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Monday, January 7, 2013

A Novel Rejection

The picture above represents how a lot of people feel about writing a novel. Images from movies portray a frustrated, writer's block suffering, tortured soul, struggling for days over that one word. That may be how it really is for some people, but not for me. Writing the novel is the easy part. I could write a hundred of them and never be at a loss for the next word, or the next story. For me, the pain starts where the writing ends. The editing, the querying, the rejection.
Cartoon from a favorite blog: http://billanddavescocktailhour.com/




 When I was twenty, I wrote a novel. It was a really bad novel. Really bad. I found a book at the library (before we could sit our pajamas and 'google' things). The book had publishers and agents listed in it. I read a couple of paragraphs from the book about how to query and sent out a hundred query letters. Then I waited for fame and fortune.
When I would get a rejection letter back, I would tape it to the wall behind my desk (located in my unfinished basement at the time). Within a year, my basement wall looked a lot like the picture above. There was a lot of rejection there, but I called it my wall of pride and left them up until I moved to remind myself that I had tried and tried again, because if you're serious about something as ridiculous and crazy as writing, you have to savor the tiny victories, even if there aren't really any to savor.
After about a year, I realized that I just wasn't ready to write a novel for a couple of reasons. First, I was too young Second, I was too young. I thought that great writing had to have a great story, or premise to be great. Hemingway wrote about an old man, a boat, and a fish once. I had written a bad novel and an even worse query letter.

Fast forward twenty years, and I wrote another novel. Then I read a little more about the query process and mailed out twenty letters to literary agents. That time, I got back post cards. Apparently, they had went from returning actual letters in the SASE you provide, to simply sending little form post cards. Today, many of them prefer emails and you only get a form email rejection. They look something like (no, exactly like) this...

Hello,
 I'm sorry but we are not accepting unsolicited manuscripts at this time. Thank you for your interest.


Thanks very much for your submission to____________.  Due to the volume of submissions we receive, we can't reply to all, but we do review each one carefully and will be in touch if we'd like to see more material from you. 

Many thanks for querying me here, but I’m sorry to say this isn’t quite the right match for my list. I do appreciate your trying me, though, and wish you all the best of luck in finding a good home for this book.

We have received your query and will review it within 4-6 weeks.  Due to the high volume of queries we receive, we regret that we can only respond to those in which we are interested.

Thank you for the interest you've expressed in _________representing your work. If you don't hear from us asking to see more of your writing within 30 days after you have sent your email, please know that we have read and considered your submission but determined that it would not be a good fit for us.
Publishers have merged into a few major houses that won't read anything not submitted by a literary agent. Literary agents won't read anything unless someone has referred you to them. They will only look at your query letter and they get hundreds of them every month. If you haven't been referred to them by a writer they represent, or they didn't do cartwheels over your 250 word query, then it is right into the round bin with you, having never read a single word of your manuscript. It sucks, but there it is.
Time to leap off a cliff? Not exactly. It's time to keep improving the query letter and networking. It's a shame because I'd rather be writing the next story...but that's part of the writing game. You have to love writing enough to take your lumps, swallow your pride, and keep working toward the ultimate goal of getting an agent, and then a publisher. Rejection feels bad. Rejection without having ever been read feels frustrating as hell. It is mind numbing and infuriating and ruins a lot of great writers. Don't believe it? To keep my own spirits up and bolster those of anyone else out there...here are some examples of what I am talking about...
Dr. Seuss books. An American icon. Can you imagine a childhood for the past few decades without Dr. Seuss? He was rejected 15 times before finally being published.
Read and rejected by nine literary agents. I'll bet they're still trying to do the math on how much money they lost passing on this one.
Rejected 38 times. What if Margaret Mitchell had stopped at 30? Doesn't it defy logic to submit something more than thirty times and still believe that you have a chance in hell? Doesn't it?  Who wouldn't stop at twenty or even ten?
This book was rejected 30 times. What if Stephen King had said to hell with it after 20 rejections and went into lobster fishing instead?
Remember these little gems? To my knowledge, they represent the record. The writers of the book that would become a series, that would sell over 100 million copies...were rejected 140 times!
And this is the best for last. Kathryn Stockett has one of my favorite stories to tell about rejection. She was rejected by literary agents 60 times. Sixty. According to her interview with More Magazine, Kathryn states that, "after rejection number 40, I started lying to my friends about what I did on the weekends. They were amazed at how many times a person could repaint her apartment."

According to Kathryn, "...I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere."

No worries here Kathryn. I'm still working on that manuscript...still polishing that query letter. And as for my dance moves...well, they're already perfect. I'm a polka prodigy.

Thanks for Reading!

-Buzz-

16 comments:

  1. Thanks and you sound a lot like myself. Great work!

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  2. I'm right there with you, my friend. I found myself a small but genuine publisher, and it's been great. I'm not famous, but I'll work on that! ;)

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  3. Thanks for stopping by my blog! The pictures about the query letter rejections made me laugh so hard!

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  4. Thanks alot for your info! I find myself writing for nothing! I have more income going out then in. I write about non-fiction things that have happened during my life, to help others, but I find people do not want to be helped!

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  5. Michelle,

    "If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life."

    -Quote from Henry David Thoreau-

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  6. Thanks for the much needed encouragement! I will keep polishing my work, maintaining my love to communicate to others through the written word, and building confidence in myself and in this crazy craft.

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    1. Awesome! Thanks for leaving a comment. Rejection is part of the game. It is designed to crush the will of the weaker ones and cull the herd, I think. But it also gives you time to do rewrites and editing, because just when you think your manuscript is print ready...it isn't.

      I went the self publishing route myself. That's where you get to publish it, market it, and collect the revenues...AND realize later on that it wasn't really ready to print yet, so you get to rewrite and edit it some more. Edit. Rinse. Edit. Repeat.

      Thanks for reading!

      Buzz

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    2. This was funny and motivating. You pick the funniest and most memorable pictures to accompany your words. I will go back to my editing now. Elaine Foster

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  7. That image at top was how I looked a couple of hours ago when I thought 'Ooh, let's dig out those notes I wrote a while back and actually try and write something.' Now here I am finishing my second beer of the night...ah progress...

    Also, I...I don't wear braces.

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    1. That's how I look every time that I start editing anything. And I prefer rum myself...it tends to pickle the brain quite nicely for a good stretch of writing.

      Thanks for reading!

      Buzz

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  8. Inspiring post thanks Buzz! I refuse to give up on my ambition, and so I only choose to dwell on the small victories, like those odd little emails and social media messages from appreciative people. We stand tall, and we stand by our incredible work!

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    1. That's the spirit, Catherine! And besides, if you're really a writer it's sort of hardwired into your DNA. You're going to write anyways. It's mostly just sort of a an added bonus if people actually read the stuff.

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  9. Wow, 140 rejections? I don't think I have that kind of fortitude. Thank you for sharing and providing a reminder that even the cream of the crop started at the bottom just like the rest of us.

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    1. That's right, Elizabeth. History always seems like such a foregone conclusion in hindsight. It's easy to forget that everyone who came before us might have had the same insecurities that we now possess. And how many great authors died penniless and unappreciated only to become huge years after their demise? Just my luck.

      Anyhow, thanks for reading and best wishes to you.

      Buzz

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  10. Wow, 140 rejections? I don't think I have that kind of fortitude. Thanks for sharing and reminding us that the cream of the crop started at the bottom just like the rest of us.

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  11. Lionel Shriver reckoned 30 on We Need to Talk About Kevin.

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