A multipublished author friend of mine told me years ago, “The only thing separating me from my unpublished writer friends is persistence.” She began her career writing True Confessions articles for pulp magazines, and now, nine novels and one Pulitzer Prize submission later, she is an established, respected author of literary fiction.
When she told me this, I was just beginning to write full-length fiction, at the foot of the mountain that is the usual path to publication, and I remember thinking, Persistence? I can do that all day long. I finished my first manuscript and submitted diligently to agents, ready for them to snap it up and launch me into my new career.
All of them passed.
Undaunted, I put that manuscript away and started over—and over and over and over—on the manuscript that eventually became The Breakup Doctor.
When I felt I had finally “found” the story (oh, the many joys of pantsing), I began submitting it to agents—to a great deal of indifference and one or two kind and encouraging responses. To cheer myself in the face of dozens of rejection letters, I began making poetry of them, as my submission list approached the triple digits:
Sometimes we must pass on books,
(even very good books,)
which are either out of our range or
require an amount of attention we feel
unable to provide.
Thanks for reaching out, and for waiting patiently for a response.
While this sounds interesting, I'm afraid it's not for me.
So it's with regrets that I'm going to pass.
At submission #100, still with no offer of representation, I decided that this second manuscript would join the first in a drawer. I had been greatly persistent, but it was time to admit that this one wasn’t going anywhere.
“Don’t give up,” one of my critique partners said. “Send out a few more.”
And because I used to be an actor, and had my delicate ego thickly calloused by those many years of rejection, I did. And lo and behold, on query #113 I received an offer of representation from my current agent. She loved the story and the concept, and enthusiastically began shopping it around to publishers. We got fantastic feedback—notes so flattering that in all the flowery words, I almost missed the fact that no one was actually offering for the book. Not one publisher.
Reluctantly, my agent and I retired the manuscript while I kept working on another one. Persistence had become my middle name, my battle cry, the Band-Aid over the wounds of rejection.
After I finished that story, I took another look at Breakup Doctor—this time with the objectivity some distance had offered me, and I reworked it to something pretty close to its present form. I’d never been able to get the story and the characters out of my head, and I’d decided to get it out in the world myself.
I told my agent of my extensive revisions of the story, and my plans to self-publish it, and—never having stopped believing in the story—she immediately asked, “Will you give me one more crack at trying to sell it first?”
Well, yes. Of course. If you are lucky enough to find an agent with the same overdeveloped persistence gland you have nurtured in yourself, you give her carte blanche to plow full steam ahead at all times.
And she shopped it. Again. And we got the kindest, most flattering of rejections. Again.
Until we didn’t. Three years after she’d first signed me on the merits of this story, my agent sold the book as a series of three to Henery Press, a relatively new but reputable publisher that has come onto the pub scene like a lion.
Did I catapult to the top of the bestseller lists? Not yet. Did Hollywood come clamoring for the movie rights? I’m sure they’re on their way.
But meanwhile, I have another story to write, and my agent and I are going to shop that sucker around pretty hard while we keep working with the Breakup Doctor trilogy.
Because if I never become the J. K Rowling of chick lit, I have decided . . . it will never be for lack of persistence.
Phoebe Fox has been a contributor and regular columnist for a number of national, regional, and local publications, and is currently a regular guest blogger on relationships for the Huffington Post. She's been a movie, theater, and book reviewer; a screenwriter; an actress; and a game show host; and has even been known to help with homework revisions for nieces and nephews. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two excellent dogs.