The 7 Stages of Grief as Applied to Rejection

In honor of all authors who’ve recently experienced a series of rejections, whether from agents or editors, I offer the following somewhat tongue-in-cheek (and somewhat NOT) overview of the process of moving on.

The Seven Stages of Grief

  1. SHOCK & DENIAL

    You read the rejection letter for the third time. Then a fourth. And it really IS a rejection, not an offer disguised as one. You double-check the envelope. Maybe it was meant for Mrs. Hinklemeyer, who lives next door. Granted, it’s unlikely she also wrote a romance novel titled LOVE IN THE TIME OF DYSENTERY, but then, they do say there’s no such thing as an original idea. But no, the envelope is definitely addressed to you. But still, there must be some mistake. This just can’t be right.

  2. PAIN & GUILT

    After the shock wears off, you feel like crap. Plus, you get five paper cuts from reading and rereading that damn rejection letter. You start to second guess yourself. Maybe you shouldn’t have killed your hero off on page 5 of the manuscript (but hey, you did resurrect him on page 15!). Maybe you shouldn’t have used the word “turgid” quite so many times. And trying to write a historical paranormal comedic thriller horror mystery romance might not have been the best idea, but damn it, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time!

  3. ANGER & BARGAINING

    What do these publishing professionals know anyway? They wouldn’t know a good book if someone hit them upside the head with it. They’re all a bunch of risk-averse weenies who wouldn’t buy the Bible if God submitted it for publication. But hey, what if you sent chocolates with your submission? Or maybe if you promise you’ll give up chocolate…

  4. “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS

    Aw hell, they’re right. Your book sucks used tea bags. You’re a complete loser who couldn’t even write the phone book. You lose all hope and motivation. Writing is a waste of time, effort, and emotion. You feel like a whiny crybaby and refuse to log into any of the social networking sites or your email for fear someone will ask you how you are. Or worse, announce they’ve just sold in a ten-book deal for seven figures.

  5. THE UPWARD TURN

    Just when you think you’ll never write again, you get a glimmer of an idea. Something so good, you can’t NOT write it.

  6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH

    You slowly put the pieces back together. You start writing because you have to. With some help from your friends and critique partners, you realize that there are a lot of reasons your previous manuscript was rejected, and none of them are that it was actually bad. Plus, the only way to be sure you’ll never sell a book is to quit. And that’s just not an option.

  7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE

    You put your much-rejected manuscript in the Magical Mulch Pile* under the bed. The publishing world just isn’t ready for it yet. But wait until they get a load of your new project, a historical paranormal comedic thriller horror mystery young adult romance. Working title: LOVE IN THE TIME OF ACNE. Yeah, this time, you’ve got it nailed!


*Magical Mulch Pile is an UNregistered trademark of Erica Ridley, my friend and author extraordinaire of Too Wicked to Kiss.

Musing on Monday: Bronzing My Rejection Letters

Or I would…if they weren’t all email correspondence these days :).

It goes almost without saying that rejection is one of the most difficult things authors have to endure. (The only thing harder is writing the darned book, lol.) Even published, “successful” authors get rejections from publishers. It’s the rarefied author indeed who never has to contemplate the possibility that a manuscript won’t pick up an offer of publication somewhere, sometime.

The last round of rejections I received was pretty crushing, honestly. It’s taken me a long time to get my writerly mojo back. Not because they were awful rejections suggesting I didn’t know how to write my way out of a paper bag (although a couple came remarkably close, lol) or even that they were just form letters saying thanks but no thanks. No, it was hard because, let’s face it, as an author, I have to believe my characters and my story are wonderful and worthy or I wouldn’t bother writing them in the first place. No one likes to be told the characters and story they love aren’t up to snuff.

But you know…I’m starting to change my mind. While I don’t think I’ll ever be happy to get a rejection letter, I’ve decided I’d prefer for them to tell me forthrightly that my book/writing isn’t good enough for them to invest their hard-earned cash in than say that and then suggest I invest my hard-earned cash instead. I’d rather get an honest “You’re not there yet with this book, but keep working,” than “maybe you’ll rise to the top through self-publishing and then we’ll see the error of our ways.”

There’s been a lot of talk the last few days about agents and editors and the gatekeeper function and how that might be keeping readers from getting books they really want. That may be true in a handful of cases. I’m sure there are books out there that get rejected by publishers that would be blockbusters if they’d just gotten a contract and appropriate backing. But those books are few and far between. And more to the point, just because there are books like that our there doesn’t mean MINE is necessarily the diamond that editors just can’t see through the rough. As a reader, there are still plenty of books that are published that aren’t my cup of tea, but without that gatekeeper function to vet books for some level of quality, I think there’d be far more sub-par books published, not thousands of overlooked diamonds.

The publisher is right when it rejects a manuscript that the book isn’t “right” for the publisher. That doesn’t have to mean the writing sucks or that it’s a bad book, just that there are a lot of books being published and this book doesn’t really make the cut in terms of fighting for readers and shelf space. I’m honestly okay with that…as long as you don’t tell me to turn around and claw for the shelf space on my own dime, especially when you know the likelihood of my finding that shelf space is slim to none.

Anyway, I just want to let all the editors at all the publishing houses out there know that I will henceforth treasure every rejection letter. I will hate being rejected just as much as ever, but I appreciate your honesty in evaluating my manuscripts and deciding they’re just not there yet. Because that just means I know next time, I have to try to write a better book.

Commitment Phobia

I think it’s safe to say that one of the most common conflicts for heroes (and to a lesser extent, heroines) in romance is a fear of commitment. This fear usually extends from an incident in the character’s backstory wherein said character loved and lost in a big way. Having been hurt by one woman (or man), the character has lost all faith in the opposite sex and must overcome this internal conflict to reach a wonderful HEA with the person he/she was truly meant to love all along.

Recently, I’ve seen a few reviewers and commentators say they’re pretty sick and tired of this trope, and just what the hell kind of weenie has ONE bad experience and extrapolates from it a lifelong mistrust of ALL members of the opposite sex. I kind of agreed…until it hit me today (as the result of the insightful comments of my dear Amie Stuart) that I’m having exactly this kind of commitment phobia. It’s just that it’s about falling in love with a story, not a person.

Ever since the book my agent and I shopped over the summer failed to garner any offers, I’ve been flitting from story idea to story idea like a Regency rake from one eligible young lady to another. Each one seems more attractive than the last, but there’s always the possibility that “Story Right” (SR)┬áis hiding just around the corner.

The thing is, I’ve had an absolute surfeit of really great story concepts in the past few months. I’ve written a dozen or more blurbs for various ideas and a few pages here and there of this or that, but then a new idea comes along and knocks the latest SR off its pedestal. I have a brief fling with new SR, and then, voila, that one is also shoved aside by the next Bright New Shiny.

I’ve always been prone to this. Until I finished my first single title (the one gathering dust under my bed) back in late 2007, I think I’d only ever managed to complete one other story of more than a few thousand words in length in my life, and I wrote a lot. I just rarely found stories that so engaged my imagination that I couldn’t easily be distracted from completing them when a “better” idea came along. So this is nothing new…

But it is backsliding. For a while there, I finished a lot of stories. None of them single title, I grant you, but still–I maintained enough interest in them to get to The End. Now, I’m finding myself barely able to get to 10k before I start to have doubts and look for something else to work on.

Amie suggested to me earlier today when I sprang my latest and greatest Really Cool Idea(TM) that maybe the reason I’m coming up with all these great ideas is to avoid actually writing anything. And I realized, damn her, she’s right! It’s purely subconscious, of course–or it was until she pointed it out to me, drat it–but my mind is shying away from committing to any one book because I am afraid of getting hurt again. I don’t want to pour my time, energy, and yes, love, into another story only to have it rejected. It’s easier to avoid love altogether than to risk getting hurt.

All of which circles back around to my original point. Do I believe that ONE bad experience can lead to a longterm inability to trust in love? Absolutely. In fact, I’d say it’s the oldest plot in the book :).

WTF Wednesday: What Is It With Dark?

My dear friend and CP, Amie Stuart, received a rejection today from a major publishing house on a “dark” paranormal. The editor’s reason for rejecting it? The tone felt “too light” for her tastes. Now, I can’t tell you anything about the proposal (which I’ve read large chunks of) because I can’t give away Amie’s story idea, but here’s the funny thing: a different editor rejected the same manuscript not too long ago because it was “too dark.”

WTF?

Of course, this just points out what we already know–that reading is subjective, and editors are just as incapable of having completely objective reactions to books as anyone else. One editor’s too dark is another editor’s too light. And as an author, you really just have to write the book YOUR WAY and not try to second-guess. That’s really hard to do, though, especially when you get so much conflicting feedback.

But the real topic of my post today isn’t rejections or subjectivity so much as it is–what gives with DARK these days? Everywhere I turn, it seems editors want “dark” (usually “dark and sexy” but notice the dark comes first.) And they don’t just want it in paranormal, but also in historical, romantic suspense, etc. Now, I do see books coming out now that are lighter (Tessa Dare’s wonderful trilogy from Ballantine comes to mind, as well as Victoria Dahl’s fun contemporary series with HQN), but it does seem to me that editors right now are looking for stories that I, at least, suspect I would find depressing and unreadable.

To me, dark is fine, but it needs to be balanced wit and humor. When it comes to books with dark, tormented characters and plots, I don’t mind a bit of weight, but I still want it to be fun to read. (IMO, Amie’s book is exactly the right mix of dark/tormented and wry/twisted humor.) And if there’s no wit or humor in it–if there isn’t SOME lightness–then it’s not fun. After all, even Hamlet and King Lear, among the darkest stories ever written, have moments of comic relief.

Mind you, I’m not actually saying that none of the “dark” books editors are buying have moments of wit and humor. What I wonder is why there’s such a passion for dark at all? We’re living in difficult times, surrounded by real crises and real danger. I thought one of the reasons romance was bucking the downward trend in book sales is that romance offers a guaranteed “feel-good” read.

Yet it seems to me that most of the dark romances I’ve read lately DON’T make me feel good at the end. There may be an HEA, but all too often, I’m left wishing the heroine (or hero in some cases) would run as far and fast as possible from the character who is supposed to be his/her perfect mate. And even if I like the characters and want them to live HEA, the story leading up to that ending can be too difficult/painful for me to feel like I had a good time reading the book.

Now, of course, I’m only one reader (and one writer). Perhaps there’s something about very dark stories that end happily that a large proportion of romance readers finds particularly satisfying. I simply find it perplexing, in the current climate, that lighter romantic comedies aren’t more sought after/fashionable. I know I want to escape the darkness of our times, not immerse myself deeper in it, and I’m looking for romances that give me pleasure all the way through. (That doesn’t mean there’s not conflict or danger or heart-wrenching moments, but I want to ENJOY those moments. Does that even make sense, lol?)

So please, New York, give me more of the fun and less of the torture. Pretty please?

Musing on Monday: Keeping the Faith

It’s over.

The proposal we had out on submission didn’t pick up any offers. Most of the rejections were along the lines of “love the writing, but…”

(FWIW, I always think that’s a cop-out. If you really loved the writing, there would be no “buts” because the writing is what makes the characters come to life and plot work.)

Naturally, I was discouraged and upset, even to the point of railing that boy, this time, I am really quitting.

“Why do I put myself through this?” I asked myself over and over.

It’s a damn good question. In publishing, you hear no a lot more than you hear yes (even if your book sells, you probably got a “No, thanks” from at least one editor on the way to garnering that contract). Even if you are lucky enough to land a contract, the publisher is probably not going to throw large wads of cash at you (unless you happen to be one of the tiny subset of writers who are already so “proven,” you could write the phone book and NY would want to buy it for six figures).

And guess what? After you do that the first time, you’re not done. No, it’s wash, rinse, repeat…possibly for years until you have that “breakout book” and possibly for always.

As my dear friend and CP Lacey Kaye said to me in email yesterday, this business is not for the faint of heart. I’m not even sure it’s for the bold of heart.

You see, I was pretty upfront and honest with myself about the relative chances of getting a contract for this book. Now, I still happen to think it’s a good book, more than good enough for New York publishers, but I also knew going in that even good books don’t always get contracted, and for reasons that don’t have all that much to do with their quality. Just for example, Several editors mentioned, for example, that their historical lists were very full and they had very few slots to acquire for.

So, before the proposal went out, I told myself in no uncertain terms that I would not EXPECT it to sell. None of this “positive thinking” stuff for me, no sir! I knew it wouldn’t sell and if it did, it would be the rough equivalent of winning the lottery.

Now, I think it served me well that I didn’t have high expectations, but I’d be lying if I said I truly had no hope. I did have hope. I mean, if I really thought it was so bad it had no chance of garnering an offer, I wouldn’t have put it out on submission in the first place. I may be a glutton for punishment, but I’m not that big a glutton.

When I realized it was definitely not going to sell (which was actually the day before the last two rejections came in), I didn’t cry, but I came pretty close to it. And over the next couple of days, I had to do a lot of soul-searching to decide whether I’m cut out for this or not. Because if I could be that upset when my expectations were low, how could I put myself through it again and again? What would happen the next time a project I really loved was rejected? And the next and the next? My answer to myself was pretty much that I’ll be just as crushed and raw as I was this time.

So, am I hanging it all up? Honestly, I sometimes wish I could.

The problem is, I can’t seem to stop writing. I can’t seem to stop. It happens in my head whether I want it to or not. Even while I was grousing to myself about this whole gig being so not worth it, I had multiple stories and characters pop into being and whisper sweet nothings in my ear. It’s kind of like a disease. In a way, I’d love to be cured. In another, it would be the rough equivalent of excising a part of my personality and changing the essence of “me.”

So, chucking the towel probably isn’t a choice. But I did come to a couple of conclusions about how my own goals need to shift as a result of this experience. Maybe, if you’re also out there chasing that contract, be it the first one or the one after that or the one after that, something here will keep you from contemplating towel-chucking:

1) It’s not about the contract; it’s about the writing. You don’t stop being a writer just because you don’t pick up a contract for publication. You stop being a writer because you stop writing. Period.

I know this isn’t an original thought, but I came to the conclusion that I’ve been far too focused on landing that next contract and a lot less focused than I ought to be on writing a book that pleases me, regardless of whether it pleases anyone else. It’s also something I have to remind myself of over and over and over again. Because I will forget sometimes.

2) Bite the bullet and write the whole book before trying to sell it.

I’m not saying this because I don’t think I can sell a book on proposal. It’s just that, if it’s rejected by all the NY publishers, I’m left with a book I can’t sell to anyone else without finishing it first. That’s a dilemma, because while it could earn me some money with an epublisher, there’s no guarantee that it will be worth the investment of the time and writing resources to finish it when I could be writing something else instead.

I am in a bit of a quandary over UNASHAMED, the book we just shopped unsuccessfully. It’s about half written. I love the characters and I really want to see them through to their HEA. But I also don’t know if that’s a worthwhile investment of my time when I have dozens of other things I could be working on that haven’t made the NY rounds and been rejected.

In other words, while there’s no guarantee that anything else I write will sell to an NY publisher, there’s a 100% guarantee that UNASHAMED won’t. Do I write it anyway? Decisions, decisions…

Decisions I’d rather not have to make next time!

3) Rejections are neither bad nor good. They just are. Overanalyzing them will only drive you crazy, so just set them aside and move on.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told “Oh, but that’s a good rejection.” I’d be equally hard-pressed to recall how many times I’ve used those very same words with my writer friends.

Now I think there’s no such thing as a good one. There’s equally no such thing as a bad one (well, perhaps if the editor tells your agent to stick this writer’s garbage where the sun don’t shine, but I don’t think that happens too often).

A rejection is a rejection, period. It means you didn’t sell the book. It sucks. No amount of positive feedback can sugarcoat that, nor do any glowing comments about this or that aspect of your project mean that this editor is any more likely to offer for the next one than for this one. Ditto the editor who loathed the book and apparently thinks you should go back and read Novel-Writing for Dummies a few more times. There’s nothing to say the next project you offer up won’t be right up that editor’s alley.

So, don’t try to figure them out. Don’t second-guess the book you wrote and wonder what if you’d just done this or that differently. It will only drive you crazy and keep you from focusing on the next project.

And whatever else we can say about ourselves as writers, it’s that there’s always a next project.