Close, But No... You Know
If it's disheartening for a writer to be so far off the mark that she's only scoring form rejections (which have happened to the best of us), there's a particular heartbreak in coming oh-so-very-close that you can taste it and then falling just a smidge short of making the damned sale. It's the coitus interruptus
of the writing life: exciting but oh-so-unsatisfactory.
You'll know it when you get there. It's an enthusiastic call or e-mail from your agent that some editor's oh-so-excited about your book/proposal. She's either finishing it this week (which often drags on in the manner of a doctor's waiting room-minute) or "taking it to committee." There's a long delay, during which -- since you're a writer -- you begin imagining success in vivid detail: what you'll tell your Doubting-Thomasina/Snidely Smartass Sister-in-Law, where you're get your significant other to take you for a romantic celebration (click on the "coitus interruptus" link above for the how-not-to-celebrate example), what saucy little designer number you'll wear to the Insert-Prestigious-Awards-Ceremony-of-Your-Choice. Because you're so excited and it's dragging on so long, you start telling the sort of people who will be genuinely happy and excited for you. And maybe just a few who will be jealous but deserve it.
And then, something happens. You almost always get the crushing news by e-mail because your agent (or whoever) doesn't want the embarrassment of dealing with your breakdown on the phone. Plus, maybe the agent's just a little bit embarrassed about letting his/her own premature verbal ejaculation (my, this post is getting risque) get your hopes up.
Owwwwwch. It hurts. Hurts like childbirth or an abscessed tooth or an IRS audit without anesthesia. And it requires some grieving time, perhaps a good, old-fashioned wallow in self-pity.
For maybe an hour or two. And then it's time to realize that getting that close means you ARE close, so close to your dream that it would be a crime to quit now. When a publishing professional expresses strong interest in your work, that almost always means it IS publishable. Maybe the scales didn't tip your way because the house didn't have a good track record with your type of fiction or there wasn't an open slot on the schedule for three years or one of the more senior editors just signed another author who fills a similar market niche or the editor with the say-so is allergic to cats and your book has one or... There are a million reasons you can come close without getting the cigar.
But if you quit now, you never will achieve it. And that would be the greatest loss of all.
P.S.- Besides, now you have someone (besides your snooty sister-in-law) to "show" when you achieve world-domination.