How to Keep Your Head Up When Publishing is Hell

I started querying my first novel in December 2014. I was a senior in college, and had spent the summer leading up to that Christmas query-fest googling things like “how to get published” and “agents who represent YA novels.” I got a bunch of rejections and a handful of partial requests, and have this distinct memory of sitting in my therapist’s office before spring break, telling her about one of the requests, stars in my eyes as I fantasized about my dreams coming true in the next few weeks. 

It’s been seven years and I still don’t have an agent. I've never had an agent. I’m not exactly any closer to my dreams coming true than I was that spring morning in 2015. By some measures, I’m further away, since I’m not actively querying a project at the moment.

I have no guarantee that my dreams will ever come true. Yet still I work toward them, writing new novels, attending grad school to get my MFA, and penning query letters that will, hopefully, garner me the attention of an agent. I also threaten to give up on writing entirely at least once a day. Thankfully, I don’t want to (and I have good friends who call me out when I make empty threats), but the question that lives in the back of my mind remains…why do I do this? How do I do this — keep moving forward, day by day, rejection after rejection?

When the going gets tough, the tough get… encouraging?

Sometimes I think maybe I’m not “cut out” for publishing, because the rejections hurt so much. It’s a paradoxical combination of mind-numbing and heart-breaking to keep putting myself out there, project after project, and not get any validation from the industry’s gatekeepers. I tell myself that if I just got a request I could rest easy knowing my concept is decent. And when I get a partial, I tell myself that if I can just get a full I’ll be happy knowing that my opening pages are alright. And when both of those end in rejection, I tell myself that it’s because I can’t sell my writing and maybe that’s because I can’t write well in the first place.

It’s a vicious cycle, and something has to break it.

For me, that something is community. Whether I found them through critique partner matchups on Twitter, Facebook groups, writer Discords, or my grad school cohorts, I’ve leaned so heavily on my writing community over the past seven years.

They’ve been there for me when I was in the throes of a shiny new idea, listening to me wax poetic about all the things I was going to do. They’ve walked me through the slumpy middles of my novels when all I wanted to do was write “the end,” even though I had 30,000 words left to pen. My friends have celebrated with me when I’ve started querying and mourned with me when I’ve shelved novels. They’ve encouraged me through validation or tough love when I said I would quit. In short, they’ve kept me going.

This holds true for my non-writer friends, too. Almost everyone who knows me knows I’m a writer with aspirations of traditionally publishing novels someday. So they keep me going when I need them to as well.

When the going gets tough, the tough get…encouraging? Let’s rock with it.

I plan to keep going with this writing and publishing thing. As long as it takes, I’m going to keep writing books and querying them and hoping that someday I find a home for them. And I’ll bring my community along with me because their encouragement is so necessary.

Karis Rogerson

Column by Karis Rogerson

Karis Rogerson is a mid-20s aspiring author who lives in Brooklyn and works at a cafe—so totally that person they warn you about when you declare your English major. In addition to embracing the cliched nature of her life, she spends her days reading, binge-watching cop shows (Olivia Benson is her favorite character) and fangirling about all things literary, New York and selfie-related. You can find her other writing on her website and maybe someday you’ll be able to buy her novels.

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