If At First You Don’t Succeed …

… then try and try again.

We all heard that growing up. Whether you were struggling with your math class or trying to squeak onto a varsity sports team, chances are a parent, teacher or coach sang you this mantra somewhere along the way.

I’m quickly learning that this is never truer than for a writer. If at first you don’t succeed, do what you will with the rejection letter. Use it for wallpaper. Burn it. Line your ferret cage with it. Then move on to the next potential publisher on your list.

I got my first and only rejection letter so far while I was away for a job-related conference. I wish I could say that the “only” part is because I rock so much, but the truth is that my stats are 1 acceptance, 1 rejection, and 4 who-knows-what’ll-happen-yets. I just haven’t been trying long enough to host my first rejection letter bonfire.

Surely there will be more rejections to come, so I’m going to enjoy that 50 % acceptance rate while I’ve got it. There are a million salesmen who would love to quote the same stat.

Still, my first rejection letter, or actually email, shattered my world for a little while. In my head the publisher and the story were a match made in heaven. Or maybe hell, since I was trying to mate a horror story to a comparable magazine. The publisher didn’t see things my way. The rejection was very kind in its wording, but was not one of those rare gems I’ve heard about where the editor actually offers you some suggestions.

Over a thousand miles from home, standing in a computer kiosk at a conference center, I read the email and tried not to bawl. I had a half hour to mull things over before I was supposed to meet a group of co-workers in our hotel lobby for dinner. I made it, but just barely. The sting of the rejection and my mascara truly were a match made in heaven, if what I’d wanted was raccoon eyes.

That was a month ago. The story is now off knocking on another door. Because if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Which brings me to my next point. There are days when I am envious of the writers who came before me, and before the internet. Now that some publishers accept and actually prefer electronic submissions, I am a slave to my obsession.

Think about it. When Stephen King, or any number of now long-established writers got their start, things were very different. I picture SK going to his mailbox once a day, grabbing a mishmosh of envelopes and breathing a sigh of both frustration and relief when they all turn out to be bills and advertisements. No “thanks but no thanks” letter means you can hope another day. But no letter at all means your fiction is still homeless.

Now, we writers do the same thing. But in addition to that trot to the mailbox (from which we at least get a respite on Sundays and holidays) we also check our email inboxes. Check them, and check them again. At least that’s how it goes for me. I start each day telling myself I will check once in the morning, after I’ve persused the urgent work emails, and again at the close of the business day.

That’s exactly what I do. And if you don’t factor in the mid-morning check, the lunchtime check, the mid-afternoon check, and the bedtime check just in case some editor is working late, I’m not a big fat liar.

If it weren’t for technology, I wouldn’t have gotten my first rejection surrounded by other harried conference-goers checking in with their bosses back at the office. I wouldn’t have had to flee the conference center hoping I could make it to my hotel room before some colleague I’d networked with earlier in the day noticed I was on the verge of a very makeup-gooping meltdown.

Then again, if it weren’t for technology, I wouldn’t have been at a software conference in the first place. Besides, I have to admit it makes this whole writing and submitting thing so much easier, at least when you’re talking about the publishers who work that way.

I’m feeling thicker-skinned now. I’m certain I can live by the “if at first you don’t succeed …” motto. Only mine will be “if at first you don’t succeed, stomp your foot, cuss a blue streak, and then try again.” Now I just need to master the art of not obsessing over how my tries are faring out there in the world.

Twitching because you are away from your inbox for a while leads people to think you are crazy. And I don’t want to be known as “that crazy chick” until the moniker can be established as “that crazy writer chick.”

When I feel my thick skin getting softer and worry that I might be on the brink of another goopy meltdown, I will reread something a friend (another writer who is working on her first novel) sent me today.

I think this should help all of us in this crazy game take heart: Kathryn Stockett .


About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Uncategorized, Work, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to If At First You Don’t Succeed …

  1. LittleOddMe says:

    Oh gosh yes, you should definitely take heart from that. 😀

  2. l'empress says:

    How fortunate we are that she didn’t give up. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in years. And someday we will say the same about you!

  3. akamonsoon says:

    Well, good for you for getting back on the horse. I suppose those letters are just a part of it but I know it’ll just be a matter of time before you hear from an interested publisher. 🙂

  4. The Hook says:

    Keep fighting the good fight, girl!

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