In 1995, I sent out my first novel and got my first rejection.
I was a bright-eyed college student of 25 years, just married, and a writing hotshot. I read a lot of classic literature and I’d been churning out stories since grade school.
“You must want to enough,” Phyllis Whitney said of writing. “Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning.”
Boy, did I ever. I was driven.
When I sent my novels to editors, I did everything I was supposed to. I researched publishing houses. I subscribed to the Horn Book. I wrote new stories and sent them out, and kept improving the stories I already had. I went to a bunch of SCBWI conferences, meeting editors and agents. I was in critique groups. I honed my craft.
By 1999, I was publishing in magazines. I still racked up novel rejections with very nice notes from editors. I got “revise and resubmit” requests. I would be asked to try again with another story. But they all ended with no.
I got a master’s of fine arts for writing for children at Hamline University. I sold one book about the Civil War. Finally! But I couldn’t get anyone to buy my novels.
Hope is the cruelest trick a heart could play.
Fifteen years turned into twenty. I’d racked up rejections in the high hundreds, possibly low thousands. I was publishing plenty of gardening articles and short stories in national magazines, so I knew I had something that people wanted. But not so much with my novels.
I kept getting so close on my novels — agents who really loved my writing and kept looking at my full MSS but ended up passing — an editor that said “I really wanted to make an offer on this but there’s not a good market for this work.”
And then I’d hear about some little kid who was born in 1995 who said “OMG I’ve signed on with Mr. RockStar Agent, he loved my story, it took me a whole year to write! He was the first agent I sent it to and now I have a three-book deal with BigName Publishing House!”
These little kids! These babies! Just strolling into the beautiful place that I fought so hard for! It made my guts crumple.
I didn’t know what to do. I’d been writing since I was four years old. It just hurt. So many industry professionals had told me no – apparently I wasn’t as great as I thought.
I would try to write but I couldn’t. I tried to write stories, but I’d lost so much faith in my writing that I was constantly second-guessing myself.
But then one of my local writing friends persuaded me to give self-publishing a try. One of his self-published novels had taken off. He’d been able to remodel a room and buy a new TV with the proceeds.
“Whoa!” I thought. Hell, if he could do it, so could I!
I dug out an old short-story collection of mine. A really nice editor had wanted to make an offer on this, but she said short-story collections were a hard sell, so she’d passed.
So I published it myself.
That was my first self-published book – September 3, 2016.
I stepped into indie publishing and didn’t look back. I only wanted to succeed – to get my books out into the world. Now I was doing it on my own terms. Nobody else’s.
I took off like a rocket.
I published all those stories that the agents and editors said no to. I formatted books, made covers, did advertising and marketing, worked to find my audience and keep them. I wrote gardening books (I used to be a horticulturist). My rose book is really selling!
I’m writing this in December 2017. Since September 2016 I’ve self-published 21 books, most of which are polished novels that everyone said no to.
Now my readers are saying yes.
I’m finally – FINALLY – doing what I was put on this earth to do.
Grit is wanting to enough.
But you’ve also got to find a place where your work is wanted so you can grow. There’s no two ways about that. Indie publishing has given me that place.
And that place is life to me.