How to rejoice over rejections
This week, guest author Deryn Pittar is offering some advice on dealing with rejection and turning a potential negative into a positive. She’s referring specifically to when authors are rejected by traditional publishers after they have submitted their book, and what do when that happens. But at the core, much of this advice is centered around dealing with feedback and criticism of your work. After all, just because you self-publish doesn’t make you a stranger to these things. Whether it comes from beta readers, negative reviews, writing partners or uninterested publishers, writers need to have a thick skin when it comes to their work and be able to act on negative feedback when doing so may lead to an overall improvement of their story or characters.
Hands up if you have NOT BEEN bitterly disappointed when a rejection letter arrived in your inbox. Ah, I see there are a few hardy souls out there with tough rhino hides.
As for the rest of us, we need to create an alternative standpoint from which to view rejection letters. It’s not easy but unless you can look at rejections letters as positive feedback it’s very hard to get over them and move forward in your career as an author. Putting them on the floor and jumping on them will make you feel better, but it won’t help you get your work published.
The first thing to remember is – at least the publisher bothered to reply. Some publishers and agents don’t even do that. If it’s a ‘thank you but no thank you” type letter, without any comments or suggestions then you are free to fold it carefully into a paper dart and aim it at the nearest rubbish bin. You should then send your piece off promptly to another market you have researched which suits your work.
Think positively. Your shiny new rejection letter proves you are a writer and have had the courage to submit your work for scrutiny.
Once you’ve got over the initial shock that someone doesn’t like your beautiful ‘child’, you need to look for their comments. Whatever they say, and however much you may disagree with them, remember they are the people you asked to publish your work.
It may be that your story doesn’t suit their publishing stable. This is a valid reason to decline your masterpiece and if that is the only criticism then whip it off straight away to another publishing company on your list. It could be ideal for their selection.
It might be your plot. If they say it doesn’t ring true, has holes, needs to be more plausible, then put your thinking cap on and fix it. If you thought of the plot you can think of a remedy.
Perhaps they don’t like one of your characters. Look at ways to improve them and make them better. One of my male leads was once considered too brutish. I added a whole chapter from his point of view, allowing the poor fellow to have deep feelings and fears – bingo, he was saved and no longer brutish, despite acting like a proper jerk on further occasions. The reader now knew of his inner turmoil and marshmallow center. Problem solved.
Too many grammar errors? Hire an editor, find a critique partner who loves correcting grammar, or use a software program to fix your manuscript. Then send it off again, elsewhere.
Not enough courtship? Throw in a couple of extra chapters. Put a spanner in the works and add a couple of heart-wrenching chapters. Not enough tension? If things are bad for your main character make them even worse. Add another disaster or two before easing off the tension and creating a resolution.
The thing to remember is to be flexible. The story you have created may be the most wonderful arrangement of words the world has ever seen – but if it never gets published the world will never know. Cut a bit out here, add a chapter there, fill this plot hole and kill off another character because there is always the next story you can use those bits in.
When you can’t bear to part with a phrase or paragraph, here’s your answer. Do as the publisher suggests, but instead of ‘killing your darlings’ as writers are told to do, save them. Cut them out and put them in a file. Call it ‘lost moments,’ ‘precious pieces’ or just plain ‘discarded bits.’ They will sit there safe and secure, like diamonds in a vault, until you need them.
As you edit and rewrite and dance to the suggestions of various publishers who return your unruly ‘child’ again and again, consider it all part of the steps you have to climb to be a published author.
The first story is the hardest to get published. I know. I have a full length novel, completely rewritten three times, that will never be published. I’ve labeled it ‘a learning experience‘, because rewriting it taught me so much. My prose, point of view and plots are all the better for 75,000 words rewritten three times.
Let’s consider the case of the writer with one manuscript. S/he’s been writing and rewriting it for years. (Let’s say the writer is a man) He won’t submit it anywhere because he can’t face the thought of it being rejected. There are a few of you out there, because I know of three people like this and I don’t know that many writers. My solution to this would be to look for a competition and submit just a portion (the first three chapters or however many words required). Dip you toes in the water and wait for feedback. At least the whole manuscript is not at risk of criticism! Some competitions cost money, some are free – chose your preference.
Another thing you could do is to write a new short piece of fiction. Aim for a novella 15,000 – 30,000 words. You could use the plot you have, alter it slightly, change some of the major events and wrap it up sooner. This will give you a second ‘child’ you can send off heartlessly and submit to all the horrors of rejection without ever putting your first creation at risk. Or, try your hand at poetry; write a short story 3,000 – 5,000 words. This is a great exercise for condensing a plot. Use these shorter pieces as experiments. Submit them to the horrors of the publishing world, thus protecting your masterpiece until you are ready.
If you do this I guarantee the day will come when you will be ready to submit your ‘first born’ to the rigors of criticism. After you have paddled in the publishing pool with your smaller pieces you will gradually harden up. With luck and perseverance you will receive some feedback and best of all you will gain confidence in your ability to write. Who knows, you could be an undiscovered poet or the master of short stories.
Just a few words of advice: never, ever write a nasty letter back to an editor who has refused to publish your work. Always reply with a short note thanking them for the time and effort they have taken to read it. Remember that it has progressed from the slush pile into an editor’s warm grasp, which is a huge leap toward publishing. I suspect editors may keep a black list of people who write angry missives to them and you may want to submit work to this publisher in the future.
I received a rejection letter recently because my submitted novella “wasn’t erotic enough”. It made me smile. I truly didn’t mind. I won’t be adding to the already explicit descriptions, or leaving home to indulge in some physical research sessions. I may remove all the sex scenes and turn the whole novel into a sweet romance – or a murder mystery. I can do this – I’m a writer. I created this story, therefore I can do whatever I like with my characters. I can reverse the plot, kill off characters, introduce new ones and fiddle with the prose until no one would recognize it as the same story. But – I will keep the original, just in case. Always make a second copy to play with.
A critique partner recently returned half of my latest novel with many suggestions and a very terse comment after a paragraph of telling. She pointed out I was being lazy, regaling the reader with several events that had happened in the past few days by having my protagonist think about them. She said. “Show me, don’t tell me about this. Write a scene or two, even a whole chapter. Put in the dialogue and the action. I want to see this happening, not be told about it in one paragraph!” I dug my toes in (metaphorically speaking) and sulked, but she was right. Eventually I went back a chapter, found where the events would have occurred in the time-line and wrote another chapter with lots of dialogue and action.
As I edit the next seven chapters deleting all the extra words I’m inclined to throw in, I should still end up with enough words to classify it as a novel. If I don’t, I’ll have to find another telling paragraph I can turn into a scene. I’ve got over my sulk. I know my friend was right. I can do it again and again, if need be. It’s not as if I haven’t done it before; I just haven’t had to do it for a while. I thought I’d broken that bad habit of writing a paragraph of telling when I should be writing a scene full of people talking and doing things.
Entering short fiction contests or answering anthology calls for submissions is a great way to get your work out there, in short bites, rather than the long haul of a novel. It gives you experience in adhering to publishing requirements regarding layout and font. It also subjects you to the possibility of rejection, yet again, but this time in smaller doses. It hardens your skin a little and there is more chance of getting your work accepted. Sometimes a request is made for small alterations to the prose or plot. I always oblige because the publisher or contest organizer is paying attention to my work and wants it, if I agree to a change. Why wouldn’t you? Perhaps you don’t hear back, but read someone else has won. This is a softer form of rejection, but on the bright side you still have a story to send off somewhere else. Short fiction is also a great way to try your hand at various genres. There are a lot of calls for anthologies out there and contests galore to challenge you.
Presently I have a character ready to take the stage. He’s rugged and lovable with a major health problem. Nothing too serious, but enough to affect him earning a living. I’m working on building his life and loves. I don’t care how many times he comes home from the publishers, his gnarly hand clasping yet another rejection slip; or how often I have to change his life to suit another publisher’s whim, I’m going to get him out there, covered in stars on Amazon – one day.