The fabulous and funny Tawna Fenske has a post up today about stretching her, um, horizons by reading Petals and Thorns. I'm so pleased she enjoyed the story. Quite a few people now have read Petals and Thorns as their first real foray into erotica. I feel like the wild friend who convinces everyone to do tequila shots and enter the wet t-shirt contest.
I can live with that.
Yesterday another writing friend told me that, when her first book was published, her own mother gave it three stars on Amazon. That's three out of five, for those not glued to Amazon stats. My friend said her mother had wanted to be a writer when she was younger, but gave up. She suspected jealousy was at work and she's likely right.
Still, it gives lie to the idea that we can run around shouting that our mother loved the book so it must be a best-seller.
Rejection is part of a writer's life as much as sitting down and assembling words. It's the nature of the business, from newbie to best-seller. Joyce Carol Oates even mentioned this in her incredibly moving essay Personal History, published in the December 13 issue of the New Yorker. (Here's the link to the online edition, but you have to subscribe or purchase the issue to read it, which is well-worth it, I think.) The essay describes her husband's death after nearly 46 years of marriage. This bit was an aside, just a descriptor of their relationship, but it struck me:
She goes on to explore the ways she needed him as a wife, not as a writer. I remembered this when my friend told me about her mother giving her three stars. The people in our lives don't always understand the pain of rejection - even the moderate pain of a meh review from someone who should be blindly enthusiastic.
In our marriage, it was our practice not to share anything that was upsetting, demoralizing, or tedious, unless it was unavoidable. Because so much in a writer's life can be distressing - negative reviews; rejections; difficulties with editors, publishers, book designers; disappointment with one's own work, on a daily or hourly basis - it seemed to me a good idea to shield Ray from this side of my life as much as I could. For what is the purpose of sharing your misery with another person, except to make that person miserable, too?
I've stopped talking about my rejections and set-backs with anyone but my close writing friends. To them, I can say "100 pages!" or "full request!" and they know my excitement. I can tell them I got a pass and they ask if it was a good one, a bad one or stock. They know how to console me and kick me to keep going.
People not involved in this arcane world, much as they might sympathize, can't really get into how it all works. And I've come to think they shouldn't have to. They come back to us with suggestions like maybe we should write another book or, hey! self-publish. They reassure us that getting published is really hard and maybe not for us. One friend's husband suggested that she should add in more about what people are wearing and make it sexy.
We know they mean well. We do. We love them for it even as we're choking back the explanations about the many ramifications of self-publishing or which genres discuss fashion and which don't.
It's just better not to go there in the first place because the thing that is fundamentally difficult to explain is that rejection is part of our Opportunity Cost.
You didn't know I knew fancy economics terms, did you?
Okay, it's a fake-out. This the only one I know, besides supply & demand, and I just learned it yesterday. A writer was talking about how she was multi-published and didn't want to brag, but had received very few rejections. A glance at her pub list shows her work is with e-presses, and not the top tier. I'm not saying they're not selective. All reputable e-presses have a selection process. I'm saying they're not as selective as the Big Six. They're not a selective as 99% of the agents out there. When you're going for bigger stakes, the opportunity cost is higher. That means you get more than a few rejections.
It might mean you get a trainload of rejections.
That's the part I find hard to explain. I have a healthy helping of ego and I want the brass ring. I'm willing to keep tossing my work into the ring with NYC's hungriest lions, even if it means watching them slice it into shivering bits. I'm willing to pay that price.
The people who love me can't stand to watch the show. I don't blame them a bit.
And that's okay. I can keep the misery to myself. It'll make sharing the triumphs even better.