K, time for some honesty.
The novel I just sold? My eleventh. The sequel to it will be my fifteenth. They weren’t all finished, and they certainly were not all revised and submitted, but all of them crossed that 50,000-word-mark that defines a novel.
I wrote a novel my freshman year of high school, in 1994. One. I wrote a very bad, very long book my senior year, in 1998. Two. I revised it over the next four years and sent it to Tor and Baen, the only houses with open sub calls, after my awesome dad copyedited the whole thing.
Revisions and all, Tor and Baen still rejected my second novel.
What part of 280,000 words, written by a teenager imitating Robert Jordan, wasn’t there to love? Srsly Tor.
I wrote Three in 2002, but it got mired. Four in 2004, which I revised and sent off. Twas roundly rejected. Started two in 2006 that both petered out quickly; I count them both together as Five. Six, in 2008, descended into a 225,000-word mire. Seven, completed in 2009, took four years to revise, then made the rounds and collected personal rejections from many places, including Tor, Harper Voyager, and my current agent. A small press is currently interested in it. Cool new soon.
WAIT, STAY HERE, NOT DONE.
GET SOME TEA. WE’LL BE A WHILE.
In 2010, I wrote Eight to re-do the 2008 mire… and ended up in another mire. In 2011, I wrote Nine, a prequel to pre-empt that… another mire.
(I was producing, submitting, and being crushed repeatedly by short story rejections by this point, too. In case you forgot that part.)
During 2013, I was sitting in a talk by the dorkily dashing Randy Henderson about long-term career planning. At the time I was struggling with Ten, yet another giant epic fantasy novel, a different mire than the last three mires, which had a million story threads and once it was done would take years to rewrite, and I thought…
Gasp. I should just write SHORT novels for a while.
Fifty, sixty thousand words takes a month to write in first draft. And a month to revise. Why was I breaking my brain over books three times, four times that length? I knew how to do short fiction, and all I had to do was expand those skills. What’s more, the problems in fifty thousand words would be proportionally smaller.
So then I wrote Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen in 2014. (My agent also rejected Twelve before she saw Eleven.) I just managed to finish Fourteen’s first draft earlier this year.
That’s a lot of words before I got decent pay for any of them. I’m glad I stuck it out, through tons and tons of rejection. I can only imagine how much more difficult that amount of rejection is for writers from marginalized groups, who put up with a level of BS and aggression I don’t.
Any craft has a “journeyman” period, in which a professional does quality work while still mastering the craft. A lot of good journeyman novels get published–Everything Is Illuminated, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Patternmaster–even The Name of the Wind, I think, could be defined as a journeyman piece. But very often in your journeyman period, your flaws still show through.
I think Four was a decent early journeyman piece. Had self-publishing been viable in 2004, I probably would have thrown it up on Amazon to see what happened. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m not putting down self-publishing. But I’ve seen a lot of journeyman writers, who have more raw talent than I did in 2004, write a flawed book with good parts, watch the rejections come in, get frustrated, and self-publish it. Self-pubbing is great if you can pour all your time into it, or if you write something niche enough to sell itself.
It’s not what you should do with your first (or fourth) decent, wide-appeal book because people rejected it. Chances are, if mainstream publishing didn’t want it, it’s not good enough to be a breakout self-pub hit. It’s more likely another journeyman piece.
When I look at all those failed novels, and those wrong turns, and everything I’m learned, I’m not mad at the publishing industry that rejected me, I’m mad at myself for taking so long to learn from my mistakes.