A few weeks ago I received my first rejection from an agent. I felt so good about my psyche when I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Oh, well. It would have been a miracle if the first agent who read chapters from my book loved it.”
I mean, really, who expects miracles, anyway?
It turns out I do. After a solid week of telling a few people that I just didn’t care, I had a raging case of insomnia. Oh, I cared. I cared a lot about this rejection. I emailed my best pal in Boulder, Ms. Mary Fran. I moaned about how I had wasted three years writing the book of my dreams, a memoir about the hard place I was in right then. I wrote and edited and wrote and edited, sent it to readers, moaned about their insights, wrote some more. I enjoyed the writing. I loved writing the book of my dreams, the one I have always dreamed of writing.
And then I sent a query letter to one agent. She emailed back in less than 24 hours and said she and her partner would read the first three chapters. I cried with joy. I did a happy dance. I celebrated with a trip to a spa. I soaked in my good fortune.
A month later, these agents rejected my manuscript with the nicest, most professional rejection letter. I thought, how kind, how adult, how in-the-process of finding an agent I am. I have heard it takes about 100 agent letters to find an agent IF you find an agent. Why would I expect the very first agent letter to turn into me finding an agent, the agent selling the book to a big publisher, to a big check in my bank account to use on a family trip, to my book hitting the world to kudos and a place on the New York Times Bestseller List?
Turns out I believe in the very crazy dream described in this sentence. Turns out my heart beat loudly when I read this quote from Dr. Wayne Dyer on poet Kelli Russell Agodon’s website: “I am realistic – I expect miracles.”
Good gracious, I so wanted my agent search to unfold like a fairy tale that the world teaches us to disdain. The night I had insomnia I trashed my lovely wish for the agent search and bemoaned spending three years on writing my memoir in my email to Mary Fran. The smart Mary Fran sent these words to me: “The three years you spent on that memoir was definitely worth it — think of the therapy bills you avoided, and you might end up making money in the end! Plus, think of all those people you could help with your story. I’m proud of you. You inspire me to write my truths and to enjoy the intellectual pleasure of reading other people’s stories. This is time well spent.”
Of course, I felt better after a some sleep and much fun with my family. A few weeks, later, I ventured back into agent land. I sent out three letters on a Friday morning.
By Monday morning, I already had one rejection in my email in-box. This time I only pretended for a few hours that I didn’t care. By the end of the evening I walked through my front door and saw my husband Chris. He said, “You had fun at the concert, right?”
And I burst into soul-wrenching sobs. I cried and cried about my memoir and my two agent rejections. Ridiculous. True. Putting your big audacious dream out into the world is a hard thing to do. Chris, to his credit, knows this. We talk about how I am reaching for something huge, to find love from the bigger world around my artistic endeavors.
Why did I write this memoir? Mostly I wrote it because it broke my heart to watch my youngest daughter suffer from severe learning disabilities. Writing about it was a way to heal my heart so I could help my daughter learn.
Guess what? I pretty much accomplished this by writing my memoir. It gave me a real place, a place on my computer, to put all my hurt. I needed to make something beautiful and lasting from this big hurt. I believe I did this. I wrote and then shaped my book into something beautiful and lasting. I love good writing. I set out to accomplish good writing.
Why do I need the world’s approval of this good writing? Well, I’m a writer. I used to tell Ms. Mary Fran that I would be happy penning articles for The Beacon Hill Press, a small, local neighborhood newspaper. I didn’t need a big reader audience. I was lying to Mary Fran. Years later, I wrote a haiku about this idea:
What Mary taught me:
when we tell ourselves we don’t
want we are lying.
I want it all! I want readership. I crave connection with my readers. Writing for ParentMap this last year has given me a link to readers. I love this conversation. If I am truthful with myself, I want my memoir to make the New York Times Bestseller List. And that’s OK. This is a good dream, better even than dreams of warm milk and honey.
So I cried my eyes out to my husband Chris last night. This felt like something I have needed to do for a long time. And he held me and then I went to sleep. Today I feel better. In a few days, I will be ready to send out more agent letters.