You develop a pretty thick skin doing this query-your-novel thing. You have to. I've had rejections that have been particularly disappointing, but never one that devastated me. This last one, though, has left me feeling battered.
For one thing, I let my guard down. Here was an agent who, reading the first 100 pages, said I was a "fine writer" and that he was "really enjoying" my book. Not just that. After I'd sent him the rest, we got into a little colloquy -- had I sent the book to anyone else, any publishers, was this my first novel? And more. He was going to finish over the weekend. All of which lent the impression that he was not just enjoying the ms., but enthusiastic about it.
I kept the cynical me locked in the closet. I allowed myself to think that this time, just maybe, I had found someone who got it. I read the book over the weekend, too, wanting to refresh myself on why he might have liked those first 100 pages. I came away, again, thinking, This is a pretty good book. Not great. Not Pulitzer material. But pretty darn good.
Then, the reply. He liked my writing style a great deal. My characters are sympathetic and interesting. But he thought the story's narrative lost pace and power as the book progressed. (Odd, because everyone else, myself included, thinks it starts off slow, picks up steam as it goes along, then rockets to the end.) Maybe I could have survived that.
Then came this. He might be wrong, but he was fairly sure others will feel similarly.
I have never had an agent say that to me. They've said they liked it but didn't think they could sell it in today's market. They've said it just didn't do it for them. And all manner of other things.
But no one has ever said, in essence, that I shouldn't bother with anyone else, that my novel is a failure.
It felt like a sledgehammer to the sternum. What do I make of this? It's not like the guy is some fly-by-night nobody: one of the reasons I allowed myself to get excited was because he's someone who's been around a long time, has an estimable track record, knows his stuff. Is he the only one who has dared to tell me the truth? Have all my friends who've told me how much they liked it, despite my entreaties to be brutally honest, been lying to me? (Not all of them were uncritical. One of my friends said he thought my protagonist was "stupid.") Have those agents who read the full, said they liked it but didn't feel it was saleable, just been feeding me a line? Why didn't they just give me a pro-forma "not for me" rejection?
I haven't been this depressed since a certain woman, the [very bad word], broke my heart in 1983. Before many of you were born. And that's part of it. I can't just devote another 10 or 15 years to honing my craft. It won't be all that long before I can start claiming senior discounts at the movies.
Not that this changes my plans. I'm just going to run out the string: one full, two partials out. Then send the thing off to independent publishers. Then Kindle it, I suppose. Try to write another book, if I can ever find the time, which I can't, because I have to spend every waking moment trying to earn enough to pay the bills.
But really: fairly sure others will feel similarly.