Your Book is Not Your Baby aka It Only Takes (the Right) One
Ok. This post is going to do double duty.
First, your book is not your baby. Honestly, I hate this expression. Not because your book isn’t an intensely important personal creation. I get that. What I take issue with is the assumption that your art is inviolable.
You write a book. Unpaid. For years. Pouring your time and hopes and dreams and the entirety of your squishy inner self into it. Because you love it. Then, if you want to be traditionally published, you willingly send it off to be judged and critiqued and rejected.
Which is HARD. Which is like unzipping your chest and inviting someone who has not invested three, four, eight years of their life into that externalized bit of soul to poke at your bare heart a bit. Maybe give it a flick before shrugging a shoulder and offering up a solid, “Meh, not for me.” Because, if we’re being realistic, yours is the twentieth bit of soul to hit their inbox that day.
Sounds fun, right?
Yeah, it isn’t. Querying is brutal. Sub is brutal. All told, between querying and submission for my first novel, I spent about three years being consistently rejected, feeling someone flick my exposed and increasingly bruised heart at least once or twice a week.
But here’s the thing to know if you want to pursue traditional publishing: Your book cannot be your baby. Your book is, well, a book. Better, it’s a manuscript, a draft. It is a work-in-progress. Because writing toward traditional publishing is not a solo endeavor, it’s a collaboration. With your agent, your editor, and more. Which, if you welcome it, if you look at your work as a malleable thing, an improvable thing, can be an incredibly satisfying and exciting process.
Which brings me to: It only takes the right one.
Writing toward traditional publication is a balance. (I keep stressing ‘traditional publishing’ because there are other routes. You can self-publish or write without ever planning to publish at all; it’s all valid and worthwhile.) Because art is subjective. What you love, I guarantee you, someone else hates. What you feel utterly indifferent about, someone else lives and breathes.
Lots (most) of agents and editors will not your like your book. Or, they’ll like it but not enough. Or, they’ll like this part and that part but want you to cut the other parts and rearrange it all into a different shape.
Or, they’ll love it. Adore it. Believe in it and you. Want to not only read it the requisite three, four, five times over the next few years but then shove it at everyone else they know and hope they love it too. Which is the goal. The dream. That person, the one who gets it? They’re the ‘right’ one.
But, guess what? They’ll still ask you to edit your book.
Hence, the balance. Between stubborn adherence to your intentions and open-minded willingness to accept and act on constructive criticism. Your book is not your baby. Your book is an evolving work-in-progress with a core integrity that you should not compromise.
This has been my advice to myself and to others through my years-long journey to publication: Guard your book’s integrity like a dragon guarding its treasure. Light up any criticism that would compromise it (or, you know, just ignore it. No need for actual fire). But the rest is window dressing. You will be asked to change your book. You will be told parts of your book are not good enough. But if you trust your instincts, respect your art’s integrity, and hold out not for just an agent or editor, but the right agent and editor, your book will be immeasurably better for it.
This isn’t to say you will be drowning in “ones” to begin with. I never was. And it is very easy to feel, after all that rejection, a deep connection with the saying “beggars can’t be choosers.” But this is where the two subjects of this post meet. Writing for traditional publication is such a bizarre beast. Writing, at its baseline, is an extremely personal endeavor. It requires intense levels of empathy, honesty, dedication and vulnerability followed by literal years of begging for criticism. (Seriously. Who volunteers for that kind of torture? What is wrong with us? *laugh-cries confusedly*)
But if you can strike that balance, between respect for yourself and your art’s integrity and your acceptance that you will always be learning, that your book can always be better, if you keep working and are lucky enough (I’ll talk about luck in publishing a different day) to find those right ones who respect those things too, your book can end up better than you ever dared hope for. And that is what you and your work truly deserve.