Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dealing With Rejection: The Writer's Guide

The only writers that don’t experience rejection are the ones that don’t attempt submission. Yeah, rejection stinks, but not even trying stinks more. If rejection is an inevitable part of the process, then smart writers learn strategies to deal with it. But first, you have to understand what’s going through your head. Here are three common (if simplified) stories we tell ourselves about rejection:

  • It boils down to innate ability: People with talent get accepted. I got rejected. Ergo, I have not talent.
  • It’s the industry, stupid: Do you know the odds of being published? Of course I got rejected. Publishing’s too tough.
  • It’s a roll of the dice: Will the right editor see the right manuscript at the right time? Getting published is all about luck.

Those three stories have one very potent similarity: they take the control out of your hand.  Most of us have those niggling (or chasming) thoughts of self-doubt – about our talent and/or our chosen vocation. When a rejection comes in, it just affirms what we knew to be true all along. And when you think about the process that way long enough, anything other than quitting seems insane.

Then there’s one last way of understanding rejection. Let’s call it the eye of the tiger story. It’s the story that acknowledges that, yes, the publishing world is unpredictable and tough, but you are tougher. Garnering rejections is just one part of the effort you need to put in to arrive at your goal. And effort is nothing to shy away from. It is a powerful story that all successful writers share, in one form or another.

The Five-fold Path of Indulgence

You will be surprised how effectively changing your perception of rejection affects your reaction to it. But let’s face it: it will rarely give you a warm and cozy feeling. That’s where coping mechanisms kick in. In a nutshell, be good to yourself.

Indulge in Your Feelings
Rejection stings. It aches. It makes you feel rotten, nauseous, angry. More importantly, it makes you want to dive head-first into the closest pint (gallon?) of cake batter ice cream.  Whilst pummeling a pillow. And screaming at that character you love to hate in that HBO series you hate to love. As the tears pour down. Reach out to your partner, your critique buddies, your cat – heartache need not be a solitary activity.

Regardless of how the details shake out, throwing yourself a pity party is a perfectly reasonable response to rejection – as long as it’s time limited. You are only allowed to feel sorry for yourself for so long (how long depends on the exact nature of the rejection, but let’s set a general limit of 24-hours). Yes, the publishing business is tough. Yes, rejection sucks. Now channel that misery or ire into your writing project and move on.
Indulge in Your Dreams
Writers are a creative lot, and should not underestimate the power of positive visualization. Vivian Kirkfield envisions an agent being wowed by her submission. Dee Ann Waite emerges “donning armor and sword, prepared for the fight ahead.”  My personal dream involves an invitation to The Daily Show. Yours might involve a best seller list or Oprah’s book club. Whether you are fueled by optimism or indignation, imagining a successful future can give you the confidence to move forward.

Indulge in Your Passions
Remind yourself why you write in the first place. Read that book from that gobsmackingly talented author. Remember the people or events that inspired you to start stringing words together. Look up inspirational quotes.  And, as author B. J. Lee reminded me, know that there is something inherently valuable about writing itself – regardless of what the publishing outcome is. Refocus, refresh, and resolve to move forward.

Indulge in Your Craft
There’s no point attempting to deconstruct a vague rejection letter – and most rejections will be boilerplate vague. But take any actual feedback to heart. If you disagree with it, at least consider why the reader had that response. Study new markets for your project.

But by far the best and most important way to deal with rejection is to KEEP WRITING. Nothing puts that auto-rejection that came seven months after submission into perspective like having another manuscript or two in the works.

Indulge in Yourself

There is one last key ingredient to handling rejection. Even if you spent every spare waking moment on your opus, you are not defined solely by your writing, and its worth is not defined by agents or editors. You are a beautifully complex creature that contains multitudes and can create worlds with the flick of a wrist. You have a body that needs good fuel and exercise. A mind that relishes in having a multitude of experiences to grow. A spirit that finds strength and comfort in community. You ARE an author, but not only that and the more different parts of yourself you can tend to, the more capable you will be of putting any rejection that comes your way into proper perspective – it is but a speedbump.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How to Achieve High and Publishable Word Counts

Guest post by Rate Your Story judge Kelly Hashway.

For anyone who knows me, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of fast drafting. (For those who don't, just check out Kelly's compilation of published and upcoming books!) When an idea hits me, I sit down and type every chance I get until the book is drafted. And there’s actually a secret to fast drafting. Want to know it? Fast drafting is addictive.

The more I write, the more I want to write. The ideas just keep coming, sometimes faster than I can type, and I’m a fast typer. People say you have to enforce the “butt in chair” method to write, but I want to add to that. You need to get your butt in that chair as often as possible. You know how new ideas get you all excited and eager to draft? Well, when ideas spur from other ideas and the words start pouring onto the screen, it’s even better. I keep notebooks all over (by my bed, by my computer, in the living room) because whenever I have a snippet of dialogue or an idea come to me, I write it down. It makes me eager to get back to my laptop and keep drafting because I have material ready to type.

But drafting isn’t the answer to having a publishable book. It’s only the start. And as much as we covet that beautiful word count we worked so hard to achieve, we have to be willing to hit the delete key and rewrite. Time will allow you to do this. Put that draft away and come back to it after you work on something else. Yes, write another book in the meantime! The more you write, the more you’ll have to get published in the future. Then when you go back to your previous draft, you’ll be able to look at it objectively and see what needs to be done to make it the best manuscript possible.

So here are those steps again:
  •        Commit to getting those words down on paper (or screen)
  •          Keep writing until the book is drafted
  •          Put the draft away for a while
  •          Draft a new book
  •          Go back and revise book one with an objective eye
  •          REPEAT

Now go see how many publishable words you can write today.

Kelly Hashway grew up reading R.L. Stein's Fear Street novels and writing stories of her own, so it was no surprise to her family when she majored in English and later obtained a masters degree in English Secondary Education. After teaching middle school language arts for seven years, Hashway went back to school and focused specifically on writing. She is now the author of three young adult series, one middle grade series, and several picture books. She also writes contemporary romance under the pen name Ashelyin Drake. When she isn't writing, Hashway works as a freelance editor for small presses as well as her own list of clients. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How I Landed My Agent - The Meta-Story

Reading how other writers landed their agent may be the pre-published author’s national pastime. Every once in a while, you read one of those stories that make writers’ hearts simultaneously soar and crumble. (Yes, simultaneously. Writers are a haggard lot.) It goes something like this:

celebrationOne day, this idea came to me that was so compelling that, even though I’d never thought of myself as an author before, I had to write it down. A few months later, I sent it off to a handful of agents I’d heard were really hot. The next day I got a request for a full; the day after that I got a phone call with an offer. I couldn’t believe someone had read my manuscript so quickly! Anyway, I ended up getting six offers. Agent Awesome and I clicked the moment we started talking on the phone – I knew she was the one. And now my best selling trilogy’s being turned into a movie series. It just goes to show, it pays to dream big.

Gee, thanks, right? These overnight successes seem to worm painfully down into your brain. But they do so because they stand out – they are outliers. The process of landing an agent for most people (mere mortals, you might call them) is very different. And, while no two tales are exactly alike, they tend to have a couple of commonalities: 
  • obsession
  •  the ability to smash one’s head into a brick wall over and over again

I hyperbolize, perhaps (blogger’s license), but only to shine light on the truth. Most people, innately talented and skilled though they may be, are neither talented nor skilled enough to warrant being published until they’ve put a lot of time and effort to learning and honing their craft. It takes a bit of obsession:
  •  obsessively reading the genre(s) you’re interested in;
  • obsessively reading up on the art and craft of writing (which may involve one, or usually more, of the following: joining a critique group, taking classes, joining writing challenges, going to writer’s conferences, joining a professional writer’s organization); and
  • obsessively pouring all that new-found knowledge into new manuscripts -- writing, critiquing, revising ad nauseum

Most successful “debut” authors are actually seasoned writers – they wrote and submitted one or more novel-length manuscripts (and perhaps dozens of articles and picture book manuscripts) before achieving their current level of success. And that requires a certain level of tenacity or obsession, if you will. Particularly in light of:


The path to publication is strewn with rejection. The haggard writers’ haggard hearts simultaneously crumble and soar upon hearing of all the best sellers who received a ridiculous number of rejection after rejection. A similar story holds for many, if not most, “midlist authors.” To be a writer, you must be sensitive enough to weave a world, and tough enough not to let this one beat you down. Because part of your job, if you want to get published, is to slam into that brick wall. Repeatedly. This is only a fool’s errand if you learn nothing from it.  Otherwise, it may just lead to smashing success. (I know, I know -- horrible pun.)

Okay, Ella, you are saying: obsessive brick slamming, got it. But how do people actually land an agent?  Well, that’s where things turn a bit Choose Your Own Adventure.

Read enough stories and you start to realize there isn’t much of a pattern. It happened with the first agent someone queried on their third manuscript. Or the thirty-third on their first. They’d met the agent at a conference. They’d never met the agent before. The agent made an offer on the spot. The agent made an offer a year after the initial submission. The agent took it on after a huge revision. Another agent asked for a huge revision, which lead to a new path. An editor was involved. An editor wasn’t involved. There was a pitch fest. A chance mention on Twitter. A referral from a fellow writer. It was a good old-fashion slush pile find.

How will you land your own agent? It’s hard to predict – you’ll just have to wait until that particular story has been written. The good news is there are a myriad of ways it could happen. But only if you put yourself out there. After all, luck favors the prepared.

Good luck. And good write. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It's Time to Diversify

#WeNeedDiverseBooks. It’s a hashtag meant to serve both as a wake-up call to the rather homogeneous state of kidlit (in particular and literature in general) and a call to action to change that.

The campaign is officially over, but the challenge is ongoing – and it spoke to me, so I’m speaking to you. Writers, librarians, editors, agents, and book store employees (yes, apparently they still exist) all tweeted and wrote about why we need diverse books. They provided a rainbow of inspiration and occasional heartbreak. 

And then there was this one:

I read it and thought “huh.” And then a few moments later, it struck me that what he wrote was true for me too. I have grown so accustomed to not seeing myself in children’s literature that it did not occur to me that it did not occur to me that I should see myself in books. Multiply that statement by the millions of different people currently not adequately represented in kidlit, and you begin to see the problem.

Yes, as others have framed it, people should be able to see themselves as the heroes in stories – and not, at best, the quirky sidekick or, arguably at worst, the person in need of fixing/saving (when not absent altogether). But that’s only part of the reason we need more diversity in books.

As author Emily Jiang put it, we need more diversity in books because perspective is empowering. It benefits everyone – those who gain more perspective about themselves and those who are exposed to the wonder and insight of the myriad of possibilities the world has to offer.

And then, there’s the fact that diversity makes good business sense. As an agent, I can tell you that when I see a submission that is both well-written and different, my heart goes all aflutter – and that is very good news for the writer. While people are scurrying around revising old folk tales and Greek myths, there is literally a whole world of fresh stories waiting to be told.

Writing an Authentic Story

It is not enough, however, for characters to “look” different. They have to feel the part, too. The solution to lack of diversity is not to dust off an old manuscript, change the main character’s skin tone, plop him in a wheelchair, and call it a day. That’s not diversity – that’s dressing up mainstream thoughts and values with superficial differences. Nor is the solution to highlight one attribute of a character to the exclusion of all others – that’s misunderstanding the intricacies of what makes a person. The best characters are those that feel like real people, and real people contain multitudes.

Doubtless, some of you are rearing to go by this point, if you don’t have a magnificently sensitive and representative manuscript already. But I’m also sure that there is no small number of you who are thinking “I buy what you’re saying, Ella, but how am I – middle-class suburban white person that I am – supposed to write authentically diverse literature?”

If most of your knowledge of an ethnic group, a disability, or a gender identity comes from Hollywood’s portrayal, you are probably better off not writing about it – at least not until you do some major research. But that hardly means you cannot contribute to widening the diversity of books.

Diversity means “a range of different things; variety” – so widen your definition of diversity. It’s not just minorities and kids with disabilities who are under-represented in books. Where are the picture books starring kids with asthma, diabetes, nut allergies, or weight issues? Where are the kids from single parent homes or blended homes? The kids in the 5th percentile on height, or the 95th? The ones juggling the perils of being left-handed? Where is the religious diversity, the lifestyle diversity, the richness that is just a reflection of our everyday reality?

Or take the plunge. You don’t have to “write what you know.” You should write what you care about – and if you care enough about someone to attempt to inhabit their point of view, then that might be worth sharing. Whether diversity plays a main role in the story or just adds to the richness of the character is up to you – both ways are valid and can contribute not only to our literary canon but also our understanding of our world.

Most of us have bought into what a book is supposed to look like so thoroughly that people end up writing different versions of the same story over and over while major gaps in the literature remain. This can be true for people who are under-represented in kidlit as well as those who fall into “mainstream” categories.

In short, as Tor editor Marco Palmieri puts it,