Tag Archives: rejection

Literary Agents are People Too

No, really.

Way back before I found Agent Sara, while I was still submitting my first novel, I talked about rejection from a writer’s point of view. But there’s another side to the rejection story…

Let me introduce you to Brynn. She’ll get through a stack of submissions by lunch: rejecting one for one too many ellipses, another for having two POV in five pages. She has to. It’s not that she’s cruel or indifferent—she just needs to make a living. She’s buried in a pile of submissions and she wants to help you both—but she can only represent what she can sell.

Yes, it’s Sunday, but she spent the week mired in edits with a writer out of St. Louis—well she had such hopes. But again, it seems a case of them not getting it. Perhaps in this stack lies the next JK Rowling, the next Hemingway even.

She plucks out a query letter: “Dear Mr. Brine:”

Probably no Hemingway today.

She used to have dreams. Her own debut novel won two prestigious awards, but had the thinnest of sales. She was never able to sell the second. Hell, she’s seen the best novel of the century—represented it herself and pitched it to every publishing house she could find. It never sold. That writer works at Cyber Town, stocking shelves. He emailed last week: he hoping for full-time so he can qualify for health insurance.

And then there are the hundreds of submissions that send their perfect, polished query packages, but the stories go flat on fulls. The piles of disappointments, the volumes of misrepresentations. She’s learned to recognize the signs and each word is a clue that might veer her off the page.

It’s a high wire act, step-stop-balance. Gauge the wind. Each move requires certainty. The competition is fierce and reputations have been ruined on allegiance to the wrong manuscript. It takes experience, luck and timing.

Do people read anymore? Sometimes she wonders. Like a shape-shifting beast, the publishing industry seems to morph into something new every ninety days or so. One must be agile, quick and wise.

But even on working-Sundays, there’s hope. She pulls one from the stack. Another post-apocalyptic zombie-mermaid novel; the fifteenth today.

Aw crap.

I’ve Been Hearing the Voices Again or Thank You Chuck Palahniuk‏

I’ve been MIA. I was somewhere between writer’s block, HitList revisions and [The Next Thing], which up until Sunday was nothing but white noise. I wanted, I needed, I swore to finish HitList but instead I found myself shuffling words around the pages of my manuscript, composing imaginary emails to my editor and having mental arguments with the literary agent who gave me a lengthy, encouraging, kind-but-firm rejection letter.

LITERARY AGENT: In your book, I didn’t find the voices of your three narrators sufficiently distinct.

ME: But they are. I can prove it to you. I Write Like says so. Ahem. Well at least two-thirds of the time it does.

YOU: Okay… Well. Whatever. But what does this have to do with Chuck Palahniuk?

The website—I Write Like. They have an online form that matches your word choice and writing style with famous authors. I clicked-dragged-copied-dropped each and every chapter from HitList into it, to see which author each character sounded like. And for whatever reason, one protagonist continually came up as Chuck Palahniuk.

I’d never read his books and if you’re a fan, I apologize for this shortcoming. Here’s why: I haven’t been reading much lately. Not since I started writing. Well, since I had kids. Okay, okay, I haven’t been reading at all—but it makes me feel terminally insecure and what can I say, I’ve been occupied watching my daughter’s Pocahontas DVD for the past three years.

But Sunday I went out and bought Damned, just to hear Mr. Palahniuk’s voice. And let me say that while I don’t possess the man’s biting wit, delicious timing, full-throttle-rhythm or a fraction of his talent–if you put that aside for a second–I can write exactly like him. Well… we both write in English.

What I didn’t expect to happen was that reading his book would be mental Drano, creative WD-40, effectively pulling a thumb from the dike of my imagination. They started talking again—my narrators. They had a lot to say and there were more voices, and more stories too, so much so that I can’t possibly keep up. But despite the chaos of all that chatter, I now have the clarity I need: I know what I must do to put the final tweaks and polish on HitList.

I can’t say what it was about the book that did it for me. Damned has little in common with HitList, aside from a rainbow spectrum of messed-up teenagers. Maybe it was the book, or his protagonist, or perhaps it was only the unapologetic sound of Chuck Palahniuk’s voice. So, if you’re face-down in a stagnant pool of creativity, or hopelessly bogged in a mire of revision, there may be other ways to unstick your stuck. Or, you could always try Chuck.


Caution: This post contains hazardous amounts of self-absorbed whininess. Read at your own risk.

I need to tell you something.

The poop query failed. I know – it’s hard for me to believe too. So did another, more thoughtfully crafted query I imagined finely tuned to the agent’s likes and dislikes.

At least the poop query earned a personal response. The latest query – born of over twenty-four hours of research, revising and feedback – got a knee-jerk-lightning-fast-form-letter rejection. Ouch.

I spent the rest of the week contemplating a bonfire with the lot of it. Everything. I was ready to burn things that even reminded me of the book, including my crappy desk chair.

I know, for example, editors rejected Stephen King’s Carrie thirty times and I don’t possess a fraction of the talent the man has in his pinkie fingernail.  Rejection is a part of writing. I must embrace it as a vocation-affirming victory or some happy bullshit. Some writers are rejected hundreds of times and still go on to publish.

Yes, I know it’s only five measly rejections and that’s nothing – and two of them were with a crappy query letter. From a logical standpoint, I understand rejection is not personal and I need to learn and move on. Grow from the experience, right?  I’m aware of the overwhelming odds and the thin rewards of publishing.

The entire prospect of writing – of taking time away from family and friends to do something so vain and self-indulgent is hard to justify. So many times I thought (and think) of walking away.

Not that writing and pursuing publishing is inherently selfish or vain – I’m not talking about you or the other 99.9% of writers. Me, I’m a different story. I’m astonished at my hubris for contemplating the thing to begin with.

On this journey, I got positive feedback from some professionals on Panacea – that it was publishable and full of promise.  I thought … maybe I should do this. And my characters, aka my imaginary friends, nagged and cajoled.

But I don’t think I’m cut out for this … I can barely post a blog entry without feeling like a tremendous gasbag. Look at me! I’m writing! You’re reading the words of a woman incapable of updating her Facebook status.  Every aspect of this is so contrary to my fly-under-the-radar nature.  

Here I am posting on the subject. My blog-voice prattles on. I can’t stand to be in the same room as myself and the sad thing is – I can’t leave.  Gah, if you’ve read this far, my apologies. But think how awful it is for me, I listen to this crap continuously.