Rejection Opportunities

February 27, 2011

Rejection is not personal.  This is probably the biggest hurdle an aspiring writer has to overcome.  While this simple fact may be easy to hear, this truth may not be so easy to accept.  Why?  Because if you write from the heart, you are allowing others to see your most vulnerable side.   Words in your novel may reveal all you hold dear and so it is easy to relate the rejection of the work to the rejection of you as an individual. 

Unless you are as lucky as a lottery winner with a one in a billion shot at the jackpot , here is the ugly truth.  If you write, if you submit, you will be rejected.   I have been rejected so many times that I’ve coined a new term for my queries:  they are “rejection opportunities.”   So let’s take a step back and review what rejection does not mean before we look at the positives. 

Rejection does not mean:

  • your work is bad, horrible, unworthy…
  • you are a failure
  • you are not talented
  • you should stop writing

Rejection does, however, offer an opportunity for you to:

1).  Review your query letter.  Take a fresh look at what you have written.  Do the contents represent your novel, book or article?  Did you remember to list all your relevant publications and contest wins?  Did you follow the submission guidelines or try to submit more than the agent asked for?

2).  Assess whether the agent or editor was the right person to query in the first place.  Did you do your homework?  Do they represent your genre?  Have they published other work that is comparable to yours?

3).  Take a step back and evaluate the bigger picture.  Why do you want to be published?  Are you doing it for the money?  Bad news on this front.  Chances are you will have to invest more in learning the craft than you will ever make in profit.  Are you doing it for fame?  Again, the bitter truth is you are probably more likely to win the lottery than become the next Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling.   Does the act of writing still enrich you?  Did you need to refine your craft?  Do you want to continue to shop for a publisher or start on another novel?

4).  Evaluate your fortitude and work ethic.  Did you run for the tissue box when you got your rejection?  Were you so devastated that you could not function that day?  That week?   If so,  you may not have what it takes to survive the publishing industry.   If your novel is acquired, keep in mind that there will be rewrites in your future.  If you are too attached to your work, you will most likely have to face whether you are malleable enough to compromise and listen to opinions that don’t fit your vision of your novel.   Your best bet may be self-publishing.   

5).   Accept the result and move on to the next agent or editor.  At the end of the day, you have no control over the whims of a given person.  The desirability of your idea, your prose, you characters, your plot, will be scrutinized by a subjective audience trying to wade through a mountain of letters. 

6).  Consider other options.  If you have gone through the list of agents and editors that accept your genre and you can’t find anyone who is publishing your kind of work, self-publishing, epublishing and print on demand  may be your next course of action.

Personally, I am not ready for number 6.  My game plan is to move on to the next agent or editor on the list.  As long as I have a query in the mail, there is still hope that someone will take a chance on me.   I have heard too many tales of writers who found their agent or editor after a hundred (or more) rejections.  I haven’t scaled that lofty number yet.   At this point, I still have a few more “rejection opportunities” to mail.

How do you handle rejections?  Do you have a story about the best or worst rejection you’ve ever received?

A Mile of Candlelight: A Tribute to Gavin Powell and Matt Miller

February 24, 2011

I expected to feel a lot of things at the candlelight vigil for Matt Miller and Gavin Powell, the two teen boys that tragically drown this weekend while rafting.  Loss, sadness, grief are natural outcomes at such a gathering. There were moments when all of these emotions flooded my senses.

What I also experienced,  though, was a sense of pride, beauty and hope.  I am privileged to live in such a wonderful community.   Walnut Creek has a population of over 64,000, yet it maintains a small town feel.  Over a thousand souls assembled to pay tribute to these boys.  I’m sure many of the gathered were like me, I had never met the boys (although my daughter knew Gavin), but wanted to show support for the families of the boys. 

A line of flickering lights stretched as far as I could see.  At times, there was a hushed silence, then a spontaneous cheer would erupt at the front of the march, and like a wave at a baseball stadium, voices at the back of the pack would join in celebration.   

Probably 75% of the assembled were teenagers.   What struck me the most was the absolute respect with which the youth conducted themselves.  How can our world not be a better place with these young people following in our footsteps?

I imagine Gavin and Matt staring down from the heavens at all these flickering lights.  I imagine them pumping their fists and rejoicing at the celebration in their honor.   I am sorry I did not have the privilege of meeting them.  I am sorry that their parents have to face a world without their child for the rest of their lives.

 This will be a night like no other.  Thank you boys for giving us all a glimpse of what the future generation will bring to this world.  You will not be forgotten.

Worth Rereading?

February 22, 2011

So many great books have been written that I have yet to discover. So the idea of spending my limited available free time rereading a story holds little appeal.  I’m of the ilk: been there, done that.  Give me a fresh character, a new impossible situation, give me the latest bestseller, give me more, better, different. 

To rid myself of this self-imposed prejudice, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to read at least five classics.  Now, old habits die hard, so I did not specify that the classic necessarily had to be one I’d already read.   But as I rifled through the list of classics and I pondered whether to reread one or dive into  a novel I’d missed, it got me to thinking, when is a book worth rereading? 

I’m sure there are those that reread books on a regular basis for the sheer joy of reacquaintance, like visiting an old friend.  For me,  only a few suitable reasons exist:

1).  The book is part of a multi-part series that I never finished.  I want to complete the set, but it has been so long since I’ve read the previous books that I’ve forgotten key story elements or characters.

2).  I read the book a long time ago ( in high school) and know that I will have a different experience this time around because I am more mature and worldly (in theory at least).

3).  I went to see the movie adaptation and now want to compare the storyline to the book (even so I may just skim the novel).

4).  My daughter is reading the book and I want to discuss it with her.

5).  It is one of my favorite books, I need a books on CD for the car, and there is nothing on the library shelves that I haven’t read that hold any appeal. 

Do you reread books?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

Taming My Dragon

February 19, 2011


Because Mr. James Dalessandro, author of “1906,” so recommended it, I set out to buy myself a Dragon.  No, not the kind of Dragon that breathes fire, nor the kind of Dragon that tried to destroy dear Harry Potter.  This one is only available at electronics stores.  It’s a dictation devise for computers.

For my installation, I waited for a cold, sunny day – the cold to keep me indoors, and the sunshine to add to my ready-for-anything optimism.  I installed the program and began to follow the instructions with briming optimism.  I even dictated a piece about our Maracaibo maids for my book.

What’s this, I asked as I looked over what I had dictated.  The formatting  was off.  There  were no indents and the paragraphs  were not doublespaced.  How do I go about fixing this?

Still optimistic and now determined (the hopeless romantic I am), I began searching through Dragon’s infinite amount of information to find answers.  They weren’t forthcoming, but I was still hopefull.  After all, how much more difficult could it be?

Today is a rainy and cold day.  I decided this was the perfect opportunity for me to work out the kinks between me and my Dragon. I began immediately after lunch and I read, reread and re-re-read information and multiple Dragon help tips.  It’s well into the dinner hour now.  Here I still sit in front of my laptop.  The only things I can make my Dragon do successfully is turn the microphone on and off and take straight dictation.  Still no double spaced paragraphs and no indents.  When I say “paragraph,” all my Dragon does is type the word paragraph.  Now I have a headache and my eyes are twirling around in opposite directions.  Either I can’t do Dragon-speak clearly, or I have the dumbest Dragon on earth.

For anyone out there thinking of buying their own Dragon, let me give you a piece of free advice:  When you buy your Dragon, buy a big bottle of aspirin at the same time.  Either that, or a bottle of Wild Turkey.

You are going to need it, honey.



Real Life D’oh

February 19, 2011

A recent article in my local paper caught my attention—a “Real Life” essay in which a free-lance writer shared her reflections on rejection letters.  Having plenty of experience with rejection letters myself (what writer doesn’t), I read on.  The author wrote non-fiction articles, but had an idea for a children’s fiction piece, so she’d queried several magazines about her work.  When her efforts met with rejection, she decided to expand her queries to children’s book publishers.  She was overjoyed when she finally received a request to see her manuscript from a big publishing house.  

Hurray for her success!  I cheered along with her…until the next sentence.  She hadn’t even written the story yet.  I just about sprayed the kitchen with my morning tea.  Yikes! 

Rule #1 of fiction: Don’t even think about querying until you have a completed and polished manuscript.

The writer then told how she’d whipped off the first draft of her manuscript over the weekend, polished it up the next week, and mailed it off.  My jaw hit the countertop. 

Rule #2 of fiction: Writing a children’s story is not easy.  Every word counts.  Plan on working at your craft and rewriting the whole thing several times.  Then when you think its perfect, get feedback from trusted writer friends.  And revise again.

Needless to say, she received a rejection. The sad part is that her idea might have been great.  The outcome might have been different, if she’d spent more time on her manuscript.

The best piece of advice that I give to any aspiring children’s author is to join the SCBWI. That’s the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  This organization is a goldmine of information and support.  The packet of resources that you receive upon joining is worth every penny of the membership fee.  And that’s just the beginning of the benefits.  Check them out at  Believe me, you’ll thank me for it later.

Hidden Treasures Your Grandchildren Won’t Find in a Kindle or a Nook

February 18, 2011

The book was published in 1915.  What I found tucked in the pages was published in 1961. 

My New Year’s Resolution was to read at least five classics this year.  I completed The Good Earth this weekend and have been contemplating my next classic all week.  My sister-in-law had a bunch of classics and my brother-in-law gifted them to us after her death.  I zeroed in on Of Human Bondage by William Maugham.  I picked up the book by the spine and out fluttered a faded yellow envelope.

My imagination went wild.  Was it a love letter from Eric’s grandfather to his grandmother?  Money?  A deathbed confession? 

I picked up the stained paper.  The unsealed flap yielded to my touch and revealed a brittle, brown news clipping.   A Dick Tracy comic strip and a Jumble were visible, but what was on the other side?  A long lost relative’s obituary?  An article about my husband’s grandmother’s old high school lover?

 I unfolded the neatly clipped newsprint.   Scrawled on the side were KC Star and the date of the article, 2-4-61.  Knowing my husband’s family was from Kansas City it was easy to figure out what paper the article had appeared in.   

My gaze travelled to the headline:  Maugham Is Sharp and Eager at 87.  After my initial disappointment, I grew intrigued.  How fun!  The byline indicated the journalist was Marcel Wallenstein, a European correspondent for the paper.  Someone had one an in-depth interview with the author.   The article would have encompassed almost the whole side of a newspaper. 

The opening paragraph revealed volumes about Maugham’s personality.  Apparently, he was not pleased about being denied access to Russia where his literary royalties were hoarded in a bank.   Witnesses indicated his response to the bad news was “billingsgate,” an English term for fish market profanity. 

In some ways, his life story is timeless.  He struggled with his craft, barely scraping out a living.  He reportedly turned down invitations from wealthy acquaintances lest the rich notice his frayed clothing.  His ambition to be a doctor had years before been thwarted by a physical handicap.  Too bad he hadn’t known King George VI.  Both British men suffered from a stammer. 

Success did find him later in life.  He entertained Winston Churchill and owned a Picasso and Toulouse-Lautrec.  He reportedly read constantly and was a shrewd literary critique, but took time to mentor young authors.  His critics accused him of fashioning his novel “Cakes and Ale” on the life of Tom Hardy, and “The Moon and Sixpence” after Gauguin’s life.   Maugham denied any likenesses in both books.     How sad that at the age of 87, Maugham’s works were not yet considered classics. 

To say I enjoyed the article was an understatement.  In this day of reporting, I doubt a living author celebrating a milestone birthday would warrant such newsprint space.  What a treat to have found this hidden treasure.  How sad that in the advent of electronic books that such a discovery will be impossible for future generations.

Valentine’s Special: Writing About Sex

February 15, 2011

Humans are sexual beings.  Noticing, flirting, and kissing usually happen before the act of making love.   All these precursors will usually give more insight into a character than graphic descriptions of carnal groping (unless, of course, your genre is erotica).  The level of detail needed will depend on why the sex scene is in your work.  What is the objective?  Character development?  Is a sexual encounter crucial to your plot?  If so, how much should you reveal? 

Below are two very different examples of sex scenes, the first illustrates the use of sex in character development, the second in plotting.

In Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, she handled the issue of her aging (seventy year old man) protagonist’s lust for a young girl (Pear Blossom) as follows:

“When it was done, this love of his age astonished him more than any of his lusts before, for with all his love for Pear Blossom he did not seize upon her as he had seized upon others he had known.”    

Contrast this to Stephen King’s Dark Tower:  The Gunslinger when Roland couples with the oracle to gain insight into his fate:

The shadow swung over him… There was a sudden ecstasy broken only by a galaxy of pain as faint and bright as ancient stars gone red with collapse.”

Note that in both of these examples the writer was true to the world the character lives in.  My rule of thumb about sexual description is to write only what is needed to further the story.  With sex, more often than not, less is more.   Just like with violence, it’s best to avoid slipping into the realm of gratuitous.

Excessive Celebration Was Not Meet With the Officials

February 8, 2011

English is an ever evolving language.  It is for that reason that this title probably doesn’t make sense to you.  The title is a blend of old and new English — combine the two and this header makes perfect sense—taken at face value, the words seem nonsensical.  Let’s start by examining excessive celebration. 

As I watched the Superbowl yesterday, I was surprised to hear the announcers discussing the excessive celebration penalty.  Unbeknownst to me, a player who exhibits certain enthusiastic behaviors could cause a 15 yard loss for their team.  Our friends joked about the term off and on throughout the game and so after the final pass was thrown and the Packers marched to victory and our friends had left, the question still lingered in my brain:  Why had the NFL decided a new term needed to be developed specifically for this rule?  Why not use the good old-fashioned descriptor of show-boating?  Did excessive celebration sound more politically correct?  Was there some aspect of the definition of show-boating that didn’t fit?

A quick search on Google (, gave me the information I needed.  The term showboat first appeared in about 1869 and was coined to describe waterborne theaters that provided stage, opera and even circus performances on the vessels.  The term show-boating appeared about 1951 and means to show off or behave ostentatiously.  This seems like an apt description.  I decided to see if I could find the actual NFL guideline.  The best I could come up with was a 1984 rule that has had further definitions added in recent years.  The original 1984 text read:


Article I: There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship…

So why don’t announcers cite the rule?  Maybe my original hunch was right.  Perhaps it’s just not politically correct to call a professional NFL player unsportsmanlike. 

Now, for the second part of the title:  was not meet.   This term comes from the novel “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck.  The term is used to describe an action that is not acceptable behavior.  For example, in Chapter 26, the narrator Wang Lung says:

He called chairs from the town to carry them, for it was not meet that they walk to the place of burial…

Language is an amazing tool, an art form in and of itself.  Whether you say:  Unsportsmanlike Conduct Was Not Acceptable To the Officials or Excessive Celebration Was Not Meet With the Officials, given the proper context the words can relay the same message.   

It seems appropriate that Pearl S. Buck, in a lecture at  the Stockholm Concert Hall in  Sweden on December 12, 1938 said:

“No, happily for the Chinese novel, it was not considered by the scholars as literature. Happily, too, for the novelist! Man and book, they were free from the criticisms of those scholars and their requirements of art, their techniques of expression and their talk of literary significances and all that discussion of what is and is not art, as if art were an absolute and not the changing thing it is, fluctuating even within decades!”

Indeed, Ms. Buck, tis not only the art that fluctuates, but the language with which it is delivered.