Yesterday I shared with you the actual events of the Realm Makers conference I recently attended. Today I’m going to go deeper and darker, because I try to be honest here about the struggles I experience on my journey, and this experience was a struggle.
Before I left for the conference, I kept telling myself that I should squeeze every last drop of enjoyment from it, because I knew it was in all likelihood my last conference. The problem, as I soon found out, is that it is easier said than done! It is surprisingly difficult to enjoy an experience you know you have no hope of repeating.
Then, I arrived in Philadelphia after three grueling days on the road, only to get lost and spend an hour trying to find the right building before I could check in. What little confidence I might have had began to leak away. The next evening, after the early bird class, I was a basket case. I posted on my personal blog that maybe the time had come to let the dream die. Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to succeed.
I wrote that because, as I say, I try to be honest, and that’s what I was feeling at the time. I kind of hoped someone would read it and say something to encourage me. Anything! I longed to hear that at least one other person believed I can do it. A “hang in there” or an “I know you can do it” would have made a world of difference to me.
Instead, there was silence. In my compromised state, the message seemed clear: you are delusional if you think you can succeed as a writer, because everyone who knows you knows you can’t. Stop kidding yourself.
I think you can probably see this is not a great mindset to have going into appointments. I didn’t have to fake enthusiasm for my projects, because, so help me, I still believe in them. What I had to fake was hope, because I don’t have any.
This Realm Makers was my fourteenth writers’ conference in seven years. I have been writing seriously for twelve years. By any measure, I am a failure (and yes, I’ve read all those inspiring articles about famous writers who received a jillion rejections). I was told, by many people who should know, that the road to publication leads through writers’ conferences. I believed it with all my heart. My first writers’ conference was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, but it was also a big and necessary and valuable reality check. I learned so much from that experience, much of which I might not have learned otherwise.
Now, after seven years, I have attended dozens of classes. I’ve been told over and over to “show, don’t tell.” I’ve learned a lot, and my writing has improved as a result. I’m glad my earlier submissions weren’t accepted, because my writing is so much better now. But am I any closer to publication? I don’t think so.
We’ve all heard that the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. That’s where I am right now. Seven years of cheery appointments with agents and editors. Seven years of them showing real interest in my work, only to reject it once they actually read it. This past weekend I realized that nothing has changed, and I have no reason to believe that it ever will. Having submitted material in the wake of the conference, I am simply waiting for the rejections to roll in.
My first response to this realization was despair. Clearly, I don’t have what it takes to ever be accepted by even a small independent publishing house. My writing may have improved, but it will never improve enough to make it past any of the gatekeepers in the publishing world. Despite the fact that my target audience (teenage girls) seem to love my stories, it seems unlikely that the decision makers will ever agree with them.
This is not a dig at the countless editors and agents who have rejected my work over the years. They know what they like and what I write isn’t it. I have no argument with the fact that people have different tastes. That’s what makes life interesting, right? The other huge issue is that editors and agents know what they can sell. They have certain contacts in the publishing world, and they know the kind of things those contacts are interested in, and if my story isn’t a good fit, they’re not going to accept it even if they do happen to like it personally.
So, what all this boils down to for me is this: I see myself as having two choices. I can give up. I can turn my back on all the stories that are waiting to get out of my brain and walk away. I believe this is the choice that most of my close friends and family want me to make. It’s probably a sign of my profound stupidity that I am not willing to do this yet.
So what’s the second choice? If the current approach isn’t working, maybe I should try something different instead of doing the same thing over and over. Maybe, the pool of agents and editors I’m exposed to at conferences is so small that I’ll never find one who is a good match for me. Maybe the time has come to cast my net wider, to send out queries to large numbers of agents and editors, in the hope that my work might resonate with one of them. Maybe it’s a good thing I can’t afford to go to any conferences for the time being. It will force me to pursue my goals in different ways.
Does this mean that if my circumstances change and I actually have the option of going to the 5-year anniversary of Realm Makers next year, that I’ll stay away? No. But if I go, I’ll go with the understanding that the real value of Realm Makers for me is the fellowship and the inspiration and the new knowledge. It’s a wonderful thing to get to hang out with likeminded people, and I think I could really enjoy that if I no longer have any expectation that someone there might want to publish what I have written.