Judging by that doozy of a title, you can guess that I’m probably not about to tell you anything earth-shattering regarding rejection, but it is something that every single writer must deal with from time to time and is therefore worth acknowledging. Rejection sucks. There’s no way around it. I could go on and on about the things about rejection that annoy me as a writer. Not being taken seriously as a writer because I chose to pen a book about Bosnia. Receiving rejection letters within one hour of sending a query letter (wow, I bet you really gave my letter your serious consideration, Mr. Agent). This kind of treatment makes you really wonder why you even bothered, right?
Personally, the most annoying comment I receive from agents is that my book “is not what we’re looking for at this time.” Oh, I’m sorry—you aren’t looking for GOOD books at the moment? You aren’t interested in a book that has received nothing but 4 and 5-star reviews from folks on Amazon? You’re only looking for crap at the moment? Damn, forgive me, I didn’t get the memo. All joking and sarcasm aside, form replies or no replies at all are an injustice suffered by us writers but we all suffer them and, more importantly, we suffer them together. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and even that guy who wrote the Pride & Prejudice & Zombies books ALL have received rejection letters. Even though most agents do us a disservice by giving us bulls*** run-around answers, that doesn’t mean that we can’t hedge our bets by learning to read between the lines. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but 30 rejection letters should make YOU write.
Chin up, everyone. Everything’s going to be okay. Or perhaps you’ll just live a long, stressful life punctuated by shameful periods of disappointment and rejection that culminates with an early death in a gutter full of garbage, urban rain runoff, and decades of unfulfilled ambition. Either way, um…Um…I forgot where I was going with that.
Ah, yes, so what can we take away from rejection? Well, there are a few things:
1. Consider re-writes. I know, I know, I know. It’s what every writer knows is coming and still doesn’t want to hear. I’ll be honest, when I finished The Notice I pretty much jumped up from my computer, chest-bumped my fiancée, ran a victory lap around my apartment building, and then went streaking through downtown Lexington, Kentucky. Nailed it! …Or so I thought. I was so convinced that I hit all the right notes and written the perfect novel with nothing but dead-on emotional cues. It amounted to a literary “whole” that as beautiful and moving read backwards as forwards. Yeah, I overshot it a little bit. What I actually discovered is that my book had a fatal flaw among literary agents—the first chapter was a bit of a slog. All that awesome buildup in the middle chapters of the book and the gripping climax and satisfying conclusion didn’t amount to SQUAT because agents weren’t giving my book the time of day. I have since revamped all of that and now I’m taking a swing at it again.
Just a thought, I know I refer back to my own projects quite a bit on this blog. I swear I’m not just trying to shamelessly promote myself, it’s just obviously I have more insight into my own books than any other books that are out there. I could write volumes about my own writing failures (as evidence by the existence of this website). I’m just hoping you’ll take my advice about The Notice and Naked in Korea and whatever else I talk about and apply it to your own projects so that you can take away the useful messages I’m trying to offer.
2. Consider your platform. Platform is another huge trick I’ve been having with The Notice. I’m guessing. Since no agent to date has ever given me anything remotely helpful to go by when rejecting my book, I’m guessing that their reasons for rejection boil down to A) the subdued nature of my first chapter and B) uncertainty about how to market a book about Bosnia. There are movies out there about Bosnia but people don’t watch them. Rachel Weisz and Angelina Jolie both found that out in 2011 with The Whistleblower and In the Land of Blood and Honey. Even though The Bosnian War, to me, is one of the most fascinating historical conflicts of the last several centuries, 99.9% of people in the United States don’t know that, including 99.9% of agents, I’m guessing. An obscure platform can be a monumentally difficult thing to sell and I would not recommend starting with Bosnia for your first book. Try something more mainstream like zombies/vampires or romance, which is by far the top selling commercial genre.
On the other hand, I haven’t ruled out (since I have no information to go by) that just MAYBE…JUST MAYBE…agents are afraid to release my book to the public for fear that its awesomeness might cause the rest of the literary community to just give up and prompt the entire publishing industry of the United States to just collapse overnight. It would be devastating. There’s a chance right?
Blah, blah, blah, I already stopped listening.
3. Consider your voice and style. At the risk of sounding like every single conceited writer in the world today, I’ll go out on a limb and say that voice and style are less likely to be the elements holding me back. Of course, I would never know because no one in the industry has ever commented on it. Thanks for nothing, industry! All I know is that the people who have read The Notice had nothing but positive things to say about it. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m naïve enough to think that my voice and style couldn’t be refined—this is a process that lasts a writer’s whole life. I’m always endeavoring to improve myself and grow as a writer, but I at least believe I have my own writing style and that it translates well to the stories that I tell. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we’re all wrong. If agents aren’t taking the bait, then maybe we really need to read up a bit more on our genre and see what established authors are doing. Look for inspiration in your field and try to build on that. I try not to write a single page until I’ve read one good page by a great writer in my genre, just to kind of get me going.