Going Back

Around a month ago, I submitted a manuscript to an agent I was extremely excited about. I had met him at a convention, spoken with him at length, and convinced him to take a look at the first two novels in my fantasy series. I made some quick revisions he requested, and sent them off.

Then I waited. Far less time than I expected, honestly.

Then the rejection came.

But lo, and behold, the rejection came with sound reasoning, and the assurance that he would be interested in seeing those manuscripts revised and any future projects I may work up.

This is a win, but it brings me to the topic I want to discuss: revising, reworking, or rewriting.

Based on this feedback, I’m straight up rewriting. There are several reasons for this, and most of them filter back to inexperience on my part when I started this project. This novel was the first piece of fiction I had tried to write since grade school and I wasn’t very good. There were fundamental problems that simply rewording a sentence or dropping a few adverbs wasn’t going to fix. So, I rolled up my sleeves, tucked my pants into my galoshes, and trudged through the sewage.

Yes I just compared two years of writing and revising to poop water. I’m classy like that.

I currently have the stance that what I wrote, edited, modified, cut up, had someone else edit, gave to readers, shopped to agents, and tried desperately to get published, is a beautiful and shiny first draft. A first draft that has been edited twelve times. A first draft that will serve me well when I need to refer to the next events to come in my rewrite. A first draft that I can treat as a wonderfully detailed outline.

That hurts a bit, but when I’m done with this rewrite, I will have a much stronger book, with dense prose, a tight storyline, stronger characters, and better relationships.

At least I fucking hope so.

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In the Face of Rejection

Fellow writers will all know what it’s like to come finger to eyeball with piles of rejection letters. If you don’t know, then you are either the greatest writer to ever grace the planet, extremely lucky, or a big fat wuss who’s never tried to put your work to the test against an editor or agent.

I’ve sent out around 40 queries up to this point, which means I’ve put my first manuscript against nearly every agent in the genre, and several of the acquiring editors. The ones I haven’t queried just didn’t feel right for me, for one reason or another, or were closed to submissions. I have three of those queries unanswered right now, one of them has a full manuscript, and the others probably haven’t opened their slush pile boxes long enough to slog through to my submission. It’s only been a couple weeks, so I don’t expect to hear back for a while.

So, 40 queries, 3 awaiting response, (I’ll do the math for you here, that’s what my Physics degree is for) that’s 37 rejection letters. I’ve been told no 37 times. While on the surface, that may not seem like a lot, it feels like way the hell too much. And it’s SO easy to look at 37 rejections and think ‘that must mean there’ s something wrong with my writing; it must really suck.’ And some days I do. Some days I want to just set the laptop aside and walk away from writing for good.

But I never do. Here’s why:

Every now and then I get some real feedback. Three times out of 37 letters, I’ve gotten some feedback from an agent where he/she tells me some unbelievably encouraging things, and gives me ideas on where I can tighten up the story and how I can improve my chances of publication. Those rejections are the little flecks of gold in the pan that keep me sifting sand from the riverbed.

Those rejections help me grow.

I take heart in those because usually there’s enough good stuff that I know I’m on the right track, I just have to take the Turtle Wax to that sucker and make it shine (some cases it seems more like sanding it back to bare metal and giving it a whole new paint job). Constructive feedback is a beautiful thing, and all we have to do is sustain ourselves on it long enough to get that one gorgeous letter that says ‘I read it and I love it, now change these 200 things and we can sell it.’

So, fellow aspiring authors, or those who have already been published and still feel human and fallible, hang in there, keep writing, keep working, and keep improving. One day you’ll look back on that time you almost gave it up and think ‘I’m glad I stuck with it just a little while longer, otherwise I’d never be where I am today.’

Now, get to work. You’ve got stories to tell and rejections to read.