Newbie Post #12: 5 Silver Linings in Those Rejection Letters

Cloud computing concept
Ahh, the rejection letter. The big “R”. That nasty little email we wait and wait for, only to drown in sorrows when it arrives. But is it really all that bad? Um, yeah, it is, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Here’s 5 reasons why those R’s can be a force for good:

1) I’ve sent out thirty queries and all I have to show is an inbox full of form rejections. (And that doesn’t include all the “no response means no”)
Okay, yeah, this is the worst. You’ve spent months, maybe years, perfecting that novel. Then months (hopefully not years) perfecting that query. Not to mention the agents who want a synopsis. And of course, every agent has different requirements: No attachments – Everything in the body of the email – PDFs only – Word doc only – Synopsis – No synopsis – 1st 10 pages – 1st 3 chapters and on and on . . .

You’ve worked your butt off and all you get is a lousy form rejection. And it’s headed with Dear Author, or maybe they used a name, just not your name. It can feel like utter, abject failure. But you’re wrong. First, let’s look at that statement: You’ve worked your butt off. You have! You know more about how to write a query, what to avoid, what agents might be interested in your work than you did before you started. It may not be much conciliation at this point, but just think of the experience you gained. Most authors aren’t published on their first try, so failure at this point isn’t really failure. It’s just one step in a long journey, so don’t stop now! (Incidentally, 30 queries isn’t that many, so don’t stop at thirty!)

2) I’ve received several requests for partial or full submissions, but they’ve all come back with a form rejection. Yup, this one’s hard too! You’ve gotten your hopes up that maybe, just maybe, an agent or publisher is going to like your work, then bam! None for you! But yes, there’s a sliver lining here too. So said agent or publisher read your letter. Either they liked your query, or the writing sample, or both. Worst case (and you’ll never know) they weren’t very impressed by the writing or query, but thought the premise of your story was interesting enough to give it a try. Unfortunately you have no idea why they decided to reject, but you do have something. The query worked. Or maybe your writing sample was strong. The idea has promise. Maybe the agent didn’t connect with it (universal agent code for they don’t want to represent this story) but that’s okay. From what I gather, an agent has to really be in love with an MS to represent it. You may just have to go through a lot of query letters before you find the agent that does. So keep sending out those queries, because clearly something is working.

3) I received a personalized rejection on my full submission telling me what they didn’t like about the story. Well, honestly, this one isn’t too bad. Rejections suck in all forms, but knowing why an agent didn’t fall head-over-heels with your novel is fantastic. Why? Because you know what you can work on. Or, in one case for me, I knew that agent wasn’t right for me anyway, so I didn’t feel bad about the rejection. She thought the story was going to be more character driven by my query and writing sample, but was disappointed to find out it had a lot of action. Cool! I have no intention of changing my YA novel to remove the action, so no biggie. She wasn’t the right fit. Now, had she said I did too much telling instead of showing, or the middle was boring and bogged down, or my MC was too whiny and annoying, then I have concrete things to work on. Not that you have to take what an agent says to heart. He or she is only one opinion, but it does give you something to think about.

4) I received a personalized rejection for this novel based on the query and the writing sample, but the agent asked to see my other work. Um, so just to be clear, there’s nothing sad about this! The agent liked your writing. Let me repeat: THE AGENT LIKED YOUR WRITING! This is golden. Not only are they asking to see more of your work, when you have something ready to send, there’s a good chance they will remember you! Be sure to mention your previous work and that they said X, Y and Z about it. Now is not the time to be shy. Consider this your personal invitation, because you now have a leg up on the entire slush pile!

5) I received a personalized rejection on my full submission, but the agent invited me to submit my future work. Once again, no frowny faces here! So they aren’t interested in representing this novel, which stinks, but there are often reasons. One of my latest rejections on a full was because the Post-Apocalyptic market is flooded and she didn’t think she could sell it. But she had many wonderful things to say about the manuscript. Take those compliments, store them in your little heart of hearts, and get back to work! You have agents who want to see future work, so make that future work. And make it as good or better than the novel they rejected. To repeat, this is a personal invitation. And just as a little tip, I got in the habit of telling the agents what I was working on next when I sent them my submission (I’m talking requested material, not query.) This generated interest by several agents in my next project. I have agents eager to see my next novel, and it isn’t even written yet!

So that’s all I have. There are many kinds of rejections, and I’m sure I didn’t highlight them all, but this should give you a little boost in finding that silver lining. Rejections are hard, no denying it, but if you want to do better, get better and be better, you must learn from them. I haven’t completely given up on I Have No Name, but I’m happy to save it for later while I work on another project. And I have learned so much about how to navigate this business in the mean time that my energies are far from wasted!

What have you learned from rejections that has helped you (or is currently helping you) to be a better writer and make the next one stick?

More of my posts on querying:

Queries! Queries! Queries! : Researching Agents

Queries! Queries! Queries?? How to Write a Query Letter

Agent Research: I Forgot to Tell You Something!

How I Got My Agent (Or the art of never giving up)

Newbie Post #11: Let Your Verbs Do the Heavy Work!

Newbie Post 11

As usual, I’m not going to take any expert credit on this post. I have learned through beta readers, friends on Absolute Write and reading blog posts until my eyes blurred! Strangely enough, I had difficulty digging up blog posts that specifically deal with this issue. I don’t know. Maybe it’s one of those things mentioned here and there, but I didn’t Pin any topic-specific posts on Pinterest. Anyway, I’ll try to talk a little about strong verbs, and point you towards a few helpful sites. Plus, I’ll throw in reference charts compiled from several sources online. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the sources when I wrote down all the strong verbs in a notebook, so I won’t be able to site all the places I found these.

So what is a strong verb? I’ll try a few, not so well-written examples, but hopefully it will illustrate the point.

I ran to the treeline looking for cover

I bolted to the treeline looking for cover.

So that’s pretty rudimentary, but you see what I’m talking about. Yes, run is an action verb, but it’s boring, mundane. As writers, we can come up with something far better. There are many words that can replace simple verbs like run, walk, said, that can be far more descriptive.

“I hate you, Evan. And I never want to see you again,” she said.

“I hate you, Evan. And I never want to see you again,” she screamed.

The first is fine if your character is full of cold fury, but if she’s manic and enraged, screamed works much better. You don’t always have to use descriptive verbs (especially when we’re talking about said) but there are many times when simply changing out one verb for another can give a whole new meaning to the sentence.

That’s kind of it. It’s not exactly a difficult concept. Using verbs that give strength and description to your sentences will make your writing pop. Not to mention, strong verbs usually involve fewer words and get you closer to the action, kind of like those filter words we talked about last time.

Here are a few websites that probably (most definitely) explain this better than I, so please have a look:

Keyboard Smash Writers short post on strong verbs
Writers In The Storm post Use Adverbs “Consciously” To Make Your Writing Strong (Not exactly verbs, but still related)
Writer’s Digest post on Subverting Adverbs and Clichés by Chuck Sambuchino (More adverbs, but illustrates the point)
University of Houston Clearlake post on Strong Verbs

Here are two charts that help to illustrate how you can take a very common verb and use something more descriptive to give life to your sentence:

Click image to see larger

Click image to see larger

*Word of caution on the word “said” and replacing it. Do so sparingly! “Said” is the wood paneling in every 70’s home: not particularly pretty, but so common you don’t even notice when you see it. If you start replacing every “said” with something colorful, it will stand out like a sore thumb. Only use a descriptive word here when it is important to differentiate your dialogue from simple talking.

Click image to see larger

Click image to see larger

And if all of that isn’t enough, here are a few more links to charts and lists of strong verbs to help boost your verb vocabulary:

Strong Verbs to Persuade on Mrs. Swanda’s Writing Resources
Email Writing Tips: How to Keep Your Prospecting Emails Short on Radius.com (This one is aimed at emails, but applies to all writing in many ways)
Strong Action Verbs on AirforceWriter.com

Hope some of this is helpful in your quest for “perfect” writing abilities. Yeah, that endless (and unatainable) quest we all pursue! 🙂

Look for Newbie Post #12: Describing Emotion in Writing

Newbie Post #10: Filters Are For Coffee, Not For Writing!

Coffee Mug Icon Computer Key For Taking A Break

Mmmm, coffee! That delicious drink that fuels our mad dash at the keyboard in an attempt to write the novel brewing inside us. What would we do without it? And filters make that possible. Whisking out all those gritty, bitter grounds that would ruin that delectable smooth concoction. But surprisingly enough, we need those grounds in our writing.

Wait, did I just compare your writing to coffee grounds? This comparison is getting a little off track, but the point is, you don’t want bland smoothness in your writing. You want the grit and the chunks and the texture that makes it come alive. Maybe not so much in coffee, but in writing? Yes!

So what are these filters that weaken our writing, making it easy to slip through the minds of our readers, leaving no impression and just gliding off into nothingness? Well, I had no idea they existed until I decided to do a little research into editing techniques. And this is what I found:

Basically, filter words are anything that weakens the impact of your writing and/or pulls the reader farther away from the action. And I don’t want to sound like I’m some expert here. Far from it. I’m going to share some fantastic websites that helped me better understand this topic, and maybe try to paraphrase for you.

Here is a list of blog articles that helped me to see where I was going wrong with my writing:

10 Words to Cut from Your Writing on Entrepreneur.com Gives a list of 10 unnecessary words to cut to tighten your prose.
Three Words You Should Eliminate From Your Writing on WriteToDone.com This adds one more word to the list in the previous blog post, but it’s still a good read to reinforce why we can skip these words.
8 Words to Seek and Destroy in Your Writing on LitReactor.com See the pattern here? Cut. Cut. Cut.
Are These Filter Words Weakening Your Fiction? on WriteItSideways.com This great post explains filter words and links to several more articles that can help, as well as listing a few more words to add to that growing list of filters.
Ten Words to Avoid When Writing on FreelanceWriting.com And a few more to add to the growing pile. Each article reiterates some of the tried and true favorites and adds one or two more.
Filter Words on PublishingCrawl.com Gives some great examples to help you see where you can eliminate words that distance your reader from what is happening.
Ten Quick Fixes to Improve Your Fiction Now on AbsoluteWrite.com/novels

And when you’re done with those, just Google some more. There are plenty of blog posts and articles to help on this subject. Here is a compiled list of all the words highlighted in the aforementioned articles, along with a few I’ve found to be troublesome myself, and in no particular order:

table

Just to give you an idea, I cut more than 200 words by eliminating the word “that”. Obviously not all of them. There are instances where it was needed, but there were 200 where it was not. I changed a lot of “I’ve got” and “you’ve got” to “I have” and “you have”. I used the word “own” so many times, I couldn’t stop seeing it once I realized it was there, as in “my own” and “his own”. Where ever I could, I changed -ing verbs, especially ones using the word “is”. For example: “My ankle is throbbing” was changed to “My ankle throbs”. See how that’s more immediate. Instead of the character telling us what she’s feeling, we feel it too.

And there may be be words that you use too much that are fine used sparingly, but in such quantities seems like a glaring error. Although, to be honest, some of these words on the list are personal preference. I can see limiting the word “of”, but when I went through my manuscript using the Find & Replace task, I didn’t see how changing the “of” would make it better. So to each his own. There, I used it again!

It never hurts to brush up on these, and I’ll be referring to my own post when I get to the editing stage again. The trick is to keep the reader fully invested in the characters and the action, so why put distance or filters between the reader and your story? It’s easy to write “weak” in a first draft, but once that’s done, edit “strong”.

Watch out for Newbie Post #11: Strong Verbs – This one’s self-explanatory, and kind of gets to the gritty chunks and textures I was talking about in the beginning of this rambling post.

If you liked this one, check out Newbie Post #9: You’re Novel Is Not Ready to be Seen by Anyone

I’m a liar . . .

I feel I owe all of you a minor apology. Okay, maybe not apology, but explanation. I said on this blog that I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year by starting the second book in my series. I would never pants my way through NaNo, or any book, I’m just too much of a planner, and it’s the only book I have plotted in my head right now. But I’ve come to a realization over the past month or so since that posting. My YA Post-Apocalyptic may not get an agent and consequently a publisher right now. The sneaking suspicion has been loitering in my brain, being dutifully ignored, but those rejection letters have helped to make it loud and clear. Oh, and this:

I’m certainly not finished querying my novel. I’ve given it my heart and soul, so I’m not going to abandon it so easily. But I don’t plan to put all my eggs in one basket, so I’m planning a new novel. And since I haven’t planned it yet, I can’t write it. Remember, no panster here. So NaNoWriMo is going to be NaNoReMo fro me (National Novel Researching Month).

And by way of encouragement, well, encouragement for me, here’s a little piece of a pleasant rejection letter I received from one of my dream agents:

I really like the writing here—it’s punchy and clean. That said I think it’d be very difficult to sell a post-apocalyptic novel just now, as I’m finding editors are a still suffering from a bit of dystopian/post-apoc fatigue. I don’t think I can take this project on, but if you have more you’d like to share, I’d be interested to see your other work down the line.

Umm, he’d like to see my future work. My future work! This is all the encouragement I need to know I’m on the right track. Maybe not with this novel (though, once again, haven’t given up), but the next, or the next. I’ve managed to gain attention from some pretty amazing agents with a concept that has been declared well-done. I am by no means discouraged by my rejections. Writing is a long term commitment and not for the faint of heart. I am a stalwart rock!

Newbie Post #9: Your Novel Is Not Ready to be Seen by Anyone!

Your Novel Is Not ready

So you finished that novel! All 129,000 words are shining and screaming for attention: Read me! Read me! Read me! But they’re not screaming at you. Oh no, they have much juicier prey to sink their many, many, many teeth into. So you hit up your husband, or your mom, or your sister, or that college friend who was an English major. But let me stop you right there . . .

First, there’s a good chance your novel isn’t ready to be seen by anyone. Believe it or not, you have some editing to do. Read through that monster, and take your time. Check for typos, delete unnecessary sentences, replace and/or delete filter words. You may need to cut scenes that aren’t advancing the plot or combine characters because you have too many, or any number of other tweaks and fixes to make that novel shine. And you’ll get far more out of your readers if you’ve ironed out some major kinks before you toss it in their lap like a basket of rocks.

And keep in mind, friends and relatives are not the best readers of your work. If you need a confidence boost, and don’t mind burdening your loved ones with that task, then go ahead. But don’t expect real constructive criticism. Even if they’re a reader. I have found not one of my family/friend readers have given me very useful feedback. Well, excepting that one doctor who helped with my medical scenes. And my Hubby who always asks important questions about the story. Otherwise, they serve to help me believe it isn’t total rubbish. That’s about it. (Even if it was total rubbish!)

My advice to you would be to read as many books on writing as you can find, Google articles and blog posts on revision and editing, check out my post on filter words—coming soon—and while you’re at it, my Pinterest board The Business of Writing is a plethora of articles and posts related to writing. There’s no shortage of info to help you be a better writer, so use it. It can’t hurt, and it will most likely help in a big way.

Newbie Post #10: Filters Are For Coffee, Not For Writing!

Newbie Post #1: My Humble Beginnings . . .
Newbie Post #2: Dreams Awakening . . .
Newbie Post #3: Yeah, About That Hobby Thing . . .
Newbie Post #4: Sally Green’s Acknowledgments and Why They Mean Something to Me
Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!
Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you Win; Sometimes you LEARN!
Newbie Post #7: Beta Readers and Why They Rock! . . . Most of the Time . . .
Newbie Post #8: Writing Prompts Are One-Night Stands!

The Query Process: Its Own Brand of Crazy!

Reject Key Means Decline Or DenyAs if the grueling process of writing an entire novel isn’t enough, now you have to find an agent to represent your book for its best chance of publication!

I know I jokingly said in an earlier post something to the effect of, “How much time can querying agents take?”, but that was a little tongue-in-cheek. I actually knew researching agents, crafting personal letters and compiling submission material to meet guidelines would be time consuming, I just didn’t realize how much.

And that’s not even considering the mental and emotional strife I’m dealing with. *Refresh email* *Refresh email* *Refresh email* *Partial request!* (Writer’s high) *Form Rejection* (Writer’s low) I think that’s why I find myself emotionally distancing myself from my novel right now. A rejection sends me into a flurry of, “What did I do wrong? What can I fix?” The emotional distance of finding the right business partner for the business document I have written is far less mentally taxing than waiting to see if a brilliant lit agent I admire will give my literary baby a nod of acceptance.

And it’s only week two. I’ve only dipped my toe in to the proverbial shark-infested waters. I’m not calling you literary agents sharks by any means. It’s just that to a writer seeking approval, it can feel like our egos are chum floating in the mixed waters of self-confidence and abject misery. *sigh*

Well, off to research more agents, try to find someone you think you can connect with through nothing but interviews and webpages, and write another sparkling query that will hopefully garner the right attention. This is far harder than actually writing the book, but I would like to say “Thank you!” to all the agents who have taken the time to read my letters. It can be just as hard for an agent to find that diamond in the slush pile, as it is for we writers to find the perfect partner for a literary career.

What kind of querying experience have you had? Do you use a rejection spike for rejection letters? What helps you to keep going, even after multiple rejections? And how many rejections before you say you’ve had enough and move onto another project?

Newbie Post #8: Writing Prompts Are One-Night Stands!

One-Night Stand

I think we can all agree that we writers have a world. Critique groups, writing circles, online forums, blogging, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter. We are inundated with ways for our traditionally hermit-like tendencies to branch out into social sharing, learning, critiquing and commiserating the woes of being a writer.

When I first started searching the online forums, reading blog posts and generally dipping my toe (then diving head first!) into the world of writers, I came across a lot of new information. For one, there a lot of acronyms. It took me awhile to catch on to all of these, and I might do a quick post in the future, but I did eventually get them. I still only use a few, because I’m a write-it-out kind of gal, but it’s helpful to know what other people are talking about.

And the process of writing and getting published was a huge mystery. I learned from doing and from listening to others talk about their process, until now I think I have a pretty good handle on it (says the woman without an agent or book deal.) What really has me confused are two things: Writing Prompts and NaNoWriMo.

Yes, I know what both things are, but I just don’t understand their purpose. They seem pointless to me. And for those of you who may be wondering what NaNoWriMo is, it’s National Novel Writing Month, held every year from Nov. 1 through the 30th. Pretty much everyone in the writing world has heard of this. If you haven’t, no biggie, but you might want to get out more. 🙂

So why don’t you see the point?, you say, your hackles rising in irritation at my audacity. I love writing prompts and NaNo is my favorite time of year! I will tell you why, but let’s start with writing prompts.

I have notebooks full of ideas. I have ideas from my ideas. I have kernels of thought buried in my brain so small and inconsequential I haven’t written them down. What do I need writing prompts for? The exercise, you say. The act of taking an inspiration and turning it into a short story. Many a novel has been derived from a short story derived from a writing prompt. I’ll give you that. But if you have ideas that are inspiring you, why do you need more? And if you’re writing everyday like a good novelist should, why do you need the exercise?

This may sound like I’m being detrimental and mean, but really I’m not. I get they work for other people, but they are pointless for me. And there’s a tiny, persistent voice inside me that says they should be useless for you too. It’s small, easily shouted down, because what works for one writer doesn’t always work for the next. I allow that, but I feel if you are taking the time to write shorts based on writing prompts for the fun or the exercise, or you are doing writing exercises of another nature, you are wasting time you could be working on that novel. Writing itself is an exercise and if you are writing everyday with an end goal in mind (completed novel) then you don’t need the exercise of prompts. You’re already doing the work of improving by simply writing. And then there’s the editing phase. You learn more in that than you do the whole time your plowing away to reach The End, because now you’re networking out to others. Your betas will tell you what’s wrong and hopefully give you pointers on how to fix it. You yourself will read and see that first drafts are crap. Beautiful, shiny, wonderful crap, but crap nonetheless.

So this is where I’ll leave writing prompts. If they work for you, okay. But ask yourself if all the time you spend coming up with short stories you’ll never use would be better spent actually writing the novel you’ve been dreaming about for years. If the answer is no, then by all means, prompt-away. But if the answer is I don’t know, or maybe, or yes, then drop the prompts and get with that guy, er, novel that will stick with you through the test of time. Make a commitment. Don’t be scared! What’s the worst that could happen? You write 30k words then lose interest? Maybe, but that sounds a lot better to me than 30k split over ten stories that just sit on your blog or hard drive and never go anywhere. Rome wasn’t built in a day, my friends, and your writing career won’t be either. So treat it like a long term commitment, not a one-night stand. Quit being a writing whore!

And on to NaNoWriMo . . .

By now your blood is boiling at my insulting attitude, but hopefully you’ve stuck with me. I’ll be a little gentler on NaNo, though based on his popularity, I think he can take it. So, once again for anyone who doesn’t know, NaNoWriMo’s purpose is to write 50k words in one month. And I have actually heard of writers who have turned their NaNo-baby into a polished, published novel. I think Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was a NaNo-baby. Hmm, I like that term, NaNo-baby. I think I’ll keep it. And like your NaNo project, you may want to keep it too. At least here I can see the purpose. NaNo teaches you discipline, gives you goals, shows you how to track progress and takes those constant-editors and turns them into word-churning machines.

But I’ve never actually worked that way. I have carved out blocks of time in my life for writing. Very little interrupts that. I get done what I can get done and that’s enough. Unfortunately, I am a constant editor, and this is an area where I could use some improvement, but the discipline required to complete 50k in a month has never seemed like an asset to me. I’m in it for the long haul, the career, the commitment. There’s no short cuts to success and serious writers don’t need gimmicks to get them to complete a novel. In case you didn’t hear the sarcasm in that last sentence, it was there. I fancied myself above such silly games. I didn’t need to be tricked into writing a novel, I’ve completed two, by golly!

But you know what, I’m beginning to rethink that. No, I don’t need NaNo to complete a novel. I really have written two full-length novels. I know I can do it, and I have no doubts about my abilities to complete decent fiction. I’m no Hemmingway, and neither do I aspire to be, but I’m pretty sure my YA is better written than half the crap produced these days. Of course the other half makes mine look like cow dung, but still, middle of the packs not bad. So what can NaNo do for me? Well, like I said, I’m a constant editor. If I really look at the amount of time I’m writing, (this includes networking, blogging, etc., not just writing) I have a part time job of 18-20 hours a week. Some weeks more if I can squeeze it in. But I could write faster. I could force myself not to go back and correct every mistake, or re-write something because it “sounds” bad. That’s what the editing stage is for.

Like I said, I don’t need NaNo, and I’ve never participated, not only because it seemed pointless, but because I was already in the throws of writing (or in the throws of life!) when NaNo came around. Right now, though, I’m querying agents. So really, how much time per day does that take up? I’ve been networking and blogging (a very little) and generally spreading myself thin over Facebook, Twitter, Absolute Write and Pinterest. All of which has value, but I’m ready to start writing again. So why not? I have the second book to I HAVE NO NAME pretty much plotted in my head. It’s ready to go. I just have to pull the trigger, er, hit the keyboard. Why not turn it into a NaNo-baby? I’ve heard NaNo-babies have a face only a mother could love, but that’s okay. I’ll polish that precious bundle until she’s a shiny, sparkly manuscript.

And I have no illusions about winning NaNo. (You get to call yourself a winner if you complete the 50k, no matter how terrible they are!) Chances are good that life will prevent me from achieving that illustrious number, but it will kick start my writing. And for me, it’s more about teaching myself to push through and write than anything. Even if my NaNo-baby is a preemie at only 20 or 30k, I’ll have something to work with. So okay, I’ll give it a shot!

Newbie Post #9: Your Novel Is Not Ready To Be Seen By Anyone!

Newbie Post #1: My Humble Beginnings . . .
Newbie Post #2: Dreams Awakening . . .
Newbie Post #3: Yeah, About That Hobby Thing . . .
Newbie Post #4: Sally Green’s Acknowledgments and Why They Mean Something to Me . . .
Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!
Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you Win; Sometimes you LEARN!
Newbie Post #7: Beta Readers and Why They Rock! . . . Most of the Time . . .