Friday, January 17, 2014

A Lesson in Rejection

The fourth in series of blog posts for my 8th grade students about the process of trying to publish my YA historical novel.

Among the many experiences life dishes out at us, rejection is something we don't really discuss enough until we are mired knee-deep in it. My first rejection arrived today from a literary agent and before I share it, I want you to know two things that may not make sense at first:
  • I expected it, and anticipate more
  • I'm proud of it, and anymore that arrive
When I say I expected it, that does not mean that I devalue my manuscript. Quite the contrary, I love what I wrote, but I also understand that what I am seeking is a business relationship. While I wrote the story I wanted to read, the next part of the process is finding that person who shares in my vision of the story. And as any agent or writer will tell you, it isn't easy.

Just because I wrote something doesn't mean there will be dozens of agents waiting for me. Life doesn't work that way. I have to keep working at my craft.

Another way to look it starts by realizing that literary agents read a lot. I can't even pretend to put a number on how many manuscripts they must look at in a day. The term for the imposing pile of paper looming in their offices is called a "slush pile." That is where unsolicited manuscripts go to wait and wait and wait. It is part of my job as the writer to write my story as perfectly as I can, frame it in a strong query letter, write a synopsis that also grabs the agent's attention. It is my job to make my story (author and novel) stand out above the rest. 

Early sketch and brainstorm for the story.
Writing is hard. 

It is an art. 

And because of those truths, it is rewarding.

The reward I carry with me over finishing a novel of 110,000 words can't be measured. And while I want and need a professional relationship with an agent to take the story to the next stage, I can't let one rejection stop me just as I cannot let 500 rejections stop me if what I did has any meaning to me at all.

That book may never be published, or it may find a home with an agent in a few days. Maybe a few months. I can't be impatient. It took three years to write. It may take just as long to find a home!

Let me put it to you this way, at the very least, many of you will soon share in three common rejection experiences: rejection in friendships (or dating), rejection in sports or the arts, and rejection over college applications. (Cheery thought, eh?) Nevertheless, those rejections will not stop you from having future relationships, swinging a tennis racket, or getting an education. Why stop? 

I am proud of the work that I did, but I also understand that if an agent agrees to work with me, that I may be revising that story for months or years! Who knows what an editor might suggest. I could be asked to rewrite it in first person, or to focus more on the villain, or to downplay another character. Anything can happen when you enter into a partnership over your story. 

Be proud of your work just like I am. But understand you have to keep working. Don't ever stop, don't stop learning, and don't ever stop trying. I don't blame this agent. She knows what she is looking at and what she is looking for--I have to embrace her opinion and learn from it. And then I have to keep moving and keep working!

First rejection letter from a literary agent for my book.
And I hope that this is an attitude that you can take something from as you move on to high school in a few months. Yes, chase your talent and your dreams, but be open to the experiences. Lessons can be found in everything, even rejection...especially rejection.

So, looking at this rejection letter, I can tell it is a form letter...she addresses me as, "Dear Author." Later in the letter, the agent notes that my writing did not quite grab her attention.

From reading and talking to agents and writers I know some of the following are common reasons that manuscripts are rejected:
  • the pacing is too slow
  • sometimes an agent does not connect with the character
  • something may be too similar in what the agency has already represented
  • the character, the voice, and/or the writing all need work

Well, I need to take the lesson from the experience. I, along with many others who received this specific rejection slip, did not grab the reader's attention.

Isn't that something we work on in 8th grade?

1 comment:

  1. Love this. I'm surprised that the "rejection" letter is actually quite nice. I love that they encourage you to keep trying and writing. I (clearly mistakenly) imagined that all literary agents were insensitive and blunt. I feel like this is a lesson, too, for us "teacher agents" about how we respond to our writers: we have the ability to encourage them to keep writing or shelf something forever. I miss teaching writing SO MUCH over here, so I am living vicariously through your teaching and posts. Guess it's good to know where my true passions lie! Keep doing awesome things- in the classroom and for yourself - and keep the posts coming!