Two days ago I started seeking representation for my novel. Yesterday I received my first rejection. I posted such on facebook and received condolences. I love my friends and family and always appreciate their support, but the intent of my post was lost. It was not “oh woe for me.” It was, “I’m in the game.”
A side effect of an MFA, one the programs logically don’t market a lot, is a thickening of the hide. I spent two years having my work dissected, analyzed and discussed; every month by faculty, and every six months by my student peers. We were taught to be critical readers, and we learned there is little value in, “I loved this.” In first semester we hoped for any positive validation. By fourth semester we begged for brutal honesty.
Once, in a peer review workshop, I listed out the John Hughes movie characters that a fellow student’s YA novel copied. She later said that was some of the best criticism she had received. In full disclosure, she was a friend and deep into the program. I knew she could take it as it was intended. I also called someone’s protagonist a douche. His work was a memoir sooo…. He’s one of my best friends. How often can you call a friend a douche and remain friends? In fairness, my MFA program gave us specific instruction on how to offer objective, considerate evaluation. “Douche” was not part of that.
After I graduated, a group of alumni formed a writing group. We share our work, and we aim our fully trained critical eyes at one another’s. “This was pretty good,” means a hell of a lot in this group. None of us are in it for pats on the back. We’re here to make our writing better. In The Collective, Don Lee describes a writing group as, “They wanted the writing group to be supportive and fun, not confrontational–an exercise in boosterism for dabblers and tenderfoots.” Yeah, that’s not us. Better bring the big boy spine when you submit in our group.
Since graduation, I’ve been working to build up my publishing resume. I’ve published three stories in literary journals this year. Two of the stories were accepted with only five submissions. Still, that’s an 80% failure rate. The third required 19 submissions.
I’ll admit that rejection of my novel is a little different. I spent two years bleeding onto the page. Still, one agent rejection doesn’t even come close to piercing my writer’s rhino hide. I may be singing a different song if/when I reach 150 rejections. Even then, I imagine I’ll just conclude I need to edit some more.
“Despite my ordeals, my wisdom and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well.” – Oedipus. He killed his father, fucked his mother, and gouged his eyes out. Bring it, agents. I’m in the game.