Friday, July 17, 2009

On Rejection


Sending out queries and manuscripts to agents and publishers is like buying quick picks or scratching Big Money tickets. If I win the jackpot, that’s a bonus; an above and beyond that’s a wonderful surprise but which I’m not counting on.

I’m not counting on getting a novel published. It’s the way I’m wired. Because the minute I start counting on it happening, then I might as well start wasting all my money on scratch tickets. I can’t think that way because if it never happens then I’ve wasted a lot of time thinking. And this thinking would most likely get in the way of the writing; affecting my choices as I second guess myself in favor of a mercurial marketplace. Which means grand disappointment on an epic, Pearly Gates-sized scale where you look back on your life and wonder why you spent so much time obsessing over this one thing?

It’s the way I deal with rejection. This week I got two rejections. One for a short story sent to a Web literary magazine and the other from a literary agent. These are two very different rejections. The lit mag just sent a form email. Delete. Try again.

But the agent had requested a partial based on a query, my credentials, my publishing history (short, but existent), and on a sample of writing. After she read the first 50 pages and an outline of the novel, she passed. She explained that her list of fiction was tight at the moment and that it was a hard commercial market right now.

She also had problems with the novel, including some of my syntax choices and that I present the protagonist in two points of view: 1st person as an adult, and 3rd as a teenager (the novel’s chapters alternate these times and voices). The agent said this was distracting and thought it would be a hard sell to editors.

I’ve been told this by anyone who cared what other people would think about the novel, including Ms. X. Ms. X is afraid that readers will have too many questions about why I told the story this way, and that I won’t be there to answer their questions. Ultimately, she wants to see this novel bisected, forming two books; one YA, the other literary/contemporary/narrative fiction. (Note: I’ve considered this, but don’t think the halves stand on their own.) One editor I met with at the Muse and the Marketplace writer’s conference told me the novel verged on experimental.

These critiques and rejections of the core structure of my novel would resonate more if my readers also had problems with this. I can’t think of one who wasn’t able to trust me and follow the journey I set them on, in the way I chose (at least with the POV change—or maybe I’m looking back to my critiques through smudged sunglasses).

Of course I’m disappointed about the agent’s rejection. But not surprised. I was upset for about a day, thinking that the novel was a big fail, and that the result of my years of work had been constricted by a fickle publishing industry. Maybe I’m foolish; a madcap. A loony bird flying into the jet engine of the contemporary fiction marketplace. But I trust that my novel works. The agent recommended I try small presses and enter contests. Her point: I might find a home for this orphan of a story at a house where they don’t mind a little experimentation (is it really so extreme?) and where they don’t expect their books to be bestsellers (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

On the plus side, I have already approached some small presses. And the agent requested I show him/her future material. Meanwhile I work on my next novel and continue to send out short stories. Rejection doesn’t mean the end; it means the continuation of the beginning. Of trying again.

6 comments:

Robin said...

Dell -- I think learning to deal with rejection is something all writers face. Recently I found an old rejection letter from the "New Yorker" magazine. I don't even remember having sent poems there but I must have. I felt proud of my former self having the courage to send to the hardest market there is. We can still dream!

Liz (made in lowell) said...

It's not so extreme, the novel's structure! It's just not. It's completely readable and engaging and everyone who reads it likes it. I'm so glad you don't let these near misses knock you flat (for more than a little while anyway). You inspire me. We can celebrate our little triumphs together as they come along. And they do.

Dell Smith said...

Hi Robin. I don't think I've tried the New Yorker. I know dad got a couple of rejection letters from them. And of course the couple acceptance letters...wonder if he kept those.

Thanks Liz. You're my first and best reader. Your support helps me get up an hour early every morning to write.

Liz's Mom said...

i am one more person who has read your novel and found the story enriched by the two points of view.

I liked reading every bit of it.

Your courage impresses me.

Cynthia Sherrick said...

I love your novel!! I disagree with anyone who suggests it should be cut in half. It's a beautifully written story about one man's journey through the hair-pin turns we call life. :)

Everyone has their opinion. Keep submitting to agents and you will find one who believes in you and your book!

Dell Smith said...

Thanks Liz's mom and Cindy. Your comments and support make all the difference.