Are You Letting Rejection Make You A Better Writer?

I just posted last week about handling success as a writer, so this week I’m talking about the other side of the coin: rejection.

When I taught high school English, I tried to keep in mind that negative comments have about seven times as much power as a positive comment. As an editor, I try to give my clients “critique sandwich”- one positive comment on either side of a negative one. People simply feel negative things more intensely- and take them more personally- than they do positive things.

This is especially true of querying and being on submission. It’s hard, discouraging work, with more ups and downs than most people can imagine. We feel rejection intensely. Someone said no, and it’s hard to hear- even though we know agents can only take on projects they love, think they can sell, and are willing to risk their income on. All the reasons aside, someone still said no. Some days I handle it better than others. We can tell ourselves all sorts of things about how many famous authors had X number of rejections, how long it usually takes to get an agent/publishing deal, and how many factors affect those decisions- but those rejections pile up. Even when it’s not a huge pile, it can feel like one.

What rejection feels like is actually really important. For a long time, it felt like no one was interested in the story I poured my blood and love into, it felt like “the call” would never happen, and it felt like I’d trying forever without results.

BUT.

Remember those are just feelings. They are a normal part of the process. Every writer feels them. Writers have to be able to take rejection, try harder, persevere longer, and keep going.

Continuing on when you’re feeling those rejections is hard. Even normal efforts can be draining when you’re discouraged. A lot of people just quit at that point- way before they should. But don’t quit. Use those feelings to make yourself a better writer. Here’s what I try to do:

  • Recognize the feelings are normal. Almost every writer has gone through the rejection blues. It’s not a sign from the universe that you can’t do this. It’s both natural and expected. It’s like the ache after working out; you tried really hard, and now it hurts. That’s okay.
  • Allow yourself some time to wallow- but just a little. Call in sick for a day if you need to, but don’t quit the job. Recognize that it’s discouraging, that it’s hard, and that it makes you worry. Admit it to get it out in the open. Don’t feel like you need to pretend.
  • Use those negative feelings to push yourself. Writers push themselves a lot already in a hundred ways- but when I’m feeling those rejections, I have to remind myself that writing is a job. I have to work when I don’t want to. I have to do things that are boring and frustrating and discouraging. If I’m serious about being a writer, I have to keep doing it.
  • Get back to work- but don’t just slog through feeling like your writing is worthless. I can never keep going if I am functioning like that. Make a plan for dealing with rejection.

Making that plan for handling rejection is important. I use my “rejection plan” all the time. When I don’t have the physical or mental energy to keep trying and manage my mood, I fall back on my rejection plan, and it works. Here’s what mine looks like:

  • Find a critique partner to cry on. They get it like no one else. As supportive as my husband and friends have been, they haven’t been through this in the same way CPs have been. Vent, rant, spew disparaging diatribes if you must. Get it out in a private environment with someone who understands. (Not in public, and not with a professional contact. Keep venting where it belongs.)
  • After wallowing, I pick up a great new book to read. I try to save one that I’ve been dying to read. They helped me discover again what I love about writing, and they inspire and encourage me again. A great new book lets me check out of my problems and discouragement, and gives me the time to find some emotional distance. TV and movies and hanging out with friends often don’t do this for me when I’m discouraged, because even with friends I’m still likely to be discouraged about the issue, and TV and movies (unless they are really wonderful) might let me check out of my problems, but they don’t inspire me to go back to writing and keep trying in the same way a great book does.
  • Then, I resort to my lists. When I’m too discouraged to put words on the page, when I don’t trust my diction and hate all my sentences, I work on items I can break down into lists with a yes or no check-mark. Character profiles, chapter outlines, scene lists,  research, etc. I don’t have to finesse those, and they do need done. Sometimes it’s just sending a new query. When I was querying, part of my plan was to send a new query immediately every time I received a rejection. It was hugely helpful, because it was exciting to find a new agent who might like my work, and send off that email. Hope! And eventually, I sent the query that got me the request, which got me the call, which got me the offer.

Those short-term rejection plans really help me bounce back and limit the damage my discouragement does. Try making one for yourself that hits those same goals– venting, inspiring, and continuing to make progress.

Long term, of course, the most important element of my rejection plan is this: start a new project. Beginning a new MS is exciting and encouraging and full of potential. Having something like that to fall back on kept me going while I was querying and on submission, and it’s what’s keeping me from freaking out during the waiting months before my debut releases. It keeps me from obsessing and it keeps me working, both absolutely necessary things.

So here’s my encouragement: Keep at it in spite of the feelings. They’re natural, and they just mean you’re in the thick of it.

Writers are tough people. Being tough doesn’t mean we don’t want to quit- it means we keep going anyway because we know its worth it. We have stories and characters and what-ifs to share. We love pulling all those things together, and we’ll do what it takes to make it happen.

What do you do when you get discouraged? How do you handle rejection?

Common Publishing Terms and Abbreviations

Below is a list of common terms and abbreviations you might see as you read my posts or other publishing blogs. About a year ago I wrote a similar list, and it has turned out to be one of my most popular posts, so here it is, revised and updated!

  • Agent: Literary agents are professionals who represent an author’s career. The most well-known task an agent performs is selling the writer’s manuscript to a publishing house and negotiating the contract. Agents do much more than this, however, and function pretty much like career managers.
  • Beta reader: Usually beta readers are people that an author asks to read his/her manuscript and give critiques and respond to the story. This is not the same thing as a critique partner.
  • Big 5: Previously the “Big 6,” these are the major New York publishing houses: Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster. Many other significant, international publishing houses exist, though, such as Bloomsbury, Scholastic, and Harlequin.
  • Category: a broader term than genre that addresses the age range the book is written for or about. All books fit into one of these categories: picture book, middle grade, young adult, new adult, or adult. Some people separate the younger categories into more divisions than that, but those are the basics. Young adult and new adult categories are a bit different than the others, because while they are written about characters of a certain age, they aren’t written just for readers of that age group–adults make up a huge percentage of their readership.
  • Crit/Critique. An evaluation (usually from another writer) that aims for showing both the strong and weak elements of a MS. Critiques from other writers, especially authors and agents, can be a great way for writers to improve their writing.
  • CP/Critique Partner. Writers who critique each other’s work in an on-going relationship. The critiques CPs give can be tougher than a beta reader’s feedback, and CPs often know each other’s writing strengths and weaknesses, and can push each other more. These can be great relationships to establish because of the encouragement, resources, and support writers receive from each other.
  • Editor: Depending on the type of editor, editors acquire books for their house to publish and guide the book through the editorial process for publication. Like agents, they do much more than this, too.
  • Form rejection: A copy-pasted rejection from an agent to a writer who queried. Most of the time this is what writers will receive. Most agents receive 100+ queries a week (I’ve seen some agents report 800+), so personal responses are often impossible
  • Genre: A term to describe the kind of story a book is. When writers are asked what kind of books they write, they often respond with the category and genre– young adult fantasy, for example, or adult romance. Science fiction, contemporary, mystery, thriller, magical realism, and historical are all genres.
  • MG: middle grade. Writing written for middle grade readers and adhering to certain age group conventions.
  • MS: manuscript. An unpublished work of fiction or nonfiction. Plural: MSs.
  • NA: new adult. Characters and plotlines that revolve around situations common to the 19 to mid-twenties age group. Some say this is a subset of adult fiction, and others maintain it’s its own category.
  • Personalized rejection: A rejection from an agent to a writer who queried, but some element of the letter is personal. A line or two complimenting the work but explaining why it’s not right for the agent may be included. This is an encouraging sign and a compliment from the agent, and is actually a good thing to receive. If a writer is excited about receiving a rejection, this is likely why.
  • Pitch: A brief description of a manuscript highlighting the main elements in a way that makes others want to read more. Contests sometimes ask for a 1, 2, or 3-sentence pitch. Writers should have one ready for contests and conferences, and many writers create the pitch while they are plotting the manuscript to help keep them focused on the story’s core.
  • Query letter: A letter, often a professional email, that writers send to agents asking them to consider them for representation. The letter includes specific details about the manuscript the author has written and relevant credentials the writer may have. Some agents want 5 or 10 pages and/or a synopsis included as well. Conventions for queries are very particular.
  • R&R(or R/R): Revise and resubmit. The request from an agent or editor to have the writer make certain changes to the manuscript and then resubmit the work for consideration. These happen frequently, and are an excellent sign of the story’s potential. The agent’s current list of titles, market trends, and the writing itself may be reasons the agent asked for an R&R, to see how well they can work with the author and how open to feedback the writer is.
  • Request: An agent (or sometimes editor) requests to see a certain number of pages of a writer’s manuscript. These can be “partials”–generally 30, 50, or 100 pages– or else “fulls”– the entire manuscript. Usually agents request a partial first and then request a full if they are considering representing the writer. A request is a BIG deal, particularly if it’s a full.
  • Slush/ slush pile: the queries and submissions waiting in the query inbox of an agent or editor.
  • Small Press: A publisher with annual sales below a certain level, or else one who publishes a small list of titles per year. There can be significant benefits to publishing with a small press, such as increased attention from your publishing team.
  • Submission: Usually this refers to when an agent takes an author’s manuscript on submission– actively submitting it to editors, hoping to receive an offer of publication. It can also mean the submission materials writers send to agents or contests.
  • Synopsis: A 1-2 page summary that reveals the main elements of the MS in a cause-and-effect style. Agents and editors often ask for these to see how (and if) an author can wrap up the story.
  • Twitter pitch: A pitch designed for Twitter contests designed to quickly hook the reader. 140 characters or less. Twitter contests can be a good way to reach agents who may be closed to submissions (if they are participating) or get a request that may move you up in the agent’s slush pile.
  • WIP: work in progress. The manuscript an author is currently writing.
  • YA: young adult. Writing intended for a teenage audience, but with tremendous crossover appeal to adults. Publishers Weekly reported that 55% of all YA books are purchased by adult buyers, and 78% of the time, those books are for themselves. Basically, YA is written about teens, but written for both teen and adult readers.

Have you heard any other terms you’d like to know more about or have added to the list? Let me know in the comments!

New Agents Don’t Have Cooties

by Maria Vicente (@MsMariaVicente), a literary agent intern

There has been quite a bit of discussion lately in the writing world about whether it’s a good idea to query new agents. There are some people who will throw themselves in front of a train before even considering the possibility. Other writers flock to new agents, hoping that their queries will stand out more in a not-so-flooded inbox.

New agents don’t have cooties. There’s no reason why you should avoid the whole group of them. However, you also shouldn’t send a query to each and every one. There are many things to consider before querying a new agent, and it’s a process that should take a decent amount of time.

Remember that everyone starts somewhere. Those agents with years of experience? They were once new agents too. The thing is, there should be a starting point. If an agent has recently joined an agency, his/her bio will have details outlining their publishing experience. There should be some indication that they’ve learned a little bit about this crazy publishing world. If they’re a new agent, they won’t necessarily have deals and clients to boast about – but they should have had some education or training to lead them into this side of the industry.

Your next major consideration should be the agency’s background. If a new agent is taking on clients, it is very important that there are knowledgeable people within the agency to help them out. There’s no formal training program for agents and no one is going to know everything right away. That’s why you need to make sure the agency has a good reputation and has other, experienced agents to hold the new agent’s hand for the first little bit. If the agency is brand new – and the other agents have little to no experience – then you’ll probably want to steer clear.

Always find out the agent’s interests. New agent or not, it’s important to understand what type of writing he/she is looking for. If a new agent joins a reputable agency and they’re accepting your genre, then you’re golden. A new agent does have a client list to build, so they’ll really be looking out for the queries that interest them the most. New agents will want to start their lists off right, which means they’re going to represent genres they know and love.

You should also use social networking to your advantage. If this new agent has a Twitter account and they’re approachable, then ask questions! There’s a wealth of information available for writers thanks to the immediacy and slightly creepy lack of privacy of social media. We live online for a reason. You should be able to analyze a new agent’s involvement with the publishing community and use it to your advantage.

Honestly, an agent is an agent is an agent. You should be doing just as much research about new agents as you are about agents who have been in the industry for 20+ years. An agent with a ton of experience is not necessarily the best match for you as a writer. Similarly, a new agent with limited experience (because they should have some) is not automatically wrong.

You’re asking an agent to take a chance on you. Guess what? You are (most likely) a NEW writer. If everyone does their research and good matches are made, I think taking chances on new talent is a very good idea.