So you can read my books

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Eric Trant wrote an insightful post on rejection yesterday:

It got me to thinking:

"Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are."

- Arthur Golden

Mr. Golden is the author of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. In that novel, he has a passage that translates well to our dealing with rejection and waiting for an agent to accept us :

“From this experience I understood the danger of focusing only on what isn't there.

What if I came to the end of my life and realized that I'd spent every day watching for a man who would never come to me?

What an unbearable sorrow it would be, to realize I'd never really tasted the things I'd eaten, or seen the places I'd been, because I'd thought of nothing but the Chairman even while my life was drifting away from me.

And yet if I drew my thoughts back from him, what life would I have? I would be like a dancer who had practiced since childhood for a performance she would never give.”

The answer to me is that each day we dance. Perhaps not to the tune we would wish but to a melody circumstances demand of us. And sometimes it is very hard to keep from tripping over our own feet.

Let's think through rejections and see what they might mean :

1) You write badly.

Ouch. But often we get carried away with the Zen of writing, typing in the moment without a thought of how to be precise with our verbal blows. Sloppy writing is rejected writing.

*) Solution?

Go to the internet or the bookstore or the library. Take books by Hemingway, Chandler, Koonz, King, Updike, Vidal, and Bellows.

Read a chapter from each one. Study their use of specific words. How did they space their paragraphs? How did they convey emotion? { With dialogue, with detail, with what wasn't said?}

See if you can improve on a paragraph picked at random with eyes closed and stabbing forefinger. Can't? Welcome to the club.

Can? Then you've grown more than the writer you were before the rejection.

2) You plot with all the grace of a plodding horse with blinders :

All too often we start with the burst of a scene or of an opening hook. But we have no sense of direction or a map of where we take our hero.

Is it a journey that would entice a reader? Why? Where is the driving momentum that keeps the reader flipping the pages hurriedly?

*) Solution?

Take those same books you've bought or borrowed, looking for the map of their story. How? Look at the jacket blurbs.

Read the summations on the jacket flap. See the primal drives? See them being blocked? See the primal dangers? Read the first chapters. Read the last ones. Compare the two. How did the hero change? How did his/her world change?

Read the first paragraph. Read the last. See the novel's bookends of thought and transformation?

3) Cliche is your first, middle, and last name :

Cliches can creep up on us. If you ever catch yourself writing "like white on rice," lick your forefinger and stick it into a live socket.

That's what the agent reading those words wants to do with you.

Scum layers the top of the lake. The true game fish swirl around deep at the bottom. So it is with the imagination. We want to be writers.

Do we want to be deep-sea explorers? If we want to be offered representation by an agent, we do.

*) Solution?

Read the jacket blurbs again. Sound familiar? Yes, because the plots started out as original but have been copied and copied by TV and Hollywood until the stories are familair.

Throw a what if in your thinking. What if the hitman of your novel is different somehow?

How? Twist the plot on its ear. Your hitman is from the future. Why would someone travel from the future to kill people?

One reason : he hates his life, his world, and the girl who jilted him. So he is off killing his great-grandparents, those of his world's greatest leaders, and those of his girl.

Up the ante :

he falls in love with his own great-grandmother. Whoops. He becomes a bad joke.

The punchline : his own father arrives from the future to kill him. And it turns out that he's not all that wild about his own life up the time stream either. And he wants the hitman's new girl for himself.

4) Nothing is wrong with your novel.

You're just one query in a sea of millions of them. You just didn't wow the agent enough to impress her. Or she was too tired or too caught up with the flow of rejecting every email in front of her.

You query boat just got swamped in the storm of submissions.

*) Solution?

You do all of the above. You strive to grow each writing day into becoming a better author. You keep on submitting.

5) You weren't a good fit for that particular agent.

You failed to do your due diligence. Or you did, and their website hasn't been updated to accurately reflect the changes in their editorial attitude.

*) Solution?

You find more about the next agent before you query. Google not just webpages, agent query, or absolute write water cooler --

you type in the agent's name and follow with "interviews." Read as many interviews with that agent as possible.

You type in "blogs." Read the last ten posts of that agent's blog. Go the archive of her blog. Read the titles of her posts to see if there are any that speak to what you've written.

6) You asked for it :

Yes, you did. Me, too. How?

We became writers. The day we started down that path, we agreed to pay the toll at the gate. The toll? Getting rejected more times than we get accepted. Knowing that there is no promise that we ever will get accepted.

*) Solution?

Be Cortez.

When Cortez landed on the shores of the New World, he caught his men eyeing the ships and the horizon leading home.

He burned the ships.

We have to burn the ship. No retreat. No surrender. Only advance. Stumble. Fall. Get up. Walk on. Hack our way through the agent jungle.

Never surrender. Never give up. Only grow stronger. Grow better. Grow wiser.

Oh, and every now and then, bend down and give the person who's fallen along the way a hand back on his/her feet. Wink, smile, and say, "Hell of a trip, ain't it?"

And thinking about never surrendering, never giving up :


  1. Be Cortez! Take away any other options than to make it work. That appeals most to my stubborn streak, I think.

    I get tired of feeling down. It's boring and time consuming - and doesn't really accomplish anything. I think I'm getting to that point now, and so should be rolling up my proverbial sleeves to get back to work. Not that I haven't been working, so I guess it's to work harder.

  2. Or, take the agent's thumb and stick it in the light socket.

  3. Lara:
    For struggling novice writers like the two of us, it is easy to become discouraged and depressed.

    But we are never alone. Never. Countless others are toiling in solitude all across this country, this world, trying to breathe life into their dreams.

    Let's you and I take up Cortez's banner. Let us make our motto: "There is no fail! There is only try harder, try better!"

    I am rooting for you to make, Lara!

  4. Walter:
    LOL. Yes, there's that way, too! :-)

  5. I don't have a problem with rejection (I've had it all my life) and treat it philosophically.

    This is particularly true when I know in my mind the reasons for the rejection. It does make me more determined to prove people wrong but it also gives me the impetus to improve.

    Rejection is simply a case of fate saying 'the time isn't right'.

  6. Eye candy Robert Redford and Jane Fonda? Never saw the movie but liked the trailer.

    Never give up (until I'm ready) is my motto. It has been a good creed to live by. Don't let others choose your life for you.

  7. Glad I never had to burn my boats!
    I tend not to focus on what I don't have. Got enough to think about with where I am now and where I want to go. Had I never found a publisher, I would've been all right. Now anything that happens is bonus.

  8. JP:
    You remind me of what John Locke says of those who reject his fiction as readers: "They obviously are not my target audience!" That's confidence and a THICK HIDE!

    That is the movie where the song, "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" was introduced ... it also had Willie Nelson in it as well!

    I admire your equanimity!

  9. Love the Be Cortez comment. Business folks say the same thing about startups: If you have an exit strategy from that business, you are doomed to fail.

    There is no way out, but through.

    Sound advice, and also remember that everyone who is truly successful, got there by trudging through a lot of rejection.

    - Eric