Tag Archive for publishing

Musing on Rejections

Yes, rejections suck. They’re hard to take. They hurt.

Every time a writer puts their work out into the world they risk rejection—in fact, just about any statistics you’d want to gather, and the experience of just about any successful author out there—would indicate that when we send work out, rejection is a much higher probability than positive feedback.

But we must submit to get anywhere. It’s a fact of this business—any entertainment business—and I maintain that writing fiction falls squarely into the entertainment business.

In my experience, agent rejections fall into a few different camps:

  1. Form letters that are short, sweet, polite and to the point.
  2. Terse, kinda ugly form letters that convey a FOAD attitude. (ends with, off and die)
  3. Form letters that make the uninitiated think they are personalized–reading either positive or negative meaning into words not directly aimed at the writer.
  4. Personalized rejection letters with tid-bits of encouragement clearly aimed at the specific writer.

I’ve received plenty of rejections and at least one of each type. Type #1 are frankly, probably the easiest to deal with. The “Thanks for submitting, this work isn’t for us. Don’t give up, ’cause the business is subjective.” That kind of letter.
While these type are certainly what beginner writers get most, writers at all levels of the submission process get them. (But if all your responses are of the #1-3 variety combined with no requests, then it probably is an indication that your work isn’t ready for submission… )

I didn’t get that many type #2’s, I found most agents who rejected me were quite polite, but someone on one of my loops recently posted a rejection she’d received, and while I’m not sure I received that exact letter, I did receive some like it. Ones that make you feel like you’re an idiot, like you’ve wasted their time, like you submitted something they don’t represent, like you can’t string two sentences together, like you should just give up on being a writer.

Those suck.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I got some that were hybrids of #2 and #3. Letters that insulted me, stabbed me in the gut… until I read them again later—or a critique partner or friend got virtually the same letter—and I realized the list of insults, “wooden characters, clichéd devices, no plot development” were just a laundry list of reasons why they reject manuscripts, not a personalized list of what was wrong with my submission.

And yes, I got a few badly photocopied form letters that have to make you think the agent went out of his/her way to make it look that bad—that he/she was REALLY trying to send me a message.

In fact, I got one of those badly copied form letters when I snail-mail queried one of my dream agents. A few months later, I found out she doesn’t read snail-mail queries—wasn’t even sure who in her office looked at them—and read only her e-mail ones… I had a chance to pitch to her at a conference and ended up with a request for a full. If that doesn’t prove you shouldn’t take badly photocopied rejections personally, I don’t know what does.

I think the biggest hurdle that aspiring writers have to jump is learning to not take criticism personally. Even if we are one of the rare few who hit the pinnacles of success, we are going to get bad reviews, or letters from fans who didn’t enjoy a particular book, or claim to hate them all in spite of buying and reading them. As long as none of those fans go all Kathy Bates on us… we just need to suck it up and take it. Just like we have to take rejection from agents and editors in stride when we’re at the submission stage.

Sometime during my agent search, I became fairly zen about rejections. Maybe it was a volume thing? (How does she do it? Volume! Just realized I sounded like a late night ad for stereo equipment.) Maybe it was because the bad rejections were mixed in with requests and really encouraging rejections from agents who loved my writing, but weren’t sure which editors to market the manuscript to and invited me to send my next project.

But to get published you need to submit and if you submit, you’re going to get rejected many times before you get a yes. So we need to get to that happy place re: rejections. Somehow.

Everyone. ..
Chant with me…

    Post about trends

    Hey! My niece is still with me and is currently patiently waiting for me to take her to the CN Tower… (or as patiently as an 8 year old can pull off) So no time for a real post.

    But if you happen by here… and want to read my 2 cents on writing to trends, it’s my blog day on Drunk Writer Talk.

    Too many conferences…. too little time

    Okay, too little money, too…

    Eileen Cook, whose novel, IN THE STARS, hits shelves in February 2007, just told me about a great conference today, the Surrey International Writers Conference. (Surrey’s just outside Vancouver.)

    What a great sounding conference. And I like to mix things up with some non-RWA events. Interesting to actually have male writers around, not to mention writers of other genres. Since I’m not writing romance right now, it’s nice to attend workshops that aren’t so focussed on the genre.

    Hmmmmm… It’s a lot of money. Hmmmmm… I already committed to the New Jersey Romance Writers conference that same month for no good reason except that my friends are going. Hmmmm… I made a rule that I wouldn’t go to any more conferences unless I was either a speaker or had a book to promote.

    Well, it was more of a guideline really…

    A New Chapter Begins…

    Okay, so I stole the name/theme of this year’s RWA conference as the title for my blog post tonight… but it kinda fits the way I’m feeling right now.

    I have that beginning of the conference excitement, wondering what the next 4 days will hold… Even more than that, however, being at Nationals this year feels different and I realize that a new chapter in my writing career has begun. Yes, I’m still one of the masses of yet-to-be-published authors out there, but I had a meeting with my wonderful agent today and just the fact that I have an agent to meet with is so, so amazing. Here’s a picture of Pamela and I at the amazing party The Knight Agency threw on Tuesday night.

    Tonight, was the RWA Chick Lit chapter’s night for a party and although it was a smaller fest than in previous years, the mood was great–upbeat and friendly–and the more intimate size made it easier to connect with everyone there. President Aryn congratulated our members who sold or had their first book published this year.

    Some of them are pictured here. I would have needed a wide angle lens to get them all in the same picture.
    In spite of the dire reports, it appears that publishers are still buying chick lit — or did so in the past year, anyway. Congrats to everyone!

    Walking the Thin Line Between Networking and Stalking

    I’m off to the RWA National conference in Atlanta this week with 2000 or so other writers—published and unpublished. This will be my third National conference and each year I make an attempt to set some goals to justify the cost.

    In 2004, in Dallas, my main goal was drinking margaritas with my friends. Not a lofty goal, I admit, but because I’d been planning to pitch my manuscript to a line at Harlequin that had just been cancelled, I couldn’t come up with a better goal at short notice.

    Mission accomplished. Drunk writer talk works in Texas, too.

    Oh, and in addition to eating Mexican food and drinking, I went to heaps of workshops and learned a ton about the business and the craft of writing. Bonus!

    In 2005, the conference was in Reno, and my main goals were to make a great pitch to Deidre Knight and to drink margaritas with the new friends I planned to make at the conference. Goal number one went even better than expected and I’m now represented by her sister and fellow Knight Agency agent Pamela Harty. Goal number two proved trickier (and here I thought it’d be the easy one). I think my problem was, while there were lots of places to get a drink (anywhere–it was a freakin’ casino), there wasn’t the obvious hotel bar meeting place. Lots of conference attendees were hanging in the casino, but it was hard to know who was open to talking and who was more intent on hitting those triple sevens. The most obvious bar had about 5 tables. I mean, they want you to gamble, not sit around and talk. Then there was a dance club sort of bar, which I later found out many people I’d like to have met were hanging out… but my shy-side kicked in and walking into a dance club alone just didn’t happen.

    All in all, I found the whole conference in a casino thing a bit surreal. Yes, even more surreal than a conference sharing a hotel with 10,000 Mary Kay reps draped in sashes and bows and berating authors for writing smut and (gasp) not wearing panty hose or lipstick in public. (If you were in Dallas, you know what I mean.)

    Now it’s 2006. Another year, another conference. This year, I’m not sure I want to declare my goal for the public record, because it involves meeting a certain writer and pumping her for information and becoming her new best friend. I’m sure I’m one of hundreds who’ll have this same goal. (No, the target’s not Nora.)

    This goal begs the question—when does networking become stalking? When does the desire to connect with a writer you admire—whose career you’d love to emulate—become just a little freakishly scary?

    Hmmm… is it when you and two other writer friends have made plans to stage a kidnapping? (Don’t worry D & M. If the cops get me, I won’t rat you out. 😉

    Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Emily Giffin in Toronto!

    Last night at the Yonge and Eglinton Indigo bookstore, Emily Giffin was signing her new novel, BABY PROOF, which is currently #2 on the Globe and Mail’s bestseller list. (Was #1 a while ago… will be again after last night.) Congratulations, Emily! As she pointed out to the crowd, Canadian readers obviously have good taste. :-)

    I had the pleasure of reading the ARC (advance readers copy) of BABY PROOF some months ago and it didn’t disappoint. My fellow drunk writer blogger Sinead and I are always debating what makes Emily’s books so compulsively readable and hard to put down. They don’t have big complicated plots. They aren’t suspenseful in a literal way. All three so far have had only one major conflict to be resolved… and yet, they’re gripping, page-turning—and really fun to read. Maybe Sinead and I will discuss this in more detail in a future Drunk Writer Talk Blog.

    It was great to meet Emily in person and she was really engaging and funny as a speaker (and if by some chance, you happen to read this, Emily, I completely agree about that skank Angelina. I also hope you don’t hold your husband to his body part offer to bind your first manuscript—for his and your sake both!)

    But as great as the evening was, it didn’t live up to my naïve fantasy. I’d hoped I’d have a chance to chat with her more… Sob. As a writer of books featuring female protagonists who don’t always act in the most heroic manner, I really wanted to know more about her journey to publication—not to mention post publication. In fact, I’d planned to offer to buy her a drink after the signing. Little did I know that 200 people would show up. WOW. I stood for 2 hours. She smiled and posed for pictures and signed books for 2 hours.

    But it was totally worth it. I can’t wait to see her presentation at the RWA Conference in Atlanta. It’s so nice to see a writer with such a great talent have so much success.

    Myths, Lies and the Publishing Industry

    A couple of recent posts on writer-lists I belong to have prompted me to do something I swore I’d never do with this blog (but already broke in the first week). I hadn’t planned to use this blog to foist my opinions about publishing on the world. Enough people already do that and do it well… But sometimes, it appears, I just can’t help myself…

    So, at the risk of having cyber-tomatoes tossed my way, I find myself wanting to voice a few opinions about small pubs, e-pubs and (gasp) self-publishing.

    I’m still very early in my—what I hope will be a—writing career… but, except for about ten minutes after one particularly disappointing bit of news, I haven’t even considered an option other than shooting for a contract with a major NY publisher.

    Why? For me, it’s about knowing what you want. It’s about setting goals and sticking to them even if it requires a little harsh reflection and honesty—not to mention a lot of hard work on your craft and probably tossing a few early manuscripts into the trash bin.

    Not that I think there’s any one right way to get published—or even a best way—I just know what I want and based on some things I read on the loops, some (emphasis on some) writers end up at e-pubs without much forethought or because they weren’t honest with themselves about their writing or about the industry.

    In other words, if a writer decides to target a small press or e-pub, he/she should be very clear about why they’ve made that choice.

    In my opinion, it comes down to goals. Writers (I hope) write because we love to write… So why do we want to be published? That’s a whole other question. Some writers may be happy just to see their name in print on a book cover. Maybe it’s being able to use that elusive title “author”. Maybe they just hope a few people who don’t know them will actually read their stories. On the other hand, some writers have different goals. For example, seeing their book in major chains, reaching for or hitting bestseller lists, reviews in major publications, possible movie deals, having thousands of people read their books, earning a modest living…

    If those latter goals sound like you… Then my advice is to stay focused on getting that contract with a major NY publishing house.

    What saddens me most, I suppose, is when I see writers falling into the trap of believing certain myths about the industry that get perpetrated amongst we pre-published authors. Yes, it’s a tough business. Yes, the odds are against a new writer. Yes, it’s very subjective. Yes, there’s some luck and timing involved, but some things I hear out there just aren’t true. For example, I’ve heard people claiming that to get a major NY contract or even land a reputable agent:

    • You have to know someone
    • You have to be pretty
    • Your book has to fit into some kind of cookie-cutter mold
    • You have to learn a secret handshake no one’s willing to teach you

    Yes, these little lies writers tell themselves can help take the sting out of the inevitable rejections that come in this business—but they are lies. Believing that you need an “in” to get published by a NY house, or that the major houses never take chances can lead writers into a world of delusion. Yes, small presses and e-pubs have launched certain fiction sub-genres — they can take more chances because the costs are so much lower… But once those barriers have been broken and it’s proven a market exists (say with erotica or paranormal right now) NY starts clamoring for those types of books and if your writing is good enough, your storytelling gripping, your voice strong, you will find an agent and get a publishing deal with a NY house.


    This is what I believe.

    Am I the one who’s deluded?

    I don’t have a book contract yet. It took me 3 completed manuscripts to get a great agent and I recognize that it might take a few more manuscripts to get that contract… Don’t get me wrong… it will break my heart if the book my agent is shopping right now doesn’t sell… But I’ll recover. I also know each book I write gets better and for me (emphasis on for me) going with a small pub or e-pub is a compromise I’m not willing to make. It’s just not compatible with my goals. Your goals might be different. Just be honest with yourself and don’t buy into the myths.

    Writing a novel… talent or skill?

    Yesterday’s discussion on misconceptions about writing and publishing reminded me of something… This winter, on my way down to the US for a writers conference, I almost got into a fight with the US immigration officer who interviewed me at the Toronto airport….

    Okay, no fight. I’m not that stupid (but maybe sometime if you get me really drunk I will tell you about a past run in with another US immigration officer… not a pretty story) But what this particular officer said was so typical of what so many non-writers think about writing a novel.

    Officer: Why are you visiting the US?
    Me: To attend a writers conference.
    Officer: What do you do at a writers conference? Learn about writing?
    Me: Yes, and meet agents and editors, other writers.
    Officer: What’s to learn? Either you can write or you can’t.
    Me: (Getting agitated but really not wanting to be strip searched or sent off to Guantanamo Bay) Well, there’s more to know about writing than many people think.
    Officer: When I did my masters degree I was just good at writing. It’s easy for me. If I had time, I’d write a novel.
    Me: I smile and nod, while thinking…. Officer, you ignorant slut! Do you tell a doctor there’s nothing to learn in medicine because you once put on your own bandaid? And what kind of masters degree do you have, anyway, that you ended up interviewing tourists flying to the US at the Toronto airport? (Okay, that was mean, and probably uncalled for, but I was angry.)
    Angry or not, I smiled again, implying agreement and she handed me back my passport and let me enter the US.

    Even given all the naivete and ignorance I was guilty of regarding the publishing business when I started — particularly ignorant about the romance genre — I always knew it would be hard to write a novel. (In fact, when pages turned into scenes, scenes into chapters, chapters into a story… it was all quite miraculous to me. Made me feel super powerful… Like I’d unleashed some kind of magic.)

    I suppose I’d always wanted to try to write a novel, but secretly feared the idea. What if I failed? What if it wasn’t good enough? How did one even start?

    That last question was how I, a non-reader of romance at the time, ended up in a class called “How to write the romance novel”. It was the only novel writing course I’d come across that didn’t require a work in progress or some kind of pre-admission review of my work. (Also, the course description mentioned some of those lovely RWA statistics about how big the market for romance is … The non-risk-taker accountant in me LOVED that part…)

    Back on topic… Yes, I’ll buy that it takes talent to write a novel and that writing or storytelling or both come more naturally to some of us than to others… but there is so much skill involved, too. And the craft of writing well, like any other skill, can be learned. Stephen King has a great line in “On Writing“. He said (I’m paraphrasing because I’m too lazy to dig up the book and find the quote) that learning and practice can turn a bad writer into a good writer, but great writers are born.

    Still, I’ll bet those great writers had some learning to do, too…

    I’m glad no one told me….

    This past few weeks, I’ve posted a few perhaps-too-brutally-honest comments and/or answers to questions on my local RWA Chapter’s e-loop — Toronto Romance Writers. Yesterday, something dawned on me. In my attempts to be honest… To share what I’d learned about the industry over the past four years – lots of it depressing – I may have inadvertently discouraged some newer members of our group. Writers who still have visions of being plucked from slush piles dancing in their heads. Writers who think self-publishing will bring them fame and fortune (or even satisfaction). (Okay, these things happen… People win lotteries, too.)

    I didn’t/don’t mean to be discouraging… If I was, I’m very, very sorry.

    And it got me thinking…

    I’m glad no one told me how hard getting published would be, because if I’d known, I might not have started. (Not a risk taker by nature… my first career was in accounting and even though I realized I was going to hate it in my first year of University… I didn’t actually stop doing it until I was so burned out and depressed I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning.)

    Time to be honest with myself. People did tell me how hard getting published would be, but I didn’t completely believe them. I started out on this whole novel writing journey (did I just use that heinous reality TV word, “journey”?) by taking a class at Ryerson University. And the class was good. And the instructor told us it would be hard… And told us how little writing actually paid for most published authors…

    But… I somehow didn’t think this bad news applied to me. Was I arrogant? Probably. But I had reasons:

    1. I’d been told I had talent — high school English teacher, creative writing professor at UC Berkeley, my mommy. (I didn’t know at the time that 90% of us trying to do this have similar stories of encouragement to tell…)
    2. I know I’m pretty smart – again, lots of smart people doing this… Who knew? (by the way the media often portrays authors of women’s fiction, it’s easy to be mislead)
    3. I am lucky. (When I look at my life, I’ve always been pretty lucky.)

    So, when I heard that most people complete several manuscripts before they sell, but that some writers actually sell their first book – I just assumed I’d fit into group two. I was going to sell my first book and it would be a huge smash and I’d be on my way to earning a modest living from writing within a year – 18 months tops. I gave myself 2 years to be safe. (remember the not-a-risk-taker confession?) I had a plan.

    In May 2002, I simultaneously started taking the novel-writing course and actually writing my first novel, a series romance aimed at no particular series (those of you in-the-know are seeing the red flags already!). In February 2003, about one-third – maybe halfway? – into the book, I selected a line at Harlequin to target. How? Did I do research on the lines? Read lots of them? No… I picked it solely because an editor from that line was attending a TRW meeting and was willing to hear pitches.

    I pitched. She asked for chapters. Yippee! I was on my way to the big time. I pushed through and finished my manuscript in March or April 2003, so that it would be ready to go when the editor (without a doubt) called to beg me for the full manuscript. Imagine my surprise when she didn’t. :-(

    But she did give me some good feedback and criticism, so I decided to revise… After messing around with that opus for another 6 months or so, and submitting it to another line at Harlequin (I changed my title… I’m a very bad girl) I finally figured out how to just let it go.

    My writing was getting better. I was pushing myself. Attending workshops and conferences. Reading books on craft. Learning from my critique partners. Learning from contest feedback. Figuring out that romance heroines (especially at Harlequin) actually have to be nice… My next book would be better. I tucked the first one into a drawer.

    Sadly, I chose the now defunct Harlequin Flipside* line for my next manuscript attempt. I never even got a chance to submit manuscript #2 before the line was cancelled – but ms #2 was better. People told me it was better. I could tell it was better. It placed in a couple of big contests (and bombed in some others). I had grown a bit of a voice! About time.

    Speaking of time… Is anyone keeping track? Yes. By the time I had finished this second manuscript and found out it was dead in the water before even getting a chance to launch, it was 2004. MY TWO YEARS WERE UP! (I think the announcement of the line cancellation actually happened the same month that my personal publish deadline expired. Slit wrists were considered…)

    So, what did I do? Did I go back to my much-hated career in business and accounting? Did I try to find another path to follow? No. I started backpedaling with all the people I’d revealed my two-year limit to… (family, friends – myself)

    And started writing another book.

    That third manuscript THE MISEDUCATION OF APRIL HILLSON, got me signed with a fabulous agent, Pamela Harty, and finalled in the Stiletto contest. I don’t have a book deal inked yet, but I’m super hopeful and guess what? Yup! Working on my fourth and fifth manuscripts.

    May 2006 marked the fourth anniversary of my momentous decision to become a published author. Is it harder than I thought it would be? You bet. Do I wish I hadn’t started? NO WAY!

    I’m glad no one told me how hard it would be… Correction. I’m glad I didn’t believe them.

      * Postscript: My CP Molly O’Keefe’s Flipside DISHING IT OUT won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for 2005! Yea, Molly!!!