Small Victories

I was scrolling through my Facebook Memories today when a post came up from ten years ago that caught my eye.

"Ah, rejection," I wrote, on November 5, 2009. "I wish I could say I've missed you."

2009 was a tumultuous year for me. That summer, I left a good job in Vancouver and drove with my partner across the country to Ontario, where I bought a MacBook and moved in with my mom in St. Catharines, and that September I settled in to build a career as an author.

I wrote a novel that September. That's probably what the whinging about rejection is about. I figured I would write as much as I could until someone gave me a book deal or I ran out of money, whichever came first.

Judging by the date of that post, I had probably just started querying agents for that first book, which was a Raymond-Chandler-in-Vegas noir I was calling, like, "These Bloodthirsty Days."

(I was also applying to MFA Creative Writing programs and being roundly rejected on that front, too, so maybe that's what I was complaining about.)

Anyway, I would quickly become quite familiar with rejection. I must have queried fifty agents with that first manuscript, and all but one rejected me.

And I hated it. It never got easier. They say not to take these things personally, but I took every one as an indictment of me as a human being, as a sign that I'd made a huge, stupid mistake and I was a huge, stupid loser.

But the one agent who didn't reject me DID call me and DID sound enthusiastic, and suggested some revisions that I quickly worked into the novel and, just as quickly, sent back to her inbox.

And her enthusiasm buoyed me enough to keep writing.

It was a time of small victories that I could only hope were building toward something big.

I didn't hear back from that agent, after I sent her the revisions. But at the same time as I was querying (and whinging about rejection), I was probably just about done the first draft of another novel I'd started in October, that I liked even more than the poker noir thing.

And as I waited to hear back from the agent, and nearly drowned in a deluge of rejection letters, I kept working on that second project, in hopes that if the first book didn't work out, the second one would.

(Or maybe the third, or the fourth.)

It took me into the new year, getting that second book done and ready for querying. I found myself in Peru when it came time to badger agents again.

My partner was teaching English at a school in Arequipa, and so for two months as she taught, I revised that second book under the shadow of a volcano called Misti, and I wrote diligently on a (by this time, fourth) book, as well.

I must have queried around eighty agents for that second book. And it still wasn't easy.

Around March of 2010, I wrote this embarrassing post on my old blog, which I still return to now and then, to marvel at how dark everything seemed, just at the instant before it started to break daylight.

"I'm more or less coming to terms," I wrote (adrift in a miasma of melodramatic self-pity), "that this project, like the first book, is dead in the water...

"And maybe one day I'll write something and get published and then when I'm well-known and not just another hack in the slush pile, I'll dig up this second book again and polish it up and maybe it will get published and sell lot of copies."

Little did I know.

That book, the second book that I was about ready to write off for dead, was THE PROFESSIONALS.

And three weeks after I wrote that blog post, I accepted an offer of representation from the first agent who'd believed in me, who'd read the second book and, like me, liked its chances even better than the first.

Nine years ago this month, that agent set me up with a phone call with a senior vice president at a major New York publishing house, and a few days after that, we had a six-figure deal for that book, and its sequel.

It was the book that launched my career, just as I'd hoped. And to this day, it's still drawing readers, still garnering fan mail. It's been optioned for film a handful of times, and twice a year, I get a royalty check in the mail for it, still.

I was presenting again at the Surrey International Writers Conference a couple of weeks ago. And I met a lot of aspiring writers who are just setting out on the query trail and who are probably feeling a lot like I was, ten years ago, as the rejection letters flooded in and I grasped for any little piece of encouragement to keep me afloat, keep me writing, keep me pushing forward.

And when I look back on my old blogs and status updates from that long ago, I can remember very clearly just how devastating each rejection was, just how acutely I felt that the world wasn't listening, that even though I had faith in my talent and in what I had to say, it would all be for naught if I couldn't convince just one other person to hear me.

It was a time, as I've said, of small victories. It still is, in many ways. And then, just as now, the only way I knew to notch anything in the "win" column was to keep banging on the door, and keep writing, until someone paid attention.

They paid attention, eventually. Eventually, they'll pay attention to you, too.