Why I Stopped Writing by Blake Kimzey
by Writing Workshops Staff
A month ago
My book almost sold to five incredible publishing houses in New York, places I had dreamed would make an offer for my book. I had frontline editors interested who circulated it for "reads".
At the same time we sent the book out across NYC I had co-agents sending it out across the UK. I landed one of the biggest literary managers in Hollywood whose sole job was to sell my book to people who wanted to make it into a series or movie. My "team" had a coordinated submission strategy.
I thought I was on the launch pad.
I was envisioning the book deal I would sign and the blurbs I would get.
And then: nothing.
The passes kept coming in. The passes were so kind you had to re-read them to be certain they said no thanks in the end.
I was always so close, one executive editor or sales and marketing person away from a deal.
When all of the submissions went out and came back in with no offer, I was deflated.
It is odd to admit this, but what I felt was shame.
I was embarrassed.
This wasn't a public failure. It was private. I had only told a handful of people (my dad, my three brothers, two friends from grad school) that my book was "going out on submission." They would all check in periodically to see if there was any news. And, there wasn't. My book didn't sell. Not in NYC. Not across the pond. Not in Hollywood.
The sting, though, felt public. I had been working toward this singular goal for a decade. I wrote short stories for 8 years and then turned my attention to a novel, which took me two years to wrestle to the page. I couldn't understand how all of that effort didn't gather into the result I wanted.
I had faced plenty of rejection for my short fiction. Upwards of 650 rejections, in fact. I thought I had developed the kind of resolve that would prevent me from feeling the sting of rejection if, heaven forbid, my first novel didn't sell. But I only knew lit journal and magazine rejection. Having my debut novel not sell was on a whole other level.
And so, I didn't write for almost a year. I licked my wounds. I avoided the page. Told folks I was working on something new, sent emails to my agent with potential ideas for his approval.
I kept reading. I'd watch a great TV show or movie and take notes. But I couldn't bring myself to write.
Eventually I'd go for a drink with a writer friend and one after the other would tell me to brush it off, that their first, second, or third book hadn't sold either. But they kept at it. They got back in the chair and wrote something new, something I needed to do.
I re-read Stephen King's memoir On Writing. I remembered that Carrie was the first novel he wrote and the third one he sold. I heard from more friends who told me they too needed to write a few books before they sold one.
Not everyone is an upstart literary wunderkind. It can often feel like if you aren't published early on you'll have no shot at getting your work into the world or have a career. But most authors don't hit it big with their first book even if it is published. They have to keep writing until they find their stride.
The key is to keep writing and believing in yourself. It is true that the only people published are the writers who simply don't stop writing. Who don't let rejection stand in their way. Who simply keep going.
If you feel discouraged, take heart. Just look at this list of 10 successful authors who got their start later in life:
- Toni Morrison (Age 40)
- Mark Twain (Age 41)
- Marcel Proust (Age 43)
- Henry Miller (Age 44)
- J.R.R. Tolkien (Age 45)
- Raymond Chandler (Age 51)
- Richard Adams (Age 52)
- Annie Proulx (Age 57)
- Laura Ingalls Wilder (Age 65)
- Frank McCourt (Age 66)
- John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 15 publishers and 30 agents. More than 60 million copies of his novels are now in print.
- Agatha Christie had to wait four years for her first book to be published.
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit had to be published by Beatrix Potter herself.
- Meg Cabot was rejected 17 times for her novel The Princess Diaries.
- Stephenie Meyer received nine rejections and five no responses for her young adult phenomenon Twilight.
- Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times. More than 350 million copies of his novels are now in print.
- William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was rejected 20 times before becoming published.
If your dream is to one day publish your work, you will! I know how sometimes it can feel like you are wandering in the wilderness. All writers, even the most successful ones, know what it is like to hear no, to be discouraged, to have to search for and find the desire to get back to work.
The literary community kept me going the whole time. The relationships I forged over twelve years sustained me when I lost my confidence, when I needed an ear, and when I got back on the horse.
We write alone. We go into the dark and work on something that in most cases no one is waiting for except maybe our friends and family. We first have to believe the work has merit on its own because it matters to us, the writer.
Connection to the literary community is essential for every writer. You need those first eyes on your work, folks cheering you on, people invested in the stories you want to tell. People there to toast to your success and to console you when you feel like the work doesn't matter anymore.
If you feel like you're looking for connection, I can honestly say we are here for you, wishing you the best. Get in touch if you have a question or sign up for an online class this year. Your most important work is still in front of you.
Blake Kimzey is Founder & Executive Director of WritingWorkshops.com. He won the Black River Chapbook Competition for his collection of short tales, Families Among Us. Blake's chapbook, an indie bestseller, was blurbed by Roxane Gay, Ramona Ausubel, and Matt Bell, and his work has been adapted for broadcast on NPR and published by Tin House, McSweeney's, Short Fiction, Longform, VICE, and over 40 other literary journals. He has an MFA from UC-Irvine and received a generous emerging writer grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation.