I have to preface this post with a little story. Once upon a time, about 6 years and 6 books ago, I read Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, and it changed my life. No, seriously, it did. And I’m not big on how-to books when it comes to writing. But that’s a post for a different day. Anyway, I read that book, and it’s companion workbook, and did all the exercises. And the book I was working on was SO much better than anything I’d written before, and I loved it SO hard.
So, so hard, you guys.
And I even sent in the first page to Miss Snark’s first page critique, and, while it wasn’t her genre, she thought it was good. I did not get Snarked, I got approval. And when I finished the book and sent it out, I got my first ever requests from agents. One for a partial, and one for a partial and THEN for a full! This was it. I was so in love with that book and its characters, and it was much better than anything else I’d ever written, and it was actually getting requests, which no book of mine had ever done before. It was definitely The One.
But you can probably guess how this story ends, since the book in question is not the one that got published. No, the partial and the full got rejected. With form rejections. And more form rejections came in from agent after agent, until I had about 50 of them. I revised my query letter a million times and drove everyone nuts with it. Eventually, I had to admit that this book was not going to be The One, and it broke my freakin’ heart.
It took a long time to get over it. I know because even after publishing another book, I’m still not over it. Not completely. Obviously, I’ve moved on, but there is still a tiny sliver of me that holds me back from ever loving a book so wholeheartedly again. Because I believed in it, and I was stupid. And it messed me up.
But that’s not the end of the story either, so bear with me. Because, you see, I have this tendency when a book “fails” to tell myself that book is dumb and not any good, so I can let go and move on. And since I’m never exactly sure what it was about the book that supposedly failed, the types of characters and the things that happened in the book become unofficially off-limits. What. this book was fantasy and it sucked? Don’t write fantasy anymore, duh! And this character you loved that had X, Y, and Z qualities? Don’t write about X, Y, and Z qualities, obviously.
Kids, don’t be like me. Because lately I’ve been rethinking this policy, and of course it is stupid, not my ideas. And the book that was supposed to be The One and turned out to be The One that sucked and betrayed me and broke my heart? Well, it was flawed, but maybe it was my writing that was so flawed, and the only reason it got any requests at all was because of how great the characters and ideas were. Or at least how passionate I was about them.
I don’t make a habit of resurrecting old books, because they’re hard enough to let go of as it is, and I’ve found it usually better to move on and not look back. But the other day–okay, maybe more like a month or so ago–this book popped into my head again, and I just knew how I would rewrite it if I was working on it again. The words for the new opening filled my head, and I started writing. And it was good. Really good. My critique partner thinks it’s awesome, and hopefully my agent will, too. And hopefully somewhere down the line a publisher will love it, and then maybe lots of people will have the chance to love it. And maybe it wasn’t meant to be The One that got published first, but it could still be The One that takes off or The One that makes a bestseller list. Or just The One that makes somebody feel good when they’re having a crappy day.
My point is, a writing career isn’t about any one book. And just because this book I loved so much wasn’t first doesn’t mean it has to come in in last place.