Tag Archives: Rejections

The book (lurking) under the bed

If you’re like me, you probably have a book under the bed that hasn’t seen the light of day for quite a long time, and there’s a damn good reason why it’s there. Of course I’m speaking metaphorically when I say under the bed, as most digitally-attuned don’t do paper anymore, and haven’t for a long while. But there was a time when all submissions were typed, tucked in a box, and sent off to New York either Postal Book Rate (cheap and snail-ly) or FedEx (for we oh-so-serious writers), only to have it returned immediately, or a year later after idling awhile in the publisher’s slush pile, a crookedly-photocopied form rejection tucked in the box. To make your repudiation hit home even more, your opus was returned in your own postage-paid box. I say this quite fervently, there’s nothing that’ll give you all the  worse feels than having financed your own dismissal. So after being denied, rebuffed, nixed, and bounced, what can you do with this creative disaster, this repudiated pariah, this literary Loch Nessie,  other than hide it with the other monsters under the bed?

You can have good cry or a  primal scream, and after a good drown in wine or chocolate or Cheetos, figure out why it was under-the-bed-worthy in the first place. Or you can let it molder under your bed or in your hard drive your flash drive or your cloud, and dig it out some time later, and rework and update it until it’s resubmittable again. Though if you do, let me add a few words of caution.

Sometimes editors or agents will give you what’s called a “good rejection,” offering what they found not to work and what would, and maybe even adding they’d take another look after another going over. Sometimes this can work, especially if the ed/agent likes your writing style but wants to see how you rework it first. Often they’ll give your tips, but often they won’t, and there’s no guarantee they’ll take it in the end. It’s the chance you take, because you can get caught up in an endless cycle of revision, especially if the ed/agent wants you to take the book where you may not be adept at. There are writers I know of who were even willing to write outside their comfort zone just to pander to an editor’s taste, ending up in a genre they have no business writing. As hard as it is to accept, some books just belong under the bed, as some just can’t be updated, the original concept may be too trite or convoluted, or your writing style may have changed. Or–and this is a distinct possibility–your skill may have advanced to the point you’ve outgrown the book. Yes! You may be too good for yourself.

So do we go spelunking under the bed and give what lurks there another go? Only you can answer that. Nothing is as comfortable as the familiar. Though nothing is quite as exciting as discovering the newest version of yourself.

Congratulations! You’ve been rejected!

I know I’ve dealt with the subject of rejections before and although it’s hardly a happy topic, it is one of transition. Reality is a cruel mistress, and you can’t spin in the real world of writers if you’ve never been kicked to your ass a few times (or over a hundred like I’ve been, probably more, as I trust my agent to only give me the good news.) And you may as well face it now, snowflake, it’ll probably get a lot worse before it gets better. True, there’s always the case of the author whose first manuscript lands with the first agent they contact who sells it to the first editor. This happens. I know of a couple of cases myself. But the bald fact is the road to publication is pocked with a shit-ton of potholes. The trick is to learn how to veer around them and keep on going.

A fellow writer of mine got her very first rejection yesterday from an industry professional. She said although getting one made her sad, the agent gave her such detailed comments, she considered it good advice rather than criticism. It made her reconsider her characterization, as well as where the protagonist’s actions were leading the plot. And that in turn made her see her protagonist in a new light. I cautioned her that you don’t have to always agree with what an editor or an agent says as ultimately, you have the final say on what you write. But sometimes you can come so close to a work, especially after many revisions, you lose sight of the overall story arc. And I hate to say it but sometimes, unless that advice comes from an industry professional, you may not take those suggestions to heart. Often we will already have heard the same thing from a friend or beta-reader, but who listens to those? Unless, of course it’s effusive praise.  The other thing is–and you’ll often hear an agent or editor echoing this–all writing, as well as reading, is subjective. As what may seem phenomenal to you may just seem meh to an industry professional. As in the–REJECTION I JUST RECEIVED WHILE WRITING THIS!! My agent’s text:

Just got a decline from XXXXX <publisher>. <Editor> said you are very talented, but she didn’t fall in love with the story as much as she wanted to. Sorry.

Fuck. Fuckity-fuck fuck. But I’m not going to get upset. I’M NOT. Really and truly. <goes to retrieve big piece of 72% Belgian chocolate to salve wounded ego. Drinks big sip of water. Feels much better. Though has been known to lie on occasion.>

A-hem! Where was I? Oh yes, my self-fulfilling prophecy. Call me a duck, because you do have to let it slide off your back. At this moment I’m channeling James Lee Burke and his book The Lost Get Back Boogie that was rejected 111 times before it was eventually published, and even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Hey, you got to find your inspiration somewhere.

Now get back to work.

Rejection, you old bastard

Writers Write!The other day I received in my inbox one of the most eagerly unanticipated of emails – the dreaded rejection. It wasn’t my first, and it most certainly will not be my last. In fact, it was another in a long, and happily broken line of such letters, which at this point in my career, totals well over one hundred. Through the years I’ve received all kinds, reaching back to the pre-electronic era: my own typed query with a rubber-stamped REJECTED across it, thrifty pre-printed postcards tucked into my SASE, crookedly off-centered-Xeroxed form letters, flyers inviting me to partake in the purchase of 1) editorial services, 2) how-to books, 3) seminars, even one with a large NO scribbled across the body of the letter. Of the electronic variety, I’ve received mainly cut-and-paste form emails, some three months after I submitted, to one within the hour. Several of these, especially of late, have been what is popularly known as good rejections, dismissals of a more personal nature, where the sender comments on what they liked and disliked about the work, more often than not praising the writing, but not “falling in love” with the story. Often the sender will point out the subjective nature intrinsic to all rejections, and wish you “the best of luck in finding a home/editor/agent for your novel/project/work.” Although rejections of this ilk are often sent with the kindest of cuts, because of the higher level of expertise the writer has demonstrated by the point, they’re usually the toughest rejections of all to take.

I’ve seen many a writer crumple in despair over such rejections, burn their manuscripts, erase their hard drives, lose themselves in a blurry of cheap liquor and even cheaper chocolate (yours truly suggests burrowing into a Himalaya-size pile of Tater Tots). Many vow to give up writing for good, and sometimes many do, at least temporarily, and often that’s a good thing. Because once the hurt and the anger and the self-deprecation subside, the writer can take a step back and look at the work objectively. Subjectivity aside, editors and agents, more than anything else, are professional readers, and if the work comes back over and over with similar commentary, maybe it’s time to take a look at that particular aspect of the story. In the same vein, the writer also has to consider where the work was sent and the editors’/agents’ preferred genres. Are you submitting mystery when the agent’s preference is sci-fi? Have you sent a novel query to an editor who usually publishes self-help? Have you taken a look at the agent’s clients? The editor’s list? Have you read the acknowledgement pages of works similar to yours to see who the author is thanking? You have? Then good, but let me ask you this: do you have multiple queries out there, or are you placing all of your literary eggs into the basket of one editor/agent?

If you are, you are most certainly setting yourself up for disappointment. Submission should be a very fluid process, and sending to one editor/agent at a time is akin to hitting a stop sign on every corner, causing your writing to lose momentum. For the most part, your writing life should have two very distinct entities – the creative and the practical, and as hard as it is to separate one from the other, the two should never align. Plus if you have multiple queries out there at once, the random rejection tends to lose its sting, and the dismissing editor/agent diminishes in importance. But most of all, you should never, ever let a rejection sink you so low that you lose faith in your abilities, a point where I’ll admit I have found myself. Instead of wallowing in dejection, ask yourself this: Who are these people who wield such power that I allow their judgment to supercede mine? Confidence in your talent will show through in your work, and you should always be exercising your writing muscle. As I tell my students, writers write, and no one was more surprised than me by my reaction to that latest rejection. Sure, it rattled me, but all I could think about was finishing the chapter I had been working on, which I did before I went to bed that night. To me, that meant I had lived through one more rejection, and had come out the other end, still a writer.

A while ago, when I was less confident, I had poured my heart out to my sister over one particularly brutal rejection. She told me of an article she had read in the New York Times about author James Lee Burke, and his fourth novel, The Lost Get-Back Boogie. By his own accounting, the manuscript was rejected by 111 editors over a nine-year period. When it was finally accepted and published, it went on to be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. It’s now translated all over the world, and has gone into numerous printings. I never forgot that story, and many times it has kept me going. It made me think that one day, if I’m lucky enough, my own tales of desperation and abject failure will rally someone on to success. Only if!