I got some bad news last week and I'm still getting over it. Because writing helps me to process things and move on, I decided I'd better get it all out.
I didn't win. I wasn't picked.
Way back in December, Seal Press and She Writes announced a contest to win a book deal. The deadline was March 15th. The rules were that you had to submit a full book proposal, complete with the book's table of contents, a marketing plan, an analysis of comparative titles, chapter summaries, author biography and sample chapters.
I marked the deadline on my calendar. I wrote things down - longhand - in composition books. I printed out the sample proposal and made notes all over it. I went to the library and checked out stacks of books that were potential comparable titles. And I did research. Because my book project is an expansion of my blog "Letters My Dad Wrote Me," research meant reading through all of the letters I had saved, organizing them, and picking ones to center chapters around.
Then, in February, I tried to chicken out.
"I just can't do it," I said to Aquaman. "It's too much work and there's so much to do with everything else and the boys. It's too much."
"You're doing it," Aquaman said. "You have to do it."
And so I did. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I put everything I had into this book proposal. I thought it was really, really good. Then, two days before it was due, I thought it was really, really bad. I couldn't sleep, as my brain worked in overdrive to figure out how best to resolve the parts I thought weren't ready. The day before it was due, I resolved the problems and felt good about it. I submitted it. I felt great. There were 85 submissions - and many comments online from folks that had let life get in the way of submitting their proposals and who regretted it.
Not me! I was walking on air!
Until last week. About one month earlier than anticipated, an email showed up announcing the "5 Finalists!" for the contest. I knew immediately that I must not be one of the five, but clicked on the link and read all the other names. Twice. Three times. Then I read about them and their work and tried not to be resentful.
Then I cried. A good, shoulder-shuddering, snot-slinging cry.
Then I got mad. All that work for nothing. How embarrassing! Was my book proposal just laughable? Was it so far from what the publishers wanted that it was discounted? Tossed aside immediately?
Before I could think, I sent an email off to the person who had confirmed receipt of my submission. I knew it would probably never be read or responded to, but I was compelled to ask if there was any feedback or suggestions at all. I typed through my tears. I felt even more pitiful and ridiculous. But an hour later, I had a response that told me my proposal was well received and while I had not been competitive with the 5 finalists, I was one of the 18 semifinalists.
That made me feel better.
But not better enough to stop crying. Or to get out of bed, where I had promptly crawled after receiving the news. I sent off a few texts to those I knew would comfort me. Aquaman was on his way home and asked what wine he should pick up. I love that man. Another friend offered a shoulder to cry on and pints of Ben & Jerry's.
I stayed in bed.
I stopped crying long enough to eat peanut butter from the jar by the spoonful, some of which ended up smeared on my already-covered-in-dog-hair sweatpants. My sweatpants were covered in dog hair because I of course let Yellow Dog get up in bed with me to comfort me. And then maybe I ate the rest of the Easter marshmallows and Robin Eggs. Aquaman texted, "Do we have stuff to make frozen whiskey sours?"
Why was he asking about that? I wondered. My father's signature drink was meant for good times, not bad.
"Those are for celebrations. Not defeat." I responded. "I'm gonna go stick my head in the oven."
Aquaman arrived home with a case - yes, a case - of wine and, more importantly, toffee and cookie butter from Trader Joe's. He made me toast my writing with a glass of wine.
I couldn't stay in bed for long. Boys came home from school and we had places to go and people to see. Yellow Dog had to be walked. Lunches had to be packed. The world kept turning, no matter how bad I wanted off the ride.
The next day, in a fit, I submitted a query letter to another publisher I had come across in my research. They reviewed my work, said they loved the idea, and returned a very sensitive and heartfelt rejection that encouraged me to seek wider publication, rather than their very small press.
I returned to bed. Why had I submitted again so soon? Now I had two rejections in one week! I read Aquaman the email, expecting more sympathy. "That's awesome!" he said.
Wait. What? "I got rejected AGAIN!" I wailed. "Why do you keep celebrating my failures?"
"Because they're not failures. You were one of the 18 semifinalists! And now you have a publisher telling you that you need a wider audience than they can give you! That's reason for celebration!"
Well, when you looked at it that way...
So I decided to look at it just that way. I did not fail. I got closer to my goal. I got a shitload of work done that I can now use to submit to other publishers and agents. I refined what was simply an idea into a full-blown proposal and made significant progress toward finishing the book.
And I'm all cried out. So the pity party is over. I just don't have time for it. And my stomach can only take so much peanut butter. I just might be feeling good enough to have one of those frozen whiskey sours...