Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rejection

Today was a pretty exciting day. I got my first advance. I’m sure pretty much every author knows what an advance is, but for you non-authors, there are two ways we get paid. The most common way is royalties paid on books sold. For many smaller publishers, that is the only way they pay. But bigger publishers also pay you some money upfront. That’s pretty cool, because I won’t actually see my first royalty check on this book until Feb of 09. In fact, I will probably get the advance on my second book in the Farworld series before I get my first royalty check on the first book. Weird huh?

So anyway, I would be going out to dinner or something exciting, except that I am once again on the road. (I’m in Duluth, James. Got any suggestions for dinner?) As it turns out I won’t even be able to see my first royalty check because I won’t be back home until late Wednesday and I want the money in the bank. But I am having my wife make a color copy of the check so I can frame it and put it over my desk. Heck yeah.

So what am I writing about tonight? Actually rejection. Why rejection when I just hit one of the highlights of my writing career so far? Because no matter how much you accomplish as a writer (and often as a person in general,) you still have to deal with the R word. In fact I would say it is through rejection, even because of rejection that I was able to reach this point. Rejection—like most adversity—is not something we wish for, but maybe it should be. Let me explain.

In most endeavors people tend to reach a point where rejection no longer bothers them. Imagine some yahoo going up to Peyton Manning and saying, “Hey man you suck. You can’t throw a football for beans and your footwork is all wrong.” Do you think Peyton Manning would care? No way. He would go right on doing what he has been doing and would rightfully assume the yahoo was, well a yahoo.

But as authors we hate rejection. Even authors who have published many, many books still get upset when some yahoo says, “Your books stink, man.” Somehow deep down inside, I think most writers are afraid all of their success has been a fluke and they really stink. Well some published writers do stink, but that’s just because they went back to school and don’t shower often enough. But that’s another thing entirely.

I began learning about rejection at quite a young age. In first grade, I wrote a poem for a girl that I affectionately called, “wife.” As in, “Wife, can I play four square with you?” and “Wife, are you having hot lunch today?” I still remember the poem. It was quite original and deeply romantic

Monkey see,
Monkey do.
Monkey see that
I love you.

Now, I obviously expected a result a little more positive than having her cry and tell the teacher I was bothering her. After talking to the principal (actually it may not quite have been just talking now that I think about it) I learned that not only did the girl not like my poem, but she also didn’t like being called wife. So you see, how many future writers started out their careers by getting paddled and rejected for their first work?

I endured many future rejections, up to and including having my wife blow off my first attempt to take her out for a year—as documented in an earlier blog. And over time I learned a couple of things. Allow me to share with you my hard earned lessons.

No. 1—It’s not you. Actually that’s not entirely true. Sometimes it is you and that really stinks. For example, had Kevin Campbell, the boy who looked like the Mad Magazine kid, but who could run and play kickball better than anyone else in our grade, written the Monkey poem, I think it would have been accepted for its intent. But in general, as a writer you have to accept that the project is being rejected, not you. Hard as it is, you have to understand that the only thing that is being rejected is one piece of your writing.

Even more important, it’s is often not even your writing that is necessarily being rejected. Your writing may be great. Your idea may be great. Your characters may rock. But you can still get rejected for something as simple as timing, market, or competing products. A respected publishing insider said that once you reach a certain point in your writing, it is much more about timing and luck than it is about quality of writing. But throw enough bait into enough different fishing spots and you will catch a fish.

No 2—The successful writer does not take every rejection at face value. Ask yourself some questions. Do I respect the knowledge base of the person who rejected my work? (If the person who hates your book starts by saying, “I never read . . .” there’s a good chance you shouldn’t give their opinion a lot of weight.

What was actually rejected? Was it my query letter? My first three chapters? My plot? My characters. My genre? Too often we assume that the story doesn’t work, when it is a simple genre issue or just a weak query.

Why was my work rejected? (Ask questions. What didn’t you like? Was it the writing? Was it the timing? Is this not something that your company currently sells or represents?) Let me give you a real world (non-writing) example of why this is so important. Prior to my mission, long hair on guys was pretty cool. Obviously during my mission I had short hair. Well after I got off my mission I grew my hair pretty long again, grew a mustache, and bought a motorcycle. The thing was that whenever I asked girls out or went to dances, I got totally blown off. Pretty soon my self-esteem was in the toilet. I couldn’t get dates because I was a loser. (Yeah I know, setting myself up for all kinds of shots here, but that’s how it was.)

Then a funny thing I happened. I went in the Army. When I came back from basic and AIT I had short hair, a tan, and a pretty good build. Guess what? Suddenly girls were flocking to me at dances. In fact they were the same girls that wanted nothing to do with me nine months earlier. It wasn’t until I was talking to two girls I had dated several times and realized they didn’t know who I was, that it dawned on me. I was being viewed as a different person because of my short hair, etc. If only I’d taken the time to find that out earlier I could have saved my self 18 months of terrible self esteem.

How does that tie into rejection as writers? How many times do we get one rejection and quit? One for crying out loud! Or we get five rejections. Or ten. And never ever stop to say, hmm, wonder why my work is being rejected? We don’t take the time to find out it is the length of our hair or the walrus mustache. We tell ourselves we are losers as writers. That we stink. And we either quit or decide that story is no good. Which leads me to . . .

No 3—Research, rewrite, repackage, and resubmit. This might make me a pariah,(actually I just like to use that word) but I hate the whole, “You got rejected? Boo hoo. Go eat some chocolate. That publisher/agent/editor sucks anyway.” PLEASE! I know I’ve done enough football analogy, but do you really think Payton Manning goes home and eats a box of chocolate after he loses a game? Heck no. He finds out why he lost, changes his approach, and vows never to lose again. He hates losing and he does everything he can to get a win in the next game.

Stop crying about your freaking rejection and do something about it? Don’t bother to lick your wounds, wear them as badges of courage and get back into the game. Figure out why your work was rejected. If your writing needs work, get a critique group, or ask a couple of other authors to help you get a fresh look. If the writing is good but it didn’t work for that particular publisher or agent, talk to them. Maybe you can change something in the story, genre, series, or whatever and make it work. In sales you sell 80% of your product to existing customers. Use the same approach in publishing. Before you run off to another publisher with your work, find out if they are open to having you resubmit. If not, move on to another publisher. If you put your book back on the shelf after one try, it’s like figuring the fish aren’t biting when you’ve only tried one kind of bait. (See I can do fishing analogies too.)

No—4 There are lots of bad writers in the world, but you are not one of them. Get that through your head. Bad writers are the people who never finish what they start, who never read books, who say, “I’m going to write a book some day. And I’ll probably sell a million copies—but just not today.” You are not that person. You read lots of books. You know what is good and what sucks. You have written at least one complete novel or are working on finishing it right now. You work at your craft. You go to conferences, classes, and read books. Your give your work to people who are not family and ask for honest hard core feedback. So stop wasting your time by beating yourself up and writing a big L on your head in chocolate ice-cream.

Will some people hate your book? Absolutely. But then some people thought the UofU was going to beat BYU last Saturday. And they were wrong! With less than two minutes to go, BYU knew they could score a touchdown even though they hadn’t the entire game. If you spent as much time looking forward as you do looking backward you’d have twice as much success as you do now.

One last football analogy. I played football in high school for exactly one year. It was my freshman year and I was a pipsqueak. I got hammered all the time. But I learned one thing (not counting that I should go out for cross country the next year.) That one thing was hit harder than you get hit. In those bone crunching collisions you see on the field, the guy who usually gets hurt is the guy who pulls up. Even a hundred pound weakling can get the better of a much bigger opponent if he goes on the offensive. The way to keep from getting hurt is to go all out and not to cringe. If you think you are going to get hurt, you usually will.

The same is true in life. If you go through life thinking you are a failure you will invariably fail. If you go through life expecting to get hurt you will. If you go through life thinking you are a loser you will lose. If you expect to be rejected, you will. The people who succeed seldom look at an opportunity and think, “I can’t do that.” They go for every opportunity full steam and later look back and say, “Wow! Look what I did.” You are a winner. So expect to win.


9 Comments:

At 11/27/2007 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no idea who Payton Manning is, but I felt quite uplifted after reading this blog. Thanks, Jeff!

Melanie Goldmund

 
At 11/27/2007 11:29 AM, Blogger A. Riley said...

Great post! I love number 4. Sometimes I do doubt myself, but I do take writing classes and read books about writing. Posts like this really do reinforce what I know deep down.

I am a good writer. I just have slow days sometimes. :)

 
At 11/27/2007 3:22 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Nice subtle slam on Rob there, almost missed it! =)

I guess after reading this blog, I welcome future rejections, because I'm sure I'll get plenty! How's that for some optimistic pessimism?

 
At 11/27/2007 7:56 PM, Blogger Lucy Eliza said...

*Puts box of Hershey's miniatures aside.* I can do it, can't I? Thanks, Jeff, for the inspiring blog!

 
At 11/27/2007 11:33 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I was at a literacy event a few months ago and we were talking about writing and publishing. One lady said that her dad wrote a book, but Deseret Book rejected it. So he gave up.

The difference between published writers and non-published writers is PERSEVERENCE.

I've written 8 novels. Four are published, four aren't. (I probably shouldn't admit that, but rejection stings no matter how much you are published.)

 
At 11/28/2007 11:18 AM, Blogger Tamra Norton said...

Congrats on the advance, Jeff! And great, solid advice!

 
At 11/28/2007 12:03 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

I'm totally stoked about your advance -- congratulations. And this is a great blog. I think we learn so much more from rejection than we do from acceptance, if we take it right.

 
At 11/29/2007 12:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, but if I were the little girl I'd do the same thing.

 
At 12/06/2007 12:47 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

Congratulations on the advance. Nice slam to Rob. And no, I don't feel any better about the four rejections I got last week. But yes, I am going to keep submitting because I can't wait to sell millions of copies and have those guys think, "Oh no! We turned her down???"

You rock. Next time I want a baseball analogy. Something along the lines of if the red sox can get to the world series and actually WIN, after decades of failure, anyone can get published as long as they keep showing up for practice.

 

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