As many OCC members know, I am involved in raising and showing dogs. This means putting the product of many years of thought and effort out there for someone else’s opinion. Sound familiar? After years of experience, you know as you watch the rest of the entry you have one of the better if not the best examples of the breed in the ring on that day. All things being equal, you should walk out with the purple Winner’s ribbon. Instead you end up placed behind one of the dogs you dismissed at first glance.
Sound familiar? Sound like all the times we’ve sent our manuscript “children” out for the opinion of someone else, in most cases someone we have never met, and might never meet. The major difference being we aren’t standing in front of the editor, best and brightest smile pasted on our faces, watching them try not to show any reaction as they go over our child. The editor doesn’t know us from Adam unless we’re multi-published.
In theory, dog shows are judged in an atmosphere of anonymity. In practice, judges have been around shows for decades and know many of the major exhibitors, who would be the dog world equivalent of multi-published. There are also professional dog handlers, who make a living showing dogs for other people. Depending on their level of success and recognition, they would be the writer’s equivalent of anything from already published to NYT best sellers.
With this amount of competition, how can a novice owner handler hope to compete successfully. Well, by competing. By training and grooming their dog to the best of their ability, choosing their outfits to best show off their dog, and by walking into the ring looking the absolute best they can. Wasn’t it Woody Allen who said 90% of success consists in showing up?
In the beginning you might lose, a lot. If you are able to stand back and take an objective look at your dog, or if you know someone who will be honest without being mean, you might find out your grooming could be a little better, or maybe you need to spend some more time practicing ring procedures at home before your next show. You might also find out there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with your dog, it’s just not in the judge’s style, or on that day they found a dog they liked better than yours.
By the same token, if you have taken that huge step to submit your book to an editor, only to have it come flying back with a “not for us at this time” photocopied rejection, rather than sink into ten year’s worth of gloom and swear off writing forever, maybe it’s time to take an objective viewpoint. Was this the absolute best manuscript you could have submitted? Are the characters truly fresh, and if so, do you give them enough challenges to make readers want to know them better? Is your submission groomed, polished and presented in the best possible light?
If so, and your book is still rejected, take a moment to think about the person at the other end of the transaction. Maybe yours is the umpteenth fresh new look at a Vulcan mind meld sex slave time travel futuristic vampire demon slayer they have seen this week and they read one yesterday they liked just a little bit better. Maybe the editor really, really can’t stand one more perky cheerleader type with porcelain skin, a double masters, perfect boobs and a minor in ancient Romanian mythology who spent summers working for Doctors Without Borders and winters perfecting her Olympic quality death spiral. Maybe the editor is human, is having a bad day, and your manuscript got in the way of her lying down with a cold rag over her eyes while dreaming of the words dancing rising up off the page to scratch her eyes out. Or maybe your book just isn’t what this particular publisher is looking for at this particular time.
You won’t win if you don’t enter, and you won’t sell if you don’t submit. More to the point, if you don’t enjoy the writing process, or at least feel success at having written, and your entire writing psyche is bound up with someone else’s approval, you’re going to set yourself up for major disappointment. Stop and smell the roses from time to time, have a chocolate chip cookie, call your best friend for a good whine fest, then fill out that entry form, send out that manuscript, and maybe this time you’ll have the zombie lovers on Pluto story they’ve been looking for all along.