In the movie Christmas Vacation, Clark and Ellen Griswold are discussing why Cousin Eddie’s family has so little at Christmas time. Here’s the discussion:
Clark: How can they have nothing for their children?
Ellen: Well, he’s been out of work for close to seven years.
Clark (indignant): In seven years he couldn’t find a job?
Ellen: Catherine says he’s been holding out for a management position.
Knowing Cousin Eddie as the audience does, it’s absurd on its face that he’s been holding out for a management position; thus the humor. But I wonder if the absurdity of Eddie holding out doesn’t also apply to me.
My third book, The Boat, was completed in January and since then I’ve crafted a query letter (with many revisions) and forwarded it to a number of literary agents. And then I waited. And waited some more. Finally, rejections started showing up in my inbox. The rejections were nice enough, but they felt cold and impersonal. I suppose form letters will come across that way. Here are some samples. “While I was intrigued by premise of the book, I ultimately didn’t respond in a way that tells me I can champion the book wholeheartedly and I’m afraid it’s not quite right for my list.” [I intentionally included the grammatical error.] Or, “I’m afraid I’m not the right agent for this project.” And the most recent, “We’re afraid your project isn’t quite right for our lists at this time, but we encourage you to continue editing and querying other agencies.” Apparently the last rejection was a group effort. Isaac Asimov famously wrote about rejection letters, “Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” And so they are and so it is.
In retrospect, am I being foolishly stubborn, not unlike Cousin Eddie, by holding out for a traditional publishing opportunity to come to fruition? Is my writing not good enough or interesting enough and am I just fooling myself? Or am I letting the rejections I’ve received so far begin to create in me self-doubt and drive me to other options? After all, I’ve only received twelve rejections and nine “no replies” since I started shopping my book four months ago. Am I being impatient with the process? I think the answer to the latter question is obvious.
I realize there are many options available today in getting a book published; that don’t include the mainstream publishing houses. And I’m confident that if I went another route, The Boat would sell well. However, for now I’m going to be like Cousin Eddie and “hold out” for a literary agent’s positive response to my query letter and the opportunity to have my book published in the traditional manner; if nothing else, to prove to myself that I can. However, unlike Cousin Eddie, I won’t be waiting seven years. Meanwhile, my new project, Lost Highway, is coming along nicely.