I know. Rejections hurt.
But they're also a necessary part of your career as an author. So when you get your first one, give yourself time to feel the pain, then do something to celebrate. Maybe even print it out and frame it.
Yup. You read that right. Congratulations!
You now have the one thing that all professional writers have in common. Every single professional writer gets a boatload of rejections.
But you know what's worse than rejections?
The rejection system is part of your education in the publishing industry. Getting your work accepted before you've had time to learn about the business can backfire. Big time. You can get scammed or talked into signing a bad contract, or you can bumble into a comedy of errors the way I did.
The first agent I queried accepted me as a client. Great, right?
Not so much.
I'd sent out my query to one of the top agencies in L.A., got a request for a full manuscript, and a week later I heard from her assistant—a man about to become an agent in his own right—who was in love with my manuscript. In a delightful British accent, he pronounced my story "hilarious" and said he'd "show it around to a few people."
So—since I'd heard you should never phone an agent—I sat around and waited. And waited. Six months. Nothing. No contract. No word of anything. Finally I sent off a letter (no email in those days) asking if anything was happening. No word. So I waited some more. A month later, I finally phoned the agency.
Seems "my agent" had left the business a couple of weeks after we'd talked and gone back to England.
So I queried another agent. (No, I hadn't thought to keep querying during that eight months. I was naive enough to think that phone call meant what I had was a done deal.)
So did I finally get a rejection? Nope—acceptance, but again, no contract. My book went out to a dozen editors over six months, with no takers—so the agent dropped me.
But I soldiered on. I bought Jeff Herman's Guide to Literary Agents and sent well-researched, targeted queries to dozens of agents. I was sure if I got two agents right off the bat, I could get my pick of others.
Ha! That's when I got the rejections. Hundreds of them. And they hurt worse because I'd set myself up to think I'd be easily accepted.
I'd search every one for clues to what was "wrong" with the book and go into a frenzy of rewriting.
So after years of rejections and rewrites, did I have a gorgeous, perfect book every agent would love?
- When an agent said, "I just can't connect with these characters," I'd make every character a little more bland.
- When an agent said "this plot is confusing," I'd eliminate the subplots.
- When an agent said "humorous fiction is a hard sell," I'd remove the jokes.
- When an agent said she was no longer taking adult fiction; she only wanted YA, I'd try to rewrite the story as YA.
No. I had an unreadable mess.
I wrote other books and went through the submission process with a few more agents and finally got my big break with a small UK publisher.
But that poor, much-rejected, over-edited book sat in a drawer, unloved.
I figured it was that practice novel that would never see print, even though my beta readers kept asking why I hadn't published it because it was their favorite.
Then about a year ago an old friend who had been cleaning out his garage came by with the manuscript of that abandoned book. He had one of the earliest versions, in printout and on a CD.
I looked over that old, unedited version and realized it was a pretty good story. It needed a polish, but it was 100% better than the Frankenbook I'd created while editing it to death—trying to please all the people all the time.
Recently I sent that ancient ms. to my publisher.
He loved it.
He wants a ton of edits, of course, and a new title.
The title we've decided on is The Lady of the Lakewood Diner. It will be #3 in my Boomer trilogy together with Food of Love and The Gatsby Game.
It's a fun, breezy romp through the last six decades, as a sixty-something small-town grandma tries to figure out who's trying to kill her childhood best friend—an aging rock star who calls herself Morgan le Fay. Think Beaches meets Mama Mia! at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
While I get to work on the edits, my friend and mentor, the phenomenal Catherine Ryan Hyde will tell you why you should never, ever do what I did.
Catherine is not only the author of the iconic novel that gave us the phrase Pay it Forward but her three newest titles Walk Me Home, When I Found You, and Where We Belong rocketed her to the top of Amazon's bestseller list this summer.
She even knocked J.K.Rowling off her perch as the #1 top selling author on Amazon.
And now you're going to see why Catherine's career has been so successful: she never doubts her muse.
The Year of My 122 Rejections
by #1 Bestselling Author
Catherine Ryan Hyde
Between the time I wrote my first novel (my critique group didn’t much like it) and the time I wrote my third novel (ditto) I was unable to interest an agent in my work. Sound like anybody you know?
I sent out about 25 queries with synopses and sample materials, just like they asked me to do. And I waited. And not one single one of those agents wanted to know anything more about me or my novels. They either were not accepting new clients (or claimed they were not), or were “unable to give my work the enthusiasm it so obviously deserved.”
Right, I know. It’s incomprehensible. It’s not just you.
In an effort to batter down that brick wall, I decided I would market my own short fiction. Much easier. Right?
Over the next year or so, I received 122 rejections on about a dozen short stories. And no acceptances.
How did I keep going? A little bit of mentorship. A couple of authors in my critique group were much better published, and they said things like, “This happens to all authors,” and, “It’s right around the corner for you.”
Finally…finally, finally (did I mention that it was after a bit of a wait?) I received my first short story acceptance.
Five days later I received my second.
Nine days after that I received my third.
So, a year of nothing but rejection. Followed by three story acceptances in the span of two weeks. What does this say about the pattern of acceptance and rejection? So far as I know, nothing. There’s not much to be said, because there really is no pattern. A lot of it is just the luck of the draw. Getting the right story to the right editor on the right day.
Here’s the most important thing I want to tell you about my short story rejections: every one of those stories went on to find a home. And I did not rewrite them based on what each editor said.
It’s a good thing I didn’t, too.
That first acceptance was from a magazine called South Dakota Review, for my short story Earthquake Weather. South Dakota Review was a pretty darned good magazine for my first time out. Based in a reputable university, they’d been publishing stories for over 20 years.
Just before I sent Earthquake Weather to South Dakota Review, I got it back rejected from a magazine of much smaller reputation. It was called the Belletrist Review, may it rest in peace. They said they liked the story as a whole but felt there was a “hollowness” to the characters.
The editor at South Dakota Review was one of a very few who was nice enough to write an actual acceptance letter, telling me why he chose the story. He said I showed poise in the way I depicted the characters with brief brush strokes.
Hear what just happened?
One editor took it for the same reason the other editor rejected it.
- The characters have a hollowness.
- The characters are depicted with brief brush strokes.
Now picture me getting it back from Belletrist Review and revising it. After all, I don’t want the characters to be hollow. Then I send it to South Dakota Review, and the editor shakes his head. Because I’ve shown no poise in the way I depict the characters. Because I used far too many brush strokes.
Yes, I do mean to say you should not revise based on rejection.
If you had a first date with someone who didn’t fall madly in love with you, would you just keep changing yourself until they did? And, as a follow-up question, do you think they ever would?
You should fix a story if you agree that it’s broken, but for no other reason.
In the meantime, just keep looking for someone who loves it for what it is.
Even if you have to weather 122 editors who don’t.
Book Deal of the Week
Since their mother’s sudden death, sixteen-year-old Carly and her eleven-year-old sister, Jen, have been walking and hitchhiking across the Southwest trying to find Teddy, the closest thing they have to a family. Carly desperately hopes Teddy will take them in and save them from going into foster care—and forgive them for the lies told by their mother.
But when the starving girls get caught stealing food on a Native American reservation, their journey gets put on hold. While the girls work off their debt, Carly becomes determined to travel onward—until Jen confesses a terrible secret that leaves both sisters wondering if they can ever trust again.
Set against the backdrop of the American Southwest, Walk Me Home and its resilient heroines will inspire readers and renew their faith in recovery and redemption.
What about you, scriveners? Do you have any questions for Catherine about rejections? She'll be here Sunday September 8th to answer them. Have you ever rewritten a piece after a rejection?
Next week: Blog Ninja and Sci-Fi author Alex J. Cavanaugh will tell us about blog community and forming his Insecure Writers Support Group.
REAL SIMPLE'S 6th annual Life Lessons Essay Contest
NO ENTRY FEE. A prize of $3,000 and publication in Real Simple
magazine is given annually for an essay on a theme by a U.S. writer. 2nd place is $750 and 3rd place gets $500 are also given. This year's theme is, "What's the bravest thing you've ever done?" Submit an essay of up to 1,500 words. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline September 19th.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award for Imaginative Fiction
Entry fee $10. A prize of $1,000 and publication in Rosebud Magazine
. Submit a previously unpublished story of up to 4,500 words. Deadline September 15th
The Harper's Bazaar UK Short Story Prize
is open to all writers. NO ENTRY FEE. Are you the next Dorothy Parker or Anita Loos? Submit an original short story (up to 3,000 words) on the subject of 'spring' to:email@example.com. The winning entry will appear in the May 2014 issue. Its author will be able to choose a first-edition book from Asprey's Fine and Rare Books Department to the value of £3,000 and enjoy a week-long retreat at Eilean Shona House, on the 2,000-acre private island off the west coast of Scotland where JM Barrie wrote his screenplay for Peter Pan. Deadline December 13th.
BARTLEBY SNOPES WRITING CONTEST
- Can you write a story that's in dialog only? $10 ENTRY FEE A minimum of $300 will be awarded, with at least $250 going to first place and at least $10 to four honorable mentions. 5 finalists will also appear in Issue 11 of the magazine due out in January 2014. Last year they awarded $585 in prize money. For every entry over 25, an additional $5 will be awarded to the first place story. Compose a short story entirely of dialogue. You may use as many characters as you want. Your entry must be under 2,000 words. Your entry does not have to follow standard rules for writing dialogue. Your entry cannot use any narration (this includes tag lines such as he said, she said, etc.) Deadline September 15th
The Rumpus has launched the Weekly Rumpus and is calling for submissions.
They are interested in "sharp, fresh, original work that grapples with life as it is really lived and felt in the world today. We want writing that walks on a wire, questions conventions, conveys a vision." 1000-6000 words. Here's their submissions page.
Labels: Agent rejection, Anne R. Allen, Catherine Ryan Hyde, How to deal with rejection, rejection, The Lady of the Lakewood Diner, Walk Me Home, What rejection means, When I Found You, Where We Belong