So, the new novel is done! I sent it to my literary agent, Steven Chudney, who has sent it on to different editors at various publishing houses. Now comes the waiting, waiting, waiting time. From the high excitement (and a few tears) after finishing the book to the very anti-climactic time waiting to hear if it will be accepted. It’s like sitting in the waiting room at Port Authority Bus Terminal waiting for a bus that might never show up. It’s that much fun.
So here are some things we can do while waiting to hear from literary agents.
1. Ignore what editors say about your unpublished novel. Ignore the reasons they give for rejecting your book. I got an email from a friend who also has her first novel making the rounds at publishing houses. She already got a rejection letter from one editor who told her it was too sad. Er…um…Romeo and Juliet? I would not touch the manuscript to please an editor until one of them says she wants to work with me, and then I would change it.
2. Find something else to write. I know it’s hard for me to concentrate right now (or “write now”) while I’m waiting but the work is…the work. I got to the point before I dug in and rewrote A Remarkable Kindness for the eighteenth time that I had to make a decision. I was going to write whether it got published or not. I would write for the joy of writing—the other stuff is nice but it’s the fluff. The substance is the actual work. I had to decide to write because I love writing and keep doing it. I thought of Emily Dickinson who wrote poems that nobody ever liked when she was alive—but she did her art.
3. Remember all those stories about writers who got rejected a hundred times. Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Help come to mind. Everyone knows those stories.
4. Remind yourself what matters. I always had ideas of what would happen once I published my novel. I thought there would be a dramatic change. Then my novel was published and nothing really happened. I went on several book tours (nothing glamorous or exciting about sitting on those shiny bedspread covers in a motel room in a strange city), I met some great people (hello to you and you and you!), had several people say they loved my book (thank you!) and then I went home and went back to my desk to work.
5. Ask, what’s the goal? The goal of life isn’t to be a best-selling author. Look at Hemingway who shot himself. (Well, alcoholism does lead to a depressing death or suicide eventually, anyway.) The goal is to be at peace with ourselves. Nothing outside myself can give me that inner happiness. I might get a temporary boost by work successes but it is only temporary. I might get a temporary letdown from rejections or bad reviews but that, too, passes.
We have to keep doing the inner work. Nothing else can fill us up. Not glittery prizes, not TV appearances, not sparkly reviews.
To my friend waiting to hear about her book, and to everyone else who is waiting for an answer, remember this: the goal is to accept and love ourselves as we are, right here, right now. And that’s an inside job. We have to keep telling ourselves that we are wonderful. Don’t say, “Well, we’re not really such-and-such,” or, “This isn’t a big deal.” It is a gigantic deal.
We don’t have to do anything spectacular to feel like a hero. All we have to do is live our lives as best as we can. We can stand somewhere and think about where we’ve been and where we are now and the journey we’ve traveled to get here. Then we can try to live our best chapter today.
Post-script, Emily Dickinson agreed with Thomas Higginson, “If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her — if she did not, the longest day would pass me on the chase.”