Rejection isn’t pretty. You can present it however you like, call it nice names and spray it with perfume, but it never gets any easier. Or, as my Grandpappy used to say “You can dress a pig like a swan, but it’s still going to taste like bacon.”
Now, my Grandpappy was a great man (used to make the Rocky Mountain Oysters fresh off the bull, which is something you do not want to see), but with all due respect to my elders, he can take his advice and shove it. Sometimes a pig can taste like a swan.
And sometimes rejection can sting in a good way.
Here are nine ways you can make rejection taste like sweet, succulent swan:
1. Merit Badges
Last week I discussed a couple of ways you know you’re a writer, and one of the things I mentioned were Merit Badges. I love Merit Badges, because you usually get them for crap you already know but need to feel special about. Like eating your broccoli, or avoiding the clap.
But I’d like to think that Writer Merit Badges are something else. Something special. Something earned, fought for and paid for with the blood of your fallen World of Warcraft enemies.
And rejection in the queen bitch of Merit Badges.
It’s something every writer has endured. A mark of pride, honor, a badge you can show off to your children (or the totems of idea-babies sitting on your desk). Writers get rejected like Paris Hilton gets herpes. It’s going to happen, so start preparing, take your antibiotics, and toughen up.
And, you know, maybe stay away from B-List Celebrities. Just sayin’.
2. Free Revision
You know how much a good editor costs? It’s more than a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards, I can tell you that. How about a good critique group? Pshhaw, I’m a writer, I don’t socialize with other people. Beta Readers? Umm…does my mom count?
Hey, sometimes it’s freaking hard to get decent feedback for your story. So, you know what? Instead of looking at rejection as a personal attack or a denial of your special writer spark that makes you so much better than everyone else, and eventually Kevin Gardner from second-grade is going to see how good a writer you are, even though he said your story about Space Worms from Dimension Thirteen was worse than the third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and…uhm…what was I talking…
Oh! Right. Rejection.
If you’re lucky enough to get a rejection letter with some honest-to-goodness feedback on it, treat that shiz like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. Because the agent/editor/sister-in-law who sent the feedback actually took time to read your story, note what’s wrong, and tell you. Folks, that doesn’t happen often.
Take the good feedback where you can, and if you’re not feeling like a beligerant ass that day send the agent a thank you note. Just a few words letting them know you appreciate the feedback. It’s something decent human beings do, and you never know, maybe that agent has a friend who’s going to read your manuscript someday.
A kind word can go a long way.
3. Where the Greats Have Gone Before
Let me throw a few stats at’cha:
J.K Rowling was rejected by a dozen publishers before she sold the first Harry Potter novel.
Stephen King received thirty rejections before he published his first book, Carrie.
C.S. Lewis (I love this one) faced rejection over 800 times before he sold a single piece of writing!
I could populate a hundred posts with nothing but lists of famous authors rejected repeatedly before selling their first, second, or sometimes twelfth novel. I’ve already said that rejection is a mark of honor, but it’s also a tradition. A way to compare yourself with the greats. A chance to walk a mile in Stephen King’s
Anyone who has written something great has faced rejection on numerous occasions. Someday you will be able to add yourself to that list.
4. Spruce Up That Office Space
And speaking of Stephen King…
There’s a great story in his legendary book, On Writing, discussing how he dealt with rejection. In King’s case, he would meticulously collect every rejection letter, smooth them out and hang them from a spike nailed into his bedroom wall. He would look at them every day and remind himself of what he was doing, what he was trying to accomplish.
The lesson is your rejection letters shouldn’t be stashed away, hidden in some drawer buried next to the dead hooker from that Vegas Publishing Expo (Hey, what happens at a Publishing Expo…right?). They should be proudly displayed, preened, admired from your leather chair as you type away on your next novel, a smile on your face as you imagine how it’ll feel when you finally get that letter of acceptance.
And if nothing else, those letters make a great dart board.
5. War Stories
Rejection can be a mark of pride, a reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish, or just some nice wall art. But what it can also be is a great story. And when it comes time to sit down with some writers at a friendly game of strip poker, you can’t be the only one without a story.
They don’t have to all be winners (“I remember back in ’09 I was working on this real piece of work. Sent it out to an agent and got a still beating human heart Fed Exed the following week.”) but you should be able to nod in sympathy when a fellow wordsmith is lamenting his latest form rejection.
And if you’ve never been rejected? If you have no experience from which to empathize? If all your poop comes out gold-plated and covered in mithril?
Well, hell, I’ll still hang with you. I’ve always wanted some mithril.
6. The Seething Fire That Feeds Ambition
Do an experiment for me real quick, k? Reach deep down past your gut, your large intestine, your small, your bowels, the burrito you shouldn’t have eaten on Monday, and find the squirming little bastard that makes you wake up in the morning.
No, not gas, the other squirming bastard.
Ok, got him? Great. Now get acquainted, because that jabbering, poking, squirmy little dude’s called your ambition, and he loves to eat. All the time.
You can feed him with high-fives, speeches from Rudy, and pep-talks from your mom, but you know what’ll trump all that? What the little guy loves to nosh more than anything else? Yeah, you can probably guess (because of the title of the blog, and all that).
Ambition loves rejection. Love it. Loooooooves it.
Nothing will get your fire going like a nice piece of “You can’t do it.” That stuff works every time, because once you get over the sinking feeling in your gut (that’s the opposite of ambition. It’s called self-pity and it has no place in writing. Or Rudy) and get angry, you’re going to hit your keyboard like a schnauzer on epinephrine.
You may not produce the greatest work, but damn if it doesn’t feel good. And sometimes that’s enough.
7. Learn How to Reject the Proper Way (Or Not)
One of my favorite things about the publishing world is that everything is cyclical. Which means that someday you’re going to be the one sending out the rejection letters.
Now, I’m not saying you’re going to become an agent, but if you stay in the writing game long enough eventually people are going to ask you for something. Requests to read manuscripts, invitations to sit on convention panels, petitions for your social security number (What? They said they needed it for my byline), and as much as you want to say yes to everything, eventually you’ll have to say no.
You’ll have to reject them.
Yay! Now you’re in the driver seat. You can fulfill those fantasies of crushing someone’s dream the same way you were crushed by that dumb agent who rejected you two years ago. She obviously didn’t know that Space Worms from Dimension Thirteen were the next big thing.
Only, she was pretty nice in that rejection. She treated you like a human being, gave you a little feedback (turns out Space Worms played better in Young Adult. Who knew?), and encouraged you to try again in the future.
The point? When you get a rejection letter that is courteous and polite, learn from it, then pay it forward when the time comes.
8. Without Misery What Would We Write?
Boy, is there anything writers love more than a nice, hot bucket of misery in the morning? Not the misery of others, of course, we’re not monsters (we just write about them). I’m talking self misery.
Misery fuels authors like Red Bull and Vodkas fuel Lindsay Lohan. We love that stuff. We thrive on it. And the messed up part, sometimes we go looking for it.
Turns out we don’t have to look far, because the next rejection letter is just an agent away. That means a fresh batch of feeling sorry for ourselves is on the way, and that means writing! Sure, we can write without it. We don’t require misery to hit the keyboard, but sometimes it just…it just…well, dammit, it just feels nice.
So turn that rejection into something productive. Let it fuel your spark of self-pity. And when you’re done, go take a walk in the sunshine. You can’t be miserable all the time.
9. If All Else Fails, Go It Alone
So you’ve been rejected. A bunch. And while it’s nice to know that C.S. Lewis had to deal with rejection eight hundred times, maybe you’ve hit the end of your rope. Maybe it’s time to self-publish.
See, we have to remember that rejection is ultimately one person sitting in an office with a big rubber stamp saying your work won’t sell. One. Person. And even though that person is an “expert” in the industry, and it’s their job to figure out what sells, there are plenty of times they’re wrong.
Like, 50 Shades of Wrong.
So, how do you know when it’s time to self-publish? Well, take a look at those rejection letters. Did you get thirty form rejections? Umm, yeah, probably something wrong with your novel, old son. Better hit those beta-readers. If you didn’t get form rejections, if your letters are full of praise but tell you things like your story won’t sell in the current market, it’s too long, it’s difficult to summarize, Space Worms have already been done, well…those are cues that self-pubbing might be the way to go.
And when your self-published novel goes the way of Amanda Hocking and sells a million copies, give me a holler and we’ll go out for a beer. While we’re there we can swap some war stories.
“Pep Talk” Creative Commons via joellevand
All other images courtesy of stock.xchang
At some point any person who has lifted a pen, swallowed a fifth of vodka, and decided to write a novel will have to make a decision. A decision that will change their lives, their business cards, and most importantly, their dental plan.
They have to decide when to call themselves a “writer.”
That title, writer, is as subjective as they come; a term coined by the devil while sitting on Chaucer’s bones, flossing with Milton’s small intestine and reading King’s “Under the Dome.” Terrifying in its grandeur, intimidating in its simplicity.
So, at what point do you change your Facebook page from “Aspiring Author” to “Writer?” Where is the line, the moderator, the person who says you’ve made it? When do you give your boss the middle finger, stock up on Ramen, and decide to make this hobby your career?
No one person can tell you when you’re a writer (but pretend I didn’t say that until the end, ok?). But there are some signs you’re on your way.
-Call yourself a damn writer, already.
Hey, I can give you a checklist of writerly wisdom, point you in the direction of the liquor market and push, but you’re never going to walk until you decide you’re a writer.
There comes a day when you have to look in the mirror and call yourself a writer (and while you’re there, check out those bags under your eyes. We call those Merit Badges. Get used to them). You have to introduce yourself as a writer. You have to sign your emails “Gertrude P. Morgenstern, Writer.” You have to make a big, flashy, banner on your desktop that says “I’m here to write, because I’m a writer, and that’s a thing we do.”
No one’s going to take that step for you.
That said, I don’t subscribe to the theory that just because you write you should immediately call yourself a writer. There’s a learning curve, an apprenticeship, a trade you must study before you can stand upright, flask in hand, and declare yourself a wordsmith. Trust me, it sounds like more gatekeeping, but this is a good thing. If I had started calling myself a “writer” when I was twenty I would have never improved. And I needed to improve, because I sucked when I was twenty. A lot.
The title “writer” is something you reach for, a brass ring. Something that motivates you. It’s a term that commands respect, because it signifies someone who has studied the deeper mysteries, the dark crevices of writerly lore and come back in one piece
And once you’ve done all that, and seen the things that can’t be unseen (What happens at WorldCon stays at WorldCon), it’s time to own up and call yourself a damn writer, already.
-Time to publish
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: you can’t write in a vacuum. You have to share your work. If no one’s reading your prose (or poetry, it swings both ways) you might as well be pissing in a well, because readers make writers. And that means publishing.
It’s fine and good to have your friends critique your story—they should, that’s what friends are for—but your craft won’t improve without input from the world at large, so strap on your big boy pants and start polishing your query letter. It’s possible you’ll get rejected. Hell, it’s close to certain. But, believe it or not, that’s a good thing because remember those Merit Badges we just talked about? Rejection is the bastard king of Merit Badges.
Put simply, you can’t call yourself a writer if you haven’t faced rejection.
And when it comes to publication, yeah, rejection’s going to happen. But something else will happen, too. Something special, magical, fragrant (uh…yeah)—someone besides your mom is going to read your prose and tell you it’s good. It may take a while. It may take a loooooong while, but it’ll happen eventually, and when it does?
Well, then you get to call yourself a writer.
Awwwwww, yeah, son. Time to make that paper.
You know what separates a professional musician from a garage band? An equity actor from a community theater? A porn star from a porn, uh, wannabe? (Is that a thing? I’d better do some research.)
They all get paid.
Artists get paid for their work. That’s the difference between a hobby and a career.
Now, your first foray into publishing might be pro bono. That’s alright, we all start somewhere. You have to get your foot in the door, grease some hinges (or whatever passes for hinges in publishing, like I don’t know…booze?), and network.
So, yeah, once or twice for free is great. But writer’s should get paid for their work. If you’re giving the cow away and then there’s some milk, and the Big Six Publishing houses drink that milk and…uh…where was I going?
Oh! Right. Money.
Pay the writer.
And I’ll tell you now, the first time you get a check for copy you wrote…well, it doesn’t get better than that. That mean’s you’ve made it, writer.
Now start printing those business cards.
“Pen and Paper” Creative Commons via LucasTheExperience
“Soldering Badge“ Creative Commons via adafruit
“So, I Got a Book Contract“ Creative Commons via Frank McMains
“Money“ Creative Commons via 401(k) 2012
The big day is here: RAZORS AND RUST is releasing as we speak in the Amazon Marketplace. If you have a Kindle (or even if you don’t, there’s free software you can download for your computer) I would be honored if you’d head over and check it out.
Heck, it’s only $.99—that won’t even buy a Double Cheeseburger anymore!
And if you wouldn’t mind leaving a review after you’ve read the story, I would be FOREVER GRATEFUL! I mean, grateful enough to write in all caps…that’s something.
Even a few sentences is enormously helpful, and the more reviews an e-book gets the higher it moves in Amazon’s ranking system. So, thank you in advance.
Without further ado, here is the brand new cover and jacket copy for Amazon’s newest story, RAZORS AND RUST!
Diego Santos will never forget the day he met Sir Wentworth Atlee.
He had spent his whole life reading about the legendary recluse, but never expected to meet him. Until one day Diego is summoned to Atlee’s palatial estate. There, he discovers that Atlee has developed a plan that will change everything we know about life and death. It will unlock the deepest mysteries of the universe. Roll back time itself.
Or, at least that’s what Atlee says.
And all he needs is a pyramid…
Babies are kind of weird. On paper, at least. You gestate a parasite for nine + months (during which time, said parasite will make its presence known by kicking/punching/sitting-on-your-bladder at 2am), and eventually lose it through an excruciating
torture-session delivery, which usually results in tears and lots of people staring at your privates.
Sounds like writing to me!
But how? How does (possibly) pooping yourself while delivering an eight-pound, green-tinged, crying-machine relate to story-telling? Well, if you can ignore the absurdity of a man describing child-birth for a moment (it’s cool, I’ve seen Knocked Up five times), I’ll tell you.
Oh yeah…this is where it’s at. The lights are low, Marvin Gaye is a’ croonin, you just got a bag of chicken fingers (or Big Macs, I’m not judging), and things are looking good. The music swells, the sweet-hot scent of hot-sauce and fried-chicken fills the air, intoxicating, seductive. And that’s when it hits you…
“What if marmots secretly ran the government?”
Conception. The starting point. Sometimes it only takes a moment (it’s the quality of the idea, dammit, not the duration), and you’re suddenly presented with nine months of commitment. Hey! It’s your own fault for listening to Marvin Gaye and eating chicken–-you know how you get.
And once conception hits there’s no going back. This idea is yours, so best get used to it. You’re stuck with those Marmots—even if it takes two weeks to get the test results—so start preparing.
-The First Trimester, or Idea Gestation
Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into. Those Marmots seemed like such a good idea at the time! Now I can’t even eat a chicken-finger without seeing their furry little government-running faces. I’m afflicted at all hours, haunted by the idea. At work I can’t concentrate; my boss keeps asking me what’s wrong. At night I toss and turn, kept awake by the sounds of chattering Marmot teeth.
Damn you, Marvin Gaye!
It’s tempting to freak out, but remember: everyone’s been here. All writers go through this stage, where the idea is more curse than blessing, where sleep eludes you, where the smell of sweet, sweet hot-sauce makes you gag (maybe you should have gone with Big Macs). But it’s OK, because even though you haven’t figured out the details, the setting, the questions (but they don’t even have thumbs!?) there’s something exciting about the unknown. The promise that something is coming. So don’t rush it, take your time and let your story grow at its own pace.
Before you know it, it’ll be time for…
-The Second Trimester, or The First Draft
Alright, finally—the fun part. Your stomach has finally settled, the hot sauce is back in your pantry, and you’ve made your piece with Marvin. It’s time to write!
You’ve spent the last few weeks rolling the idea around your brain-space like a friggin Magic Eight Ball, and now it’s time to stop obsessing and get that crazy on the page. Luxuriate in the feeling, smile, relax, give yourself permission to indulge in that nascent idea-gravy and just write. This isn’t the time to think (stop it, Poindexter), that comes later. This is the time to get whimsical, to walk around your office in a tri-corner hat, yelling at imaginary Marmots and ordering strategic gopher assaults.
Damn this is fun.
It should be fun. As writers we only get a brief opportunity to indulge in our collective insanity, and this is that time. Enjoy it, because the second trimester doesn’t last long.
-The Third Trimester, or Revision.
Ugg. Are we done yet?
Revision can be fun—but it’s probably not. And if you’re one of those people walking around with your swollen idea-baby telling me how special you are, and “Aren’t you so excited,” shut your word-hole. I’m not excited. I want this freaking story out of me.
The easy part is over, now it’s time to work. This is the most crucial stage of development, when your story really needs your attention. I know; you’re exhausted. Well, eat some ice chips and get your butt in that chair, because you’re a writer, dammit! This kid is coming out, and when it does you want five-fingers, five-toes, and a lot of crying. Your story isn’t going to get there on its own, you have to midwife those Marmots. You have to give it the right food (grammar), the right vitamins (structure), and a little Mozart (Umm…Mozart. It works).
This stage is tough. But, you know, that’s a good thing; creativity should be tough. If it was easy everyone would do it, and then who would you have to feel superior over? Plus, there are perks: you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you can eat whatever you’d like(I gained ten pounds? Shut up, I’m editing), and everyone says you have a glow. It’s probably because you haven’t showered in three days, but who cares? You’re almost ready for…
HOLY CRAP THIS STORY IS COMING OUT! I’M NOT READY, I HAVEN’T IDEA-PROOFED THE HOUSE!
The amount of revision is going to vary, but no matter how long you take eventually that story is coming out. It’s tough to know when you’re done editing—there’s always something that needs fixing—but you can’t revise forever, and there comes a time when those Marmots have to run free.
It’s scary. It’s painful. It’s easier with drugs (or alcohol…not every metaphor works). Breathe…you’re almost done. Time to send that baby to the agent/magazine editor/kindle!
Enjoy this moment, because it’s rare. I’m going to let the analogy break down for a moment (no need to get macabre) and say that not every idea gets this far. It’s hard-work, midwifing a story, and if you’ve made it to the end you should give that idea-baby a pat on the head (watch the soft spot), because your writer-canal is long, dark, and full of twists and turns. If your story survived the journey that probably means it’s ready to come into the world. Time to cry, poop, and join a little-league team (Analogy back!).
So, congratulations, proud parent! You have a beautiful baby Marmot.
Now get ready for the terrible Twos.
“Cranky face“ Flickr’s Creative Commons via Jippolito
“Marmot” Flickr’s Creative Commons via Sistak
“Non-Magic 8-Ball“ Flickr’s Creative Commons via 60 in 3
“Mozart“ Flickr’s Creative Commons via bioxid
“Martini“ Flickr’s Creative Commons via cowfish