books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rejection: Why it Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Means


FIRST: AN ANNOUNCEMENT: 

The book I’ve been writing with Catherine Ryan HydeHOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE—and keep your E-sanity! will be published by Mark Williams international  in June of 2012. The book will be available as an ebook that will include free six-month updates. AND it will also be available in paper in both a US and UK edition.

We’ve had some interest from more traditional publishers, but decided to go with the innovative people at MWiDP because we need a nimble publisher who can keep up with industry changes and offer timely updates. Also, Catherine has a large international fan base, which made “Mr. International’s” offer especially attractive.

Win a signed first edition!
This is not another how-to book for writers. It’s a how-to-survive book. It’s something we think a lot of writers might need right about now. 

If we’d known the challenges writers would face in the 21st century, we’d have gone into a more stable profession…like maybe running an all-ayatollah drag show in downtown Tehran.

Let’s face it. Aspiring writers need help. Writers today need to learn to ride the roller-coaster of a rapidly changing publishing business and deal with an overload of conflicting information.
We can find thousands of blog posts every day on the subject of writing and publishing, and we can’t read them all. Which ones do you trust?  Who do you believe? So much of it is negative, snarky, or either/or.

Making a living as a writer gets more difficult by the day—does that mean fledgling writers should give up their dreams?

Our answer is a resounding no. The life of a creative writer can be the most rewarding in the world. A writer lives a life of the mind—an examined life. Whether you hope to become the next Stephanie Meyer, a self-publishing writer-preneur, a crafter of literary short stories, or just want to write for family and friends, life is infinitely enhanced by the process of creating worlds out of words.

Our book is about helping newer writers learn how to navigate the publishing business as it zooms into the future, to learn to be the best writer you can be—and keep on writing, no matter what.

WIN PRIZES!! If you leave your e-address in the comments thread (or send it to me at annerallen.allen (at) gmail (dot) com) we will send you the formal announcement of the launch of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE. This will also make you eligible for a drawing to be held next Sunday for a signed, first edition hardback copy of Catherine’s novel, WALTER’S PURPLE HEART, which she discusses in this post.

The Denver Post said, "Walter's Purple Heart" serves up 315 distinctive pages of reconciliation and hope...Hyde subtly captures the most powerful elements of sentiment—qualities we all recognize and understand—and adds a dash of metaphysical hope. She suggests that when it comes to love, nothing is ever truly lost, but rather redirected."

Signing up for our announcements will also make you eligible for the REALLY BIG drawing to be held on launch day in June. The REALLY BIG, launch-day prize in June will be a signed first edition of Catherine’s iconic inspirational novel, PAY IT FORWARD. 

My Ultimate Rejection Story (Chosen out of Literally Thousands)
by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I have a number of rejection stories. I’ll bet it’s a larger number than the best guess in your head right now. I’ve written a sort of “best of” series of my rejection stories into Anne’s and my new book HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE—and Keep your E-Sanity

Each of the stories is meant to illuminate rejection, to show that it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

At first you think it means the work is no good, you’re not a good writer. But then how can you reconcile the fact that my short stories were rejected an average of 17 ½ times each before going on to find a good home without further revision? (You’ll read that story in our book.) Okay, so then you figure the work may be good, but you’re trying to place it with the wrong publisher. But if that were true, I wouldn’t have placed my first short story with the same magazine that issued my most vicious rejection. (You’ll also read that one.)

Now, hopefully, you’re almost where you need to be, thinking rejection really only means that this particular editor won’t publish this particular work. Hold onto your socks for what comes next: It doesn’t even mean that much.

This is the one I consider to be my ultimate rejection story.

I’d had an agent who marketed Walter’s Purple Heart to no avail (25 rejections!) and wouldn’t even take on Pay It Forward. Hated it, hated it, hated it. (Told that one in the book, too.) I told her to send both home to me, and then gave them to a newer, hungrier agent.

The new agent sold Pay It Forward to Chuck Adams at Simon & Schuster, who then immediately asked what else I might have. Out of the drawer came Walter’s Purple Heart.

He bought it in a six-figure deal right before Christmas.

Available here
Why is that my best rejection story? Because one of Walter’s Purple Heart’s 25 previous rejections was from…wait for it…Chuck Adams at Simon & Schuster.
           
And he knew it.

His statement on why: He said Simon & Schuster had changed. They didn’t used to let him take on the smaller, more literary works. Now they did.

My statement on why: My career had changed. A book he might not have successfully marketed as a debut could be much more saleable as a follow-up to Pay It Forward.

So there you go. The true story of rejection. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that any one particular editor won’t buy that work of fiction. It just means he (or she) chose not to buy it on that day. Later, things can change. Reader tastes, the book industry, or your name recognition.

Here’s a final question before I move on from the subject of rejection.

Second Hand Heart now available in US
I once received a plain, printed rejection from a small literary journal on my short story Nicky Be Thy Name. But they accepted the next story I sent. In a phone conversation with the editor, he remembered “Nicky,” and referred to it, saying he’d come within “a hair’s breadth” of taking it.

Now, I hadn’t known that. He hadn’t said. I just figured he didn’t like it.

When we get a rejection back in the mail, we usually don’t know the process the work has gone through. We don’t know if one paragraph was read by an editorial assistant (translation=first reader, probably straight out of college) or if our work made the rounds of all editors and survived everything but the final cut.

Here’s the question:

Why do we always assume the editor(s) hated it, that we have been branded as hacks? Why don’t we ever assume that it came within “a hair’s breadth” of acceptance, and is being returned with deep regret?

Catherine’s Workshop Announcement:

On the first weekend in February (and possibly the second weekend as well if I get enough takers) I'm going to be doing a weekend workshop at my studio in Cambria. This will be a read-and-critique workshop with a heavy focus on self-editing. In other words, the stuff your read-and-critique group will miss if they are only listening to the work, not reading it on the page (students will be encouraged to bring enough copies for everyone). Self-editing is a must for any author considering the indie, rather than traditional, publishing model. Class size is limited to eight. Hours on Saturday and Sunday will depend on class size, so please email for more information, and to reserve a space: ryanhyde@cryanhyde.com

Traditionally I have charged $175 for workshops of this length (14 hours of instruction if maxed at 8 students). I'm doing the workshops, quite frankly, because I need the money, yet I am more than aware that most of my students are not exactly rolling in it these days, either. So I am conducting this workshop as a "recession special," which is another way of saying "pay what you can." Make me the best offer you can afford to make, and I won't turn anyone away over financial considerations. 
******
This week's inspiring excerpt from the INDIE CHICKS ANTHOLOGY is here. It's a make-lemonade-out-of-lemons story from historical suspense writer Suzanne Tyrpak. 

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have any good rejection stories? We'd love to hear them. Yes, it's OK to vent! (And don't forget to leave your email address--or send it--to enter the contest.)

38 comments:

  1. I guess there is a lot once can garner from a rejection if you care to take the time and imagine what resulted in the rejection. I have my fair share of them but I just tossed them in the garbage and scratched a name off my list.

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  2. Love the article on rejections. After nineteen I finally sold SOUTHERN STAR to Avalon Books, who had rejected it twice before. No changes to the story, but Avalon had hired a new editor. Another reason why.

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  3. A writer without rejections is like a movie star without a stylist, makeup artist, hair dresser, agent, manager, tax accountant and go-fer. Ça n'existe pas.

    So get comfy & join the crowd. ;-)

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  4. This post was really eye-opening. It's true, we do normally assume that a rejection means the agent/editor hated it, but maybe we are closer and better than we think. Thank you for this post!

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  5. All of that makes sense, because it's all about timing.

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  6. One of my favorite rejection stories involved receiving the classic, photocopied scrap-of-paper-rejection with a handwritten note that said, "Magazine closed. Editor died." Another (more positive) one involved the same ubiquitous photocopied scrap-of-paper rejection, then a phone call three months later offering to buy the story, to be placed in an anthology alongside a half-dozen award-winning authors' stories.

    Keep up the good work, Anne & Catherine.
    csperryess@kcbx.net

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  7. As someone very young and still somewhat sensitive to biting criticisms of her work, this post is fantastic - thank you so much Catherine! I won't go and cry under the table when someone sends me a rejection letter just yet then ;)

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  8. A response directly to Michael. Once, before I had ever been published (not even a short story) I got a rejection so vile, so insulting that I scratched the journal off my submission list. So hard, in fact, that I went right through the paper. A couple of weeks later I woke up and thought, "Hmmm. That's not like me. I'm more pathologically stubborn than that." So I sent them another story. With calm reference to the vile rejection. (I said, "If you still feel I have the wrong market in your journal, I won't ask you to read more.") And that was my first acceptance.

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  9. And, Phyllis--great story! So underscores my message. Thanks. I feel this is so important because good writers tend to be more sensitive than bad ones (I think that's why they're good). And I hate to see the really talented new writers drop away needlessly. Yes, it stings. But it doesn't have to stop us.

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  10. Ruth--well said, thanks. Love that feeling that I belong.

    And Shelly, happy if I could open your eyes to something a little more hopeful than most of what writers are confronted with every day.

    Alex, agreed. In real estate it's location, location, location. In our business it's timing, timing, timing. And talent, but a writer will get further, in my opinion, with more timing and less talent. I mean, as opposed to the other way around.

    Charlie Perryess! Great to hear from you and love your stories. If we get enough of them under this post, it's going to start to really hit home.

    And Charley, cry if you need to, if it helps. Just so long as you send the work out again.

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  11. No rejection stories yet. But I"m sure I'll garner a few when I finally get to the submission phase. I probably will hole up and cry a little bit with the first rejection, just like I did the first time I got a lower grade that I'd ever gotten in college. Part of growing up right? (Who cares if I'm technically a grown up.)

    :} Cathryn

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  12. Thank you for this post, Catherine! And Anne! We bruised up writers sure do need this. I can''t wait to read the book. Wish I lived close enough to take the workshop.

    As to rejections stories, I had been taken on by a super biggie agent, but when no pub bought my book, she dumped me cold. I found a smaller agent who later sold a couple other books of mine. But I recently looked at the first one again and decided, thanks to Indie pubbing, to start revising it.

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  13. Cathryn, I really do approve of crying. I used to suggest to writers that they give themselves 48 hours to get as depressed as they wanted. Pull the shades, turn off the phone...but at the end of 48 hours, they had to promise to get up and send out the work again. It's not about not having feelings, it's about not letting them stop you.

    And, Alicia--IF it needs revising. Hopefully you'll know. But please don't assume it needs revising just because it was rejected!

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  14. Over from Catherine's blog...

    I'm not a writer (in so much as I only really write a blog & reviews... and I haven't written a short story for years now), but I've found this a very interesting post.

    Most people do take rejection hard (me included), but I think it's something to learn from, especially if you can find out why something might have been rejected or even if it was close to being accepted.

    nixtee [at] gmail [dot] com

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  15. Great post Catherine. One of my children's book got to third level editors at Harper Collins before it was rejected. The only reason I knew this was because, out of my naïveté, I actually called them to see what was happening with my manuscript! My rejection letter was very generic. Like you said, I got a hairs breadth away and almost didn't know it.

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  16. Catherine, I remember you telling me about the 17.5 times your stories were rejected on the average and that helped me so much. One thing I'd like to add: when I was editor of Mindprints Literary Journal at Allan Hancock College, we rejected many stories for all sorts of reasons. One I remember is "We just published a story on a feisty woman in a rest home" and then some time later, we read a rest home tale we couldn't resist and published it in the next volume. Go figure. Great post, Catherine!!

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  17. Thanks a lot for this, it's always inspiring to hear rejection then success stories :)

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  18. I have just sent out about thirty queries for my short stories so this post was particularly timely. There is for me an interesting mix of emotions, ranging from hope for acceptance to protection from rejection. I always tell myself that it is easier than being an actor, where the process takes place in person. I keep sending out queries, even if I have to take periodic breaks to help me manage the emotional roller coaster. Thanks for this post.

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  19. I'm continually inspired by rejection stories, my own and others'. Thanks for sharing this book with us, Anne. I appreciate what you said about a writer's need to survive... (Likely takes care of some of the "how tos" :))

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  20. Nice to see you on this blog, Nikki-ann. And you are so a writer!

    And Christine, sometimes I think they purposely withhold telling us about our near misses because misguided authors sometimes have angry responses. ("If you thought it was so great, then WHY?") But that makes it even more important to remember that we might be doing better than we think. Thanks for your story! (And good to hear from you!)

    And Mindprinter (I know who you are!), I did a stint at a small literary journal, too. Now defunct. I remember we had to reject a couple of good divorce stories because the big cheese editor's was acrimonious and not ancient enough history. It's so damned subjective.

    Emily, I'll take it a step further. My story is rejection, then success, then more rejection mixed with more success. There's no magic moment when you're never rejected again. Not for me, anyway.

    Judith, good point. I so value being alone in a room when I'm slapped in the face. I once did a speaking engagement, and someone in the audience asked if I'd ever considered being a stand-up comedian. I said, "Gee, thanks. You found the one career on the planet more horrifying than the one I've already got."

    August, I think they're a must for writers. I might never have quit my day job without rejection stories, because I thought my rejections were telling me not to.

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  21. What great rejection stories! And I'm very much looking forward to the e-survival guide!! Best of luck on all your ventures!

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  22. I can not wait for the book, Catherine and Anne! And, Catherine, thank you for the very uplifting post about rejection. I could paper my entire house with the rejection letters I've received on my first two books - which were subsequently contracted with e-book publishers. Now my next ones are waiting for me to send out query letters for them to see if I can find an agent. AACK!
    Patti

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  23. Anne and Catherine, I like the sound of your book. There's a ton of advice for aspiring authors available on the internet, but a lot of it is questionable at best. I think many beginning writers feel overwhelmed by the deluge of negativity that's often directed at them.

    As for rejections, my ultimate rejection was when a publisher (a very popular one in its genre) rejected a book I'd written with them in mind. I really thought they'd accept it, and it was one of those that made it 'within a hairsbreadth' of acceptance. It made it all the way to the final round of consideration, and then the editor who'd encouraged me rejected it on the last leg of its journey without any explanation whatsoever. What was most frustrating for me wasn't the rejection itself, but the fact that the editor spent so much time with it and then didn't give me so much as a hint of a reason why she ultimately passed. I'll never know!

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  24. Thanks, Susan!

    Patricia, I think AACK says it very well. Not just for you. For all of us.

    And Ranae Rose, I don't know either. But editors do get fired for making too many wrong choices (translation: books that don't earn money for the publisher, no matter their quality). So sometimes I think they get paranoid and start to second-guess themselves. Just something else to consider.

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  25. This is a great post Anne and Catherine. Looking forward to your new book coming out!

    Denise

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  26. Anne and Catherine, thank you both for this post. Haven't reached double-digits in rejections because I stopped after the second for each book (three).

    Went back and did what your workshop will teach(wish I didn't live 3K miles away) and did some self-editing. Best rejection that year came from Susan Ginsburg of Writers House, who in one snarky comment/question taught me more than a ten hour workshop.

    This is the year I can go back to her with the same book, with her question answered and her comments incorporated.

    Oh yes, I also cry, read murder mysteries for a vicarious thrill and then get back to work. Damn, it's so good to have someone up the road providing sign posts for directionally challenged types like me :) Thanks again!

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  27. "IF it needs revising. Hopefully you'll know. But please don't assume it needs revising just because it was rejected!"

    Your response to Alicia should be shouted from the roof-tops, Catherine.

    One of the most insidious mantras of the old publishing world was the idea that writers somehow benefited and honed their craft through the querying and rejection process.

    A thanks-but-no-thanks rejection is beyond useless, and blind revision because a mindless rejection slip came back has probably seen some potentially great books destroyed before they ever saw the light of day.

    The world would be a much poorer place had you rewritten Pay It Forward to buck some market trend, or to match some editor's personal idea of how the story should run.

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  28. Catherine, thank you so much for this wonderful post. When I first started out writing, rejections would send me spiralling into a black hole that seemed to suck every aspect of my life in along with it. It took a lot of doing to crawl out of those holes -- I wish I had read this post back then.

    Now, it's more likely to be negative reviews that send me into a funk. We can't please everyone no matter how hard we try, but published or not, it's so hard to put a piece of yourself out there.

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  29. Great rejection story! And congratulations on your book. how-to-survive seems like a much-needed angle!

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  30. What a wonderful post, on so many levels. One of the best things I gleaned from it is the notion that a rejection may just as well mean, "Came real close, but no cigar," as it does "Give up, hack ... you're an utter failure." Most of us suspect the latter whenever we see one of those dreaded rejections. Thanks for the new perspective.

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  31. This is a post I need to bookmark for those low dark moments. It is so important to keep chanting: Art is subjective-Art is subjective.

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  32. Thanks, Denise!

    fOIS In The City...you stopped sending out three separate books after only two rejections each?! Almost no book I know of has been sold on fewer than two rejections! If I may offer unsolicited advice, you've got some work to do. And I don't mean revision. I mean getting those books out of the drawer and finding an editor who likes them as they stand. If you keep hearing the same criticism over and over, and--this next part is very important--YOU AGREE WITH IT, then revise. Otherwise just keep sending.

    Which leads me to Mark Williams excellent comment. Mark, I once had a story accepted for the exact same reason the previous editor rejected it. (I tell that story in the book, too.) The rejection said there was a "hollowness" to my characters. The acceptance said I showed "great poise" in the way I created my characters with "brief brush strokes." So what if I had revised to make the characters less "hollow"? Right. No poise. it would have bounced back again. And that was my first acceptance ever.

    Talli, yeah, it is hard. I'm the first to concede that. I'm not suggesting we don't feel down. Only that we don't stop.

    And thanks to Rebecca and Susan and Nicole, glad it was the right set of thoughts at the right time.

    And in response to Leslie Rose, and really all the comments...isn't it funny how it becomes uplifting when I tell you I got a gazillion rejections and tell new writers they will, too? One of life's little dichotomies. But you have to know it's normal, or you'll think it's about you.

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  33. Such an inspiring story! I love hearing these . . . always encouraging!

    Anne--great news on the new venture!

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  34. I once received a rejection (after a request for the manuscript) from a high profile agent who had clearly done a cut and paste job. The note said that she loved my book, there was nothing wrong per se but didn't think she could sell it at this time.
    In the next sentence, she advised me to do a total re-write, hire an editor, etc.
    Sigh.

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  35. Thanks, Nina--And everybody! It's so great to see all these great comments. Catherine will be back, but I wanted to join in.

    Mari--I've had so many of those. One said "we don't represent nonfiction books" when I sent what was very obviously a work of fiction. Another told me I should "attend a writers' conference to find out about the business" This was a rejection of Ghostwriters in the Sky, which is set...at a writers' conference. And I said in my query I'd attended more than a dozen.

    When I found out most readers are unpaid high school kids, I had a little clearer picture of what was really happening.

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  36. I used to complain to my first mentor, the late author Jean Brody, about the contradictory ridiculousness of many of my rejections. Actually, I wasn't judging them quite so clearly at the time. I was really struggling to understand. Jean's advice? "Oh, it's all nonsense. Don't pay attention to a word of it." I've found over the years that she was correct. A lot of the "reasons" for rejection seem to be randomly pulled from the air, and not of much use. Again, I caution the newer writer to not look for wisdom in the rejection, as if their work has proved faulty and the rejection must hold a key to the fault. If you keep sending, you may well find an editor who loves it just the way it is. Otherwise you might end up with the literary equivalent of a platypus, which, we know, is the animal created by committee.

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  37. Thank you. That's just what I needed to hear [read]. Writing is about the only thing that keeps me sane, and knowing that other people have struggled too keeps the hope alive.

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