Being a writer can be a tough and lonely life. You have such high hopes and aspirations in the beginning, but then as the rejections start piling up by the dozens, you start to doubt your abilities, talents, and whether it’s really worth it. You wonder if you’ll ever really make it.
Today is the book birthday of my 15th book, Plants That Can Kill: 101 Toxic Species to Make You Think Twice. I can’t even tell you how excited I am to get to book #15. Some of my family and friends even tease me, “Another book? Didn’t you just publish one?”
So in honor of my 15th book, I’m sharing 15 failures and ways I did NOT get published up to this point. After all, it took me EIGHT YEARS to get published. This means that for 8 very long years, I wrote and wrote and wrote without anything in return. (I cried some in there, too.) During those years, I went to writing conferences. I joined critique groups. And I received more than 500 (honestly probably close to 1,000) rejections or nonresponses from editors and agents. Yet, I still wrote. I still plugged away, hoping, praying, and wishing that I could get a book deal.
Today I still wonder if I’ll ever really make it. If I’ll have a big success, best seller, or ever be able to write full-time. I have no idea, but all I can do is keep moving forward and celebrate my journey thus far. Here are some of those good, bad, and unpublished moments along the way.
1. My Very First Picture Book
It involves a girl who doesn’t want to go to bed, so she imagines all the fun things her family is doing without her. It’ll always be near and dear to my heart, but it probably won’t make it out of the vault. (I call my dozens of stories I’ve written over the years my vault.)
2. The Book of Essays About Girls’ Periods
It was supposed to be funny, entertaining, and unafraid to tackle a tough topic. It was also supposed to be a group essay project, and it never really took off.
4. My Poorly Written YA Book
I had a publishing deal that fell through on this book. It was about a girl who wanted to be a professional photographer. The book was called Rejection. I can appreciate the irony of the name.
3. The Lovely “Based on a True Story” Stories
I wrote two stories based on kids I came across during my reporting days. One was about a boy named Gavin who had Tourette syndrome, but he was oddly calmer when he was on stage. The other was about a deaf drum troop based in Milwaukee. I wanted their stories to be told so badly, but I never had any luck.
5. The Book with the Sketchy Publisher in Texas
They gave me a contract and then disappeared off the face of the Earth.
6. The Book with the Sketchy Publisher in Seattle
They also gave me a contract, but this time I was smart enough to realize it was horrible and didn’t end up signing. It was for the same book as the first sketchy publisher.
7. The Feminist Princess Book
Spoiler alert: She rejects the prince and goes to business school.
8. The Book About Kids Who Were Pooper Scoopers at the Zoo
I don’t know why I thought it would be a good setting to have young kids who had the job of scooping poop at the zoo. But it was definitely going to be a multi-book series in my master plan.
9. The Alphabet Book
Don’t try to write an alphabet book…like ever.
10. The Activity Book with the U.K. Publisher Earlier This Year
The contract read, “Author agrees to give up his/her moral rights.” I kid you not—I can’t make stuff like that up. I was still pretty bummed though—it was a cool book. But it just goes to show you that you still get crappy contract offers, whether you’re a newbie or have 10+ books to your name.
11. The Middle Grade Book with my BFF
My supremely naturally talented writer friend, Amber, and I wrote a book with all the juicy stuff girls want in middle school—boys, sabotage, and more boys. No one bought it, but if you’re interested, we’d sell it for the right price.
12. The Book About Stinky Feet
This one might need a revival. My daughter has feet stench that could rival a pro football player. Now I just need the right angle. Maybe like Happy Feet but not at all.
13. The Virgin Alliance
This too might need a revival. High school friends make a pledge to keep their virginity in tact their senior year. Think American Pie…except opposite.
14. The Amazingly Close Encounter with a Big Publisher
I had an amazing agent (before my current amazing agent) who was interested in one of my pieces, and she submitted it to an editor at Houghton Mifflin. It went to the acquisitions meeting, and …they rejected it, totally crushing my hopes and dreams for at least 3 weeks.
15. My Book from Last Week
Yes, even now I get rejected. I had a book that I thought was a sure thing last week. Lots of editors were interested, and at the end of the day, every last one of them rejected it.
I have a long way to go before I’ll be able to quit my day job. But I’ll keep on keeping on because it’s all I know to do. Cue the Rocky music.