Thursday, August 2, 2007

Sometimes No isn't always a bad answer

Rejection . . .

I hate it. I can't imagine anyone likes it. I got rejected plenty before I was published, had plenty of heartbreaks seeing that SASE come back in the mail with "Not for me" scrawled on the first page of the ms.

I got "good" rejections as well, where the editor took time to tell me what she felt was weak about the book. Those hurt less, because the editor was trying to help, and a busy editor doesn't have time to waste on a writer she doesn't take seriously. (It hurt less, but it still hurt!)

I got a lot of "almost"s before I finally got a "yes."

People often ask me if I have a drawer in which I keep my rejected mss, and if I have sent those to my editors for publication (implying "ha ha ha, see what you passed up" to the editors who initially rejected them.)

The answer is a decided NO.

I do have copies of my rejected mss (somewhere), but after I got published, it was like the fog lifting. I saw very clearly why Perils of the Heart got published and the first six or seven didn't. At least one of the following was wrong with each of them:

1. Weak or implausible plotting
2. Weak voice
3. Main characters were unbelievable or not very strong people
4. Stilted writing
5. Rushed pacing (I mean really rushed!)

The things I did ok or learned quickly were dialog, setting, and love scenes--I wonder what the last says about me. :-)

If any of those six books had been accepted, they would have needed massive revisions, and even then likely would not have sold very well. A book with weak sales can hurt your career, sometimes irreparably.

So in retrospect, those particular mss. should have been rejected, and I'm even glad they were. (There are two that possibly could be saved with work and a little plot rethinking; the rest--flush!)

I'm glad I was rejected because I want my very best work to go out in front of the world. Not my self-indulgent scribbles, but a polished, well-thought-out book with solid characters and plotting. This will be for sale! With my name on it!

Second point:

Even after I was published, I still got rejected. When I was talking to one of my editors several years ago about what I'd do for the last book of a contract, I mentioned four or five ideas, and--she didn't want any of them.

At the time I didn't want to write another pirate romance (I'd done two). I wanted to expand into something else, or at least have another book between pirates. I love writing pirate romance, but I didn't want to be the "Pirate Queen" for the rest of my life.

But my editor, my wise, wise editor, turned down my ideas and advised me to write another pirate book. I was a little disappointed, but in retrospect, she was right.

Why was she right?

1. The book I was keenest on hadn't been very well thought out. I've kept the idea in mind and it's grown into something much, much better and much, much stronger, and one day everyone may see it in print. But if she'd let me write and turn in that idea as it stood, it would have been a weak book. It might have ended my career, who knows?

2. A couple ideas I had really weren't marketable. "Marketable" means the reader in the bookstore "gets" what the book is about and connects with it quickly. You can't be standing next to every reader in every store in the world, explaining what the book is about. They have to know instantly. The ideas I had then didn't have this quality (I would have had to stand by every reader for fifteen minutes--and they'd have long since decided to buy something else.)

3. The book I ended up doing, The Care and Feeding of Pirates, was probably the best of my early books. It had a bigger print run, sold out that print run fairly quickly, had a strong sell-through, got several foreign rights sales, was reprinted, and I'm still getting good royalty checks on it. It was also pure joy to write, I think the hero, Christopher Raine, was one of my best ever heroes, and readers loved it. I still get enthusiastic fan mail for Care & Feeding.

So in this case, I'm glad my editor said No to my wild ideas and steered me back to what she knew I already knew how to do. Then when I pitched my fairy-tale historicals to her for the next contract, she welcomed them with open arms.

Third point:

Sometimes when someone is rejected, I hear them say: "The market isn't ready for my work."

Maybe that's true. The cynical me, on the other hand, remembering my own rejected mss., says, "Well, you can think that if it makes you feel better."

I'll grant that the market not being ready could be partly true. When I first started writing romance, I wrote very hot love scenes. They were raw, I named body parts, and I used naughty, four-letter words.

This was greeted by critiquers and contest judges with shock and horror. I couldn't use that word, I couldn't have them do that on page 36! I, the paranoid newbie, believed everyone, and tried to learn to say manhood. (I never could quite bring myself to write it, though... I mean who, in real life says manhood? With a straight face?)

That was in 1998. See how the market has changed since then? Readers at the moment prefer scenes in which nothing is left out to coy purple prose.

BUT, while I might have been "ahead of my time" writing romance scenes, that doesn't change the fact that the rest of the ms. was crap.

My point here is that rejection isn't necessarily Them not wanting the genius of You. (Those poor befuddled editors who don't understand what readers want.)

Writers need to learn to look at their own work objectively (or at least find someone they trust to analyze it for them), and be painfully honest!!

Is your ms. really too brilliant and scary for the publishing world to deal with? or could you do better with your dialog, revise your roundabout descriptions, get rid of your adverbs, cut some characters, tighten the plotting?

Sometimes, yes, ideas are outside of the box and editors don't want to gamble their careers on them.

But if you make sure your book is well-written, well-plotted, well-characterized, with good dialog, a strong voice, etc. etc. etc., your chance of getting that off-the-wall idea accepted is much, much, much higher.

My bottom line: Rejection hurts, but it should be a challenge for you to write better and stronger, not an excuse to rail that the world doesn't understand you. :-) (Well, ok, you can, but still get back in and write stronger stories.)

And soon all the nos and maybes will become an ecstatic yes!


Writer, Rejected said...

Great blog entry on rejection. Would you be interested in letting me post some of your rejections (anonymously of course). The one that says "Not for me" is just brutal. My blog is Literary Rejections on Display ( those with a sense of humor on the matter. Anyway, glad I found your blog.

Jennifer Ashley said...

I'd love to post, but the problem is I've pretty much trashed my rejections. When I was cleaning files one day, I came across a folder of all my rejections. Deciding I needed the space more than I needed a reminder of setbacks I trashed 'em. However, a couple do stand out in my mind (classics :-) so I might post those. Nowadays if I'm rejected its verbally or through my agent, so I don't have a record (and that's fine with me!) Thanks for your comment!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for inspiring words of advice. I really appreciate you words of wisdom, gained by the school of hard knocks. Isabella Clayton

PamelaTracy said...

The road to publication is paved with rejections. Great article, Jennifer.

Pamela Tracy