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Entries in Rejection (14)


I'm Writing: Who Cares, Part 2

A comment in yesterday's post made me want to follow up on it today. Mridu Khullar noted that you should certainly keep writing, if only because every time you write, you improve. And I wanted to emphasize the truth in this statement - something I've said before on this blog, but since it's a new year and I have some new readers, I know that it's worth mentioning again.

Here's why: someone recently wrote in with the question (which I haven't yet posted) of whether or not my debut, The Department of Lost and Found, was the first manuscript I'd ever written. (Apologies to long-time readers of this blog if you've heard this story before.) In fact, it was not. I'd written another manuscript before The Department - said manuscript landed me an agent and was what I believed to be GENIUS. Before I even signed with an agent, I had envisioned the movie, seen my name on the bestseller list, was convinced that this book was going to be a BIG BOOK.

Weeeeeeeeeeell, not quite. The book got some nibbles from editors but ultimately, didn't get an offer. My agent and I parted ways soon after that when she told me that The Department, which I'd written in the meantime, would (and I quote), "Do more harm than good for my career."

In retrospect, that first manuscript was HORRIBLE. WRETCHED. SO GOD-AWFUL that I literally could never bring myself to reread it in the years since. I mean, it just stunk. But I didn't know that at the time. I knew that - in hindsight - by writing a better book. After I'd written The Dept, and thought I might return to that original manuscript and see if I could revisit/resell it. No way, no how. It wasn't even worth providing CPR to.

So how did I write this better book? Well, with some help from that agent, who took the time to point out where I was telling not showing, as well as noted when I killed the reader with exposition. But I also did it by reading, reading, reading writers whom I admired. I did it by being IMPARTIAL to my writing - cutting, deleting, recognizing that however beautiful a sentence might be, if it's not necessary to the book, it got axed. I did it by taking my ego out of it - that first manuscript was, in fact, so far from genius that I needed to step back and realize that I had a lot to learn. I never used a critique group because by the time I found my new agent, The Dept manuscript was already in good shape - but certainly, I would have. And when I wrote my next book, Time of My Life, I realized that I'd improved even more (some people disagree - hee, that's fine too)- there's an endless learning curve when you're a fiction writer. And though writing The One That I Want was a huge struggle for me, there is NO DOUBT that I never could have written that book without having written the ones before it. They're like dominos stacking on top of each other - only with skill sets instead of tile pieces.

So my point here is that even if you're not published: keep writing. I wasn't and I did. And that's how I got here today.


Are You Made of Win?

Question of the day: Although part of me gets inspired from reading all the "stories of success" of various authors, I can't help but feel totally defeated and discouraged at the thought of just how MANY people there are out there scrambling towards the same goal, where there's really only standing room for a few of us in the genre particularly, but in the market as a whole. How do you stay confident and inspired? Or more importanly, motivated?

Yes, well, this is the conundrum of being an aspiring writer. Not only that there are so many people out there trying to do the same thing, but also not knowing if a) you're good enough to rise to the top and b) whether or not being good enough really matters. Because let's face it: there are plenty of good authors out there whose work will never see the light of day. Not all of them, probably not even a ton of them, as I do believe that most truly talented writers get a break at some point, but yeah, not everyone, which is what makes this whole venture truly damn scary.

I've often said on this blog, and I can never repeat it often enough, that it takes a certain temperament to endure this career, and I stand by that. Years, YEARS can go by without success, and the rejection can diminish even the most confident among us. The only way that you will endure is to surround your ego and your confidence with steel armor, armor that might get occasionally nicked in the face of defeat but is basically impenetrable. I think you likely either have this disposition or you don't. But I also believe that you can at least learn to shrug it off, to get knocked down but stand up and face it all over again.

I was probably born overconfident. This has not always worked to my benefit (trust me - ending relationships was never my strong suit, as I always believed I could find a way to work things out), but in this career, yes, it has been. I simply never doubted that I could succeed. Which I know sounds ridiculous, but that is truly how my brain functions. I remember once, many years ago, when I was still finding my freelancing sea legs, my husband gently suggested that if I didn't start to get more work, I should perhaps start looking for a JOB job. I scoffed, literally scoffed at him, because I couldn't believe that he didn't KNOW, as I did, that I'd get 'er done. To paraphrase Captain Kirk: I don't believe in no-win situations.

And surely, when defeaning silences amassed from freelance editors or when my first agent and I agreed to part ways (UGH!), this way of thinking buffered me from what might have been an impulse to spin on my heels and bolt the other direction. Look, this is a tough, tough, tough business. Other than acting, I can't think of one that might be as difficult. So you either have to resolve that you're going to do your best and stick with it, or you get out. Because if you take rejection to heart and let it diminish you, your confidence will suffer, your writing will weaken, you'll present yourself as less of a package than you are.

And what should you do if you're not born with natural armor? I'd remind you to not take any of this personally. Ever. Rejection of your idea or your novel often has nothing to do with you. Agents, for example, are looking for whatever fits their specific criteria; magazine editors aren't dwelling on whether or not they think your query was poorly written. They have a product to push and sell, and they're looking at whether or not you add (or don't) to their business. This is a business. Period. Don't ever forget that. Another tip? While you're waiting to get published, keep writing. In my opinion, writing is the best way that you are going to get better. My first manuscript wasn't published and looking back, it didn't deserve to be. My second one was better, and resulted in my debut novel. My third was even better (IMO), and it's a New York Times Best Seller. There's no shame in putting something aside and recognizing that it was a learning experience, the end.

I hope this post doesn't come off as making me sound like I'm some narcissistic ego-maniac. :) I'm actually not! LOL. But, just to give you some perspective as to why I promise that I'm not, when I was a kid, whenever I had some sort of competitive activity, my dad used to sit me down and say, "What's your last name?" I'd roll my eyes about a dozen times, and finally, after much prodding, would say, "Winn." (Get the play on words?) Looking back on it now, I'm grateful that he did this. It wasn't that he turned me into a competitive freak, it's that he let me know that I always held that win inside of myself, that I was always capable of coming out on top. Even if your last name is Brown, Smith or Weinberg, the same theory can hold true for you...and I think it's a critical one for success as a writer.

Wow, long post. Anyone want to chime in on how you keep your confidence afloat?



Fish or Cut Bait?

Question of the day: Do you feel the current state of the economy is dictating what books are being published? For instance, my second novel is about a mother caring for her adult daughter who suffers from a chronic illness. I am struggling to find an agent for it, although all my rejections are personal. You were able to write about cancer and yet didn't scare away agents, why is writing about diseases now so taboo? Everyone says that my writing is great, yet they say that the subject matter is a tough sell right now. Arrgh!! I wanted this to be my break-out novel and it's not breaking anything but my heart. I've written a third novel in the meantime and my publisher is gobbling it up, but I had hoped to have an agent by now to help me. What would you do, wait to see if the second book can find an agent or go ahead and sign the papers on the third book even though I'm sure the contract will be bad? Do desperate times call for desperate measures or is patience a virtue on this one?

I'll offer a third suggestion: since your newer book is the one that's generating the heat, why don't you shop that one around to agents? I wouldn't sign a contract that I know is going to be crappy, but an agent can certainly take a crappy contract and make it a better one, AND, hey, you never know what other offers an agent could get you. If your previous manuscript just isn't getting the job done, set it aside, and you might discover that as time goes on, your wound will mend...especially if you sell the next one. :) And once you've sold the other one, who knows, maybe it will open doors for the one you have your heart set on right now.

I think the key is not to get too, too, too invested in one manuscript, such that it can divert the trajectory of your career. A lot of us have had that ms, the one that we poured every ounce of ourselves into and that ultimately didn't sell, but I'll tell you what: I am so grateful that I didn't get hung up on that specific ms and that I moved on from it, because if I hadn't, my career would be DOA right about now.

As far as the first half of your question, I'm going to devote a separate post to it because I think it's a worthy discuss to have in and of itself.

Good luck and hang in there! BTDT. Other readers who have BTDT, can you weigh in and help her out?


My Golden Rule

So I'm hesitant to post this because I really don't want to seem like I'm whining (because I'm not a whiner), but it's been on my mind lately, so what the hell.

Part of being an author is getting reviewed. We know that. Sometimes, we might not like it, but we know it all the same. In fact, as the years have gone on, I've more or less numbed myself to reviews (after the first initial weeks of a book's release when you really don't know what the reaction will be). I mean, some people are going to like it, and some people aren't, and that's life. Really.

But I've made it a point, on Goodreads, for example, to only highlight books that I've enjoyed. Why? Because I know that authors are out there reading their reviews! And I'm always sort of surprised that some people can say such terrible things so publicly about an author or his/her works. I KNOW this sounds weird. I know it! I know that negative reviews serve a purpose to steer other people away from wasting their time reading said book. But still! I still find it negative reviews to be shocking, I don't know why.

Maybe it's because, as an author, I truly believe that it's an accomplishment to write a book, much less get it published, and so I'm not going to disparage what anyone else does. Could that be it? Yeah, maybe. Or maybe it's just that I don't like tearing someone down when I know the hard work that goes into it, and I also understand that, as noted before, if something isn't my cup of tea, that doesn't mean AT ALL that it won't be anyone else's. Maybe it's because, unlike a TV show or a movie, which are collaborative efforts and have a lot of cooks in their kitchens, a book is really the work of ONE person, and I think it's gutsy for that ONE person to put him/herself out there in such a vulnerable way. But regardless of my reasons (and obviously, I'm still mulling them over), I simply will not critique another author in public. It is my golden rule. I don't see the service of it to anyone. (Again, yes, steer someone clear of it, I get that, but isn't it also just as productive to instead point them toward something you like?)

I don't know. I don't know what my real point is here. Ha! I just read a review (not of my work, I'll note) that I thought was fairly rude and disparaging, and I thought, "I'll bet dollars to donuts that the author sees this," and had a momentary pang for her. I think part of the problem is the anonymity of the web: people write terrible things - not just about books, of course, but about celebrities, in blog comments, all over the place - that they're not accountable for. And I'm not talking about middling or lukewarm reviews. I'm talking about the really eviscerating ones that sort of raise your eyebrows and think, "WOW!"

Anyway, I really don't want to come off as sounding lame/whiny/ungrateful for this job that yes, exposes me to criticism, but offers some wonderful other benefits. It's just sort of me talking about this out loud and wondering if people realize that authors really do see your blog reviews/Amazon reviews/etc. I'm not suggesting that anyone alter their review to spare the author's feelings...really. That's part of this biz. But...I dunno. Am I making sense to anyone????


When Change Isn't A Good Thing

Question of the day: I have a question about big-time magazines...Last year I got an FOB assignment from one of my dream publications. Obviously, I was thrilled, and worked my booty off to make a good impression, do what the editor wanted, etc. It seemed like all went well. But when the article came out, it looked 80% different than the piece I sent in. The editor hadn't asked for any rewrites. I guess I'm this normal? Should I be discouraged or just chalk it up to the editing process? I'd like to send the editor more ideas, but am a bit hesitant to do so. Do you have any advice/thoughts on this?

Ah, yes, I have so been there, done that. You file a piece that you think is perfect, receive positive feedback, and then voila, rush to the newsstand when it comes out, only to find that it's nearly unrecognizable! And your stomach drops because you think it must suck.

The surprising truth of the matter is that often times, it doesn't mean a darn thing. Some magazines and editors - and the only way to get a feel for this is really through repeat work - are very, very, very into making it look like "their" mag, with "their" voice, in "their" format. These types of mags tend to edit just about everything, even from long-term writers.

That said, certainly, there are some editors who want their writers to nail the voice, etc, right out of the gate, so that they have less work to do (fair enough request), so sure, at times, this could be an indication that she wasn't pleased with the work. But, given that she didn't ask for revisions, I wouldn't necessarily infer that in this instance. It could be that once they had the info that you drafted, they envisioned the piece differently or as a box, not a narrative, etc, and it was just easier for her to repackage it. There are a lot of reasons why she might have changed it.

I think the best thing to do is simply to keep pitching her. If she assigns you something else, I'd just chalk it up to her/the mag's style and not give it a second thought. You could also easily send her an email and say, "Hey, I just wanted to be sure that you were satisfied with this, given that the published version was so different." I HAVE done this with one editor in the past, and she was totally pleased with my work (and I've since gone on to work with her many, many times) but had to make some changes to it for reasons that were out of my hands.

So don't be discouraged...this isn't a big red flag...and definitely, you can investigate and find out more. Anyone else out there been in this situation? What did it mean in your case?


How High is the Magazine Ceiling?

Question of the day: How hard is it to break into magazines? How much tougher is it in this economy?

Piggy-backing this onto last week's magazine post. The answer to this question is going to inevitably vary from writer to writer. As I said, in my case, I broke in relatively easily by pure fluke, but then, even once I had a few credits, it took a really, really long time to establish myself as a go-to writer and/or a writer to whom editors brought ideas rather than having to pitch them myself. But I think my experience is pretty unique in terms of ease of breaking-in, and from friends' anecdotes, I think it can truly be all over the board: right away or years later.

I'm hesitant to say that breaking in to major magazines is difficult because I think it's a very doable goal, but the truth is that there is a difference between difficult and unattainable, and I think you need to keep this difference in mind if you're aspiring to break in to magazines. I think that if you have the stomach for a hell of a lot of rejection and the fortitude to ignore said rejection and the tenacity to keep pitching, pitching, pitching, AND an ego-less personality in which you don't mind taking smaller, less prestigious jobs, AND you're a good writer, then by all means, I think this is a very viable goal. And I don't mean that sarcastically at all. I think to make it in this business, you really need to have a personality that can endure the peaks and valleys, and if yours meets the above criteria, yeah, then certainly, over the long run, I do think you'll break in. But you have to KNOW that it's not going to be easy, and you have to be okay (and not whine about it when things aren't okay) with all of this.

Has the economy made it tougher? I'd say so. Editors simply aren't assigning in the way that they were before, so even long-time writers are seeing their regular pieces drop off. For a newbie to crack this force field will undoubtedly be tougher, but again, not impossible. It really depends on how much you're willing to hustle and how wide you're willing to cast your net and how many rejections (or silences, as often the case may be) you can stomach.

I really, really hope this doesn't come off as a negative post. It's not meant to be. At all! Remember again, that there is a difference between difficult and unattainable, and if you don't shy away from a challenge, this one is certainly within reach.

Thoughts? Am I a negative Nelly or just a realist?


BTDT (Been There, Done That)

Someone recently asked me what my best advice is for newbie writers, and I wanted to inhale and ask her how long she had. I've been doing this for a long time, or at least what feels like a long time, and the truth is that there's no better experience than on-the-job training. I mean, there is no doubt that some of my lessons have been learned the hard way and frankly, that sort of lesson is invaluable...sort of like how I believe that kids have to pull themselves up from their bootstraps to really grow into themselves...but that doesn't mean that I can't pass on what I believe is my best advice. So here goes.

1) Develop a THICK - we're talking industrial-grade - skin. I was born with too much self-confidence. This, at times, has proven disastrous when I refused to acknowledge that a boyfriend (or two) might be trying to break up with me or other such scenarios. However, it has proven to be among my best assets in this industry. I honestly couldn't give two figs if a pitch or an article gets rejected. Their loss, I think. No matter how brilliant you are, you will get rejected and often in this line of work. If you don't have the stomach for it - and there's no shame in that at all (in fact, you'd be a lot wiser than I am), find something else to do.

2) Be aggressive. I'm reminded of that old cheer from summer camp: "BE AGGRESSIVE, Be, Be, aggressive. B-e-a-g-g-r-e-s-s-i-v-e. Aggressive!" You get the point. No one gets ahead in the freelance world by lobbing off on email to an editor and hoping that he/she will respond. Follow up. Follow up again. If you get a nibble, even if it's not a bite, keep pursuing it. Too many writers, in my opinion, treat editors as if they are Gods, so don't use common sense when it comes to establishing themselves. In any other line of work, you'd go after that promotion or that new job. The same is true here.

3) Be Impeccable. Too many freelancers make mistakes and their editors are there to fill in the gaps. They notice. They notice misspellings, fact errors, missed deadlines. There are too many others writers who are willing to slide into your place, and if an editor thinks you're second rate, you're also history.

4) Don't Be Afraid to Suck. Yes, this is a complete contradiction to #3. But in this case, I'm referring to fiction, not magazines. With fiction, it's entirely okay to explore your capabilities because often, you're only writing for yourself. Experiment with different voices, different points-of-view, different characters. Some will work, some won't. Nothing's wrong with abandoning your manuscript if it's crap. Chances are you learned something along the way and you'll be better for it the next time out.

5) Listen to Criticism With Open Ears (and an Open Mind). Nothing irritates me more than writers who don't think that they can get better. (Okay, that's not true, a lot of things irritate me more, but you get my point.) If you're lucky enough to have someone take enough interest in your work to offer constructive criticism, you'd be wise to shrug off your ego (get over it already!), digest the advice and then apply it to your work. Being pig-headed about it might soothe that ego, but it won't land you a book deal.

So I think those are my top tips. There are dozens of others, of course, but that's a starting point. Now it's your chance to chime in. What is your best advice to pass along to other writers?


We're Not Normal

So the other day, my husband was told "no" to something. And he was pissed. Annoyed and peeved too. And a little demoralized. You have understand: my husband is very, very good at what he does, which has lead to success, so rarely, does someone say, "Er, sorry, no thanks to that idea." (Of course, he hears "no" just plenty around our house. Hee.)

He came home and we chatted about it, and I said, "Look, you can't take it personally," and he said, "Of course I can! How can I not take it personally?" And I looked at him like he had ten heads because I'm so used to not taking anything personally in our business that I didn't see how on earth he could consider this personal.

So over dinner, I said, "Let's role play." (No you dirty birds, don't go there.)

He shrugged and said, "Fine."

"An editor told me today that my manuscript wasn't publishable....what would you say?"

"I'd say that he's an idiot," my husband replied.

"Exactly!" I answered, triumphant in my brilliance. "You wouldn't personalize it when it comes to my job, so you shouldn't personalize it when it comes to yours."

He begrudgingly admitted to a sliver of my brilliance and then we moved on. But later, it dawned on me: I think I'm the one with the abnormal reaction, not him. Of course it's rational to feel the sting of rejection rather than just coast past it; of course it's rational to be pissed and annoyed and a little demoralized. But I've been in this business for so long that my armor is basically impenetrable.

And I'll tell you what: I wouldn't have it any other way. While my husband might not get rejected very often in his line of work, in our line of work, it's inevitable. It doesn't stop just because you've landed national magazine stories or even published your first novel. And I've repeatedly said it on this blog, but I'll say it again: if you have a thin skin or take rejection personally, even if it might be slightly personal, this isn't the industry for you. Because you know, sure, every once in a while, that rejection just might be personal, but guess what? You don't have the luxury to consider that it might be, because, that, my friends, is a slippery-slope. If you spend time trying to sort through the intricacies of what all the various rejections mean - are they personal, are they not, do they hate you, do they hate the work? - you'll spend far too much energy and effort focused on the negatives and eventually, it will suck away at both your self-confidence and your writing.

Which is why I've developed an emotional moat: nothing's getting through to me unless I let it. And sure, that might not be normal, but it's what you need to get by as a writer. My husband's not a writer, so for him, sure, he can feel that sting, but honestly, I can't afford to. My ego and confidence would be bloodied on a daily basis.

So...what do you think? Are writers normal or not when it comes to rejection and how we cope with it?


The Rejection Blues

Allison, you seem like an upbeat person. Congrats on your book, btw. I am wondering if you've experienced a lot of rejection as a writer and how you deal with it. Also, what do you think of my new blog? You can check it out at Literary Rejections on Display. I guess I'm naming names!

First: your blog. Hey, if you're willing to put yourself out there and risk that an editor might recognize you, then more power to you! Personally, I'd be wary because the industry is small and incestuous, and you never know with whom you might work. BUT, it seems like you're just reporting the facts and not disparaging anyone, so yeah, if you're comfy w/it, so am I. And maybe people can find solace in numbers.

As far as personal rejection? Well, I think there are different types of personalities in this world: people who take rejection personally and people who do not. I fall into the latter category. My ego must be too big or something because yup, between the magazine world and the book world, I've gotten rejected hundreds of times, and I just don't care that much. In fact, my agent and I were chatting the other day about a rejection for TDLF, and we were cracking up at it (not at the editor, I should note, just the strong distaste noted for the book in the rejection)...which was sort of the same reaction that I had at the time. What else can I do but laugh?

I dunno. My attitude is always like, "Oh well, what am I going to do about it?" Which isn't to say that you can't learn from rejection. You often can and even more often should, but I've been around long enough to know that an editor or agent or whomever isn't rejecting me when he or she says no to an idea or a pitch or even a completed manuscript. By depersonalizing it, I've already removed the emotion from the situation.

I also find that it's really helpful to get right back on the horse. When I was in the midst of my agent hunt, I'd send out a query as soon as I got a rejection back from someone. That whole "close one door as another one opens" idea.

So readers, how do you deal with rejection? Any good coping strategies?


The Cream of the Crop

Why do you think it is that some magazine writers, are more successful than the majority of magazine writers, both financially and career wise? Whenever I read about professional writers doing well, I find myself grabbing one of my cats and weeping with envy into their fur. Or I have to go and do something drastic, like weed the garden or clean behind the cooker, to get rid of my angst at not being able to be a successful writer. Throw into that, I live in the UK (horribly low pay rates) and it's enough to make the management track at the supermarket look tempting. :) I know the usual advice is 'ditch the not-so-profitable mags and go for higher paying ones' but how can you do that when you need the former to pay the bills? Is it just lack of faith on my part? A lack of faith that the bills won't get paid if I ditch the low-profit mags? Or that the more profitable magazines will take one look at my work and say: 'get back to the trades honey, you ain't cut out for this world.'

Okay, this is a big, sweeping question that I'll do my best to answer, but I'm not sure that there are indeed concrete answers to it. And that's because there are a lot of intangibles that lead to success in this business, in my opinion, not the least of which is luck. Yep, luck. Look, I'm not going to dispute that I can write a kick-ass article, because I can. And yeah, I think I'm a decent fiction writer too, but I'm not so pompous as to assume that part of the reason that I've had more success than some other writers isn't due to dumb luck. I landed a big ghostwriting gig right at the start of my freelancing career (The Knot Book of Wedding Flowers), and yes, arguably, it was my writing skills that landed me that gig, but it was also timing and sheer luck. That I happened to be getting married at the time they were looking for a writer. That I happened to pitch them a story idea at this very same time. That I'd previously happened to be hired to ghostwrite for some celebrities and the Knot wanted someone who was interested in weddings, as well as who had ghostwriting experience, etc, etc, etc. So they hired me. And from there, I landed my first national story in Bride's. It was one of my first pitches, actually. So yeah, I definitely think that some of this was due to sheer luck. Lucky me.

Now. There are many who will argue that you make your own luck, and I am among those many. (This, incidentally, is a big theme in TDLF.) I'm not sitting at home rubbing rabbits' feet, hoping that good things will happen to me. I'm going out there and creating every. possible. opportunity. in order for some of this good fortune to come my way. That means querying, querying, querying. It means being open to opportunities that you wouldn't necessarily originally be interested in. It means admitting that there might be room for improvement in your writing and seeking out classes or critique groups to bolster you.

One of the underlying commonalities that all successful writers share, I believe, is that they're a) persistent and b) unsinkable. Which means that no matter how often they're rejected, they'll keep at it, and they don't let all of these dings to their armor get them down. There's no crying in publishing. Okay, that's not true. There's plenty of crying in publishing, but there's no drowning in your tears. Because there are too many other writers who won't drown, and no one will miss you if you do. Rejection is a matter of fact in our industry, and the writers who make it are the ones who don't take it personally and who use it to push themselves higher.

So what does all of this add up to? Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it. What's your other option? Quitting? If quitting is an option, then I'd say - and I don't mean this rudely at all, only as advice to people who waver in this industry - that writing probably isn't a career for you. Because there are too many other things for you to do and be good at and be happy at than to bog yourself down in a writing career that you'd be okay walking away from. I once had an acting teacher tell me the same thing: if can think of anything else you want to do with your life, then do that, not this, and I think the same thing applies to writing. And if you can't think of anything else, then hang in there! Timing, persistence and skills will often pay off in the end.

So readers, what do you think separate the successful writers from the rest?