It's Grade School All Over Again
August! OMG It's AUGUST! Back-to-school sales begin now if they haven't already! FINALLY! School looms on the horizon! BWAH-HA-HA-HA! Take that, little Fourth-of-July firecracker hoarders across the street!
Okay, I'll stop the evil laugh now. It amuses me that this ties in to the topic of my post.
If you've been following my posts here, you'll know I've been talking about editing, rejection, and the general process of critique and revision. Here's part three, in which I talk about handling rejections and the critical feedback some of them contain.
Remember grade school, when you had to be picked for a team or a work group or something? Were you always the first chosen? The last? Did people groan when they got "stuck with you?"
Look, rejection sucks no matter how gently it's done, okay? It's going to hurt, even if you're "let down easy." Even if you think you're prepared, you can take it, it's all part of the game, it's a learning experience, it's part of the process…however you need to justify it to yourself, it still sucks, and it still hurts.
It is also an inescapable reality. You're going to get rejected by someone in some way, not just in life, but in your writing career. The trick is handling it. "S/he took it well" should be something you aspire to have as your epitaph.
Rejection comes in many forms, from a bad review of something you wrote to a personalized letter from a literary agent. (We'll talk about the dreaded "form letter" here in a minute.)
On my website, I have a page dedicated to writing advice. Numbers 4 and 5 state respectively:
4) BE PREPARED FOR REJECTION. It’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen a lot. You’ll need a thick skin, and writers already have fragile egos. Toughen up. Deal. Cope. Do NOT sit down and throw a tantrum, which brings us to -
5) TAKE IT LIKE AN ADULT. The publishing industry/world is very, very small, and the people in it talk to one another. Do NOT make an ass out of yourself when you’re rejected and send whomever rejected you a nasty email, and do NOT make a pest out of yourself to someone you have sent communication to, lest you BE rejected. Be as professional as you can be. Give yourself a day or so to mourn and cope, but take the rejection for what it is and learn something from it.
Today we're going to talk about learning. It's idiotic to think that you're ever finished learning about writing. Professionals of the highest caliber constantly hone their skills, and you can see the evolution of their writing from first book to current. The reason they HAVE a long series of books is because each one gets successively better, however minute, even if the entire series devolves into a complex mess of plots, subplots and over-building of worlds. The writing - the mechanics, the nuts and bolts – gets better.
Because they listen to their editor. They listen to their crit partners and beta readers. They learn what works and what doesn't.
If your editor does something to your baby, they have a reason, even if you don't know what it is or why they do it. It's like a submissions packet. The agency has a REASON they want a synopsis AND the first ___ pages/chapter AND this, that, and the other. It might seem entirely redundant to you that they want X, Y, AND Z when Y perfectly well does exactly what Z is for.
Do it anyway. It's not your job to understand, it's your job to write and follow the rules. If they want the first five pages, send them the first five pages and no more. Don't send them the whole manuscript to "save them the trouble of asking." They don't want it and they're not going to read it. You're just going to end up looking like an idiot who can't or won't follow the freakin' rules. "How can you write when you obviously can't read, etc.?"
The reasons for things might be something as simple as a time-saving device to just seeing if you can follow directions. If you can't follow a set of written guidelines (or worse, WON'T follow them), that says a lot about the kind of person you are. It says you're the kind of person they're not going to be interested in working with, because if you won't even listen to a simple set of guidelines, what makes them think you're going to listen to an editorial note telling you to change a few things?
Remember what I said about listening and learning? Here you go. Learn from your rejections. Read them, then read them again. Don't just hear what they say, LISTEN to what they say.
This is harder to do with a form letter, because that's what it is. A form. But! That form letter? It's been carefully worded by whomever wrote it, and they have a reason for every line. Yes, it's a form, but there's always something there you can learn from. Even a simple, "this isn't right for our catalogue" tells you something. It's up to you to figure out what that is. Maybe it's a little too much fantasy and not enough literary for their house. Maybe it's too much paranormal and not enough science fiction. Whatever. There's always something to learn. Figure that out and try another house, or rewrite the thing and try them again a year (yes, I'm serious) later.
I once received a rejection so freaking awesome I didn't even mind (well…very much) that it was a rejection. I was ecstatic over everything the rejection said (except for that last little bit starting with "unfortunately…") because I learned so much and it was so nice and unexpected. I read it again from time to time, just so I can refresh myself of the lessons learned from it.
That's all I have for you today. Listen. Learn. Follow directions.
Funny…sounds just like what we learned in grade school. Maybe next time we'll talk about sharing your toys. (I'm NOT serious….)