The Rejection Generator Project: if only I had known

I remember too well the sting of those first rejection letters.
I thought I was prepared.
Fellow writers had told me I’d be swimming in them before I got my first contract offer from an agent.
So I cleared a wall for their display, a means of confronting rejection head-on and with pride.
Still, it hurt.
But it hurt only the first few times.
After a while, I became numb to automatic rejections and I learned the value of the personal notes, which sometimes came with feedback. I even came to miss them when I finally signed with an agent nearly three years ago, eagerly searching my inbox for strays.
I have since parted ways with my agent and returned to the hunt.
I knew I would have to endure those early stings again, so I steeled myself and fired away the first few query letters. I waited weeks, sometimes months, never knowing when I would open my inbox and read those words that pierced my heart and soul.
Too late, I learned it didn’t have to be that way.
I could have been rejected on my own terms with the negativity self-inflicted, expected, hard-hitting from the start. I could have beaten myself up five times in one day and gotten the whole thing over with, numbed myself immediately instead of waiting, waiting and waiting..
I could have — no, I should have — used The Rejection Generator Project.  
I will tell you no more.
Check it out.
Spare yourself.
Be warned though, it can be addicting even for those who already have agents or publishers. 

Hunting, hunting, hunting for my ticket to artistic freedom

I was so excited to sit down at my computer when all four kids started school this fall and write.
Just write.
It’s been six months since I’ve had regularly scheduled work hours and I had all kind of visions in my head of fully immersing myself in novel number three, taking running breaks whenever I suffered a bout of writer’s block, and maybe having a clean kitchen now and then.
Almost two weeks into the school year and I have yet to write more than a blog post.
I’ve gone running twice.
Dishes fill the sink.
It’s my own doing.
A few months ago, after the completion of my second novel, I amicably parted ways with my agent.
So now I am on my own again.
With my agent went the luxury of writing without a care.
I once again have to worry about the business of writing.
And I’m not happy about it.
The innocence that inspired me in the agent hunt the first time around is gone.
I no longer get giddy when I find an agent I want to query. I am well aware that the agent is receiving about 50 other queries on that same day and that my query might not get more than a glance, regardless of how hard I try to get that agent’s attention.
I no longer get my hopes up when I get a request for a full manuscript.
It’s affirming, but it’s just another step in the process.
A rejection is still more likely than a contract offer.
I no longer query any old agent with a web page.
I am pickier now, seeking only agents with proven sales records in my genre and carefully researching their reputations as human beings (No refection on my previous agent. He is a wonderful guy with a great sense of humor.). I want this agent to be my last agent.
I don’t ever want to go through this process again.
But I know I have to grin and bear this.
A good agent, in my opinion, is a godsend.
My fingers are itching to write, my mind is racing with plots and characters, but they will have to wait just a little bit longer.
The right agent will set me free.
Free to write.
And that freedom, I know, will be well worth it.

The Great (Writers) Depression

It seems that this recession is quickly giving way to a great depression.
And I’m not sure how to stop it.
Today, a woman posted on a writing forum that she is giving up writing for good. Her husband is unsupportive, her kids are unsupportive, the rest of her family is unsupportive.
She might as well focus on scrubbing floors, she said.
A good friend who has spent the past 20 years working full time as a playwright, posted his laments recently on a social networking site. I was surprised. He always seemed to be doing so well.
But he doesn’t feel that way.
He’s bumming.
I went through my own slump last week. The querying process had me down. Way down, even though I’ve had plenty of requests recently for partials and proposals. It just seemed like I’d been working at this for so long and getting nowhere.
Thankfully, a virtual intervention on a writers forum was successful.
I am much more cheerful now.
I hadn’t noticed this much negativity in the writing world before.
Maybe I’d just never opened my eyes.
Maybe it’s because the adrenaline rush is wearing off, kind of like it did after my first marathon 16 years ago.
I ran that first marathon on a dare.
I couldn’t resist the challenge.
I had run only 25 miles a week prior to the race and my only long run was a 19-miler three weeks before. I was out with an injury for the two weeks before the race, so I didn’t get any running in then either.
Yet I ran it in 3 hours, 58 minutes.
I ran on pure ignorance.
Pure bliss.
Pure stupidity.
I ran the last two miles on legs of lead.
Blood soaked through my sneakers as I crossed the finish line.
I lost nine toenails over the next couple weeks because I’d worn cheap cotton socks and 5K running shoes.
I didn’t care.
Not then.
I was gleeful.
I was ready to run another.
Imagine my surprise when, a week later, I was too sore to run half a mile.
My toes were too sensitive for sneakers.
My knees were a mess.
That adrenaline rush was gone.
But something else happened. As the rush subsided, my eyes opened. I began investigating all the things I did wrong. I started looking for ways to do it right. I read books. I developed a training method. I bought new sneakers and socks with Coolmax.
I ran another marathon.
This time, I finished in 3 hours, 42 minutes.
So maybe this is a good thing, this loss of adrenaline.
Maybe I was so blissful and so ignorant when I began this querying process that I didn’t notice all the writers struggling surrounding me. I didn’t see how hard it could be, how disappointing sometimes. Maybe, I was doing it all wrong.
Maybe it’s better that my eyes are open now because I find myself focusing more, targeting the right agents, working on my platform, freelancing, submitting short stories, starting another novel.
I was doing okay before.
But maybe now I’ll do better.
Maybe that great depression is always there for all of us, always threatening. Maybe that threat is part of what keeps us alive and hopeful and motivated. Because I sure as heck don’t want to fall prey to it.
Nope.
Not going to do that.
I am going to work hard and work smarter.
And someday I might even run one last marathon.

Good agency goes bad

Originally posted March 19, 2009

Objective Entertainment is a big agency that deals with lots of celebrities, so I really didn’t expect much when I queried agent Ian Kleinert a few months back.
I was more ignorant then too.
I thought my journalism experience and my years as a stay-at-home mom were a strong enough platform for my nonfiction book.
My eyes are open now.
The proposal has changed and it’s much stronger.
So is my query letter.
So I expected rejection this afternoon when I found a response from Objective Entertainment in my inbox. But Objective Entertainment surprised me. The e-mail was not from Ian and it was far more appalling than a rejection.
It was from a woman named Tracey Ravenelle.
This is what she said:

“Thanks so such for querying us, but we are unsure that this premise would work in this tight market. All said we would encourage you to do what many of our clients have done prior and self- publish with a reputable, and recommended, publisher. This is a new age in publishing, and as evidenced time and time again, neither The New York Times bestsellers list nor major booksellers discriminate against the self published. Oftentimes, authors choose to get proactive in order to build a sales record and boost their chances of being picked up.
I would like your permission to pass along your information to someone who can help you get started on your path towards getting published. If you are ready to become proactive about your career we will let them know more details about your manuscript and how to get into contact with you. There are a lot of publishers that seem to have gotten the better of new authors, the two that we refer you to are not of that ilk, they have had a number of successes.”

Needless to say, I was floored.
This person has decided that she has the authority to speak for every agent and publishing house out there. Since she believes the market is too tight, apparently every agent will feel the same way. And I am supposed to accept that.
Hmmm.
Now, I don’t want to reveal too much about my agent search, but I will say that I have every reason to believe that I will get a contract sooner or later and that I will publish in the traditional way.
Fortunately, I am not so easily deterred.
But I worry that other writers might be.
A little searching on Absolute Write proved that I am not the only writer who recently received communications from Tracey after querying Ian. In fact, other writers received precisely the same note.
I can assume only one thing.
Tracey, Ian and maybe some other folks at Objective Entertainment, are making money off these referrals to self-publishing houses. They are making money and they are preying on the ignorance of writers who might be inexperienced with publishing, and on their potential lack of self confidence to do it.
There is nothing wrong with self-publishing if that is what a writer wants.
But this is not friendly guidance.
This smells fishy.
Very, very fishy.

Why self-publishing is not for me

Originally published Nov. 16, 2008

Even before I started querying literary agents, the queries came pouring in from friends and family.
Why go through all that?
Why not self publish?
Well, here is my answer:
I still have faith in the gatekeepers.
Self-publishing has its place.
Some people want full control of their written work. They want to retain all rights; They want to retain all profits. Other folks don’t have the time or the patience for agents. They see the flaws in the system and they are discouraged. And who can blame them? Some agents will toss manuscripts in the garbage for reasons as simple as margins that are too big or too small.Then there are the people who write only for limited and personal audiences. They write for themselves, their families and their friends. Retaining agents make no sense for them. It’s not worth the time or the effort.
But this is my career, or the career I want.
I want to be writing novels and non-fiction books when I am 80 and I want people to be confident when they go to a bookstore and pick up one of my books that it has passed certain tests—the tests of the industry.
The industry is not perfect, but agents and publishers do the best they can in a world in which paper prices are rising and the competition from electronic media is ever-increasing.
I have read some awesome self-published books and I have been saddened by the knowledge that those books will never reach their sales potential. That saddens me, not because the author is missing out of fame or fortune, but because I know so many others would enjoy reading those books as much as I have.
But those books will never get the distribution and exposure of an industry-published book.
I have also read some self-published novels that left me embarrassed for the author and wishing for a refund. Not only were they poorly written and poorly plotted, but they were riddled with errors.
That’s where the gatekeepers come in.
Sure, some lousy books slip through the gate. But 90 percent of the novels and non-fiction books that make it to the presses through non-vanity publishers are pretty darned good.
And yes, I’ve encounter some agents who were egotistical jerks. I even hung up on one. But 90 percent of the agents that I’ve queried or spoken with have given good, solid and well-intended advice along with their rejections. Some have rejected me with form letters, but the letters were constructively written and professional.
So I will plod on.
I will continue taping my favorite rejection letters to the wall above my desk. I will continue honing my novel, my query letter and my non-fiction proposal based on the constructive criticism of those agents who have nothing to gain by spending time addressing me individually, but who do so out of a passion for the industry.
I will continue to have faith in the gatekeepers.