November 14th, 2006

books

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

Jay Lake has a thought-provoking post on quitting writing and why everyone seems to get into a tizzy when someone announces they are doing so. I'm sure there are good reasons for making that choice. But there are probably at least an equal number of bad ones. This was already on my mind this week because I got correspondence from someone in response to a rejection in which this person very desperately begged for commentary. This individual has apparently been trying to get published for years and years. I'm surprised they haven't fallen prey to either a scam publisher or a scam agent yet. Their letter evoked feelings of regret in me - they were literally asking if they had been wasting their time writing and if they should stop pursuing this dream and wasting their life.

Not only have they been unable to get published, but they haven't even gotten any legitimate publishers or agents to even agree to read their work. Which makes it entirely impossible for me to give them any sort of useful response because I didn't ask to read it either. Their query is long gone so even if I felt moved to a response, it would require me asking them to resubmit it along with their work. Regrettable as this must be, I simply cannot afford to strike up ongoing correspondence of this nature with any of the several people who seem to do this every week. That level of feedback and guidance has to be reserved for clients and potential projects that I'm actively pursuing. If I tried to do it at the query level, I'd simply never get to the rest of my tasklist. Of course I want new and exciting projects -- I'm all about that, but I have to find a way to maximize my effectiveness at that, too.

I was raised on a steady diet of not quitting. This has come in pretty handy as an agent, I must admit. There are times when one is sending out a new project and the rejections come pouring in -- even though one is quite sure of the quality of the work. My big success story in this respect is a book that took me two and a half years to sell and is now into many printings and the author has sold several more books since. But I also currently have a manuscript that is striking out and has been all year. And it's one of the most well-written things I'd read in ages. I get great rejections for it. But it's frustrating as just about anything. So, not only can I empathize with the writer I mentioned above, I can sympathize.

But this brings me to another point, which is.... Can one simply quit? And, if so, then how dedicated was a person to the dream? Perhaps this is putting it somewhat idealistically, but, in the end, the only person who can make you give up your dreams is you. No matter how many obstacles stand in your way. (Choosing to chase a different dream is something else entirely.)

Is it a waste to try to achieve something and fail, or would it have been better to have never tried? Should I have given up on that first manuscript (which may have still sold regardless) and should I give up on the one that's challenging me now? Should agenting be only about sales or writing only about getting published? I submit that this approach neglects a layer of actually living life well and experiencing it to the fullest one is able. Sometimes being an agent is believing despite the odds. If I didn't hold that to be true, I could very well have gotten myself a less fulfilling career that regularly paid the bills. But it would have been a sacrifice.


ETA: One writer's reaction to this post (not in comments).