The amount of rejection is staggering. It’s a constant drumbeat. It’s a deluge. It’s drinking water from a firehose, lips right up against the cold blast.
I published a book last summer with Simon & Schuster, which is to say, a major publisher — as an unknown writer, snagging them, and my powerhouse of an editor, felt like a magic trick. My book is a collection of memoiristic essays about race, gender, and the body. I was lucky enough to get great reviews, including in the New York Times, and can still feel with sparkling clarity the thrill of seeing my picture on the digital front page. Also thrilling, even a year later: passing my work in bookstore windows and on bookstore shelves. People actually buy my book, and check it out of libraries, and recommend it to colleagues and friends, and write me little mash notes. From the first email with my future-agent to publication day and the book tour (virtual in light of Covid), publishing was an actual dream that came true; to say I’m thankful would be a whopping understatement. I still regard the entire experience with a sense of disbelief and surprise. Surprise for how collaborative the book-publishing process ultimately is (copy writers! designers! publicity people! all chipping in), surprise for the jot of immortality that comes from having a book forever in the world, surprise for the generosity of friends and family who gave their blessing to my telling of our shared stories, surprise for the gift of all it.
There’s another thing that surprises me, though: the pressure — albeit imposed in an ambient rather than point-blank way — to portray the experience as a uniform success. Don’t get me wrong — it was a success, and it’s appropriate to hold and present it in that light, to stay focused on how lucky I am to have done this. It would be disingenuous — and tone-deaf, and incredibly annoying to others — if I ignored or downplayed the wonder of this adventure. Yet there is always a shadow side. And in this instance, I experience the shadow as pressure to conceal the shades of “failure,” or non-success, that are part of what was ultimately a fruitful endeavor.
It feels like I shouldn’t “admit” that the majority of publishers to whom my agent sent my book proposal said no. Of the thirty or so editors he contacted, just a few were interested and ultimately bid on the book…