In November 2005 I entered the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) contest just for the fun of it. The idea of the contest is to attempt to write 50,000 words within the month. Obviously 50,000 words isn't enough for a novel, but it's usually enough to tell you whether you have something that will turn into a novel eventually.
At the time I was also eager enough to write a companion journal called "NaNoWriMo Notes" and published weekly installments of it online at Blogcritics and my own site before, during, and after the contest. I kept publishing because instead of it just being a journal about the contest it had evolved into a record of my attempts to complete a novel.
You see, by the time November had come to a close that year I had written somewhere between seventy and eighty thousand words and was too far gone to stop. I've had plenty of fitful beginnings before, but none had ever cleared the thirty thousand-word mark, let alone gone as far as this one had, so I was determined to finish. I couldn't let all those words languish in obscurity; I had a duty to them to see them published.
Since I was already in the habit of keeping a running commentary it wasn't that difficult to continue. In fact there were weeks when I managed to get more accomplished writing about what I didn't accomplish, than actually accomplishing anything. I have to admit that not only were those particularly frustrating weeks, they were also the ones where I know I came perilously close to self-pitying navel gazing.
Even when I had finally finished the manuscript, including re-writes, edits, and proofreading, I continued to monitor my progress in attempting to find a publisher via the "Notes". But there is only so much you can write about that without repeating yourself.
Since I was still without a happy ending for "Notes" – getting the book published – and I was contemplating self-publishing it through Lulu.com, a print on demand company, I decided for publication purposes that NaNoWriMo Notes: An Exercise In Creative Insanity would end with the completion of the novel so it at least had the illusion of a happy ending.
In April of 2006 I sent off my first submission of a chapter and synopsis of the novel to a publisher. Almost immediately I received a request for the next three chapters of the manuscript. To say I was excited was putting it mildly. They must have really liked it if they wanted more within a week of receiving the first chapter.
After three months of not hearing a word back from them since that request for more chapters, my excitement began to ebb substantially. Friends who had been published many times over reassured me that it meant nothing – publishers can take up to year sometimes to respond to even a query letter. But when the rejection letter eventually showed up I wasn't surprised at all — it had become inevitable.
As I had decided only to apply to one publisher at a time it wasn't until October of 2006 that I sent off another submission. This time I called in a favour and asked a friend of mine if he would write a letter of support for me to his publisher. I hoped this would at least guarantee that it would be read. He had no problem with doing that and so I sent a full manuscript to the offices of Penguin India.
What with getting the manuscript copied — 300 plus pages would have been too much for my desktop printer to handle and the ink alone would have cost more than the commercial print job — and mailing, it cost me eighty dollars to send it off to the publisher. As recently as a year prior to my submission, Indian publishers had jumped at the chance to publish the work of foreign English language writers, so the money looked well-spent as far as I was concerned.
Of course a lot can happen in a year, and Penguin India had recently changed management and policy. With burgeoning Indian nationalism the company's focus had switched so that now they only published a limited number of foreign nationals. I had already started picking up signals to that effect so wasn't overly surprised to find a lovely piece of stationary in my mail one day from Penguin India regretting they wouldn't be able to use my manuscript.
That was in December of 2006 and I've only now sent off another unsolicited manuscript. Oh, I've been busy, true enough, but even to my own ear "busy" sounds like a feeble excuse. How long does it take to stick a chapter and two letters in an envelope and mail it? Even sorting out which publisher you want to send it off to next shouldn't take seven months, but that's how long it took me.
One of the sticking points was trying to find the publisher most likely to publish the manuscript before submitting it. Now of course that's a sensible precaution within reason. You're not going to send a piece of fiction to a publisher that only puts out non-fiction obviously, but I was going a little further then that.
I would go to a publisher's website and before I'd even check to see if they were accepting unsolicited submissions I would check out what type of books they sold. I'm not even sure what I was looking for, but I do know that if I didn't like the feel of their site, or their work struck me as being not the type I'd want to be associated with, I'd pass.
In other words I could always find an excuse not to send off my manuscript: too intellectual, not intellectual enough, wrong type of attitude towards publishing, too big, too small, and so on. If you try hard enough you can always find a reason not to do something.
I finally clued in that I had fallen into that trap, and from there it wasn't such a great leap to figure out that I didn't want to send my manuscript off again because I was scared of being rejected again. That might not sound like much of a revelation, but it actually took me by surprise that I felt that way.
After I recovered from the shock, and accepted that's what had been happening, it became surprisingly easy to send off a submission. I found out the name of the contact I needed to write to, and sent a package off to one of the smaller presses whose books I've been reviewing. That may sound like an easy route, what with name recognition and all, but it will also make a rejection all the more bitter.
So why, if I'm so afraid of rejection, have I submitted to someone whose rejection would have an even more devastating effect on me than another publisher? For the simple reason that if I can work up the courage to submit to them I'll be able submit to anyone. Of course it could also be that I'm hoping, that because they know me and what I'm capable of, that they might be more likely then others to at least consider me.
If I'm being honest I have to say it's a split between the two. I guess you could almost call it a paradox – submitting to someone you know because you hope it helps your chances while at the same time being even more afraid of submitting to them because the rejection will feel that much worse. Of course the real problem is most likely that I think too much and should just get on with it (I heard you out there in the peanut gallery – don't think I didn't).
So here I am sitting waiting for an answer and not expecting much in the way of anything. It's been almost two years since I finished the book and although I've been pecking away at its sequel, there are times when I read through it and it feels like someone else wrote it. Of course if they write back asking to read the full manuscript that will all change and you'll see how quickly I'll start to care.
But for now I'm going to at least hold on to the illusion of sang-froid and just continue on with my daily business as if my life didn't hang in the balance based on someone else's opinion. Which it doesn't, really it doesn't, I couldn't care less one way or another… And if you believe that I've got some great land in Florida I'll sell you sight unseen.