Friday, February 16, 2007

And more on rejection

A friend wrote to me about her novel that has been rejected from enough agents to give her pause, to ask me what I think she should do. Some agents have said they didn't like the "voice," and the last agent said she didn't like the writing.

Here's what I said, more or less:

All I can say is sometimes you just have to move on. I wrote two novels and 100 pages of another before I wrote PEN ON FIRE. The first novel I sent out to only one agent and she said, “The characters are navel gazing, but I like the writing,” and I thought, You’re right, they’re just sitting around talking, and I put it aside. If I’d had a passion for it, I would have sent it out more, but I realized it was the novel that taught me what writing a novel was all about.

The 2nd novel I worked hard on. I compiled a couple dozen rejections from agents. There were some really good parts but the main male protagonist no one liked. During that time, I began writing PEN ON FIRE because ...why? I loved inspirational writing books and wanted to write one, wanted to combine instruction with memoir. I had two agents who compiled a couple dozen rejections. I put it away for a year or so, hired a freelance book doctor/editor who didn’t know me to give me feedback, and I rethought the slant, researched what was out there and how could I make my book different. Came up with a new title and the aspect of time—using little time to write.

This time the book worked. I got a new agent and a great book deal. And it was 8 years from the idea to publication.

Was that time wasted writing the novel and working on PEN ON FIRE? I don’t think so.

All writing goes toward becoming a better writer. Fiction is a hard one. Many novelists write at least one novel, usually two,sometimes more, before they write one that sells. This may be your practice novel. It may not. But maybe you should put it away for a while and start something new, learn as much as you can about the art of fiction, read a ton of books on technique, read a ton of novels, and write something new. You may end up bringing this one back out and revising it so that it sells. You may not. But right now it seems it’s not happening.

Work on voice. If you don’t understand voice and what it is, read up on voice and study authors who have strong voices.

It may seem daunting now, I know.

On the other hand, if you believe strongly in this book of yours, then send it out more and don’t put it away until you have more than a few dozen rejections from agents. Or approach a small publisher whose advance would be too teensy to get an agent involved, and see what happens.

There’s no easy answer. You put a ton of work into this book. But so much of writing is about process, and certainly with fiction, this is true. Even novelists with books out occasionally write one that their agent feels isn’t right and shouldn’t be out there and they move on and write the next.

After she's already published a few novels, bestselling ones, my friend, the late Barbara Seranella, wrote one that her agent thought wasn't right somehow. Barbara wasn't happy about this, but she was a professional. She put it away and barreled on, wrote the next novel and sold it and even won an award, I believe, for that book. (I miss you, Barbara!)

Any bits of advice I missed here? What would you say to my friend?


Chaser said...

I think you have given wonderful advice. Seriously, every manuscript teaches you something, and you really do have to view that process as investing in yourself. It's so hard to keep body and soul together and remember that investment when you are getting rejected.

One of my favorite pieces never got published; it was for National Geographic, and it just kept getting pushed back and pushed back in the publication line-up, and they never did anything with. But I learned so much on that piece that it helped me on everything I have done since, I remained lifelong friends with the people involved in many good things, never a line in print.

Nicholas Borelli said...

Your advice was spot on. I've written five novels, hired a book doctor, got great advice, got a literary agent and still no one wants that book or the other four.

What to do? Keep writing.

But one other point, lest we let our literary agent friends off the hook too easily.

I wouldn't be too hard on yourself after rejection by any literary agent. If they're so expert at choosing what gets published, why does most of what they choose sell so poorly.

The book business needs a new paradigm. The gate keepers and the key masters don't fully consider the reading audience when they send a manuscript to an acquisition editor.

And the acquisition editor . . . for another day.

Best regards,


my friend Sidney said...

Rejection comes in many flavors and revisions in many forms. As a young man, there was one manufacturer that rejected my every offer to do business.

Finally - I believe it was on my 6th futile attempt - I gathered my papers and said, "It looks like were not going to get together."

"That's the way it looks," he replied.

"Well, in that case I wonder if I can ask a favor?"

"You can ask," he smiled.

"I wonder if you'd be good enough to make a note on your calendar to call me on the first of each month and tell me to go to hell just so I know you're thinking of me?"

That did the trick!

In most cases its simply a matter of revision.

Mary Castillo said...

My first book received a grand total of 17 rejections - two arrived it sold to HarperCollins. If your friend truly believes in this book and is willing to go to great lengths to deliver it into the hands of readers, then tell her to keeo going.

My editor made a moderate offer on my book and then my agent stepped in a week after I accepted the deal. All she needs is that one person who will say yes.


rjlight said...

Thank you for writing "Pen on Fire" I have just started reading it and it is an encouragement to me. I am learning all about rejection, but your book is giving me the encouragement to keep going. I guess rejection just means to keep writing and I am so glad you did! thank you!