Rejection. Straight up, no ice.
My agent is now shopping my memoir project, Children of Paradise. We got a rejection this weekend, from Random House: “It’s a touching story and the Toby depicts Hawaii vividly, but I fear it’s too small for us.”
What do you do when a publisher calls your life story “small?”
I took it like a punch to the gut. It knocked the breath right out me.
My life is too small to be of interest. Ouch.
Immediately in comes the self talk, both negative and positive: well, it’s just one story about one person, I’m always so grandiose thinking I can do something like this, I must not have a big enough platform, who am I to take it personally, of course its early days yet, why would anyone want to read it, who am I to think I have a story to tell, they’re a business, and publishers keeps saying Hawaii stories are “too niche,” etcetera.
In the end, there’s nothing to do but suck it up and move on.
Here’s the thing: REJECTION IS STANDARD FARE FOR A WRITER. Even when you’ve had a degree of success as I have by sidestepping “the system” in self-publishing, there is always the reality check of slow sales, bad reviews, losing contests you enter, wasted ad money that doesn’t boost sales, famous authors failing to blurb for you or saying no—all of which add up to rejection, if a little less direct than “I’ll pass” from a publisher.
I’ve been through this before: the entire Lei Crime series was shopped for a year. My YA novel, Island Fire, has been circulating, collecting rejections. Now, the memoir.
I thought I was battle-hardened, but the memoir is my personal story about my life—it’s taken tremendous internal fortitude just to write it. I’ve been steeling myself at every turn to deal with old ghosts, family members’ reactions, feedback from the Kaua`i I grew up in and the people who might see themselves in the book, unflattered by my depictions. I’ve struggled for ten years to do this book and it’s finally happening, the hardest writing I’ve ever done. Hands down.
And it’s going to be the best, too. Unsound is my best writing to date in my opinion, and Children of Paradise is going to knock Unsound into next week.
Personally and professionally, this is my Everest—and it’s “too small.”
What do you do with those feelings?
I sought solace on my friendly FB community, and it quickly got painful as people gave me hard truth and embarrassing as they tried to encourage, so I took down my over-share post. I went to church, and cried through the whole service. The message I’m getting from God is that I have to keep going and not chicken out no matter what. I have to step up to it, no matter the consequences.
It was not comforting.
I exercised. I took a nap. I cleaned house. I baked. I juiced lilikois. I ate a lot of jellybeans. I watched a really violent movie with a ton of car crashes and explosions. I read a romance novel. I took a shower. I worked in the garden. I even tried to write.
Nothing really helped but this: telling myself I won’t be derailed, swayed, or minimized by being called “SMALL” by anyone.
That’s a part of my memoir—I’m just too stubborn to let anything or anyone keep me down. If there’s any part of this post that helps you deal with your rejections along the road of writing–even if it’s just to know that we all get rejected—take hold of this.
YOU AREN’T SMALL.
YOUR STORY MATTERS.
All of us, everywhere. We matter, and we have a story, and for each of us, it's not small.
Whatever your Everest is, climb it anyway.