How do you survive rejection? To hope or not to hope?

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LStein

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Hi all,

I'm about to enter the query trenches for the first time and I confess that I'm a little nervous. In fact, I'm an anxious ball and I haven't even started yet.

I read this blog post about the importance of having hope, which flies in the face of my usual pessimism, and I'm curious what you all think:

https://daniella-levy.com/rejectionsurvivalguide.com/2017/05/15/the-case-for-getting-your-hopes-up/

Also, any strategies or tactics you have for dealing with the inevitable rejections?

Thanks.
 

PyriteFool

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Reporting from the query trenches! Yeah it sucks here. Lots of rejection, jealousy, despair, frustration... but that article really resonated with me. I have experienced that numbness, and it meant that even when wins did happen (good showings at pitch contests, full requests, a beta liked my book) I would downplay it. I couldn’t let myself feel the joy I needed to keep going. So I *am* trying to let myself feel hope! It will happen, and when it does, it’ll be awesome.

Specific strategies: private groups to vent/celebrate with are invaluable. They’ve saved my sanity, so find other querying writers if you can.

My favorite personal trick is to reward myself for rejections. 5 query rejections? I get a latte! 15? I can buy myself a nice candle. 50? Maybe a nice dinner or a nice gift to myself. It’s great to have that burst of positivity and it motivates me to keep querying so I can get my “prizes.”

Good luck! Hopefully you’re time in the trenches will be short.
 

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They felt less personal as they kept rolling in... more like a business and unbelievably steep numbers... and a full request or two does work wonders to let you know you aren't completely crazy.

Know you aren't alone.
 

ValerieJane

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I just started querying for the first time in August, and I was just as nervous as you! I tend to lean more toward the hopeful than the pessimistic, so it helped me to celebrate all the positive experiences (even getting a few rejections because it meant to me that I was really doing it!) There have been some dark weeks where it seemed like all the rejections arrived in one or two days--those are tough. My strategy for that was what I affectionately call rage-querying. If I got two or three rejections in a day, guess what? Another batch of five goes out. It helps me feel like I am going to keep getting back up even when I'm knocked down. I also have a very supportive writer friend who celebrates every request with me like I'm a rock star. That helps. :)

What has helped me more than anything else, though, is working on my next manuscript. Throughout the process of querying my first work, each time I started to lose faith, like in those dark weeks, I could look at my new work as a completely fresh start, a new opportunity to get myself out there. That's been the biggest help for me.

Also, I'm not sure how everyone else feels about this, but I think a lot of the rejection letters are worded really nicely. Many agents put something in their form rejection about this being a subjective business and how it's not a reflection on your writing, etc., etc. It's actually not as bad as I thought it was going to be.
 

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I'm a hopeful person and get great comfort from being this way, but I've always tempered it with a big dose of practicality. I realised I needed to have both if I was going to make a living from my writing, and like Woollybear says, they tend to feel less personal as they roll in. Here's what it amounted to for me:

First, having many irons in the fire. That meant more than one query out there, and more than one story on the go. This helped a LOT.

Second, giving myself time to have a proper, human, I'm-going-to-feel-sorry-for-myself, breakdown. This was my routine years ago, when the bulk of my queries came via post: I lived out of town on acreage, and it took 12 minutes to drive from the post office to my front door. So I'd go to the post office to collect my mail, and if there was a rejection there I would get in the car and have 12 minutes of full-on crying, ranting, screaming, whatever, while I drove home. I didn't care who saw me do this. And I made it a rule that once I was in the house, I had to have that piece repackaged and ready for resubmission within the hour.

When I was starting out, I read an article in the Writer's Digest about actually setting out to have - as the saying goes - enough rejection slips to wallpaper the toilet. The author actually challenged people to do this, and said that if they did, their chances of being published would increase, and their writing would improve. I took it to heart and literally set out to do this, and guess what? I proved that advice right. Hold your nose and jump in: it's a bit of a shock at first but before long you'll be swimming.
 

be frank

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No clue if this'll help, but I found the best way to approach querying was to assume every query I sent out would end in a rejection or ghosting. That way, my expectations were either met, or I was pleasantly surprised. :)

Which I guess means I kinda did the exact opposite of the "hope" thing!

If there's no hope, there can be no disappointment.
--
Me, January 2021
 
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Introversion

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Hope may be necessary for success, but it’s not sufficient. :tongue I know everyone always says “never give up!” but, if it becomes more painful to keep going than to give up, why keep going?

I’ve been rejected on every short story I’ve submitted so far. Got encouraging feedback twice, which was better than a poke in the eye, I guess.

I’ve never yet finished a novel-length work, so I don’t know firsthand the joy of querying for agents and submitting to publishers, but let’s just say I live with it secondhand. ;)

If I ever finish my WIP novel (possible), and it goes nowhere (likely), I’ll probably self-pub it. I’m not writing it for money; I know better. I don’t expect it to be a huge hit. I’d like someone to someday read it, and hopefully enjoy it. I think about the plot & characters every day — in the shower, when I wake up at 3:00AM and can’t get back to sleep, on the toilet, in boring work meetings... It’s entertained me, if no one else, and it’s costing me nothing while doing so. It’s the kind of book I wish someone else would write so I didn’t have to.

I don’t think it’s ever Failure, capitalized, to try something? I guess so long as I enjoy trying, I will.
 

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The best thing in my experience for dealing with rejections - and querying, which necessarily involves letting your baby go - is to start working on something else. Once you're enjoying a new world and new characters, any rejections you receive don't hurt as much as they would do otherwise. You may even find that working on something new throws light on your querying book, or that you decide that your new book is in fact way stronger than your query book and that you've grown as a writer. I often think of querying/subbing as dating - you're letting a partner who you've spent so much time loving go, but, if you're writing a new book, you're also falling in love with a new partner so the what happens with the past one doesn't hurt so bad.

Also, it's good to have company when you're querying (Daily Rejection thread on here is good for that). And to know when to persevere, and when to stop and reassess if your query/chapters are working or not and whether you should take a new approach.
 

lizmonster

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The one thing I've learned about rejection is that nobody knows how they're going to handle it until it happens, and for most of us that means being blindsided by a set of emotions we're not always equipped to deal with.

Me, I got a golden ticket, and everything after that was disaster. It broke me in ways I literally would not have believed I could be broken. I am not the same person I was.

I am still writing. I don't always know why.

As for ways to cope? My own experience only, so take with salt:

- They say it gets easier with repetition, and I think that's not really true, but you do learn how you're going to respond, and what emotional repercussions you're going to face. Plan for it, and be kind to yourself. Trust you'll come out the other side. Find help if you need it.

- Have all your Query Stuff assembled: pages (5, 10, 30, 50), synopsis (you don't want to have to write a synopsis for a book after you've already received a pack of Rs; trust me on this), query letter. Do all your agent research before you start. When you get an R, ship your package off to the next agent. There's a lot to be said for "just keep swimming."

- One big disconnect between writing and publishing is that writing is a deeply personal act of artistic creation, and publishing is a capitalistic international industry. No matter how lovely your work, no matter how much an agent or an editor might love it, the final decision is going to come down to whether or not they think they can sell it, and how well. The beauty and accomplishment of your art may be entirely irrelevant. (Some people may find that disheartening; I sometimes find it a thread of hope.)

- Relevant to the current times: a cursory Google shows the world's biggest English-language book markets are the US and the UK, the two countries doing the worst job of handling the pandemic. I've had folks tell me "no, of course it's not affecting publishing!" and then tell me "wow, I looked at my calendar and had no idea two weeks had passed." It's affecting people. Of course it is. Response times will be slower, people will make mistakes and lose subs, temperaments will be strange and frayed. It helps me, sometimes, to externalize the issue: it's not me, it's them.

I think, fundamentally, the most important thing is to have writing goals beyond "publish this one book," preferably writing goals that have nothing at all to do with publishing. That's not easy - most of us tell stories because we want to tell them to someone else. For me, sometimes telling them to myself is enough, and that's what I hang on to.
 
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LStein

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@pyrite

It resonated with me too for the same reason. I'm trying to start celebrating every success, no matter if it seems like I'm bragging. After finishing the book, I printed it out and sent a pic of it to some close friends. It feels validating.

I will be entering the trenches with a close friend. But maybe I'll try to branch out and find others as well.

I like the idea of prizes! I'll have to think of some that will actually work for me.
 
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LStein

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"They felt less personal as they kept rolling in... more like a business and unbelievably steep numbers... and a full request or two does work wonders to let you know you aren't completely crazy.

Know you aren't alone."

Thanks. This is weirdly encouraging.

@
ValerieJane
Thanks! This is good to hear. I actually in a fit of insomnia last night started jotting down ideas for my next book!

@MsVibey
Love ths idea of letting myself have a meltdown after rejection. I think this goes back to the idea of not being numb during the process. Feeling ALL the feelings. And you're right, getting back on the horse after the self-pity fest

"No clue if this'll help, but I found the best way to approach querying was to assume every query I sent out would end in a rejection or ghosting. That way, my expectations were either met, or I was pleasantly surprised. :)

Which I guess means I kinda did the exact opposite of the "hope" thing!

If there's no hope, there can be no disappointment.
--Me, January 2021"

Oy, this is my natural tendency but I don't think it actually mitigates the disappointment. After getting two short stories published in quick succession, I was met with a string of rejections (on stronger short stories!) and actually stopped writing and subbing short stories as a result. I did have the mindset of not expecting anything, but hope seems to creep in anyway, and I felt utterly crushed by the whole process.

@onesecondglance



Goddamnit, this might be the most brutal but true to my experience response yet. I hope you (and I) get that one right agent who can make that one right sale. But you're right it's a finite process. Do you have an idea of how many you'll query for this book and what your plans are afterwards if no one bites?


@Introversion

If it's any consolation, I have only had two short stories published and and the markets are not really impressive. I've had a LOT of rejections on short stories. My only hope is that generally speaking they were written when I was younger and since then my writing has gotten a lot better and novels and short stories are two different beasts. Not every good short story writer can write a good novel and vice versa. At least, that's what I'm choosing to believe right now :)

@

RaggyCat

Yes! I plan to start working on my next book as I begin to actually query. I'll definitely come to AW for much needed empathy. (Few of my friends are writers and even fewer are at the querying stage.)


I have to work but I look forward to reading and responding to the rest!
 

LStein

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The one thing I've learned about rejection is that nobody knows how they're going to handle it until it happens, and for most of us that means being blindsided by a set of emotions we're not always equipped to deal with.

Me, I got a golden ticket, and everything after that was disaster. It broke me in ways I literally would not have believed I could be broken. I am not the same person I was.

If you feel comfortable, I would love to hear the story. (I looked a little at your history but didn't see it.) This is something I feel like no one tells you about (corny, I know) reaching for your dreams.


[/QUOTE]I am still writing. I don't always know why. [/QUOTE]


I'm glad. (I know we don' t know each other. But I'm glad the experience didn't stop you from writing.)


[/QUOTE]As for ways to cope? My own experience only, so take with salt:

- They say it gets easier with repetition, and I think that's not really true, but you do learn how you're going to respond, and what emotional repercussions you're going to face. Plan for it, and be kind to yourself. Trust you'll come out the other side. Find help if you need it.

- Have all your Query Stuff assembled: pages (5, 10, 30, 50), synopsis (you don't want to have to write a synopsis for a book after you've already received a pack of Rs; trust me on this), query letter. Do all your agent research before you start. When you get an R, ship your package off to the next agent. There's a lot to be said for "just keep swimming."

- One big disconnect between writing and publishing is that writing is a deeply personal act of artistic creation, and publishing is a capitalistic international industry. No matter how lovely your work, no matter how much an agent or an editor might love it, the final decision is going to come down to whether or not they think they can sell it, and how well. The beauty and accomplishment of your art may be entirely irrelevant. (Some people may find that disheartening; I sometimes find it a thread of hope.)

- Relevant to the current times: a cursory Google shows the world's biggest English-language book markets are the US and the UK, the two countries doing the worst job of handling the pandemic. I've had folks tell me "no, of course it's not affecting publishing!" and then tell me "wow, I looked at my calendar and had no idea two weeks had passed." It's affecting people. Of course it is. Response times will be slower, people will make mistakes and lose subs, temperaments will be strange and frayed. It helps me, sometimes, to externalize the issue: it's not me, it's them.

I think, fundamentally, the most important thing is to have writing goals beyond "publish this one book," preferably writing goals that have nothing at all to do with publishing. That's not easy - most of us tell stories because we want to tell them to someone else. For me, sometimes telling them to myself is enough, and that's what I hang on to. [/QUOTE]


Oh man. All great advice that I will do my absolute best to follow. I've given myself two more weeks to finish researching agents (I already have a sizable list) and then I'll tackle my synopsis. I'm going to post my query here soon as well. I'm polishing my manuscript and getting one more set of eyes on it before I finish. It's intimidating but getting prepared seems to be helping.

It's hard to think of going all through this to possibly (probably??) not get an agent and publisher. But there's actually a long history of failed creative pursuits in my family and if I get an agent, I'll have gotten farther than anyone else. That said, I know even getting an agent might be impossible. I probably have to do some soul searching now about what to do if I query 100 agents and get no bites. I don't know if writing for myself can be enough. But we'll see.

Thanks.


ETA: Apparently, I don't know how to quote multiple sections in a reply. Sorry for the wonky formatting.
 
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LStein

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See, I look at that and it looks like a great success! You sold multiple books to the Big 5!

Of course, I do want to know more about #3, but totally understand why you're being general.

It seems wildly unfair that a "bad track record" is that damaging. Obviously, your writing is publishing-level quality. You'd think they'd know how to pivot.

Glad to hear you're on sub with a new agent. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. Definitely be proud of the fact that it's a good book. That's more than a lot of us can do :)


Also...was it easier to get an agent the second time?
 

LStein

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I see your point. They have no incentive to pivot if they don't think they'll make money off of it. That's still pretty rough.

Yes, this election was overwhelming. I don't think I bought a book in the months of September, October, or November. I was pretty much swamped reading all the news and it felt impossible to turn away, even to escape into fiction. (I did watch too much TV, though.) I didn't think about the fact that that likely wasn't a great few weeks for the book industry, beyond the effect of the pandemic, I mean.

2017 doesn't seem so long ago to me, but what do I know?

Good job getting through the funk to write and query another book. I'll keep in mind what you said whenever I start to fantasize that I just need an agent or a contract and then I won't ever be anxious or depressed again.
 

Fuchsia Groan

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While querying, my strategy was basically be frank's, because I'm a natural pessimist. Did it save me from disappointment? Not really. (And I went through a fair bit of querying angst, because my first agent ditched me after that book didn't sell.) But it's the most workable approach I've found: be in and accept the failure, because sooner or later, unless you're the one-in-a-million instant bestseller, you will fail.So much of writing for publication is about failing. If you're already a pessimist, it will confirm your pessimism at every turn. (I have to remind myself that my books got three starred trade reviews between them, over and over, because all I see are the ways they failed.) So much of writing for publication is about realizing you can't control any part of the process except the actual writing. And I consider myself someone who's been very fortunate in this process! (as well as working hard, but hard work isn't always rewarded).What helps me? Fan fiction. Reading others' free writing and appreciating it and giving my own writing away free and anonymously. It's weird, I know, but for me that's been therapeutic. It's a reminder of my core priorities: enjoying the writing and connecting with readers. Yes, I wanted to be a writer with legions of fans and tour the world and make that my career, and no, that's not going to happen, but I can still do those two simple things.
 

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I deleted my earlier post because it upset me every time I read it.

The days that are easiest are the days where I don't think about this stuff. I get on with other work, editing or writing. And funnily enough, the days where I do obsess and make myself feel terrible about everything aren't very productive. Being productive is far more satisfying. I can't speak to others' strategies, but that's what seems to work for me.

Best of luck out there, LStein.
 

be frank

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Okay, so the other things that really helped me get through the trenches (a couple of which have been mentioned by others):

1. Find a private or anonymous group to whine with and celebrate victories with. Shared misery and a support network that understands is really beneficial. Non-writers can make all the right sympathetic murmurings, but it's other querying writers who really get what you're going through.

2. Celebrate all the little wins. Publishing is a seemingly never-ending series of hurdles, so it's important to pause along the way to appreciate the good moments. Get a partial request? A full request? An R&R? Celebrate. Get an offer of rep? Celebrate bigly. Don't wait until "the end" to look back and revel -- it's a brutal treadmill of an industry. Enjoy every success, no matter how small it may seem at the time.

3. Know in advance that some rejections will hurt more than others. I'm generally pretty Zen about things (I mean, check out that chilled alien-zebra pose, man :D ) but some will hurt a lot. When that dream agent you were sure was a perfect match from their MSWL/Twitter sends a form R or ghosts you, let yourself mourn. And it will happen. It always does. And just as it's important to celebrate when you can, it's also healthy to let yourself feel those disappointments.

4. A lot of people say the best way to deal with querying is to move onto the next thing. Just a random note that every writer is different. I personally found it really hard to separate myself from the book I was querying. I actually couldn't write at all when I was in the trenches, and that's okay, too. Like others have said, you really won't know how you'll react until you experience it for yourself.

Good luck out there!
 
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angeliz2k

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onesecondglance, I feel very much the same. I feel like a damned idiot sending out queries year after year and getting zilch in return, but I feel great when I'm writing and producing. I need that creative fix.

Honestly, my way of surviving rejection of late has been to give up--to a certain extent. I've limited the number of queries I send out to a few a month. I don't have to think about it for days and weeks on end. In the meantime, I'm still writing, but less than I used to. Instead, I've taken up historical sewing as a hobby. I can get my creative fix making dresses and skirts and shirtwaists, and it's tangible, and no faceless agent in NYC can tell me that they just didn't fall in love with it. I'm a much better writer than sewer, but the challenge of learning is keeping me going, as is the satisfaction is having something tangible at the end of it.

As you might suspect, my hope is waning. My faith in the publishing biz is long since gone. My hope is for a stroke of luck--that I'll finally get the right agent at the right time. I wouldn't keep querying at all if I didn't have some hope. But I don't have much.

I'm very sorry. None of that is encouraging for someone starting out on querying, but so you know, I've been at this for nearly 10 years. There's no reason to think that, with a good ms and some luck, you'll still be at it in 10 years.

My advice? Go into it with hope. You might have a winning query and a great ms. For some people, it works out. Don't let the rejections beat all that hope out of you--there's always another chance. The next query might be the one that lands. I guess my feeling is, don't borrow trouble, as the saying goes. Try to start out with the belief it will work out, even while knowing that it might not (or not immediately/quickly). Hard to reconcile those two things, isn't it?

And maybe a hobby will help in the meantime...
 

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I responded before reading Levy’s post, hasty as is my wont. Now I’ve read it, I think she makes good points. I’ve done a lot of work in the past few years on letting myself feel my feelings, and it’s true: When you just let sadness and disappointment exist, they don’t haunt you as much.

My experience is somewhat different from hers, though; pessimism doesn’t make me numb or kill my motivation to write. It’s actually the way I psych myself up to go back and try again; there’s always a brief period of mourning and licking my wounds, followed by renewed eagerness to go out there and conquer. So clearly people have different coping strategies.

I’ve never really tried what she tried, though—giving hope free rein and experiencing the full force of disappointment. Maybe I should, but that feels to me like stepping on a roller coaster that you know is going to flip you upside down at top speed and very possibly make you hurl. Is the excitement worth the nausea and abject terror? Not sure.

Angeliz, I love the idea of doing something with your hands, something that produces tangible results, as a coping strategy. And it’s especially cool that it’s related to your writing (or your historical fiction, anyway) in being a way to engage with history. I find a lot of satisfaction in baking these days.
 

LStein

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Thanks, guys. This is validating and helpful. I think what I'm taking away from this thread is:

1) Might give hope a try. It might work better than pessimism. But if resorting to my pessimistic nature makes me more productive, then that's what works for me. (I have a sneaking suspicion hope makes me more productive though.)

2) In line with that, stay productive. Keep writing, write something new, distract myself with productivity. But if I can't while I start querying, don't beat myself up for not writing.

3) Get 100% prepared before querying so when I get rejected, I can stick with my querying plan no matter what.

4) Feel my feelings. Celebrate the small wins.

5) Feel my feelings. When I get a rejection, allow myself to wallow and feel terrible for a little bit.

6) Admit I have no control over the publishing process and what will be will be.
 

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I think also knowing that the market is a blippy, fickle thing *can* help with rejection, depending on your mindset. Agents look for certain things at certain times, and certain themes/plots/genres are tricky/easier sells at certain times. Agents often work ahead of the market (based on what they know is selling for a year, two years time) so they have knowledge a querying writer may not. I have friends who find knowing that rejection may not be their fault, and may be more to do with the market/agent preferences, comforting. I am not this way inclined - I'd rather the fault lie with me, so I could in some way improve on things in the future - but I'm mindful that this is not everyone's mindset.

I also second what be frank said: some rejections hurt more than others, and sometimes for random reasons. I can remember crying over the wording of a form rejection which, while not especially harsh, randomly got under my skin because it felt personal.

Angeliz, Fuchsia - I draw as well as write and having a second creative outlet (one with zero pressure) is hugely beneficial for mental health. I've had opportunities to push art more professional but am actually glad I turned them down. To have something that is *yours* is a powerful thing.
 

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I'm a natural pessimist myself. Also, it has now been 9 years since I started my novel and nothing I've done yet has gotten my foot in the door. I've done what I feel is best to make my novel marketable, with advice from pros and Betas. Meanwhile, nothing I did could get people to like my query letter when I presented it here on AW for advice. I recently contacted 5 agents and entered my novel in a competition. I just try to put the anxiety out of my mind.
 

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I think it's important to have hope. Otherwise, what's going to keep you motivate to write and submit? But it's also important not to pin all your hopes to one thing because that way leads to heartbreak.

For me, it's important to always be working on the next project. I like to focus on one manuscript at a time, but when I let a manuscript sit or send it off to beta readers, I'll start planning my next manuscript. That way, by the time I'm ready to submit one thing, my mind is mostly focused on something new. I also have a lot of smaller projects going on.

And just as it's important not to pin all your hopes to one manuscript, it's also important not to tie all your life goals to writing. Publishing is a hard business, and it can take people years or even decades to break in, assuming they ever do. And even once you break in, things can still go wrong. I think you've got to have something else in your life that gives you joy and purpose.
 

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