On Publishing Purgatory
By Robin Friedman
It took me four years to get published for the first time.
I've heard that's a short amount of time, but it felt like four centuries to me.
It took me ANOTHER four years, however, to get published for the second time. And three years AFTER THAT to get published for the third time. (It was the fourth time, mercifully, that happened not-so-incredibly-slowly.)
On the day I got published for the first time, I mistakenly thought I was "in." It was finally, finally over-- that struggling-to-get-out-of-the-slush-pile thing.
My editor left my publishing house, my new editor rejected my next novels, I had no agent and couldn't seem to get one, and, in the end, my publishing house squashed its book program all together.
I was back in that struggling-to-get-out-of-the-slush-pile thing.
But this time it was much worse than it was before.
I couldn't apply for "unpublished writer" contests or "unpublished writer" grants or "unpublished writer" conferences, because, technically, I did have one book published. At the same time, though, I had ZERO books in the pipeline.
I was trapped in a kind of Publishing Purgatory-- and I felt alone, ashamed, and lost.
There are no organizations for "under-published writers."
I was too embarrassed to discuss it anyway. I stammered when people asked me about my second book.
They stopped asking.
And yet, I kept trying. I wrote, rewrote, submitted, went to conferences.
I came heart-breakingly close.
Like the time an editor called me at home, breathless with excitement, to tell me he was going to show my novel to his boss that afternoon. Four weeks later, his boss said no.
Or the time an editor again called me at home, this time to go over my novel, page by page, with suggestions for revision. A month later, she turned it down with a three-line e-mail.
There were the enthusiastic revision letters, the enthusiastic revision e-mails, the enthusiastic promises of taking my novels to acquisitions.
But none of it ever worked out.
And I don't know why I kept going.
Or all of the above?
I had quit my "day job" as a newspaper reporter to live the dream of being a "full-time author."
But my dream had turned into a nightmare. I was out of work-- on two fronts.
So I returned to full-time journalism. And, ironically, it was then that my luck changed.
I know other writers who have been-- or still are-- in this position. "Droughts," they call it. And yet, in the age of the Never-Ending Listserv, Message Board, Oprah couch, and MySpace Profile, I never hear anything about this topic, and I suspect it's due to those same feelings I had... embarrassment, shame, loneliness.
That's unfortunate. Because only other writers could possibly understand the peculiar pain of this frustration.
And writing is already a lonely profession.
Six months after returning to the full-time workforce, I sold two teen novels within three months of each other. Was it karma that caused this change of luck? The universe's idea of a great practical joke? Or a totally random act of kindness? I'll never know. But I do know working full time took away much of my loneliness, desperation, and feeling of being undervalued-- those same feelings I often see in fellow writers. Getting a regular paycheck for my writing skills gave me back a sense of purpose, usefulness, and professionalism. I'll never know if it was plain old coincidence or a subtle change in attitude that turned things around for me, but I do know no matter how busy I'll get — working full time and being an author on the side — I'll never give up my day job again.