Oasis Islands in the Bog of Eternal Rejections

bog

Over the years I’ve had plenty of aspiring authors ask me how to start in the book publishing business. While inside I’m wondering why they’d ask me and not someone who’s actually published (because I still do have that self-deprecation many self-published authors have — especially us “old ones” who lived through the not-quite-over days of self-publishing demonization), outside I ask them if they’ve written their book yet. About half the time they have not, so I tell them to start there.

It’s funny how many get irritated that a writer has to write. *Facemalm*

Anyway, if they have written the book, I tell them the obvious (to me anyway) next step, which is editing, workshopping, beta…ing and other various cleanING up… ings. The few who have done that enough to have nightmares about it (pro tip: this is a good indication that you’ve edited enough) may finally begin to dip their fingers in the Bog of Eternal Rejections that is… QUERYING.

Dun, dun, DUUUNNNN!

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from their dream. In fact, I care so much about this particular dream that I haven’t given up in over 20 years of wading through the Bog. But anyone who expects this to be an easy road to money and fame is not cut out for being a writer. It’s hard. And it’s discouraging. And for the vast majority of writers it takes a very, VERY long time to even get trade published, let alone make enough money from it to quit one’s day job and write full time. (This is at minimum wage levels by the way, let alone millionaire status.)

*BIIIIG breath.*

Okay. Now that I’ve thoroughly dejected you with the bad news, it’s time to give you some well-earned good that may help you see a little light at the end.

I’ll start by saying no: I have not been signed by anyone as of the writing of this blog. Not any agents, and not any editors. My point isn’t a big bonanza LOOKIT I FINALLY MADE IT! post, and not just because signing doesn’t guarantee success any more than querying does. My point, instead, is to show a step towards that success, and highlight when, even though it’s not what you wanted, some things should still be celebrated as a victory. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and along the way there are plenty of positives we tend to overlook because they’re not the finish line. But it’s those positives that keep you going when it feels like you’ll never make it (and trust me, I know that feeling!)

So here are a couple of my own recent oasis islands in the Bog:

oasis 1

Ahh, full requests! For those who are brand new to the publishing world, or those who aren’t writers and are just interested, these are requests from agents or editors to see your full and complete manuscript. (If you’re wondering how you’re supposed to send a full manuscript when you aren’t finished writing it, let me give you a little advice: NEVER QUERY AN INCOMPLETE FICTION MANUSCRIPT! FINISH IT FIRST!) 

*Ahem.*

ANYway, these requests usually come after either an initial query or a partial request, and the first time you get one feels AMAZING! “YES!” you think, “THEY LIKED MY QUERY! I’M SO IN!” Except you aren’t. They’re just giving you more of a chance to be in. And I’ll be honest, every single one of my full requests have so far ended in a rejection. This can hurt even more than a query rejection because the request gives you more hope, and the higher you rise, the farther you fall.

“Wait!” you may be saying, “isn’t this supposed to be POSITIVE?” Yes. Yes, it is. And I’m getting to that. See, the fact that full request rejection can hurt so bad can make any writer forget how great they are as very positive guideposts. For example, my own history:

  • I got zero full requests for my first novel, The Veiling Society. (Don’t look it up; it’s not worth it.) Yup. Zero. I queried it for about 3 years before giving up and self-publishing, and this was back before Createspace when self-publishing cost an arm and a leg (or, in our case an entire tax return). This was my first true foray into publishing.
  • I got two full requests for Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine. That may seem pretty great except I queried about 60+ agents over the course of a few years.  As you know, I ended up self-publishing that one through Amazon, and I can say I don’t regret it at all.
  • As of this writing, I have gotten SIX full requests for Tipani Walker and the Nightmare Knot and I’m not finished querying. I’ve been querying for only half a year so far, and at the moment three of the fulls are still out there being looked at by agents. The other three did end up in rejections, but two of those were great rejections.

I’ll get to how great rejections are even a thing in a moment, but first I want you to look at where I’ve come. My writing HAS gotten better. My queries have gotten FAR better. Full request rejections hurt, yes, but the fact that you get full requests at ALL is something to celebrate. It means you’re closer than you were, and you’re GOOD at this! So good that they want to read more. And while rejections can happen for any number of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with your skill or passion, full requests are all ABOUT that! They mean an agent or editor liked what they read enough to want to read more.

And that, you should absolutely, be proud of!

oasis 2

Rejection hurts. That’s a fact of life in any circle, including publishing. But there are different kinds of rejections when it comes to agents and editors. Three main ones, in fact: (Yes, there are other kinds but I’m trying to be concise here. Pfft.)

  • Rejection 1: The Silent Rejection
    • This rejection is the worst, and, because Murphy’s Law sucks, it’s also the most prevalent. How does it work? One word: Crickets. Yeah. Agents and editors just don’t reply to you at all. Ever. About anything. I understand why they do this. With thousands of queries in their inboxes a day, it’s just not a good use of their limited time to answer every one, especially ones they aren’t going to pursue. That said, it does suck. Every time. Especially when you don’t even realize you’ve been rejected until the spiderwebs in your inbox begin to show signs of cobbing.
  • Rejection 2: The Form Rejection
    • This is only slightly better than the silent rejection in that at least you know you were rejected. The good news is these are usually only given for queries, not partial or full requests. The bad news is, they give you nothing by way of constructive criticism. A typical form rejection is pasted below for your scrutiny. What does it mean? Noone knows. And I’m sorry, but if you get this kind of rejection from an agent, it’s all you’re gonna get from them.
      • Thank you for your submission, which we have read with interest. Unfortunately, we did not feel enthusiastic enough to take this further. We are sorry to give you a disappointing response, but thank you for thinking of us in connection with your work.We regret that we are unable to give further feedback due to the large volume of unsolicited submissions we receive.
  • Rejection 3: The Good Rejection
    • Ahhh the GOOD rejection. These usually come after a partial or full request, and they’re pretty neat to get, despite being rejections. What even is a good rejection? One that gives you real feedback of course! And not just because constructive criticism can be great for growing one’s skill, especially from the pro’s. No, they’re also great because they take TIME, and time is not something agents and editors have a lot of. So why would they waste time sending you, someone they aren’t even signing, an individualized rejection? Because they feel you’re worth that time! You. The tiny whisper in their storm. You were WORTH acknowledging! Even though in the end they had to pass, MENTION that rejection next time you query them with something new, because they liked what they saw, and they’re letting you know that. And to give you a little more pep to really PUSH for these rejections, here are the two I mentioned earner, both of which I have gotten within the last week (specific agent’s names have been deleted for privacy purposes.):
      • Hi Jessica,Thank you for being so patient throughout this reviewing process. I, and the other agents who read Tipani Walker and the Nightmare Knot, really enjoyed it. You’re an exceptionally talented writer and I liked SO much about this book, which makes my next comment even harder. I liked this book very much, but I didn’t quite fall in love with it the way I had hoped to in order to take on this project in such a saturated market. I wish I had better news! Please know that I genuinely adore your voice and that I’d be honored to take a look at anything else with your name on it.

        Thank you so much for the opportunity to read your work and for your interest in The Seymour Agency.

      • Dear Ms. Crichton,Thank you for the opportunity to read TIPANI WALKER AND THE NIGHTMARE KNOT.

        You’re a very talented writer and there were many elements of your book that I enjoyed: the strong voice, the authentic characters, and the originality of your ideas. I especially loved some of the passages about knots and time–very impressive. That said, after careful consideration, I just didn’t ultimately connect as strongly with the story as I would need to in order to pursue representation. As you know, these decisions are highly subjective and another agent may have an entirely different opinion.

        Thank you again for reaching out. I wish you the best of luck in finding a good home for TIPANI WALKER AND THE NIGHTMARE KNOT.

        Sincerely,

        Writers House LLC

Yes, you read the signoff right: that second one is from WRITER’S HOUSE. While it hurt to be rejected from both them and Seymour, these rejections, which not only tell me why they rejected me but also complimented specific things about my writing AND asked for future queries, were, once I was over the initial sadness, wonderful gifts to me, and proof that even if I’m still up to my knees in slime, I AM working my way through the Bog to the other side.

And you can too.

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