And so the time draws near, that inescapable fate of the writer. The time for inevitable rejection.
I’m finally approaching the finish line of my 8th manuscript, PLAGUE OF CATACLYSMS. When I say the finish line, I hope I mean kind-of-the-starting-line. But that, of course, depends on if I see slightly less than 100% rejection.
Ah, rejection, my old friend. Nemesis, really, but we know each other so well that it’s hard to tell the difference at this point. How does a writer deal with that rejection? In my case, poorly.
But! I’ve decided to look for some positive in the rejections. By taking the viewpoint that in getting rejected, that means I’ve tried, I gave it my best, and that’s more than many people have accomplished? No.
No, gross! Losers always whine about their best…
Instead, I’ve created a document where I can paste all the “encouraging rejections” I’ve received. The few (and it’s very few) that include positive personalized feedback or encouragement. I’ve also augmented it to include feedback I’ve received from industry professionals through freelance editing hires or charity auctions. As I gear up for the first round of queries for PoC later this month (yes, I realize the acronym is a bit awkward nowthesedays, but the title is awesome so 🤷♂️) I thought I’d share a few of the entries.
A rejection from the slush pile for my previous MS, THE OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS:
Thank you so much for giving me the chance to consider THE OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS. I was excited by your query and the premise of your book. It’s clear that you’ve devoted a lot of hard work to this project, and your passion comes through in your writing. However, while there is a lot to be commended, I struggled to connect with the manuscript in a meaningful way, and therefore don’t believe that I would be the most effective champion for your book.
OK, not exactly glowing praise, but something positive, at least. More than a form letter, ya know? At least she recognized I tried hard and gave it my best 🙄
From an agent I pitched TOP to at a conference, who gave me a full MS request:
Thanks so much for reaching out and for the opportunity to read your book, The Obsidian Pyramids.
You have such a strong narrative voice and I liked the amount of thought and detail that you applied to your world-building, especially when describing the ancient ruins and the power of the pyramids. Your writing has a very cinematic feel to it, which made for an engaging read.
However, while there was so much to love about your book, I found that the amount of information and backstory overshadowed Alaeric’s character. I unfortunately did not emotionally connect with him [sic] character as much as I had hoped to in order for me to take this project on in such a crowded market. I am so sorry that I do not have more positive news for you! But please know that I sincerely do like your writing style and believe that you are very talented!
Well, at least this agent recognized I’ve got talent! And a strong narrative voice!
I also participated in Pitch Wars, and one of the writers I submitted standard materials to sent me a brief email, even though she didn’t request the full MS:
Hi! I just wanted to drop you an encouraging note to let you know that The OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS was in my top twenty. I thought the concept was really cool (and you wrote a great query — kudos!), and I wish you all the luck with it! I hope you’ll keep me posted.
I think she received around 200 submissions, so top twenty is pretty solid.
A few months later, I received a full MS request from the slush pile for TOP, which led to… my very first R&R! The original response to my full submission:
Thanks for sending OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS! I think the concept is fantastic, and I love the setting. There’s so much potential here! That said, I got a bit distracted by Alaeric’s internal dialogue and the balance between description and external dialogue. Just to expand a bit, Aeleric spends a good amount of time in his head asking himself clarifying questions about what’s going on. It’s always best to avoid that internal dialogue and either nudge the reader to ask those questions themselves or show that the character would be thinking them through action, physical response, dialogue, etc. The less time in a character’s head (“telling) and the more time showing through action, the better. Secondly, you have such a rich world here but the balance is much more heavily weighted towards dialogue than description. I’m all for fast pacing, but we do need description to set the scene and help us feel grounded in the world. Description of where we are, who’s doing what in the moment, etc.
I don’t normally respond with this much information, but the manuscript and concept is absolutely worth it. If you want to revise and resubmit, I’d be happy to take another look. Either way, best of luck and happy writing!
And the response to my revision and resubmission:
Yes, thanks so much for sending OBSIDIAN PYRAMIDS! You really did execute my editorial suggestions, and I think the manuscript is much stronger for it. Unfortunately, though, I’m afraid the voice still didn’t capture me in the way that I hoped. I’m going to have to pass, but I really do appreciate your revision work and the opportunity to read. Please don’t be discouraged…publishing is a marathon, not a sprint, and you just need one person to catch that shared vision. Best of luck to you!
Son of a 😡
Fine, well, even if I have a strong, cinematic, narrative voice, I guess it’s not the right voice, at least for that MS.
And so, after that, it was time for me to move on to my next project, PLAGUE OF CATACLYSMS. No rejections yet, encouraging or otherwise, since I haven’t started querying, but I’ve hired some freelance editors to critique my drafts, and here are a couple pieces of positive feedback I’ve received:
Thank you so much for letting me dive into Plague of Cataclysms! It was awesome to experience the deep world that you’ve built and to get to know all of your characters. You have a great eye for detail, for action, you have phenomenal chapter transitions, and as I mentioned before, you can certainly see the influence of Brandon Sanderson. Plus, that ending! What a cliffhanger! The pain of being an editor is wanting book two, and knowing it isn’t written yet!
I loved to see how your three main characters slowly weaved their way to each other. It is one of my favorite aspects of Sanderson’s writing that I think you captured beautifully. I also enjoyed that your characters were very morally grey. No one was necessarily the “good knight” to save the day, but everyone was just trying to survive while handling their own baggage. Those types of characters truly speak to readers, so it is phenomenal that you’ve built that into all three that we follow.
I had a chance to sit down with your work this afternoon, and honestly, I’m so impressed. This first chapter of yours is in truly excellent shape, and your query letter is probably only a revision or two away from being ready to go.
I know that I promised you an editorial letter that addresses any big-picture issues that I spot in your first chapter, but… I don’t think there are any. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t find any big-picture issues with the manuscript as a whole, if I were to read more, but the chapter that I did read is in stellar shape. Your narrative voice is so strong, and the details of your world, both large and small, are incredibly clear.
Call me Dr. Strong Narrative Voice 😎
These particular editors have pretty strong credentials in the publishing industry, so I find these comments especially encouraging, though they still found plenty of constructive criticisms to give me, which I’m still working on incorporating into my revisions.
Even so, rejection is inevitable. Inevitable, yet painful. I already have my next MS planned out, and I expect to start writing the first draft within a week or two of sending off the first round of queries for PoC, so if nothing else, I hope some of my rejections are encouraging. Preferably, something else: an offer from an awesome lit agent.