Back to the Future (1985) is one of those films that I’ll stop on every time. Granted, the pantheon of movies that are stop-worthy, for me, is grandiose, but Back to the Future holds must-stop status. On the heels of my latest agent rejection, a scene from the film resonates in my mind. It’s early, as Marty still hasn’t travelled back in time, and while he’s sitting at the bus-stop with Jennifer, they are discussing Marty’s band’s failure at school.
Marty: Too loud. I can’t believe it. I’m never gonna get a chance to play in front of anybody.
Jennifer: Marty, one rejection isn’t the end of the world.
Marty: Nah, I just don’t think I’m cut out for music.
Jennifer: But you’re good, Marty, you’re really good. And this audition tape of yours is great. You’ve gotta send it in to the record company. It’s like Doc’s always saying…
Marty: Yeah, I know, I know. “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”.
[Marty notices two girls walk by and looks at them]
Jennifer: [turns Marty’s head back to her] That’s good advice, Marty.
Marty: All right Jennifer. What if I take the tape in and they don’t like it? What if they say I’m no good? What if they say “Get out of here kid. You’ve got no future.” I just don’t think I can handle that kind of rejection.
The number of agent rejections for my novel manuscript is up to ten. I realize this is an incredibly small sample size, but I can’t help feeling like Marty. (For the record, my wife is very much Jennifer in my situation. A tireless cheerleader and motivator.) It’s the sense of frustration I share with Marty that has kept me from marshaling the effort to sit down and continue writing. I know I need to push forward, I know I need to write, I know I have more stories to tell, but, like Marty, I don’t know if I can handle that kind of rejection.
Ben Bova, a pillar of the science fiction and fantasy writing community, says that a successful writer needs three attributes: Talent, Craft, and Perseverance. Talent is innate; no one can teach you talent–and I’d like to believe I have at least a modicum of that. Craft can be learned, and I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time working on craft–in college, at workshops and conferences, and reading. But Perseverance, which Bova claims to be the most important of the three attributes, is something I’m not sure I have. He says writing is a hard, lonely, often bitter calling, and only tremendous perseverance can see a writer through the pains of disappointment and rejection.
Ten may be a wholly arbitrary number, but it feels like it should be significant. I’m not sure if this trend is a signal that suggests revision, or if it’s merely an opening obstacle that requires perseverance to survive. Another difficult aspect is this. I’ve given the completed manuscript to five trusted friends to help with the revision process, but I’ve yet to hear much from them. While the manuscript is long (93,000+ words), three of the readers have had the manuscript in their possession since August. With all that swirls around daily life, I don’t want to pester them for feedback, but I truly wish they could give it. I’m not sure as to the protocol when you’ve asked for a substantial favor and you haven’t heard back. I’ve also considered posting the manuscript here, chapter by chapter, in hopes of receiving feedback, but I don’t want that action to endanger possible traditional publishing of the story.
I get the sense that the novel needs revision, needs a little smoothing of the rough edges, but I’m afraid to start that process now. I don’t know if the story is good enough to be published yet. I hesitate because, I guess, if I hang on to it, I’ll never receive that rejection–like Marty and his audition tape. It’s the fear of rejection, I think, that has shifted me into neutral here.
If I’m rejected, would my whole identity coming crashing down? Orson Scott Card, another science fiction and fantasy maven, suggests sending out, today, the best work you’re capable of composing today. The fear of major revision at this point is simply, if I continue to tinker and fiddle with the product, at what point am I only making it worse?
A close friend, someone who has helped me along the way with this story over the last several years, believes the path to landing an agent for a novel only truly opens after a writer has published a few short stories. I resisted that line of thinking for a long time, choosing to focus on the novel instead of crafting pieces of short fiction. But as I idle here, I can’t help but think that being able to add that I’ve been published in a magazine or on a website to my query letter might hold more weight with agents.
I don’t know the right path. I’m still waiting to hear back from another agent regarding the novel manuscript, and in the mean time, I’m considering the short story approach. Truth is, I really want to get significant feedback on my novel manuscript. There are critique services available, but the most reputable ones cost at least $3 per page. My manuscript is up above 400 pages. You do the math. (That’s simply not an expense I can justify at this time, particularly during the house-hunting process.)
Rejection is a difficult thing in any walk of life. But, despite the disappointment, the publishing landscape is littered with stories of perseverance. John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times. Frank Herbert’s Dune
was rejected 20 times. Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time
was rejected 26 times. J. K. Rowling collected 12 rejections before a publisher decided to pick up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
. Even Chicken Soup for the Soul
garnered an astonishing 134 rejections. So while I can’t help but feel like Marty McFly at times, I do take heart in the fact that Marty (and George McFly) does persevere. I believe I can as well. Now, I just have to sit down and write.