What Securing A Book Deal Taught Me About Rejection

I learned the value of a "no" even when it hurt.

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| May 23 2019,

5:18 pm

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My dream of writing a book started around 7th grade. Somehow, I convinced my twelve-year-old self I had what it took to write an inspirational self-help book; never mind the fact that I could barely help myself at that age. I hadn’t even fully gone through puberty, let alone enough life to wax poetic about how other people should live theirs. But I was determined to write that book one way or another.

Needless to say, I wrote close to nothing. I can’t remember what exactly happened and when. Knowing me, I probably lost interest after a couple of days. I had big dreams, a short attention span, and zero appreciation for the long, rugged, rejection-littered road that ultimately leads to published authordom. So no good was bound to come of that. 

Several years later, after finally making it through puberty, I decided to try again. This time around, I had a title: Letters to a Young Traveler: Lessons on Love, Identity, and Peculiar Notions of Everyday Existence. Now a freshman at Harvard, I was going to write a collection of advice letters to young readers trying to find space for themselves in a strange, ever-changing world. And I had such big plans: multiple literary agent offers, millions of copies sold, the New York Times bestsellers’ list.

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Unlike last time, I actually finished writing this book. But after receiving tough editorial feedback from friends, going through endless rounds of edits, and being overlooked and rejected by fifty different literary agents, I walked away from it. Making that decision was a lingering devastation; the grief was slow-burning. It didn’t happen all at once. Each rejection brought a fresh, little wave of disappointment.

Eventually, I did accept the truth: This book wasn’t what it needed to be, and I wasn’t what I needed to be for it; letting it go was best for the both of us.

A couple years later, during my senior year, a friend asked me about the project. After sharing the break-up news with him, he encouraged me to give it a second chance. I said I would consider it, but I had no real intention of doing so. At that point, I was done. Little did I know I was about to embark on a new literary journey that would take me far beyond what I thought was possible then.

Shortly after that conversation, I began collecting things I had written over the course of my undergraduate career. Soon enough, this compilation of essays, poems, and short reflections became Timestamp: Musings of an Introverted Black Boy. I didn’t think it would have much commercial value to agents, so I considered self-publishing for the first time. But once senior spring started trying me, I had to set the project aside. And before I knew it, I completely forgot about it. Then, May 7th, 2018 happened.  

That day, I received an email from a literary agent I had contacted in December 2016 for my "first” book. Almost a year and a half later, she was just now stumbling upon the query email I had sent her.  And although she initially offered to review the book proposal for Letters to a Young Traveler, she agreed to look at Timestamp instead.

Long story short, she loved it and officially became my literary agent.

Less than four months later, I secured a book deal with Post Hill Press, an independent publisher distributed through Simon & Schuster. And shortly after that, I signed an audiobook deal with Blackstone Audio, one of the largest independent audiobook publishers in the country. On September 17, 2019, Timestamp: Musings of an Introverted Black Boy will be released in print, eBook, and audiobook format nationwide.

Without question, this journey has taught me many lessons. But one of the greatest among them is this truth: rejection isn’t synonymous with inadequacy.

When my first manuscript flopped, I questioned whether or not I was good enough to be a published author. After I found a literary agent, I didn’t know if Timestamp was going to make it across the finish line; it was rejected by so many publishers before one finally said yes. And even now, rejection and I are still well acquainted. Every single endorsement I’ve sought for this book has failed to materialize. And yet, none of that matters to me anymore.

In this life, we’re often quick to tie our perception of value to the external affirmation we do or don't receive. But ultimately, our talents, gifts, and abilities speak for themselves. If we've been called to do a good work, it will stand tall even in the absence of a "yes” or a platform.  Even if Timestamp didn't get bought by a single publisher, or even if it doesn't receive a single endorsement before it's published this fall, I know the words on those pages are worthy of their existence. They always have been, and always will be.

I don’t know how many rejections you've received, or how many doors have been closed in your face. But I’m sharing my story simply to let you know that your goals and visions have already been valued. The minute you birthed them into the world is the minute they became justified. Of course, hone your craft, perfect your gifts, and learn from the rejections. But don't ever think that a "no" or a "we're sorry to inform you" means what you're trying to do, create, or be isn't worthy or good enough. It is good enough. You are good enough. And sooner or later, that dream you have is going to shift atmospheres, move mountains, and most importantly, leave the world better than it was before you dreamed it.

This I now know for sure.