I remember my last rejection letter quite well. I had decided to move forward with my novel Baby Dust as an independent, perfectly aware that books on its difficult subject matter had fallen out of favor with traditional publishers. But as I sent the book off to be copy edited and drew up contracts with cover artists and interior designers, I had this terrible panic—what if I was wrong?
So I sent a flurry of query letters to agents. This was a no-holds-barred round of submissions. Any agent I’d ever met at a conference, anyone with whom I had any tenuous connection, got the letter and opening pages. I knew I had everything ready. My sales copy had been honed over years. And I actually already had blurbs from the biggest names in the community that would be the initial audience for the book. I had a marketing plan.
Several agents did read it. About half requested it. I got nervous yet again. Maybe I had been wrong—this book was traditional material.
Then the rejections came in. Kind. Personal. But still, rejections. They told me once again that the book was beautifully written, the subject matter important, but they could not sell it. Only one had a substantive criticism.
I hadn’t heard from them all when I green-lighted the upload to Lightning Source, when I approved the first proof, and reviewed the Kindle and Nook versions of the novel.
Eight months after the submissions, I still hadn’t heard from one last requested full, but went ahead and started the marketing tour, preparing for release day. I sat down a time or two to write that last agent and tell her that I needed to withdraw the book, but something always ended up coming first, and I forgot.
On my actual release day, the last rejection came. “I agree that it's an important topic, but I think it's too dark for me to sell it successfully.”
For the first time, a rejection made me feel giddy. It didn’t matter! Too dark, too niche, too small a market. Not important! The book was in my hands, and today, was out in the world. I felt empowered for the first time. No one could stand between me and the readers I knew needed and wanted this book. I was independent.
Four months after the release of Baby Dust, I feel as though my gamble has paid off. I’m coming up on 1000 copies sold and sales increase each month. People write me every day, thankful for the book, even though it’s a difficult read.
I confess that sometimes, surrounded by my traditionally published friends, I feel a pang, that maybe I should have just written another book. Tried another tactic so that I could get listed on Publishers Weekly, be invited to talk at conferences and meet librarians who are on award nomination lists, and feel part of that club.
But THIS was the book I wanted to write. I couldn’t help that the publishers didn’t want it. And so I made my own way.
Now that I see how well I can do this on my own, I won’t look back.
My last rejection letter was, indeed, my last.
Deanna Roy is the author of Baby Dust, a novel about miscarriage and pregnancy loss.