When getting published is no piece of cake

It's almost been a year since I started sending queries for Red Rain Boots to agents. And yet here I am, still as woefully un-agented and book deal free as I was before I finished my first novel. That's not the way I thought things would pan out.

You see, I thought I would get an agent within my first 10 queries. I thought it would be my dream agent, someone who believed so powerfully in my book that she just had to represent it. I thought her excitement would infect an editor and a publisher and that I would be on my way to being a published author.

Instead here I am. 

Don't get me wrong - a ton of my dreams have come true over the past year. I got into grad school for journalism, won some awards for student journalism, had my first full-time internship at a newspaper and moved to New York. There have been some ups and some downs. But at the end of the day, I'm happy with where my life is.

I really, really wish I could get a book deal. I wish I could get an internship for next spring and next summer in journalism. I wish I could skyrocket to success without barely having to lift a finger.

But that's not how it works. I realized several years ago, and have to realize anew every day, that opportunity doesn't come knocking, sit down for a cuppa tea and offer to make all your dreams come true. Opportunity is the white rabbit that led Alice down the hole. It tries to run, it tries to hide, it only knocks when you've finally trapped it and it's trying to escape again.

Opportunity is hard to come by. It's slippery and slidey and you have to work really hard to get to it. You have to sit down and diligently write your novel. You have to mercilessly edit it, eradicating everything poorly written or weakly plotted. And you have to be persistent and persuasive in trying to convince someone to sign your book.

  I'm a lazy person. It's (one of) the thorns in my flesh. It's hard for me to start writing, editing or persuading.

I stare at the screen and watch Friends, I get distracted reading other books, I turn over and take a nap ... anything to keep from working.

But if I want to be published - and oh, how I want to be published - I'm going to have to get off my butt and work.

Getting rejected by "the one"...

...agent. "The one" agent. Which in itself is a no-no, I hear, because you aren't supposed to have one particular agent on whom you place all of your literary hopes and dreams. Which I'm all about, and I actually don't have one. I have several agents I have queried, and of course I love them all. But every once in a while, I've stumbled across an agent that I've felt particularly attached to. An agent I've felt a connection with, one whose bio I've read and about whom I've thought to myself, "Holy cow, she is perfect."

For me. She's perfect for me. There are agents that I think I might mesh better with, agents whose profiles and wish lists seem to say nothing other than, "'Red Rain Boots.' Send us 'Red Rain Boots.'"

So I did. And two of them have rejected me. Cold, hard, form rejection letters that say, as kindly as possible, that they don't think they can represent my novel.

And it hurts. It's soul-crushingly painful. Because it's not just that they're rejected you, which is painful enough in itself. They're rejecting your product, your baby, that thing you've worked on for months and poured literal pieces of your soul into. They're rejecting you without even reading that piece of your soul...

I'm not complaining about the way they do rejections. I understand that agents receive hundreds of queries every week, and goodness, if they had to read partials of every unsolicited manuscript, well...they would probably all quit and then where would aspiring authors be? I'm insanely grateful for agents with open inboxes and a willingness to scan hundreds of query letters, many of which are for projects they have  no interest in. So if any agents happen to be reading this, thank you. You rock.

Of course, it still hurts to get rejected. Especially from someone you thought would be a great match. So what do you do when that happens? How do you pick up and move on to the next? I'm definitely not an expert (although I'm on my way), but here are some small tips you might use to help yourself go onward--whether the rejection is from an agent, a school or a beloved.

  1. Take a moment to grieve This is super important. Any time you receive a disappointment, you have to give yourself time to be sad about it. Let yourself grieve. Take maybe 30 to 45 minutes and revel in your sadness, allowing yourself to experience the emotions battling inside of you.
  2. Turn off the grief Another really important thing is to make sure you don't let your grief run all over you. At some point, you have to turn it off. You have to straighten your shoulders, shake your head, and say, "Okay."
  3. Don't beat yourself up Remind yourself that this is just one person. In the agent world, most of the rejections come with an encouragement to keep trying. And as much as it can seem like that is a condescending pat on the back, it's a reminder that no, not everyone will love your book; but that doesn't mean no one will.
  4. Look for someone (or thing) new The best thing you can do is literally propel yourself forward. Find something else to look forward to, whether that's a new agent you can be excited about, a new future or a new haircut.
  5. Move on Yep, my advice about moving is to just do it. Don't let yourself dwell on it. Don't spend your nights twirling a pen, staring longingly off into the distance, thinking, "Oh, dream agent, if only you had accepted me. We could have gone so far..." Just forget about it. If they offered advice, consider accepting it, but otherwise, take one step forward, then another one, and keep going until you're past it.

Rejection is hard. But it doesn't have to kill you. As our dear Kelly Clarkson once crooned, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." You got this, friend.

'Tis the season for giving...away your heart and soul

If your heart and soul is a book. Which, let's be honest, mine totally is. Over the past year, I've been laboring over my first novel, "Red Rain Boots," (for now) and I finally put the--for now--finishing touches on it this past Monday. I made my final revisions, closed the document, and immediately began sending query letters to agents. But that's not what this post is about.

About a month and a half ago, I had the brilliant idea of giving my book to my mom as a Christmas present. This might not seem like a big move, but for the past, oh, my entire life, I've been telling her she's not allowed to read my work until it's published. Occasionally I'll send her a short story or a handful of poems (in fact, one Christmas a few years ago I gave her a stack of poems), but for the most part I've stuck to my promise: she can't read it until it's published.

I'm still not 100 percent sure why I do this; it's a combination of privateness, insecurity and the fear of becoming one of those people who writes novels that only their mother reads. That's not the plan. Not at all.

Nonetheless, I made up my mind and set about on my brilliant plan to completely surprise and overwhelm her on Christmas day. I'd like to think I succeeded.

Post by Karis Rogerson. (Click to see a video of her reaction).

The copy of my manuscript I gave my mom for Christmas.  Photo by Becky Rogerson

I spent a lot of time scheming. My father and I locked ourselves in his office and printed off all 142 1.15-spaced pages onto parchment paper, hole-punched them, tied it up with ribbon, curled the ends of the ribbon, wrapped it up. Then my father wrote: "To: Becky, Love: Santa Clause," so my unsuspecting mother would assume it was a gift from my father. The surprise was assured. Now to make sure she was completely convinced she wouldn't get my book as a present, I had several conversations with her in which I promised, time and time again, that it wasn't going to happen. And after opening a pair of sweaters from me, she was sure: her Christmas wish of getting my book wasn't going to happen.

If you've ever written a book (or a short story, or a poem, or a nonfiction essay...) you know how much you get attached to it. The characters, products of your brain, seem to jump onto the page and assume a life of their own, living, breathing and wreaking havoc with your carefully plotted out story. The whole thing becomes a part of you. It's an outpouring of your soul, and when you're done you see it there, translated into dashes and curves on a white page, and wow...it's kind of breathtaking.
It's hard to give that away. It's hard to send it to publishers and agents, and somehow even harder to give to family. Because if your own family doesn't fall in love with what you've written, well...that's a problem.
But I did it. And boy, was it worth it.