Monday, July 11, 2011

Won't somebody publish my YA novel, please?

Yes, this is a rant.

Twenty-two years ago, I had a couple of YA novels published. I then took some time off to focus on my young family, and when I returned to writing and querying, three years later, it was as if that initial success had never happened. I was a beginner again.

Fair enough. I started over.

But I'm beginning to wonder if that was a good idea.

For all the years, and manuscripts, and query letters and rejection letters since, I've slowly been descending into an awareness of what it means to lose confidence in a dream shared by every writer: to see my story published.

Should I feel encouraged that the regular feedback I get from editors and other published authors is "This manuscript deserves to be published"? (That's a quote from Red Deer's Peter Carver). Do Ontario Arts Council grants, invitations to speak at a writers' festival, participate in writing workshops for kids and be a Writer-in-Residence really mean anything? Successes in my business writing career and a few self-publishing projects keep me going. But still...

Won't somebody publish my YA novel, please?

I received another "thanks but no thanks" from a publisher today:

"The title is well chosen; the tone is lively and engaging, and Isabel is a sympathetic and believable protagonist..." followed by a "however" and two suggestions, both good, but neither requiring substantive rewriting.

In other words: "Close, but not quite."

The kind editor took the time not only to offer concrete feedback, but also to urge me to "Please consider pursuing other avenues for the manuscript." She included contact information for the Canadian Children's Book Centre, which is helpful - except that I've been writing and querying so long that I'm already familiar with all the resources the excellent CCBC offers want-to-be-published writers.

The truth is, I'm discouraged. Oh, I know all the stories of authors - Madeleine L'Engle comes to mind - who queried for years before achieving success. I know the "never give up" attitude preached (so often) by those who are already successful.

Coming close so many, many times isn't a great feeling. I'm tired of the disappointment. I'm tired of seeing my stories crash land after months and years of intense creative effort. For most of my writing life, that effort has been a magical experience of transformation and joy. But lately, writing fiction has lost its lustre - and for me, that's the greatest loss of all.

What to take away from this?

1. My writing is obviously good enough to catch the eye of an editor - fact.

2. This most recently rejected story needs some work - maybe. (My first novel might never have been published if I'd heeded the advice of an acquisitions editor who told me it would be better if I completely changed a crucial plot point; I didn't change it, and a second publisher snapped it up because of that plot point. Who to listen to? Acquisition editors, or your heart?)

3. The next step is all up to me: write, rewrite, revise and continue to submit - or not.

Many questions, and no clear answer yet.


  1. Terry Fallis, winner of the Leacock Award for Humour for his book The Best Laid Plans, and the CBC Canada Reads winner, was told by an editor to take out all of the letters that Angus writes to his wife. That is one of the most endearing parts of the book.
    If you, who I admire and look up to, give up, what hope have I? You MUST keep going. What if JK Rowlings had given up? Your writing is wonderful and it will find a home soon.

  2. Thanks, Lisa. Terry Fallis, JK Rowling - not sure I'm in that league, but you're absolutely right about keeping on keeping on. It sure takes a lot of energy, though!

  3. Hi Jean. I found your blog through Heather Wright. I can definitely sympathize. This "getting close" doesn't help much once you've already been published. It's encouraging when you're first starting out for sure. People seem to be under the impression that once you've had a book published the rest will automatically follow. Wouldn't that be great?

    Peter Carver is an experienced editor and well respected. I would take anything he said to heart.

    In the end, we keep writing, keep submitting because if we didn't what else would we do? Best of luck.