day. 🙂 So glad I went to that site, though. It really helped me figure queries out.

  7. This is tough to read because I can only begin to imagine how it must’ve felt, pouring so much into it and having things go as they did – but as you say, that’s how ALL of life goes, and things work out better the next time around, in my experience, when I learn to take something positive away from it. I so, SO agree with you – that everything has its time and place, and that disappointment is vital, to everything in life. If I hadn’t gone through all the crappy relationships of my past, or rejections (personal or professional), I wouldn’t be where I am now and that’s a fact. And I know I’ll go through loads more, which sucks, but it also makes me excited for where I’ll be. Keep at it and thank you for sharing this!

    1. It was fairly heart-breaking to be sure, but the heart is just a muscle. And muscles can learn, rebound and knit back together again. It’s tough, it’s painful, but we get there. I’m wit you – I’ve faced a lot of rejection in all aspects of my life. And after awhile, I’ve started to pick up on the pattern that disappointment doesn’t mean destruction and something much better fitting could be down the road.

  8. I really needed to see this post today, for serveral reasons. Thank you so much for sharing it with the world and letting other writers know that we aren’t alone. You are an amazing and super talented person and I am so grateful to know you, to have worked with you, to hopefully work with you in the future, and to be a part of your writing community. You are awesome chica! ❤

    1. Aw, shucks! *blushes* Well, I feel likewise! You’ve got a lot of talent and a dedication to your writing that is to be emulated for sure. ❤ And I'm so glad this post helped you!

  9. this is a story that isn’t told enough. thanks so much for sharing it! now i know why you are such a great writer and will indeed make it. you have chutzpah!

    something similar happened to a crit partner of mine over a year ago. she was the first of us to get a publishing contract and we were all so excited! we all thought. YES! we can do this! our time will come soon as well! we were so living vicariously through her experience that we hung on every word as she would share every detail of the process. then, one day after she had signed the contract, been paid the advance, illustrator had been hired, release date planned, etc., she came with bad news; tricycle press – the publisher she had a contract with – had been bought out by random house. when random house went through all of the pending releases, they only chose a small fraction to continue to release, the rest the cancelled. my friend’s publisher lost her job along with many others and my friend’s publishing contract was gone. she did get to keep her advance, but that’s not why we become writers is it?

    i would’ve become comatose on the floor for months, but my friend took it in stride for the most part and studied her craft even harder. she’s still not published, but she’s learned so much and she’s an even better writer from that experience (and such an excellent crit partner!) and i can safely say we all learned more than we bargained for, living vicariously through her. it’s such an unpredictable world, this life we’ve chosen and rejection is a major component. learning from it is the only alternative that won’t drive you mad.

    1. Oh wow. Seriously – that is a thousand times worse than anything I had to deal with, and I’m so impressed at how she’s bounced back. It’s all we can do with rejection – at any stage of the game. It’s not easy, but that’s we why collect fellow writers to help us!

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