I'm a Writer and a Loser
1: a person or thing that loses especially consistently
2: a person who is incompetent or unable to succeed
3: something doomed to fail or disappoint
What does being a loser have to do with being a writer? Everything. It’s what kept me from telling people I wanted to be a writer. That, and a lot of backstory I plan to write about in future posts, but in short, the fear of being a failure made me keep my desire to write novels to myself for a long time. What I didn’t know then was my definition of a loser would change over the years. Before I talk about my definition, let’s look at it from others’ perspective.
At the risk of typecasting, please know I’m speaking from my personal experience, and I understand people are different. But often, when I told non-writers I was writing a book(s), they would jump straight to wanting to know how much money I would make. Would it be in Barnes and Noble? Would it be turned into a movie? I know why they thought this way. Because I did it too. It’s what we’re conditioned to believe when we think of authors. To a degree, we put them on pedestals, not realizing writers are just people who work very hard at their jobs. But for some in the non-writer group, success is defined by a book being front and center at the big chain bookstore, or a movie deal that would rake in the bucks for years to come.
The Publishing World
The publishing world group is a bit more complicated as far as defining success. There are the celebrity deals made every year, the established bestsellers, followed by the committed mid-listers. Then there are the self-published which have their own ranks of success. And finally, there’s me. Well, me and others like me. Those of us who have failed to tap into any of those veins. And we are all haunted by the word loser when it comes to our craft.
Number of Books Out There
It’s estimated there are 2,000,000+ books published worldwide each year. More than 300,000 of them in the US. That sounds like a lot. But those numbers don’t even reflect the flood of manuscripts submitted to agents and editors by hopeful authors every day. I interned for a time at a literary agency and was astounded by the numbers that had to be rejected daily. (Sidebar: Interning helped me really understand the process more and assuaged some of my wounded feelings when I receive a rejection—one of which I received the very day I was writing this post.) And for every aspiring writer submitting their work, there are those who write short stories, poetry, fan fiction, and more. All of whom never see a publishing contract. Are these creative lovers-of-the-written-word losers?
To Lose or Not to Lose
Well, that is the question. And it’s one I’ve struggled with many, many times. Should I simply quit? It’s quite painful to be rejected over and over and over. Think about that crush you had in middle school when you learned they call it a crush for a reason. I can’t help wondering what the statistics look like for the number of romantic rejections the average human encounters in a lifetime. I feel certain it is a lot less than what a writer accumulates. And I use the word accumulate because that’s how all those “I’m sorry, this doesn’t fit my list,” responses come. They pile up in cyber stacks in my Dropbox account. With my most recent project, a middle grade magical realism novel, I’ve submitted a query with sample pages to 45 literary agents in the hope of representation. Mind you, even once you get an agent, the book still has to be submitted to publishing houses and may never sell there. Yes, that’s also been my experience. I had an agent who loved my story, but no editor ever bought it.
Anyway, over the last 5 months, I’ve submitted to 45 agents. Out of those 45, I’ve gotten 21 rejections. Now one might think, “You still have 24 more chances.” Maybe, maybe not. Because it’s some agencies’ policy that no response is a No from them. And I get it.
They amass hundreds, even thousands, of submissions a month. That’s why it takes 8 to 12 weeks to get that dreaded rejection. But when months go by and you don’t even get a rejection, it sucks. Really sucks. Once, I got a rejection 7 months(!) after the submission. And, sadly, this is only one manuscript with which I’ve tried to crack the market. I’ve lost track of all the rejections over the years.
So, Does This Make Me a Loser?
There was a time when I thought these things made me a first-class loser. But now, and maybe this comes with age, when I look back and take stock of my experiences, my understanding of what it means to be a loser has been revised. Pun totally intended. Here’s a glossary of my altered definitions.
1. The people I’ve met. My first writers’ group meeting was like finding my home planet. These people thought like I did!
2. Finishing my first manuscript!!!! This may sound like a given, but not everyone who sets out to write a book completes one. So, I count it as a win.
3. My next win, a contest. It was at a conference hosted by the above group. I had a one-on-one with the sweetest editor who encouraged me and lifted me up.
4. More conferences with more amazing people who sowed a love of the craft into my life.
5. I started a publishing company. This was when self-publishing wasn’t cool. Anathema. Self-publishing was looked down on and most people used what was called a vanity press. Because it was vain to think you could write and publish outside of the traditional route. Rather than use a vanity press, I created Boot in the Door Publications. (Derived from my last name, Boutin, boot-in the door. Get it?)
6. I maintained creative control over my work.
7. The amazing, amazing experiences I had creating the books published through Boot in the Door, even beyond writing them. Volunteering at two zoos. Touring the Houston Ballet Academy and meeting several ballerinas. My niece posing as my cover model, holding an alligator on one cover and a snake on another, and the fabulous people and places who made those covers possible.
8. The young readers I’ve met because of them reading my work. Letters and reviews. Priceless.
9. Finding my way to Writers in the Schools and the 12 years I spent in writing residencies there. Hundreds and hundreds of children and the great fortune to work elbow-to-elbow with the most talented people in the Houston arts community. My life has not and will never be the same because of it.
10. Finally, I gained a respect and love for myself I didn’t have before.
So, am I a loser? I don’t have a traditional book deal. No movie made from my latest work. And though my books can be bought online from bookstores, I’ve never had a featured display at one. But for every one of the 10 glossary definitions I’ve shared, there are a thousand more experiences I don’t have room for here. Experiences that have made me a very, very happy loser.