Saturday, August 13, 2011

August Theme: How to Deal with Negative Thoughts (Tracy Barrett)

After my first novel was published, I suffered from a classic case of hubris, and as hubris always does, it led to a humbling fall.

My first novel was accepted by the first editor I sent it to, and it got some glowing reviews (not universally, and of course the one that starts “This uneven first novel” wound up at the top of Amazon’s review pile). It eventually was published in four other languages, was put on a lot of school reading lists, and garnered a lot of reader reviews.

I thought, “Hey, this getting published thing is easy!” and set to work writing another novel. When it was finished, not only did my editor reject it, but so did every other editor I sent it to, usually with a form letter. I shelved it.

Undaunted, I plugged away at effort no. 3. I felt very confident about this one and sent it off to the editor of book no. 1. She rejected it with unflattering haste and included a note that said something like, “I think you’ll probably be able to get this published elsewhere, but I hope you don’t. I think it will be harmful to your writing career.”

What? Was it really that bad?

I re-read the novel and I still liked it. I liked it a lot, in fact. So I started sending it out again.

Rejection after rejection came in, and after a while I started thinking that the editor of book no. 1 had been right. It must be a terrible book for it to be rejected so often, and she was probably also right that it would be awful if someone published it because I’d become known as the author of such a bad book. Maybe I shouldn’t keep trying. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing at all—book no. 1 was a fluke. I’d written my one good book and I’d written myself out. I was a fake, a poser.

But somehow I knew that this book was good (unlike effort no. 2). I knew it. But I despaired of anyone else ever knowing it. I was about to give up—

—and then I got a contract offer. Not only an offer, but an offer from an editor I had heard was wonderful, from a house whose books I liked a lot.

I was happily negotiating the contract when the twenty-fourth rejection letter came in for that very project.

Cold in Summer won several awards and is still in print eight years later. I've had lots of positive feedback on it, and regularly hear from readers who love it.

What I learned from this is that you have to be honest with yourself. If I hadn’t been so carried away with the success of book no. 1, I would have recognized that the second one, although a useful learning project, wasn’t worth publishing. I would have saved myself a lot of time and heartache if I had allowed myself to see that from the beginning. Something about Cold in Summer felt different; it felt like a good book and one that would eventually find a publishing home despite what that editor had said about it ruining my career, and in that case too I was right. My nineteenth children's book, and ninth novel, is coming out in September.

Trust your instincts.




6 comments:

  1. Congrats on persevering. I'm quite new at fiction publishing. It's an exhausting industry, every-changing and fickle, largely unpredictable, and really tough on one's self-esteem. But you fought your way through! Good lesson about hubris, though, which we could all stand to be reminded of.
    -Anne E. Johnson

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  2. Nineteen children's books! Incredible...

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  3. Anne, my self-esteem constantly takes a beating in this business, but it's worth it!
    Holly, I can't believe it myself!

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  4. Tracy,
    I love this post - and I can so identify with your experience. Like you, I thought that once I'd published a children's novel my career was all set. Then I had to wait 18 years until my next book came out...!
    Perseverance counts, that's for sure, and you're absolutely right about trusting your instincts.
    I can't wait to read your books...!

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  5. Eighteen years, Christine?? Good for you! You have the guts that it takes!

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