I think it was my third or fourth writing conference and my third different novel proposal when a wonderful, amazing editor graciously sat down with me and both literally and figuratively ripped my proposal to pieces over the next hour.
I left the meeting, carrying the shredded remains of my proposal with both hands, pushed the button for the elevator with my elbow and solemnly swore to myself in the awkward full length mirror inside the elevator that I would master the art of the proposal even if it contained the last words I ever wrote.
(Side note: Why do hotels put mirrors in the elevator anyway? So you'll notice after you've already left your room that you are wearing a cute cardi, rocking a perfect hairstyle and somehow still wearing your pajama bottoms?)
(Not that that has ever happened to me.)
Anyway, I went home from the conference and started my research. And didn't come up with much in the way of fiction proposals. I found seven hundred million proposal templates for nonfiction, for articles, for cookbooks and for men who didn't have the first clue about carat sizes and whether or not flowers were appropriate, but very little for fiction.
(Anything above a half-carat and yes to the flowers. Just my personal opinion.)
So, I wrote. And I rewrote. And I emailed my dear friends who were either published, in the process of being published or worked for publishers. And I went to more conferences and showed more proposals and left with fewer shredded papers. It got to the point where I would sit down with an editor, hand them my proposal, pull on my bulletproof vest, cover my eyes with both hands and just say, "Please. Just tell me what's wrong with it. Kindly. Gently."
Then, one day, a very nice editor sat across a table from me at yet another conference, picked up the stack of pages I gave him, watched me cover my eyes and said, "This is a great proposal!"
And I said, "I'm not sure you got the right one. My name is E-R-Y--"
"Right. Got the right one." Then he read the synopsis. And he actually laughed. Then he read the first chapter. And he kept laughing. Then he handed me his business card and said, "I'm taking this to committee. I'll email you."
If there were ever a more perfect place for those three guys sucking down helium and singing "You Fill Up My Senses" on My Best Friend's Wedding to be at, this was it. Not because the editor filled up my senses. Or even the place we were meeting actually.
(Actually, that might not be the best song choice for that moment.)
(I should never be in charge of creating soundtracks for movies.)
But I left the meeting, clutching not a shredded proposal but a business card with both hands and about the happiest I'd ever been.
That publisher didn't end up publishing my proposal about a girl who loved to match-make and annoyed all of her friends.
But, six months later, I met with a another editor who had already read my proposal. And liked it. So much that they wanted to publish it.
So, the moral of my story is...
Keep writing. Keep rewriting. Keep gathering up the shards of your work and carrying the battle-scarred pages home. No one ever said this was an easy career.
(Actually, a lot of people have said that. But not those who are actually writing for a career.)
(I have used the word actually far too many times in this post.)
You can do it. You can make it. You just have to keep trying.
The Little Engine That Could had to have been a passenger train. That's my opinion, anyway. Who's on board with me?