I began my full-time pursuit of publication in the spring of ’01, just after receiving my master’s. I was convinced I’d get published quickly…I’d already placed short fiction, poetry, and literary critique in a few journals while I was still a student, I’d consistently been referred to as one of the better writers in the English program in my university, and—if I’m to be completely honest—I hadn’t really failed at much of anything. I was the typical Type A-er, racking up straight A’s. Anytime I decided to try something new—take up another instrument, put together a garage band, do a little modeling around town—I never really encountered much in the way of an obstacle. That’s not to say I didn’t work hard. I just hadn’t heard many “no”s.
A year into my pursuit of book-length publication, the only thing I had heard was “no.” When the spring of ’02 rolled around, I hadn’t had a single piece of work accepted. Same for ’03. Spring of ’04, I watched the graduation footage on the news and couldn’t help feeling like a complete and total…failure. Ditto for ’05. By ’06, I felt like the entire world had moved on—everyone I knew from college had wrapped up advanced degrees, were teaching, moving on in their lives. I swore all I had was a hole in my office wall shaped like my skull, because I’d spent five years banging my head against it. Spring of ’07, graduation rolled around again—still without a single acceptance. And I very much felt like I was someone who had once been—but was no longer—an overachiever. Spring of ’08, and I was still in the same place I’d been seven years earlier. Still getting papered with rejections. Piles and piles of failures. Giant red “F”s. More than a thousand of them in all.
…Late in ’08 (around Thanksgiving), things started to pick up. By early ’09, I’d signed two deals: one with a publishing house for my first YA novel and one with an agent offering representation. I didn’t jump for joy as much as I breathed a sigh of complete and utter relief.
Seven and a half years it took just to ink those first deals. And if I could do anything over again, it’d be this: I would not beat myself up for the time it took me to get there. What I finally got through my thick skull after I’d signed a few contracts—and had that whole 20 / 20 hindsight thing going for me—is that success comes in external and internal varieties. A book on the store shelves? That’s definitely an external success. But writing something that gets an editor’s attention, that makes her write a personal note along with her rejection, and then taking that rejection to heart, learning from it, and revising? That’s a success, too—an internal success.
Looking back, I can now see the myriad of ways that I grew between ’01 and ’09; I can see the hundreds—thousands—of internal successes I racked up, even when those rejections were pouring in. I’m proud of my published books and of the awards and reviews I’ve snagged. But I have to admit, I’m every bit as proud of my internal successes, too.