Posts Tagged ‘Rejection’

THE STORY OF MY QUEST FOR PUBLISHING SUCCESS

Where should I start?  The beginning, I guess.

My historical novel, Black Iron Mercy, began as a notebook filled with research more than four-and-a-half years ago.  The project started as a pledge to tell the story of the Iron Brigade from the viewpoint of a common soldier, inserting a fictional protagonist among the actual participants.  Nine months of research followed, utilizing 19 books, countless articles, and the help of many friends, colleagues, and experts, to produce a rich, historically accurate and entertaining epic about one Wisconsinite’s exploits before, during, and after the American Civil War.  The result was a poignant tale of love and faith, war and discord; a family shattered by loss and sorrow, and a man who struggles every day to hold onto hope.  Deeds Publishing, of Athens, Georgia, is the company that has changed my life forever.  The advance reading copies, for endorsements and reviews, will be out later this month.  The expected launch date for the general public is mid-June.

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Success!  Oh, it feels so sweet.

How did I get here?  More research!  Even as the research stage of this project was ending, I began to research the publishing industry in earnest.  Over the last few years I spent nearly twice as much time researching the business as I did the novel, because failure was not an option.  For new authors, there is no advice I can give you that is more important than “Do the research.”  Learn the industry, including things like literary agents and agencies, query letters, synopses and synopsis writing, book marketing, book publicity, and formatting.  Nothing will lead to failure faster than showing the publishing world that you’ve spent zero time getting to know their business.  This blog was created strictly because I did my homework.  The publishing industry wants you to have a nest in order to promote and sell your work when the time comes to do so.

In June of 2015, I was ready for the querying process to begin.  I had a notebook filled with literary agents willing to take on historical novels.  I knew each of their expectations, their quirks, their requirements, and their attitudes toward eager, new authors.  You must remember that each literary agent has a very strict, detailed list of requirements.  If you stray from them even a little, you’ll be rejected before any of your material is even looked at.

Allowing myself one full year to find an agent, I sent out a total of 66 queries… usually in groups of five to eight.  Some contained only a query letter.  Some contained a synopsis and the first three chapters.  Some contained a synopsis, the first fifty pages, a photo of me, and a bio.  And although it felt like some contained the kitchen sink, not one of them contained the entire manuscript for Black Iron Mercy.

In time, I received 32 rejections.  Yes, the first couple were difficult.  Nobody likes to be rejected.  Not for a date, not on the dance floor, not in the publishing world.  But after a while, even I could appreciate being rejected, because receiving a rejection letter is better than being rejected without notice.  Many literary agents will warn you up front that they do not have the time to respond to all queries.  Because of this, I actually looked forward to receiving a rejection.  Quite frankly, I felt like I deserved a notice when rejected.  It’s not difficult to fire off an email that reads, “Not for us, thanks.”  (an actual rejection, my favorite… because it’s not a form letter.  It may be short, but it’s personal.)

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MY ORGANIZED BOARDS OF QUERY LETTER FAILURE

By November, I had grown weary of the whole query process.  Sure, I had received 32 rejections, but I had actually been rejected all 66 times, whether they had sent notice or not.  But here’s the kicker:  NOT ONE OF THE 66 REJECTIONS WAS BASED ON THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT!  No one had even seen the entire manuscript.  Few, if any, had more than fifty pages of the double-spaced document, which equated to one-sixth of the entire novel.

Now, wholly bitter about agents and the agent process, I decided to forgo the agent course, and began researching publishers in the same way I had researched agents six-months prior.  I needed a publisher who would not only publish a historical novel, but who would do so for a first-time, unagented author.  So, I took five weeks to explore this option, compiling a list of 86 possible publishers, and whittled it down to the top three.  These, I queried on December 29, 2015, sending each of them a query letter, a synopsis, and the entire manuscript.  To one of them, I attached a comprehensive, six-page marketing plan aimed specifically at their company.

The very next day, I received a warm, personal note from the CEO of Deeds Publishing, saying that he would try to read at least 10% of my manuscript over the next week.

Wow!  I couldn’t believe it!  I was so emotional, I sat and read his message over and over and over.  Someone was actually gonna read my manuscript.  Life couldn’t have been any better than at this moment.  Or could it?

From an email dated January 2, 2016, just three days later:

“I am reporting that here at 8:00am on Saturday, January 2, I had read 10% of your book – and it grabbed me so completely that this morning I finished the last 10 pages. I have read your whole book – cover to cover.”

I wept.  I sobbed uncontrollably.  I’m not ashamed to admit this.  This book has been my life for the last five years.

After much discussion, Deeds Publishing, LLC offered me a contract.  I sat on it a while, an excruciatingly painful thing to do, while I obtained some legal advice.  Then, on the 15th day of January, another extraordinary event occurred:  I was offered a second contract by one of the other publishers I queried.

Are you effing kidding me?  A month ago I couldn’t get anyone in the world of publishing to look at my material.  Now?  I’ve got choices!  I couldn’t even comprehend what was happening!  I’m still in disbelief.

THE FIRST TWO PUBLISHERS TO SEE MY MANUSCRIPT OFFERED ME CONTRACTS!

I signed with Deeds on January 21st.  The book is in layout, and a front cover is being designed as I write this.

Authors:  Don’t give up.  If you’re being rejected, keep trying.  If you’re still being rejected, circumvent.  There’s always a way.  Don’t allow anyone else to be responsible for your failure.  Sooner or later, you’ll find the one that says, “Yes.”

 

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I DESERVE TO BE REJECTED, DANG IT!

This will be a short post about the query process and the rejections that go with it.  Yes, I’ve covered this topic before, but that was long before my manuscript was complete and ready for agents to view.  Writing about it then was like a virgin writing about the experience of intercourse.  You think you know, but you don’t.

I’m 19 query letters into the publication industry and I’ve been rejected just five times.  I’ll be sending out more in the morning.  I am still an infant in this process, but I can say that being rejected is not the big bad wolf I had thought it would be.  In fact, all of the feedback I’ve received has been positive.  One agent’s rejection letter read, “Thank you for a wonderful note!”  Another’s said, “Your process is excellent and there’s a lot to like about your approach, but…”  My favorite so far, in response to a section of a query that praised the agent and the author for an important work:  “Your letter was a wonderful surprise!  It’s always nice to hear that someone’s work has inspired someone to do something good – I’ll be sure to share that info with Sarah. But I’m sorry to say that due to the huge stack of manuscripts awaiting my review, I must declare a moratorium on new submissions for the rest of the year.”

Of the five agents to reject me, only one had nothing personal to say to me.  That’s okay, too.  See, I’m just happy to receive NOTICE of a rejection.

So many literary agencies have a disclaimer such as this on their website:  “Due to the volume of submissions we receive, we can’t reply to all, but we do review each one carefully and will be in touch if we’d like to see more material from you.”  Some will say, “If you haven’t heard from us in ___  weeks, you can assume we are not interested in your work.”

Now, I understand how busy literary agents are.  Some receive as many as 500 queries in one week, making personal contact with aspiring authors nearly impossible.  If they’re responding to all who query them, they have little time to act as agents for those they represent.  It must be hard for them to come back from vacation.

For writers, however, it is one thing to be rejected.  It is another thing altogether to be denied a rejection.  To me, having a rejection withheld is far, far worse.

I’ll take that rejection notice every time, thank you.

If you’re a literary agent who happens to read this post, please know how grateful I am to those who take a moment to write a note, personal or not, that says, “No.”

It’s the right thing to do.

Do all writers lose their minds?  Surely not, but if such a high number of the famous ones go mad, I’m guessing that an even higher percentage of the lesser known writers tinker in madness.

Way before I even dreamed of writing professionally I had a certain fascination with the lunacy of the world’s great writers.  Talents like Petronius, Pound, Hemingway, and Nietzsche, who, for valid reasons or not, descended into madness, shortening their lives and their portfolios, forever robbing the world of what might have been.

Woolf.  Mayakofsky, Pavese.  Berryman.

It’s no secret that writers are susceptible to severe depression.  There are even surveys and studies that say so –

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/dec/13/writers-depression-top-10-risk

http://www.elizabethmoon.com/writing-depression.html

Hans Christian Andersen. Truman Capote. Charles Dickens. Henry James.

Does one need to be depressed to be a writer, or does writing merely lead one into depression?

Celan.  Sexton.  Plath.  Brautigan.

In the publishing world of today, writer’s often find themselves spending more time in selling themselves to the public than they do in producing written material.  Blogging, queries, synopses, bios, blogging, queries, synopses, bios. Rejection, rejection, rejection.  All of this leads to more self-evaluation than is necessary for most people.  It is easy to see how one’s self-image gets tanked through the 21st century publishing process.

This leads me to believe that the problem writers face with depression may be greater than ever before.  Writers of past centuries were not nearly as exposed to criticism and rejection as the writers of today.

Gray.  Wallace.  Thompson.  Kane.

It is important to keep your perspective as a writer.  It is important to keep your perspective as a human being.  You are just one tiny element in a grandiose world of mortal objects.  We want to feel important, yet what we do is really not all that important, except to those that are closest to us while we’re here.

Sometimes, for perspective, I like to stop what I’m doing and spend a moment with one of my pets.

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Ashes, the EMS Cat, at age one.

Ashes doesn’t care if I get published.  She doesn’t care what I say as long as I’m not yelling at her.  She just wants me to feed her and stroke her fur once in a while… and she wants to be able to crap in a clean box of litter, too.

Sigh.

I’m still sane, at least for the moment.

Stay sane, writers.

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As writers, we struggle every day with our image.  If we’re not writing then we’re thinking about our writing and what others are thinking about our writing, holding our breath as we click on the comments or open the email, worried that the criticism will be negative.  We exhale audibly when it isn’t… grit our teeth when it is.

Many critics, qualified or not, will always find the good.  “Keep at it,” or “You’re almost there,” or “I like your snarky sense of humor.”

Many critics, qualified or not, won’t.  “That’s interesting,” is the BEST compliment they can offer.  “That’s interesting,” is about the worst thing someone can say about your writing.

Does any of it really matter?  Who are YOU to judge my work… and who the hell am I to judge yours?  Should I worry about whether or not you like my article any more than whether or not you like my Christmas sweater?

Case in point:  When I was in grammar school, I was pretty darn close to the boys who lived across the street from me.  One is a year older than me, the other a year younger.  When I was about ten years old, they moved across town and our relationship, although still intact, diminished in frequency of visits and such.  By the end of high school, we seldom talked.

After another ten years or so had passed, I made attempts to contact those old boys.  Those attempts were ignored… and I didn’t think much about it.  Then, with the advent of social media, the means I use to connect with people I hadn’t EVER spoken to while in school, my attempts at rekindling our friendship were rejected.

What had I done to them so long ago?  What is wrong with me?  Why would they shun me so?  Maybe they didn’t like my Christmas sweater?

More years passed.

Recently, an uncle of those boys passed away.  My wife, through her employer, knows the deceased’s wife pretty well, and they had become pretty good friends over the years.  In order to support her friend, my wife and I attended the funeral.  Of course, we’d long known of the widow’s association to those former friends of mine, but my showing up at the funeral was a complete surprise to them.

The greeting I received was cold, at best.  That’s okay, I wasn’t there for them anyway.

My wife and I spent nearly an hour at the funeral, socializing with a few of the mourners, and I had a good amount of time to observe my former friends socializing with their extended family.

Now, this post is supposed to be about me.  It’s supposed to be about how I feel about myself and how others see me as a writer.  It is not intended as a passive-aggressive assault on some former friends who wouldn’t talk to me.

They’re standing off to one side, talking to each other.  They’re greeting their OWN FAMILY as they greeted me.  They’re having difficulty engaging in conversation with their own kin.

HOLY SHIT, THEY’RE SOCIAL MORONS.

See, sometimes, when you’re sure it’s about you, it isn’t about you at all.

This doesn’t mean that you should blow off criticism as the advice of an idiot.  Criticism can be the meteor that changes history.  But if the criticism isn’t of the constructive kind, then it’s best to consider the source, rather than the words.

Believe in yourself.  Have faith in YOU.  You can accomplish anything you want, regardless of what others say.

I have never owned nor worn a Christmas sweater, by the way.

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Well looky here… I’m a blogging machine.

The publishing industry says I should put my name out there via websites and blogs, so that’s what I’ve been doing.  I’ve written more over the last year and a half than I’d written in the previous twenty years.  Funny thing is:  Most of what I’m writing has nothing to do with my manuscript, my search for literary agents, or my quest to get myself and my work published.

Yeah, I know.  I KNOW.  It doesn’t matter what I’m writing.  The publishing industry says I need to put my name out there so as to have a following ahead of time.  I also need to build a nest so that I have a warm, dry place to nourish my work once I get it published.  I understand that most of my current work — this type of sidebar — is necessary to the end result.

I’d love to go back in time and read the blogs of Edgar Allen Poe and Walt Whitman… you know, the ones they were writing to build their followings and to impress their literary agents when their real work was ready.

My second novel, “Working Title,” has just 1,452 words out of a probable 55,000.  I’m neglecting it at this very moment so that I can add this current blog to my body of work to impress those that will one day shatter my dreams.

Please note:  I haven’t been rejected.  My first novel isn’t quite ready for submission.  This blog is in response to all of those future rejection letters, as well as those that I’ve had the pleasure of reading through other bloggers here on WordPress.  Those are so very joyful.

I’ve said it before.  I’m really not into attention seeking behavior.  Part of this stems from a fear of failure.  Wait, that’s not exactly true. Yes, I fear failure, but it’s more accurate to say that I fear people noticing my failures.  I don’t like people to see me at my worst.  I don’t like it when I appear flawed.  I don’t like it when people criticize my work.

Oh God.  Why the hell did I write a book?

People love to tell me that J.K. Rowling was turned down __ times.  Stephen King was rejected __ times.  Hemingway had the door slammed on him __ times.

Is this really going to make me feel better when the rejection is pouring in?

I’m supposed to show the world that I can write.  I’ve done that.  I’m supposed to show the world an occasional excerpt from those things that I want published.  I’ve done that.

What if all I’m doing is leaving a trail, like a snail, of my failures.

My followers encourage me not to give up.  If I never give up and yet never get my work published, then the only thing published shall be rejection and failure.  I’ve done so many other good, positive things with my life.  Maybe I should stick to blogging about my successes, instead.

I’ve got a beautiful wife and three lovely children.