Lately, I’ve noticed an uptick in the numbers of writers (and agents) discussing when it’s time to give up on a book. Not in the sense of beginning to write a story and then realizing, at some point, that the meat of it isn’t there and it’s not meant to be a novel, but rather in the moment when it’s time to look at the finished product of a novel, acknowledge it’s not good enough, and move on. Such moments inevitably come after a long, slow process of submission and rejection. Sometimes the thought seems to be that if enough literary agents pass on a novel, it must not be good enough for publication and is better off trunked or drawered, ignored but never quite forgotten, dismissed but never quite put out of mind.
Other times, the time to shelve or drawer or trash or bury a book comes later, after an agent has already accepted a project for representation and taken it out on submission to editors, all of whom read the book but scratch their heads because they can’t figure out how to sell it or don’t have room in their lists to do so.
I don’t think you should ever give up on a story just because someone else doesn’t get it, and between the condescension of agents purporting to know when to start a novel and the outright masochism of writers kowtowing to business and commerce and market and all the other factors that have absolutely nothing to do with either writing a good book or telling a good story, I’m just not sure which is worse.
Should you give up on a story? I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. But I can tell you how to make that difficult choice. I know. I’ve done it before.