I would prefer to talk about the thrill of seeing a box of ARCS, or movie-deal day dreams, or how I have the best agent ever (I do!), but let me turn, at least briefly, to rejection. I have waited until now to reveal one of my very first–and most memorable–rejection letters. While I was looking for it in my emails, I noticed a message I had sent my husband complaining that I had found a big ball of poo in the bottom of the washing machine. That was back when we had two toddlers. But guess what? Lifting up your washer lid and finding a big ball of poo there is FAR more uplifting an experience than having a novel rejected repeatedly, draft unseen.
As I have mentioned before, I wrote two novels before SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN. I sent these around to agents in turn, and they did garner a fair bit of interest–and a lot of rejection. Most of it was kind, some not so kind, and at least one showed complete contempt for punctuation. In fact, this rejection came from a well-known and well-respected agency in Canada. Here it is, as received in April 2012:
Thank you for this interesting query. I did like the character and felt she had a nice spaek but overall this seemed just a little to literal and obvious in approach, slow and descriptive. I’m sorry not to offer better news but I do wish you good luck
At least it was quick: lightning-fast actually! And my character had “nice spaek.” Okay, so this rejection letter was not that helpful. This note was in response to my very first novel, but I still wrote another, and then another (SAVE ME, KURT COBAIN). Every single rejection I received (except maybe the one above) not only toughened me up, but gave me further insight into ways I could improve–if I could discern a pattern. Often, of course, agents and prospective editors contradict each other so it’s tough to take stock. One loves the voice, one hates it, etc. That’s where you have to listen to your gut and decide what you think.
I am not about to admit how many rejections I faced before signing with the fabulous Kerry Sparks and finding a home with Delacorte Press/Random House and the amazing editor Wendy Loggia. (See, this is the happy part again). I am not going to tell you, because I did not actually count. I just kept writing. Right now, I have one new book (an adult suspense) in the works, and another new YA on the go. But I will quickly share a few things I learned about rejection:
1) Look for patterns in the rejections and try to learn from the comments, especially if an editor or agent has taken the time to detail their concerns and also what they liked about the work.
2) NEVER, EVER, write back to a rejecting editor or agent and inform them they are wrong, or argue with their criticisms, or tell them they will regret their decision. They will probably not, but you might regret burning that bridge. I wrote back to my now-agent with a revised draft a few months after our initial exchange. She gladly took a look at my revision–and that was the draft that clicked. Always keep emails professional and courteous–which, for the record, is how I responded to the rejection above. I thanked the respondent for her time and her reply.
3) Try not to send out a manuscript before it is ready. You will find it very difficult to know when it is ready, so consider getting a manuscript consult before beginning the submission process unless you have critique partners who can help you make sure the draft is ready. Agents often say this is the number one mistake new writers make–sending out queries before the work is ready. Make sure the draft going out is the best you can make it.
4) Sometimes a break can help. Novel drafts don’t usually sit in desk drawers these days, but sometimes you really do need to take a few weeks away before you can dive back in, cursor blazing. I can remember more than once opening up a work to be revised (fiction or non-fiction) after a hiatus, and realizing, hey, I can do this now. I can take this apart and put it back together. So to tie in with my train photo: there is always another opportunity at the next station as long as you, er, stay on the train, be professional, enjoy the ride–and keep revising. And if things really aren’t working, consider taking what you’ve learned and chugging on to a new project–at least for now.