When things get a little rough…

A few days ago an agent wrote on her blog about how a disgruntled writer had sent an e-mail and then, before the agent had a chance to reply, had sent a follow-up e-mail lambasting her for not responding, and labeling her as a bad agent. She concluded with, “We know we’re supposed to brush it off, but sometimes it’s hard.”

Among the comments to her post was one that suggested she should ‘suck it up’… “and if it is ‘hard’, get some tips on coping skills.”

After I digested the post and its various comments I found myself wondering about these negative aspects of the industry – the effects of unjustified criticism, misunderstandings, and yes, the rejections and bad reviews.  How should we handle such things? As writers we try hard to write with integrity and express ourselves honestly and coherently, but our words are open to evaluation. When the interpretation of our work (or actions, as in the case of this agent) seems unfair, are we obliged to ‘suck it up’?

What’s your opinion? If you’re not thick skinned when it comes to those ‘black cloud’ situations, how do you cope with them?

~

The Rejection Collection

Rejection sucks. Writers everywhere moan often and loudly about the misery of receiving negative responses to their queries and submissions. I haven’t had many to deal with but that’s only because I haven’t queried much. I like the writing part best so I write, then move on to write some more. For someone who aspires to publication that’s a chicken approach, and it’s about to change.

I have a goal this year and am pursing it. I’m realistic enough to know that along the way there is going to be more rejection, so I’m saving a post of Jessica Faust’s to re-read whenever discouragement wings in and lights on my shoulder. Jessica’s Does It Get Any Better? offers encouragement, but it’s the 120+ comments that grab me. I won’t link to the commenters; you can mosey over to the BookEnds, LLC website for yourself if you want to read more, but here’s a sampling of the comments to offer a bit of wisdom if you happen to be in the process of rejection collection yourself:

  • I’ve been rejected 71 times, 16 of those with partial requests. In the beginning I … couldn’t write, couldn’t find a coherent thought if it was thrown in my face. It took me a long while to realize I was going through post-partum depression. 

I just sent my ‘baby’ out into the big wild world, unsure of what would happen. I was nervous, anxious, depressed, had incredible mood swings when the requests for partials came in and then the darkest despair when they too came back rejected. There is no magic pill. Somehow you just have to let it go. Put the queries out there and take them as they come. The best suggestion is to start another book. As hard as that sounds, it’s really been, for me, the lifesaver in all the query madness. I’m still getting rejected but at least I’m working on something else that may, in fact, be better than the last book. [Anne Gallagher]

  • It’s sometimes hard to separate your “worth” as a writer from the query process for each individual book. Don’t let the rejection/partial/full process become your validation as a writer, or you will be disappointed often. Find a support group of other writers who know what it means to sweat over a book, think it’s your absolute best work, and get nothing but no after no. It happens to us all, and I guarantee when you look at this book in six months or a year, you’ll be astonished at how much you would change in that “perfect” book. The most important thing you can do right now is start writing the next book. [Joely Sue Burkhart]

  • In the beginning, it feels like every rejection is an informed and absolute judgment on your talent, the viability of your project, and indeed, your worth as a person. But they’re not. They’re SO not. I think on some level we always think we’re going to be the exception. That as soon as we send our work out, someone will jump out and say THIS ROCKS! instead of the much more common path of rejection and disappointment and, in many cases, a long hard slog.  [Jael]

  • Rejection is never easy. It does get easier, but only as long as you accept that this is a business — the business of writing. Each query you send is simply asking: Do you want to represent this book? And each rejection is a polite (usually) ‘No, I don’t’. It is not a judgement on your ability as a writer, or on your worth as a person. It is a business decision. [Jenna Wallace]

  • rejection is gonna happen if you submit your work, but in many cases it isn’t a reflection of whether your novel is publishable, just means that you haven’t yet found the right agent to submit to. I papered my walls, literally, with rejection slips, and tried not to let them bother me because really, I was writing because I loved to write. I knew if I was never published I’d be disappointed, but I also knew writing was my passion, and immersing yourself in your passion is never a waste of time….The people who fail are the people who give up.  [Elizabeth Joy Arnold]

  • Babydoll, you absolutely have to develop thick skin and if you continue writing, believe me, you will. It’s a part of the writing life. What you’re going through right now, is what they used to say, “separates the men from the boys,” but you should now properly say, what separates the writers from the wannbees. It just happens to sound better the other way. Part of your career now is as a salesman, er, saleswoman. Rejection goes with the territory. If you can’t handle rejection, you have no business trying to be a real writer. [Brendan McNally]

  • Writing is the best distraction from query hell. [Kathleen]

  • Sure, publication is the ultimate goal, but don’t forget why you picked up the pen in the first place.  [Gemma Noon]

  • You’ll start to see rejections as a milestone, not an end marker. Remember that losing the game means you’re PLAYING the game. Many people never reach that point. Dying on safari kind of sucks, but it’s also way cooler than sitting home.  [150]
Comment excerpts from July 1, 2010 post, BookEnds, LLC blog.

An Agent Retires

From today’s Publishers Lunch:

BookEnds Literary Agency co-founder Jacky Sach will retire from publishing after 10 years as an agent for “new opportunities.” Sach began her publishing career in 1985 at Berkley. BookEnds will continue operating under the ownership of Jessica Faust.”

.

Back in December I copied out the Cranberry Daiquiri recipe from the BookEnds’ pre-Christmas blog entry, went about my holiday pursuits and then somehow managed to miss the initial announcement of this on the January 4 blog. Fortunately the Publishers Lunch article caught my attention.

.

I met Jacky at the first writers’ conference (SiWC) I ever attended and she was the first agent to invite a submission of my first novel. Hers was also the first rejection letter I ever received. When I look back at that novel now I am overwhelmed at my audacity in thinking it was ready for an agent to see, but because of the gentle and personal nature of Jacky’s response I was encouraged to continue writing. Not all novice writers have such a good first submission experience. I hoped some day to have something else to send her way, but her retirement now precludes that.

.

Whatever her “new opportunities” are, I wish Jacky continued success.

An Encouraging Rejection is an Anomaly

Agent Jessica Faust, in a recent post on the Bookends Literary Agency blog says, “No matter what you do or how you proceed, remember that personalized rejections deserve a pat on the back. Congratulations for making it that far.” Somehow, knowing the definition of the word ‘rejection’, her comment seems like an anomaly.

 

I haven’t received many rejection slips, chiefly because I haven’t sent out my manuscripts for scrutiny very often. My non-fiction pieces have been well received — no rejections (so far!) since I began writing for magazines eight years ago.

 

In light of Jessica’s comment I find myself re-evaluating the rejections of my fiction submissions. Every one of them has been personal. And kind. And encouraging. None has suggested there is no market for the story, or that it needs further work. The most recent provided a paragraph of feedback and ended with “While your story shows promise it’s not right for me at this time. Keep at it. You have talent. Your time is coming.” At the time I chose to believe this was just a polite agent. After all, it was still a rejection.

 

Do personal rejections reveal less about the quality of the writing and more about the personality and professionalism of the agent? Maybe. But whatever the case, at the moment I think perhaps I’ll take greater encouragement from my collection of personalized rejection slips and press on with renewed determination.