It’s November, National Novel Writing Month, and my new project feels like a burial for the last one. My previous novel, my baby, is not quite dead. I still have full requests from agents and a revise and resubmit I’ve been taking my time on. Nevertheless, I am a leftist with an odd style querying a book within a struggling genre. I had a limited pool of agents to choose from for this project, and I’ve just about exhausted it. By the time my NaNoWriMo novel is finished and edited, I will know the first novel’s fate. My baby will have new life or will be buried in a backup hard drive.
I’m a rat for complaining. I have writer friends who’ve queried five books and have never gotten any interest from agents. If I were a bloody-minded optimist, I’d be disposed to treat my better-than-average showing as a success. But as someone who would like to get paid for my work, who wants to make a good product people will see, I’ve failed.
This is not a “failure is secretly success!” article. I won’t twist myself into Calvinist knots just to avoid sadness. I am not a child and can persevere while having a genuine human emotion, thank you. Plus, re-framing this as success would require me to treat personal spiritual growth as acceptable payment for writing. Bad idea.
I don’t mean to trash the personal spiritual journey aspect. I just don’t think it’s a separate journey from conventional success. Ideally, business is personal. It is not possible to make it through a draft without an idea of a consumer and without affection for that consumer. To get traditionally published, you have to build a relationship with an agent, who has to broker yet another relationship with an editor. I want those business partners to be my friends who share my success. I want my fellow writers, especially those writing in my genre, to do well. Each win in my genre clears a path for others to follow. We are all in this together.
In this way, writing and publishing are each relationship-focused. Publishing has the potential to be an industry where we all make wonderful things and are given endless opportunities to be generous to one another. My big dumb happy vision of how this could go is part of why I decided to try and publish instead of just sticking my writing in a drawer.
What feels real right now: There are a lot of warm, giving people in publishing, but the work pays almost nothing — less than what a teacher makes. They would love to be more generous to writers, but can’t afford it (though a very small minority are just jerks). If you are lucky enough to be published, most published books don’t sell. Your love for your readers will likely go unrequited. You will meet people — writers, editors, agents— who you want to like and who want to like you. You will slip past one another on your ways to other places. It will hurt. If you’re lucky and your book is a success, maybe someone will find your weird, unsatisfying relationships iconic. You could be the David Foster Wallace of whatever it is you write.
This isn’t the truth either. It’s that November mood talking.
Everything that motivates me to write sits out of reach, more exhausting than tantalizing. I’m writing the next novel anyway. No idea why. It’s going well.
And how are you?
M. K. Anderson lives in Austin, Texas. Her short story Grizzly Appeared in Nightscript Volume III. You can follow her on Twitter at @emkayanders.