Agent Monday: The Positive Side of Rejection

MP900178845Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  If you live in the northeast, then you have just experienced a weekend full of sparkling sunlight and glittering orange and yellow leaves.  That’s gotta make you feel great, right?  So this is the perfect time to talk about…rejection!  The “R” word. I know, it’s dreaded, negative, a buzz kill, depressing. But let’s take a sparkling sunlit view of it: the positive side of rejection.

Last week, through Philadelphia Stories Magazine, I was able to present a full-day workshop to writers where I focused on the marketplace, what agents do and don’t do, and how to approach and snag the right agent for a writer’s work. It was part of their annual Push to Publish Conference at Rosemont College. One of the first things I did in this workshop was to share my own twisted path as a writer, full of plenty of starts and stops, leading to where I am at this moment as both an author and an agent. I was frank about the tough decisions I had to make in my career, which didn’t always make sense to the world but were right for me (What? You stepped down from a slew of contributing editor positions at magazines to write a novel no one seemed to be interested in???), and the years of rejection I faced.

It’s not that unusual a story. It’s something all writers share. Rejection. And that “why the hell am I doing this?” feeling. But one thing I always emphasize is this: “The only thing I knew for sure was that if I quit, my dreams of becoming a published author would never happen.”

Okay, so after this intro, I had people at my workshop introduce themselves and share what they were working on and the path they’d taken thus far. It ranged widely from already published people, to folks just starting out and exploring their love of writing. But a few themes quickly emerged: the writing life is full of starts and stops. And rejection and other perceived “stops” can stop a writer cold.

The writing life is full of starts and stops.

Just because you’ve had a book published, doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly. In this audience alone, there was the book that came out through a press that didn’t promote it well, another book that was printed but never left the distribution center! Just because you’ve gotten an agent, doesn’t mean your writing career will then go smoothly. In the audience, there were writers who had agents who had suddenly left the business, or who were operating unethically and had to be dropped.

These writers, however discouraged they may have felt, didn’t stop. They were ready to move ahead. They’d learned a bit about the importance of not just publishing, but publishing well. And about not just getting an agent, but about the importance of getting the right agent.

And they didn’t let any of this stop them in the end.

The writing life isn’t about that one big break. It’s about many opportunities and adversities. It’s about learning from these, and getting smarter and more focused and moving forward. Kinda like life, right?

Rejection can stop a writer cold.

Rejection hurts. When someone rejects your novel idea, it’s like someone called your baby ugly. How do you move on? How do you put the hurt in the right place and not let it stop you?

At the workshop, some folks admitted that they were afraid to send out query letters, or to send out many of them. One writer quite honestly admitted that if she didn’t query widely she could always tell herself that there was the possibility that someone would take the book. She wasn’t ready to really put herself out there and find out that she simply wasn’t good enough.

Who hasn’t felt like that?

Here’s the thing: you gotta really be honest with yourself. Are you standing in the way of your own goal of getting published? If you never submit, or rarely submit, then, yup, you are. The writing life is full of starts and stops and starts again. And there isn’t one editor, one agent, one publisher, but many, with many differing opinions. And you are not a writer with one static piece of writing. You can edit it, and try again. You can write yet another piece and try again. You can learn from the rejection process and improve over and over again.

Like the writers who had some success but then a surprising roadblock, and went on to do even better, you can learn from rejection and move on, and move closer to your goal.

So send out a few queries. Get only form rejections? Then redo your query and send out a few more. Make sure you are targeting the right agents who are actually interested in what you write. Start getting pages requested? Then your query is doing its job. Not getting the right response for those pages? Then see if you can learn from those rejections and improve your writing.  And write something new, too. Always move forward.

Group of Children Lined Up Against a Wall with One Girl (8-10) Making a FaceLearn from your rejection. And keep your chin up. Take a moment. Revitalize yourself, doing whatever inspires you. Read something you love. Take a walk through the glittering autumn sunshine, and get back to writing and sending your stuff out. It’s a process, and you are NOT alone.

And you might want to remind yourself of some of the subjectivity of our business by getting yourself a slim little book I always keep on my shelf: ROTTEN REJECTIONS. It’s a compendium of just that.

Here’s one of my favorites from that book, which Nabokov received for LOLITA:

“…it is overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian. To the public, it will be revolting. It will not sell, and it will do immeasurable harm to a growing reputation…”

So go forth, writer. And be not afraid!

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

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Agent Monday: Much More than an Idea

Pitcher of Red BeverageHappy Agent Monday, folks!  If you’re like me, you are sitting there blinking, saying, “AUGUST? Already???”  But we are already getting slightly shorter days, cooler nights and those cicadas are buzzing as if to say “hur-ry hur-ry hur-ry.”  So now’s the time to squeeze in your summer moments, and to revisit those writerly goals. Like many writers, you may have set aside summer to finish up work on a book and get it ready for subbing to an agent. And in writer world, September seems to be the time for submission ACTION. Inboxes explode with query letters, agents quicken their steps, editors perk up in their chairs ready to find the next “one.”  Is it your book?  Truthfully, I see a lot of pretty cool ideas in my own agent inbox, but I also send out a ton of rejections.  So today, as you ready yourself for your own submission adventures, I’d like to talk a bit about how a great book is much more than an idea.

So here’s the thing.  A great idea will make me nod and read on, hoping upon hope that you can pull it off. But all too often, writers don’t pull it off. Here are some things that get in the way and quickly yield a rejection:

1. Unprofessional

Reaching out to an agent is, in fact, applying for a professional position in a business relationship.  If you label yourself as unprofessional, I’m not going to work with you no matter how cool your idea is.  Sending out mass email queries where you don’t even have the courtesy of addressing me by name? How would that go down if you were applying for a job? Not good. Query letter and manuscript riddled with poor punctuation, spelling, grammar? This is a WRITING JOB, so also not good. Acting like an a-hole in your query? (Saying things like, “You’d be lucky to have me,” or “I know all you agents aren’t going to answer me and only take on people who pay you off, but…” etc.)  I’m not going to work with you. The end.

2. Poor Writing

The greatest idea in the world can’t overcome poor writing. Clunky dialogue. Awkward word choices. Amateur mistakes such as info dumping in the beginning pages or starting the book at a point long before the real story kicks in. Going off on irrelevant tangents. And the worst crime of all: being boring. Again: the end.

3. Good Writing, But…

Sometimes the idea is great and writing is smooth and clean in those first 20 pages that come with the query letter.  Okay, I’ll bite and ask for the full manuscript.  BUT, here’s where, once again, you need to deliver more than that great idea. Much more.  More than adequate writing.  Over the course of the novel, I frequently see serious structure problems.  The story drags or veers seriously off course, leaving the reader far behind.  The book needs to get even better, more interesting, more intense as I read.  Somehow writers often drop the ball after that great start. Things get predictable, or repetitive, or the elements that drew me in at the start are forgotten. These are the manuscripts that I fail to finish. And it’s a shame. The idea and the start looked so promising…

Boy and Girl Running in Tall GrassYou need to bring your A-game if you are intent on getting an agent and cracking those top publishing markets.  So remember that a book is an investment in time, not just for you the writer, but, more importantly, for your readers. You need so much more than just a cool idea.

Give your manuscript and query letter a really close look and tight edit. Bring me your very best. Draw me in and keep me enthralled till that very last word.

And hur-ry hur-ry hur-ry. September is on its way!

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Writer Wednesday: Compare and Despair

A few days back I was chatting with my high school buddy, who is now a top Broadway producer. Cool, right?  And he, of course, knows tons of amazing actors who have differing degrees of success on Broadway, on TV and on film.  And most of them are hard on themselves, and don’t view themselves as successes, even though they definitely should.

My bud and I shared how similar this is to the world of writing.  How as a writer, you can be one of the few that finished a book manuscript, yet not see yourself as a success if it isn’t published.  Or how you can be published, but not by a top press, so you don’t see that as success.  Or you can be published by a top press, but then you don’t get a second book contract.  Or you can get great reviews, but you don’t hit the best seller list.  Or you can hit the best seller list, but your next book doesn’t do as well.  Or you can do well all around, but never get that movie deal.  Or you can get that movie deal, but the movie is a flop.  Or you can be up for the Pulitzer, but not get it…

At any stage, we crazy writers can see ourselves as failures, where any sane person on the outside can view us as incredibly successful.  My friend calls this syndrome: “Compare and Despair.”

Actors do this when they look at Patti LuPone or Ryan Reynolds and they think, “What’s wrong with me? Why them, and not me?”  Writers do this all the time too. Part of it is our natural drive to push ourselves. Our internal critic who tells us, “Really? Is that all you got?” And we answer by pushing ourselves to do even better, to work even harder.  That’s all good.

When it’s bad is when it stops us. Depresses us. Makes us want to give up. And some people do give up. That’s a shame.

Recently I had a birthday, and a well wisher posted on my wall: “You are one of the lucky ones. You have several published books and are an agent. Congrats!” Wow. I tend to not fall into the compare and despair trap too often, but that comment took me by surprise.  Lucky? Me? Why?

Even though I’m an optimist, I do have my moments of deep dark writerly despair.  I think about authors who debuted the same time as I did, but whose books weren’t orphaned, and how these authors now have many more books published along with the financial comfort that provides… Jeesh.

But then I do try to see how far I’ve come, to be grateful for what I’ve earned, and to remember to respect myself for who I am.  This is all an important part of the writer’s toolbox. If you don’t feel good about stuff, well…

It’s about perspective.  Comparing your writer’s journey to how far you’ve come personally. Like metaphorically heading to the Jersey shore and thinking, damn girl, my ass ain’t that fat.  It’ll boost your drive.

ANYHOW, if you love writing, you should do it. Work hard, of course, and shoot for the stars, but don’t forget to value where you are and every little achievement along the way. Are you better than you were last year?  Did you improve on a story that a few months ago you thought perfect? Then you are growing. Did you finish a manuscript? Try a new genre? Get the guts up to go to a writer’s conference? Dare to submit? Survive rejection and dare to submit again? Are you still writing even though the forces of the universe seem to be telling you to stop?

Celebrate.  And when others around you seem to be hitting the road to big success faster, remember that’s life. There is skill but also luck involved, and others’ success doesn’t always make sense to you (I’m thinking about Snookie, here). But that’s okay. Let it inspire you. Motivate you.

Just don’t compare and despair. Okay?

Of Misery and Chocolate

Cross posted over at The Liars Club site, where the authors are all answering the question: How do you deal with rejection? Here’s my response:

I brood. I pull into myself and feel ugly and stupid. I stew. I grouse. I eat ice cream. I tell myself I suck. I devour a chocolate bar. I look over my rejected bit of writing and see every flaw. Why hadn’t I seen that before? OF COURSE IT WAS REJECTED.

I consider another line of work. I hear the button factory is hiring…

I snap the leash on my dog’s collar and take a long long walk. I breathe deeply, and force myself to forget about writing. But my mind whirls back to the rejection again and again with renewed sting.  I get a cup of coffee.  I watch a cheesy chick flick. I pace.

And I look at my rejected piece of writing again. You know, it doesn’t suck. I might change one or two words, but damn if it ain’t bad. I get pulled into the writing again, and find myself enjoying the words of this manuscript. And remembering past rejections that turned into acclaimed successes.

I remind myself that readers are subjective, that novels have specific audiences. That I want an editor who is head-over-heels in love with my work. That once my agent finds this editor, things will be different.

I start to feel better. I start to feel encouraged.  I eat another piece of chocolate. I start to feel fat.

Okay, the pity party is officially over. I’m ready to move on. Ready to feel strong and hopeful again.