On Being Published
Someone recently asked what it felt like to have one of my stories published. I told them it felt great. Of course. What else would I have said? My answer was short and direct, although as I think back on that moment, not entirely truthful. The truth is beyond words.
As I struggled to achieve that lofty and allusive goal of publication, my author friends were a constant source of encouragement. Saying things like, “don’t worry it will happen,” and, “your writing is good, it’s just a matter of time.” But as the years passed I began to wonder. Do I really have what it takes to break through the barrier? The unpublished writer’s corner? I wondered…
In spite of the ever present specter of doubt, I worked hard on rewriting and re-editing my first novel, crafting new short stories and rewriting and re-editing those, again and again. I had trusted friends and relatives read my work and offer their opinions and advice. I continued to enter contests and submit my work to publishers and agents. And I continued to add to my collection of rejection e-mails.
If you’ve never received one, I can tell you first hand that notices of rejection from the publishing world are funny things. They look suspiciously like dear John letters. Designed to soften the blow, they say things like, “We thoroughly enjoyed your story,” or “your work shows real promise.” Well written and pleasant, but rejections just the same. As painful and heartbreaking as if they’d come from an ex to someone actually named John.
You can drive yourself crazy. I reacted differently each time I received a rejection. Sometimes I’d feel depressed. Other times I’d be angry. Upset that they’d failed to recognized the brilliance in my writing. I thought, what possible story could someone have penned that was better than the one I’d submitted? Jeesh. But then I’d take a step back. Eventually, reading the work of the writers they did publish. Wow, I’d think. That story really was better than mine. I’d love to write a story that good. Then I’d look at the rejection e-mail again. It wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe they really did like my story.
So, I climbed back into the saddle of my trusted stead (my IPad), vowing to continue my quest. To push on toward that Holy Grail of publication. Being able to hold my head up high as I walked among the published writers, knowing I belonged. That I was one of them. From that day forward whenever someone I’d just met asked what I did, and I answered that I was a writer, I could mean it. When they asked the enviable follow-up question, where can I find your work? No longer would I have to mumble, “oh, I’m not published yet,” before slithering away to some dark corner in search of alcohol or a high ledge. I’d be able to actually tell them! Maybe they’ll want a signed copy of my work? “Sure,” I’ll say. “Happy to do it. Who should I make this out to?”
The truth is, when I awoke on that memorable Tuesday morning and checked my email, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The word congratulations hung there on the screen. Surely this must be spam that made its way into my inbox. Who else begins an email with congratulations? Certainly not a publisher. Obviously, In my pre-coffee state I was hallucinating. The SPAM must have been right next to another rejection email and I’d jumbled the words together in my mind. I was sure that when I looked back the email would tell me that I’d won a free four day trip to the Caribbean, or maybe a surprise gift, all of which would only cost me three easy payments of $79.99.
I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Congratulations. It really was from a publisher. I jumped out of bed and did a short awkward version of the Snoopy dance. Thankfully, there were no witnesses. I went and found my wife in the next room. Wanting to appear nonchalant, I tried to calm myself. When I told her the news, she let out a squeal of delight. I think I may have let out a squeal myself. I was over the moon. Giddy with excitement. Insert any other tired cliché for thrilled that you can think of, here.
Time has passed. I’ve moved on from that short story to publication of my debut novel, Among the Shadows. Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to keep the faith. Keep working at it. Continue to hone your craft. Good writing, publishable writing, is like mastering a musical instrument. It's hard work. Blisters and failures are inevitable. But if you want it bad enough, it can happen for you, too.
Now, if you’ll pardon me, this debut novelist has a lawn to mow.
Bruce Robert Coffin is a former detective sergeant with more than twenty-seven years in law enforcement. At the time of his retirement, from the Portland, Maine police department, he supervised all homicide and violent crime investigations for Maine’s largest city. Following the terror attacks of September 11th, Bruce spent four years working counter-terrorism with the FBI, earning the Director’s Award, the highest honor a non-agent can receive.
He lives and writes in Maine.