Saturday, February 13, 2010

Blog Chain: The Rejection that Changed my Life

This blog chain was brought to you by the lovely Rebecca who asked:

What is the best mistake you've made so far in your journey as a writer? How has that mistake helped you grow :)?

My answer to that is simple: I didn't do my homework.

I started writing seriously about four years ago. My first novel, a paranormal romance, was a real stinker. I'd made every mistake that you could:

1. Opening with a dream sequence
2. Taking too long to build up back story and not getting to the action fast enough
3. The overuse of every cliche in the book
4. Not having a critique group to look over my edits
5. Querying almost as soon as I wrote the words, "The End".

I can't really pick a best from that list because they are all equally horrendous. And they all had a hand in landing me the rejection that changed my life.

Dear Ms. Gibsen: Please note that I’ve changed your font to one that is more readable and formatted these first pages into the accepted parameters for presenting a manuscript for publication. I’ve taken the time to critique the pages, as I do for all authors who submit to XXXX Press, because I believe the standard rejection most novice authors receive from New York leaves much to be desired. Bear in mind, this type of in depth critique would cost $2-4 dollars per page if done by a ‘book doctor’, and no editor would take the time to describe the failings in your submission.
1) The story takes too long to get to get to the action.
2) There are many errors in punctuation
3) There is an overabundance of repetitive words and flowery phrases (purple prose)
4) There is a lack of direction in your story that I’m not sure can be fixed.

XXXX Press is looking for professionally written novels that are ready to print, with little editing or revision required. Your manuscript is still in the amateur stages and needs much work. I suggest you join a writers’ group (possibly Romance Writers of America, check them out on Google as they are the largest teaching organization for writers in the US).
I wish you success in your career and the placement of your novel.
XXXX Press


I admit, when I first read this letter I burst into tears and devoured a pint of cookie dough ice cream. I considered giving it up. I'm one of those annoying people who doesn't like to do anything I'm not instantly good at (which is why I played bass guitar and not rhythm or lead, why I don't ever go ball room dancing, and I don't have a tea pot crafted from clay). The only difference here, was, I couldn't give up writing because unlike those other things, I LOVED writing too much to quit. BTW - I hate you, knitting! Hate Hate HATE!!!

So I resolved to do whatever it took to get better. I joined a critique group (several actually), I joined the fabulous community over at Query Tracker, I switched to a genre I felt more comfortable with and closer to, I gobbled up every book I could in the YA genre, I read every book I could get my hands on on writing, I went to conferences - the list goes on and on.

The moral is: I had to really work, learn, and work and learn some more and it totally paid off in the end. Now, I have an agent and we're gearing up to take my YA paranormal, KATANA, out on submission. None of which would have ever happened without that in-your-face rejection and the resolve it inspired in me to do better.

Please check out Shaun's blog - who nailed it the first time and just goes to show you how everyone's path is different - to see his answer.

How about you? What was your best mistake?


  1. Wow. It's awesome that there's a publisher out there willing to take the time to give critiques like that! Worth it's weight in gold. And good for you for picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and learning how to write. Definitely not an easy thing to do.

    We got a couple rejections like that from agents and I can't imagine where we'd be today without them. I honestly don't know how else people learn unless someone is willing to take 5 minutes and tell them exactly why they suck. Hopefully someday we can return the favor!

  2. Fabulous post Cole!

    Definite words of wisdom there for new writers.

  3. I love this post! I've been blogging about the same things lately. My sis-in-law and I raced to see who could rack up the most agent rejections, and I learned so much along the way.

    One of the agents told me she hated my main character. Painful. But in the end, it helped me make my MC more likable. I think.

    Good luck with submissions!

  4. How great that the rejection spurred you to make positive changes. A lot of people would have given up. Those folks won't learn anything, though, and you have. I'm thinking good thoughts for your upcoming submissions!

  5. I'm so glad you guys liked it. I almost didn't post it, because I thought - even though this letter is years old - it is a bit embarassing.

    But then, I thought, I love scars. I think they're kinda badass. I'm always showing off my own (especially where I had the 30 staples on my head) and isn't this letter just another scar on the journey toward publication?

    I think it's good for people to see and get inspired by writers who weren't instant successes - who struggled and worked to achieve their goals.

    Thanksj for the support, guys :) **hugs**

  6. That's awesome! Of course, I'd like to point out that I totally didn't nail it the first time. It was just the first time I got lucky lol. I WISH some of the editors I'd submitted to over the years had given me the advice you got. And I'm so glad that you've stuck with writing. Having read KATANA, I know you're going to make it. It's too awesome for you not to.

  7. What an inspirational post. Thank you for sharing it!

  8. Wow, that is a brutal letter - I would have had to fill the bathtub with cookie dough ice cream before I could stop crying - but it is the best example yet of a mistake that really helped someone grow. Great post!

  9. Kudos to you for persevering! It's hard to hear the "failings" of one's work. At the same time, it's imperative to take the advice to improve. Looks like it really paid off for you.

    Indeed, we learn from our mistakes. I've been doing that over the past year. Hopefully, I'm getting close and closer to landing an agent.

    Either way, I actually seek the "rip 'em apart" critiques now cuz they really help me tighten up and get down to business.

    GREAT POST!!!!! :)

  10. Way to go, Cole. This is a fantastic post on perseverance and learning from your mistakes. I think most of us have this kind of experience -- maybe not with a rejection like that (yikes!), but you are awesome for keeping your chin up and keeping on.


  11. It sounds like one of those cases where the story died but the writer lived to tell the tale. I'm glad you took that publisher's advice and improved your writing!

  12. I love that someone took the time to teach you. This was a great post. Thanks for sharing.

  13. yowch indeed! But wonderful (though I know it didn't feel that way at the time) that an editor took the time to do that. For me, it was a more experienced writer in the first crit group I joined. She really took me under her wing and showed me everything I was doing wrong. :) After that, my rejections weren't quite as brutal...they mostly stuck to forms ;-D

  14. That is an awesome mistake. And by that, I mean it was awesome that you made it, and even more awesome that you got such a full response from someone (even if the response was negative). That was really nice of them, particularly since they could have told you nothing at all or been really harsh. The fact that you're agented up now just shows that it was what you needed to get you where you are. Nice job and nice post.

  15. This is wonderful :). How awesome that someone took the time to critique you, and how AWESOME *you* are for recognizing it for truth and changing your game!

    This is totally inspirational :). Thank you for showing us your bad ass scar!

  16. Wow Cole! You're lucky that you had such a personalized rejection to help you along the way. I'd made a lot of the same mistakes the first time around and I wondered for MONTHS why no one was interested. It wasn't until after I came out of my shell a little did I discover the awful truth! If I only knew then...

  17. First off you are amazingly brave to continue in the face of such a powerful rejection. It is inspiring to see how much you want you dreams to come true.

  18. Wow, what a great story! Aren't you so glad you didn't give up!?! Great mistake.

  19. Thanks again everyone :) **Group hug** Actually, I did give up - but then I gave up on giving up. (I'm such a quitter hee)

  20. I've also been lucky to have agents point out my mistakes and weaknesses. I worked hard to make sure I didn't make the same mistakes with my current novel. Hopefully I got it right this time!

    Good luck with your submission!

  21. You are so lucky to have received that rejection with your first ms. I wrote 4 different manuscripts before 2 editors actually gave me some feedback that lead to enough improvement that I can even hope to be on the same track as you. *fingers crossed*

    Thanks for sharing your heartache and perseverance. All of us in the trenches need to know what it really takes to "make it" and that "making it" is still possible.

    Congrats on Katana! I'll look for the news of the sale and then I'll look for it on bookstore shelves.