A Kind Word

I’m going to start with a quick introduction (i.e. excuse). It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written anything on here. Last fall, I accepted a part-time job with the local school district. So between two part-time jobs, two full-time kids, a minimum of three novels being balanced at any given time, and trying to find some time for my own mental health, blogging kind of fell by the wayside. But I realized recently that I have something to say, so I’m hopping behind the keyboard again. Hope you enjoy!

We live in a day and age that many people seem to have forgotten the impact that a simple word of kindness can have on a person. It’s so easy to be mean online. To not think twice about what you say. To let your emotions run the keyboard and never think twice about it. Cyber bullying runs rampant, partially because it’s easier to be cruel and hurtful when you don’t have to see the pain your words have caused.

As a result, I think people have started to underestimate the power of words. Yes, they’re just words. A strand of sounds put together that amazingly make sense in our human brains. Even so, words can hurt. But they can also help. It really is amazing how much an off-the-cuff compliment given at the right time can affect a person’s life. In my case, a rejection email I received years ago is part of the reason I haven’t given up on writing.

I started writing long, long ago. Like a million years in dog years. Okay, so maybe I’m not quite that old. But some days it feels like it. My first “querying” experience came when I was a sophomore in college. I had written a novel. Looking back, it was a hot mess of everything that could have been wrong with a novel. It was full of cliches, purple prose, and the plot had more holes in it than a piece of moldy swiss cheese. (Don’t ask why it has to be moldy. I’m the one in charge here.) But I was proud of what I’d accomplished. I had completed a novel. (I didn’t realize at the time that completed also meant revising the ever loving…whatever out of it.)

So with the cursor flashing at THE END, I threw myself into the world of querying. A world that I now realize I knew NOTHING about. Full of naive excitement, I attended a small romance writers conference that was held about an hour from my house. Prior to the conference, I sent an email to the editor of the small press I was going to be pitching to, asking him if he’d be willing to take a look at the manuscript and give me some feedback on it. (This is a no-no, by the way. Like I said, I didn’t know better.)

To my surprise, he agreed, and had me send over a partial manuscript. When I met with him at the conference, he had a lot of really nice things to say, and actually asked me to send the full. I was convinced my moment had arrived. I was going to be published. And my life was going to be full of fancy book tours and chocolates and…Then came the rejection.

It landed in my email a few months later. He let me down gently, saying I needed to concentrate more on my setting (which was probably his way of toning down “What in the actual f*** did I just read?”) It stung, but it was the end of the email that truly stuck with me. He said that even though it hadn’t worked out, he strongly believed he would see my name on the bookshelf some day.

At the time, it didn’t mean that much to me. I was licking my wounds from my first real rejection. But over the years, those words have burned themselves into my brain. There have been many other projects. More rejections than I care to count. And plenty of times that it would have been easy to give up writing and walk away. After all, it’s a big mountain to climb, and just like Mount Everest, not everyone makes it to the top. But every time I considered calling it quits, I thought of those words. And they were enough to push me to hit send on the next query, or jump into the next set of revisions, or start on a new project because the last one just wasn’t quite right.

I don’t remember his name, or even the name of the press he was acquiring for. And I’m sure he doesn’t remember me or that email. It’s possible he said that in all of his rejections. But for me, it was the push that I needed to keep going.

Is it possible I would have pushed on anyway? Of course it is. I’m a Taurus. We’re known for being stubborn. But I’ll never forget those words, and one of these days, I will prove him right.

Moral of the story: Don’t lose faith in words. They have power. But like superheroes, with great power, comes great responsibility. Be kind with your words. Use them to inspire. To encourage. To lift up. Not to tear people down. Because we can all use to hear some kind words every now and then.

Advertisements

I Take It Back

There was a time when I thought that, as an aspiring author, nothing was more painful than the rejection emails flooding into my inbox. I was wrong. 

A few months ago I started my querying journey. I didn’t send out large batches, partially because I was planning on attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference to meet with some agents at the end of April. So I only sent out a handful of queries. Most of them were rejected. But I did get one request for a full manuscript. My excitement level went through the roof. The request came in in the morning, and I emailed her the requested material that afternoon. Her website states that it can take 12 weeks to hear back on a manuscript, but that didn’t stop me from watching my email like a hawk within hours of hitting the send button.

I shared my excitement with a select few people for a couple of reasons. On one hand, I wanted to soak it in on my own. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to have to share it if my manuscript was subsequently rejected. Getting a rejection on a query letter is one thing. There are so many reasons the agent may not have been interested. They could be too busy. They may not like the idea. Who know? But once you get past that initial hurdle, if they reject it, it’s because of the manuscript itself. Does that mean it’s flawed? Not necessarily. But it certainly feels more personal.

A couple of weeks after I sent the manuscript, I left for the conference. It was an amazing experience. Everyone I talked to was so friendly and supportive. I expected to spend the entire time as a loner, but I made several friends while I was there. During breakfast one day, I went to sit at an empty table because I didn’t recognize anyone. As I set my stuff down, someone at a nearby table said, “No, you’re not going to sit over there alone.” Like I said, the whole experience was just amazing. Anyway, after sitting through a few sessions (which were chock full of great information) I realized that the manuscript I’d sent out was not really ready. The story was good. The characters too. But it needed some work.

So I was faced with a serious dilemma. I could do the revisions and just hope the agent that already had my manuscript liked it the way it was, which seemed unlikely. Or I could send her an email and pull my manuscript from her consideration. After discussing the situation with an agent who was speaking at the conference, I knew what I had to do. It was with a heavy heart that I emailed the only agent who had my manuscript and admitted it wasn’t ready.

It was a hard decision to make, and an even harder email to send, but it was the right decision. It needed to be done. Luckily, the agent was understanding and thanked me for letting her know. Also, I had two more agents from the conference request to see at least part of the manuscript when my revisions are done.

So for now it’s back to the grindstone to finish these revisions. The best part is, I know I’m only making it better.

Just say no

Image

Over the last few weeks I’ve devoted a significant amount of my time to researching literary agents. I’ve been stalking their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. I’ve been reading blogs. Anything I can do to help navigate my way through the process. During that time, I’ve seen quite a few people complaining about the industry standard of form rejection letters, or in a lot of cases, no response at all if they’re not interested. A lot of people don’t understand it, but I’m finally starting to get it.

I could never make it in the world of a literary agent for two main reasons. For one, as I discussed in my blog on rejection, I am terrified of calling people on the phone. (It’s seriously giving me palpitations just thinking about it. They certainly couldn’t be caused by my breakfast of coffee and cough drops.) But most importantly, I’m really bad at telling people no.

I’m not sure where it comes from. Maybe it’s an innate desire to make people happy. Maybe it’s a reflection on my own fear of being disappointed. I don’t know what it is, but when someone approaches me face to face and asks me to do something, it’s really, really hard for me to tell them no. When we went to Las Vegas a few years ago, the guys were standing along the strip handing out cards that advertised “escorts” or exotic dancers. I wasn’t looking for company, but I still took all the cards that were offered to me. I mean, these guys were just doing their job. (Of course, Jason and I turned them into a trading card game, but that’s not the point.) A few months ago, one of those scammy magazine salesmen came by the house. I knew it was a scam, but the guy was so enthusiastic and upbeat that I had a hard time telling him no. So I gave him $10 as a “donation” so that I didn’t have to cancel my credit cards. Pathetic, I know.

That is where I would get myself into trouble. Literary agents have to be willing to say no. Yes, there are a lot of great, undiscovered books out there. But there are also some really bad ones. (In fact, I just finished one that fell in this category, despite its existence on the NYT Bestsellers list.) If an agent offered to represent everyone, they’d be totally overwhelmed and no one in the industry would have an ounce of respect for them. You can’t go around offering a subpar product and expect people to bite. Yet every time you turn down, your crushing a little bit of someone’s soul. (Might be a slight exaggeration, but it certainly feels like it sometimes.)

There are only so many ways to creatively tell someone you’re not interested. There’s another blog where the author likens his rejection letters to love letters. His blog can be found here: http://rejectionloveletters.com . The funny part is the fact that it’s true. Especially when it comes to form letters, most agents have gone out of their way to let you down gently. And it’s easier to not have to explain it, because sometimes the explanation hurts worse than the actual no.

So I’ll take the form rejections. I’ll take the radio silence that means they’re not interested, even though I would love for someone to sit down and actually be honest with me about my work. What it comes down to is the fact that, as long as you have something to offer, there is someone out there for you. And sometimes, you just have to say no.