I’m celebrating a big win today. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.
But before I do, I want to tell you about my win, not to brag, although I’m proud of the accomplishment, but because it’s a perfect example of something I want you to know and to believe with all your heart: You can do this.
Last week, my fiction manuscript was selected as the Book Winner of Launch Pad’s 6th Annual Prose Competition. As if that weren’t enough, I was also picked as one of three Mentorship Prize winners. I’ll tell you more about that soon, but for now, I’ll just say that I am beyond thrilled. I can hardly believe this is happening, especially after all the rejection. So. Much. Rejection. The nice things the Launch Pad readers and judges had to say about my book have me walking on air.
One lesson I want you to take from this, dear writer, is this: persistence pays off. I’ve been submitting chapters from this book as standalone stories to literary journals and contests for more than two years, nearly one hundred submissions, hoping to establish to an agent that literary journals have vetted my stories and found them worthy. Hoping to convince an agent my book is worth representing. Only one of my stories was accepted and published in all that time. Another story made it to the finals in a contest. Breaking into top-tier or recognizable literary journals is rough.
Another thing I want you to know is this: There is a time to get creative when you’re querying or submitting. No, do not slide into an agent’s or an editor’s DMs or send them a perfumed letter handwritten in calligraphy on lavender paper. Don’t be weird or creepy. But do think outside the box.
At first glance, my book isn’t super commercial. It’s more literary. This means it may be harder for me to land an agent for my book. Agents like to eat as much as the next person, so they understandably want to represent a book that’s going to sell—that’s how they make a living. I wasn’t having much luck with literary journals vetting my stories, so I decided to turn to the film industry. I entered a few cinematic prose contests hoping to prove that my book has film/television adaptation potential and actually is commercial.
I’ve had some success with this strategy. One of my stories was a finalist in ScreenCraft’s 2022 Cinematic Short Story Competition, and now this! Adding these more commercial accomplishments to my query letter will hopefully make my book a more desirable project for an agent to take on, knowing they won’t starve to death if they do so.
But, dear writers, what I most want you to know is this: Publishing is subjective. I entered this same manuscript in another contest this year. It didn’t even make it past the first round to the quarterfinals. In that contest, the feedback from readers was critical of the story and its execution. They didn’t like my book, and they didn’t understand it. But the Launch Pad readers did—they picked up on everything I was trying to do. They got me.
This is why it’s important you don’t give up, dear writers. Rejection after rejection is discouraging. And yes, it can sometimes signal your story isn’t ready. But it can also signal you just haven’t found the person who gets you and understands your book. In my case, although my stories were being rejected, I was getting some encouraging feedback. This is generally an indication the stories are ready, but they haven’t found the person who loves them enough to publish them.
Believe in this: Send out your very best work, polished until it shines. Then keep sending it out. Your person is out there—the market or agent or publisher who believes in your story, Keep going until you find them.