When I received this message late last summer, it had been almost twenty-two years since the publication of my first novel, Family Resemblances. In that time I’ve written six other novels and tried many times to land an agent to represent my work, but I haven’t gotten another book published. I’ve harvested every kind of rejection, ranging from the agents who requested a manuscript and never bothered to write back, to those who said they loved the work I sent them – they just couldn’t sell it. Meanwhile I have taught writing, had a fulfilling work life as a professor, and kept on writing novels. I felt suspended between failure in the marketplace and what I experienced as artistic growth and maturation.
This rejection message came as a completion and a release. A group of people who wouldn’t know me on the street, who read novels for a living, seemed to believe in my latest book as much as I do. Their track record of placing manuscripts says they understand the publishing world, and what they understand is that, for reasons beyond my control, this book that’s worth reading won’t get published. Their message was somehow the permission slip allowing me to change course altogether.
I have since put all my novels on my website, full text, freely downloadable (www.lowrypei.com). Is this failure, or success? The answer is no. It’s neither. This is my work, my gift to the unknown reader. And in breaking the putative link between commercial sales and artistic validity, it is also my gift to myself.