At an October 2014 concert in Minneapolis, Ryan Adams leaned into the microphone and joked, “I have a case of the Mondays.” The crowd let out a collective laugh as we were all there to see him on the gloomiest day of the week. Once the theater quieted down, he stepped back to the microphone and said, “Most of my days are like Mondays.” A smirk and smile ran across Adams’ face as fans continued to chuckle. Then he broke into the first few rifts of his new single, “Gimme Something Good”, and the place erupted. The reason the laughter was so loud and cheering so enthusiastic was because the audience had been following his career, and had seen him go through a few cases of the Mondays – and we appreciated what he’d done to make his way back to the top.
I’ve been a fan of Adams since he was the front man for the band Whiskeytown. I remember articles written about him in the early 2000s when he went solo, and music critics were labeling him the next great singer-songwriter. The rising star flamed out within a few years, and the praise turned to panning. The media never doubted Adams’ talent; it was his experimentation with genres that got roasted over the next 14 years. They saw him as a rule-breaker because he crossed genres on all of his albums, making him impossible to categorize. Adams also put out one album after the other (three in 2007). But despite the criticism – or maybe because of it – he stayed true to himself. He struggled at times, but never gave up on his vision.
I’ve always thought the critics were looking at his career trajectory wrong. Adams carved his own oath, making the music he wanted to create, and didn’t listen to studio executives just so there could be a hit single on the radio. I’ve always admired him for this, and I never understood why people viewed holding to his convictions as a bad thing. The critics have finally come, around all these years later, though. His self-titled album is up for best rock album at the Grammy’s this year, and the single, “Gimme Something Good,” is up for best rock song and performance.
I led with this story because, as a writer who has learned through having a book deal fall apart, I know what a case of the Mondays feels like. Writers must believe in what they’re doing and write what they know or their work is going suffer. I also see the writer’s life from a unique perspective. I spend my days working a book publicist, so I get how the whole engine works. This is where my story starts.
When I started writing, I took the rejections personally, and each one lingered as if someone was punching me in the gut—over and over again. My world became a case of the Mondays each time I heard a “no,” and then everything changed when I took a job in publishing. The past 12 years in the publishing business have been valuable; seeing rejection every day gave me a better understanding of what “no” means. For starters, rejection is just part of the business. The submission process is subjective with several moving pieces, and rejection from a magazine or publisher doesn’t necessarily mean the writing is bad; the work might not be a good fit at the time, or maybe it recently published something similar. I’ve learned that writers should spend time learning more about the submission process and all of the elements that go into it—and that includes rejection. When you come to terms with rejection, the case of the Mondays will sting a lot less.
I developed leather-tough skin a few years ago when an agent picked up my travel memoir, tentatively titled Goodnight Saint Paul … Hello L.A. The book is about my two best friends and me, who were 23 years old and one year removed from graduating college. In that year, instead of getting a job like the rest of our friends, we focused on cultivating an image of ourselves as cool, cross-country travelers who were going to figure out life on the road. We left our hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota, on a mid-May morning in 2002 and headed west. My goal was to end up in Los Angeles, where my on-again/off-again girlfriend of four years lived. She and I were going to start our lives together after Jake, Brady, and I finished our booze-laden journey across the country. Just like a lot of things in life, the trip didn’t work out exactly as planned. Two of us arrived in Los Angeles toward the end of July. By that point, I just wanted one thing to turn out the way I’d envisioned while we were on the road.
Getting an agent was something I had worked toward for years and, just like the road trip, all of the times I dreamed about having one, I never once imagined the situation going bad. But it was bad from the beginning. He and potential publishers wanted me to change the manuscript’s tone into a voice I didn’t own or want to own–there’s only one Jack Kerouac and On the Road. I didn’t stick to my guns immediately because I wanted to be published so desperately. I gave the run-rambling writing a go and failed miserably. My dream was dead within two months. But they were some of the most important months of my writing life because I learned what I needed to do if I was going to succeed.
Following this writer-agent breakup, I jumped right back in and started pitching small presses. About four months after the disaster of a relationship, I signed on with a small press that didn’t want me to write like Kerouac. I was relieved I had stuck to my writing style and ecstatic to have a home for my memoir. The buzz slowly left the room over the next six months, though, as I started to hear from the publisher less and less. I had seen—and still see—this happen frequently in my day job so I wasn’t completely surprised that it could happen to me, too. And I knew better than to let the sting settle in. There was nothing I could do about the situation so the only option I saw was to get back out there.
Before I continue on about my writing life, let me explain a bit more about being a publicist. I work with a wide variety of authors that range from people who are self-publishing to established bestsellers, and I spend my days talking with the media to get reviews, interviews and articles for my clients, which include authors of celebrity memoirs, a Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book, a coffee table book for the Dallas Cowboys, best-selling cookbooks, highly praised YA novels, memoirs and a slew of others.
The books I pitch to media get rejected far more than covered—even the bestsellers. A media pitch and query to an agent are very similar. Both require research and targeted communication. An example of a writer not doing research? Aspiring authors sometimes send me pitches because they think that, since I work in publishing, I can get them published. I can help to some extent and always offer advice, but that’s about it. I can tell that many of the people who contact me are trying to cash in on a trend—the “next 50 Shades of Grey,” for example. The publishing industry thrives on strong, original work, so writers need to continue to hone their own voice and get comfortable with rejection, just like Ryan Adams did and I learned to do.
During that Ryan Adams concert in October, I found myself listening and reflecting about my writing career. I’m not up for any awards, but just like he did, I’m staying true to myself. I still have the scar from the first go around, but I’m continuing to learn and grow. I recently got news that a few publishers are interested in Goodnight Saint Paul … Hello L.A. I want to move on with my other work, including a manuscript about my travels to a remote island in the southern hemisphere called Reunion Island (an excerpt of this manuscript recently got published, actually). I also wrote a short piece about my dog, Kramer, and I have lots of story ideas from my travels to Ireland.
Whenever a case of the Mondays creeps in, I remind myself that life as a writer will never be easy, but it’s in me. I have to write.
Kevin, this is great. Illuminating. I am learning so much from you. Thank you!