The Rejections Start Coming and They Don’t Stop Coming

Getting the first rejection out of the way is always the hardest. It’s that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, that flicker of doubt, those voices in your own head whispering you’re not good enough.

But once you open the email, read through the (generally) kind rejection form, you move on. I have a special folder in my email labeled REJECTIONS. That way, I know they’re there, but I don’t have to see them every time I check my email.

The first rejection came pretty fast. I sent out to this particular agent on Saturday morning and heard back this morning. It’s Tuesday. So it’s only been three days. So, it really hasn’t sunk in yet.

I was a bit hesitant to send to this agent initially, mostly because the guidelines on their website weren’t entirely clear. I had the normal reaction, but then I moved the email into its folder and marked the agent as a “no” on my list.

I’m sure at some point in the day it’ll really hit me. Like at the least opportune time I’ll remember I’ve been rejected and then I’ll have a moment of self-doubt and worry that every agent won’t be interested, or that I’ve somehow talked myself into sending out a project that isn’t ready for this world. Or, maybe that the world isn’t ready for.

Either way, rejection stings. Every sort of rejection hurts and there are two ways to deal with it. You can act on your anger and embarrass yourself, or you can see it as a bump in the road and just keep on moving forward. The latter is easier said than done, especially in regards to writing. Because for those of us who are serious about the time we put into our craft, who have fallen wildly and passionately in love with writing, and are hoping to seriously publish, then it hurts. It hurts a lot.

But the road to publication is paved with rejection. Unfortunately, in a business that is so subjective, it’s inevitable. You’ve gotta have a spine. It’s very rare that the first book writers query are the one that they get picked up for. And getting an agent to love your project is only the first obstacle, since after more edits and deadlines, you’ve gotta make an editor fall in love with your work as well. I mean, your agent is doing the negotiations and legwork, but it’s up to you to have a really freaking great book.

But do not despair. I am a firm believer in that everything happens for a reason. Things like this take time. So for those of you who are dealing with rejections and think you might never get published, take deep breaths. We’re all in the same boat here. It just depends on whether or not you let one small misfire sink you.

The Now What Stage

It’s the morning after I sent out my first round of queries. Admittedly, I’ve had very little sleep because not only was the whole process terrifying, it was exhilarating. I couldn’t sleep afterwards, and was up until two-thirty stress-eating cheese in bed while watching The Great British Baking Show again.

Earlier this week, I talked about my feelings of dread for the query letter, and now that I’ve sent one out, I feel somehow worse and better at the same time. Worse because you can never really know whether or not an agent is going to respond (and I don’t mean like via e-mail, but emotionally) to your query no matter what you do to it. Not to mention, some agencies only give you a few pages, I’m talking like three, to capture their attention, and if you’re anything like me, those first three pages are the absolute hardest to nail. Anyway, the whole process is really just one giant risk, because you could have an incredible novel at your hands and they could still reject you.

Like, think about those first agents that rejected J.K. Rowling. I bet one of their biggest regrets in life is not giving her a chance. But, also, once again, the whole thing is subjective. Not everyone out there is going to respond to your novel. There’s always going to be at least one person who can find something wrong with it, or it simply isn’t appealing to them. Of course, this is why I research the agents—their current and past deals, their Manuscript Wishlist accounts, their submission guidelines, their Twitter and other social media, and their blogs—so that hopefully I’m sending them something they could very potentially be interested in.

One of my close friends said something interesting to me last night when I sent her a text with a lot of vomiting emojis. Basically, she said that as I move on, I should think of every inevitable (she didn’t say this, but I’m being realistic) rejection is just proof that I’m working hard and sending out my work. And it’s true. Writers get rejected all of the time, and I cannot sit here and write this with my head so far up in the clouds that I think that I’m going to get snatched up on the first few queries I’ve sent out.

But it’s strange and a little worrisome. For the next several weeks, I’m going to have anxiety about opening my email. I’m going to remind myself that Stephen King was rejected a whole bunch of times before he ever got published. And it’s not like I haven’t experienced rejection before with my writing. I epically failed with sending out my last novel. I just really really hope that this one is different.

Now that I’ve begun querying, I’ve entered this weird in-between stage. My novel is “finished,” filed away on a USB and also on my desktop, so I even though I keep finding myself gravitating to it, wanting to work on it, I have to remind myself that I’ve done what I believe is a ton of work, and I should let it breathe as I continue sending out my queries. This also leads me to another interesting thing I heard during a chat with a Penguin editor via a monthly book box subscription I get. One of the authors on the chat said that she knew when to start sending out her novel because she was no longer making it better, just different. That’s what I’m doing. Lots of nitpicking at this point, changing things just for the sake of changing.

So, I decided to start querying. I’ve had people critique my query letter, I’ve workshopped several drafts of my novel, and now it’s time to take the plunge. Which I’m currently doing in waves, so that every week, the novel lands in 5-10 new inboxes, and that’s 5-10 more chances of acceptance or rejection.

I’ve thought about the ideas rattling around in my head. I am very much a person who, if she doesn’t write at least once a day, she is absolutely positively cranky. Really, though, I’m so fresh out of this novel that I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I believe I’ll be blogging a bit more. I mean, I’ve already started! Two posts in one week? That’s incredible for me!

I also think I’m going to try and read more. I mean, I do tend to read a lot already, but I’ll be posting some reviews here, mostly YA, looking at novels from a writer’s standpoint and hopefully concentrating on some debut novels. Sometime next week I’m going to be posting something I’ve already written (!!!) about the importance of reviews for authors, and then hopefully finally getting around to the pile of novels I’ve recently read and need to write my feelings about.

Also, Bookcon is coming up, and I cannot contain my excitement. But that’s in next week’s post as well, and I’m getting ahead of myself.

For now, I need to enjoy my time in this weird, Upside Down-type of place I’m in (sans Demagorgon) and take a breather.

The Dreaded Query Letter

In the background of today’s writing session is a thunderstorm. There’s nothing quite like thunder, and rain has always been my favorite weather despite its tendency to ruin plans. Perhaps that’s exactly why I like it, because then I have an excuse to stay in bed and read, and as of late, obsessively watch The Great British Baking Show.

Last month, I somehow managed to read six books, which for me, is a lot. I never read that many, because after being a literature major/philosophy minor in undergrad, I read slowly because I tend to write comments in the margins and highlight the crap out of passages/books I love. Yes, I’m one of those readers who loves her books so much she breaks the spine, dogears the pages, writes in ink. I love when I can tell books are loved.

Anyway, my point is that lately, I haven’t been reading much, and that has to do with the topic of today’s post: the dreaded query letter. I have finally achieved a draft that feels right. I have plans to try one more structural tweak before I send off the first few pages to my list of agents, but my beta-readers have been incredibly helpful. Honestly, I just feel really loved, and their comments and insights have been incredibly helpful these past few months getting this manuscript into great shape.

It might be a little risky, given just last week I was talking about not rushing things. But, this will be Draft Six, and though there are probably some things I’ve missed, I’m hoping to work with an editorial agent who is willing help me with this difficult novel.

Thus begins the process of writing a query letter. Two things I’ve noticed since the last time I wrote one: a) I forgot how to do so, and b) writing a query letter for a contemporary versus a fantasy is insanely different. When I was writing the one for my first novel, it came so easy because I knew exactly what was at stake, I knew which books I could comp it with, and I knew the structure was linear and easy to follow.

This time around, not so much. I think it’s because I’m so much more attached to this novel, and that when I let myself run around daydreams of the publishing world, it’s this novel that’s my debut. Which is a scary freaking thing. But I think that’s why the query is so hard to nail. It’s the thing that stands between your writing getting into the hands of an agent.

Honestly, I feel like it’s an antiquated bit of the publishing world, but I do understand its function and necessity. It’s the first (now, often virtual) impression you’re making on someone you may eventually begin to build a professional relationship with. If you can’t summarize your own book, that often means you don’t understand the heart of it just yet. Also, just a bit of advice, almost all agencies have guidelines on querying. Read through and follow them, or risk your query getting deleted without being read.

One of my professors during Thesis Seminar once told us that writers wear a lot of hats. At that point, some were just beginning to write their thesis and others were editing. She pointed that out, that you’re using different parts of your brain for each task. When I’m writing, I try not to think about mistakes. I just write. When I’m editing, I’m thinking about structure, the function of scenes, the necessity of scenes and characters.

So, writing queries also falls into the collection of hats we wear. It’s a frustrating one, to be honest. The kind that itches, the kind that falls down over our eyes whenever we duck our heads, the one that make it hard to hear the outside world. I also feel kind of stuffy when I wear this hat, because I’m trying to be businesslike, but also not lose the heart of my novel.

There are just so many ideas and opinions on the query letter these days, that you have to go in it just knowing that what you absolutely have to have is a great hook. Make the agent want to read more, make them wonder what will happen in the book. Some agents may pay more attention to the query than others, mostly because they’re trying to see if a) you can summarize your book, b) you listen to instruction, and, most importantly, c) you know how to sell your book.

Some of my fellow writers who are querying are relying on their pages to make up for their query letter. I’ve seen manuscripts picked up regardless of how garbage their query actually is, but I personally am too scared to take that risk. I want to show that I can do both, that I can wear all of the hats–not at once, of course, because then I would look ridiculous (Dobby from Harry Potter comes to mind)–even if this is all metaphorical.

Knowing that you’re about to make a first impression on someone is intimidating. Especially when you feel like you’re packing up all of your hard work and dreams into a little package and sending it for judgment. The whole process is subjective, something that was once included in a rejection email I received last time around. It was probably the most helpful piece of advice I had received, because it was a good reminder that even though no one offered to sign me, it didn’t mean I wasn’t talented or didn’t have any chance at getting published. It just meant that that project wasn’t the right one for this particular agent. I guess, really, that’s what you have to remember through this process.

Gosh, I know this post is insanely long, so thanks for reading. I guess I just had way more feelings–i.e. dread–about the query letter than I initially thought. But it is important to have faith in yourself. Writing and publishing really is about the journey, and someday, you’ll look back and be thankful you took your time, you wrote the best manuscript you could. So, to all of you querying, I wish you luck.

When Writing Feels Like a Competition

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First off, I finally finished Draft(s) Three and Four of my novel. The fourth one was just to fix a small plot thing that I had found while writing Draft Three and couldn’t resist fixing before I sent it out to my readers this time around. It feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, but also not, and this post is pretty much to talk about why.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately as fellow writers’ manuscripts come in and out of my inbox that at some point, writing becomes this weird competitive thing. Especially coming out of a MFA program, where almost all of your friends want the same thing.

We’re a year out. It’s sort of hard to believe that we’ve been out for a year, and honestly, I’m still not sure what I’ve done with that time. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been feeling extra uninspired lately, and a little off-kilter. I’ve spent so much time thinking about who I was then and who I am now, and reliving many of my mistakes. That’s a post for another time.

But, right now, I’m thinking about my class as a collective. At the end, we scattered, the wind blowing many of us in different directions across the country (and maybe other countries because one or two have fallen off the radar). Some are published, some are teaching, some are writing blogs, some are making music, one for sure is agented, some are running amazing indie presses, some are living together, some are working in bookstores and in marketing, some are actively writing, and some have given up on writing altogether. For a short two years, we shared classrooms and airplanes, Pittsburgh and bars, cigarettes and tequila, jokes and tears. We gave the most personal bits of ourselves on the page, only to have other people critique us. And now, now many of us don’t share anything except Instagram pictures and short texts.

I try my hardest to keep in touch. I read manuscripts when people send them my way, and most of them are from my fellow children’s writers. It’s getting to the point where we all have manuscripts, almost complete ones, and we’re hyping ourselves up to query. Or, at least, we want to be querying.

As I talk to them about their desires for the future, I find I’m both happy and hesitantly disappointed. Jealous, really. Because though none of us will be the first from our year to land an agent–that honor has gone to one of my critique partners who is seriously a writing goddess–it seems like there’s a weird storm brewing.

Some of my friends from the program are actively querying, and I’ve been reading a lot for them–query letters and summaries and first ten pages and author bios. And as I continue to read, I panic. Because I thought I’d be further than this, thought I had finally found my footing in this damn novel, but, like all writers, I’ve experienced several setbacks.

I thought I had a strong manuscript, thought I was making good progress and getting closer and closer to querying. I say this all of the time, but this is the story of my heart. It’s the story of my soul. I would be all cliche and scream it from the rooftops so the whole world could hear it. I can’t. It’s scary, because I’m ready to share this oh-so-personal novel with the world, but the novel isn’t ready to be shared.

And as my friends continue to write and as they get more excited about querying agents, I panic more. It’s really freaking stupid to be honest, because it’s not like there aren’t a lot of agents out there, and the time it takes for me to get one isn’t a reflection on me as a writer. There are a whole lot of variables that come into play when querying–I’ve seen it firsthand, as I was an intern for an agent for the past year–and sometimes, it has nothing to do with the writing, and almost never the writer. (Unless they do something stupid, like not read the guidelines or CC several agents on one query.)

I know who my dream agent is, have a nice long list of ones that I feel like I could not only grow an author/agent relationship with, but someone who can help me learn, who will help me navigate not only my (hopefully future) writing career but also life. These are the ones who resonate with me not just as agents, but as people. I’ve read their bios and websites and their Manuscript Wishlist posts and their blogs and I can see my novel in their hands and trust them to make it better.

I don’t know, though. I’ve posted before about not rushing the process, about taking my time, and despite the urge that I feel to just send out my novel, I won’t do it. It’s just weird, because I don’t want to feel like I’m in a competition with my friends. When one of them (and they all will) lands an agent and then a book deal, I want to be happy for them. Their biggest fan.

So, for now, I guess it’s about the writing. Knowing that I’ll get there eventually, too.

Fighting the Draft Slumps

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The (first) (second) third (fourth) (fifth) draft slump is real, y’all.

I tend to be a pretty slow drafter, but that’s because I like my first drafts to be as full as possible, not just snippets of scenes or bits of dialogue. A lot of my writer friends word vomit whatever’s on their mind and then work backwards for draft two, filling in as need be. It works for them, and it might work for you.

It doesn’t for me. I’ve tried. My first-draft game-plan is always overwrite. I work best when I have too much rather than too little. And I think that’s because I like to lose myself in the first draft, see where the character/place/plot wants to take me as opposed to where I want to take them.

My WIP has been a weird experience. Like writing takes up a weird part of my brain, and not just some, but all. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, and if I am writing, well, I’m actually (hopefully) getting stuff done. And I’ve found that the more drafts I have, the stranger the experience.

Unfortunately, Draft 3 requires a lot of heavy-lifting. I have restructuring to do, have to move a character from the past into the present and change how my MFC sees that character. (This is probably the part I’m looking forward to the least because even though I accomplished what I’d set out to do with that character, it isn’t working with the rest of the draft.) And moving them into the present will raise the stakes and make everything more heartbreaking when it all falls apart.

It’s not just the moving that’s hard. I basically write every draft from scratch, and each time, I have to grieve with my MFC all over again. That is probably the strangest part. In real life, I’m overly emotional. I’m almost always crying over music and books, living in the past, getting angry over everything and nothing at all. As a writer, I tend to put it all on the page. I want readers to feel, to grieve and laugh and think while they read. I want it to be a visceral experience. I want them to close the book and basically be a mess of emotions.

So, really, I guess this slump is mostly due to feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done in this draft, but also longing to write a new story so I can stop grieving someone who isn’t even real. But here I am, lacking commitment to the things I create, and it’s borderline devastating.

My mind is a mess. Heck, I started this blog with the intent of keeping track of my writing. But I haven’t posted in a month, and that, despite the newness, despite the excitement of this project, leaves me feeling guilty. Because all I do anymore is start things and not finish.

In the past, I’ve taken up a slew of things: writing nonfiction, knitting, cross-stitching, baking, eating healthy, going to the gym regularly, a dozen or so Stephen King novels the size of an encyclopedia, yoga, mindfulness, painting, TV shows, writing poetry, a face-wash routine, making my bed every morning, growing plants. I have opened more books and started writing more stories than I can count. I’m always trying to do something, but I hardly ever finish. As a writer, as a creator, I want to finish things. But why. Can’t. I. Finish. This. Draft?

If you’re out there lying (laying? I’ll honestly never know the right one) on the floor, feeling some of these frustrations, I’d love to know how you fight these slumps, how you keep up writing and creating when finishing something feels out of the realm of possibility.

The Need for Taking Your Time

Wednesday was supposed to be my deadline to send Draft 2 to my critique partner. It didn’t happen. My work schedule was all over the place, I had to read and critique manuscripts/queries for other writers, and I was exhausted. All excuses. But what I forget when making deadlines for myself is that I tend to make them unattainable. I always rush things, and they end disastrously.

Take, for example, the novel I wrote for my thesis. During boards, when I had to defend this book, my child, and listen to critiques that, in the moment were helpful but looking back are now discouraging, I knew the book needed to be put away. I had been writing it, workshopping it, crying over it at Panera Bread with my writing friends and in my advisor’s office for the entire course of grad school. And when it was all over, I was proud of myself for being one of four students to turn in an entire novel before boards.

My life during that final semester of grad school, was amazing. I mean, I wasn’t working, so that caused me ~insane~ anxiety, but I was living on my own in a cute apartment with my even cuter dog. I was eating pizza and writing all of the time. I had multiple weekly writing dates with people in my program at various indie coffee shops across the city, had made amazing friends when we all traveled to Peru the summer before, whom I went to AWP with in D.C. I was accepted into and attended the MadCap Writing Cross Culturally Workshop in Gatlinburg, TN, where I spent four star-struck days learning from established YA writers like Leigh Bardugo, Julie Murphy, and upcoming debut ones like Nic Stone and Ashley Woodfolk. I got to eat lunch with Nicola Yoon and talk about her writing processes for Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star. And, on top of all of that, Dhonielle Clayton read the beginning of my manuscript and her critique was so unbelievably helpful and kind.

Back in the Burgh, we were doing monthly readings for the program. I found my voice that semester, not just in writing YA, but in finally writing non-fic pieces about past failed relationships, about my broken heart and traumatic moments. I read aloud and felt on fire each and every time. I found my group of my writers, and we danced Friday nights away, and did many shots of tequila before readings.

I’d never had a friend group like this, people who stayed, people who loved me despite my mess of a heart, how easily I cry, how much I feel things. The love and respect was mutual. Iceland was awaiting my arrival in a few short weeks, I was admittedly starting to develop feelings for someone in the program and it was scary and wonderful and terrible all at once, and somehow, I was the happiest I’d ever been in my entire life.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened once I followed the sharp bend in the road. The end was nearing. People were getting ready to move away from Pittsburgh to chase their own dreams, and I wasn’t excited for graduation. I was absolutely terrified. It came and it went, and it was a few months later when I woke up and realized my life had blown apart.

I stopped writing. I read through my thesis novel without really reading it. I had my heart broken, went to amend things, made it a thousand times worse, and broke it myself. I burned bridges, embarrassed people I respected, and cried more that I’ve probably ever cried in my life. (And honestly, that’s saying a lot.) I was depressed, living with my parents, had no job, no prospects of a job. All I had was this “finished” book.

Even though it wasn’t anywhere near ready, I needed so desperately for someone to say that all of this pain was worth it. That my voice was compelling, that in months when I felt like I could never be enough for anyone–as a friend, as a lover, as a student, as an intern, as a writer–this manuscript was exactly what they were looking for. I just wanted to be wanted in return. I wanted someone to stay.

I rushed it. I wrote a query letter, sent it out to a list of agents I had researched, and was not surprised or even crushed by the rejections. But then one of the agents asked for a full, and even though I knew this book was terrible, even though I’d done everything I’d been told not to do, I sent it to her in a haste. It was rushed and I’m embarrassed and still mad at myself for it. Needless to say, I never heard back from that agent.

All of this is to say that you shouldn’t rush things like this. Sure, sometimes, the daydream of being published and having my books on the shelf is so visceral that I can’t wait a moment longer. I get ahead of myself a lot. So this time, I’m taking it slow. I’m going to forgive myself for the missed deadline, and I’m going to keep writing this draft. I think this attempt will be different. Because this is the book straight out of my heart.

Hopefully, one day I’ll get to share it with you all.

This is for Me, But Also for You

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I know there will come a day when I wish I had started this sooner. If only I had been paying closer attention from the very beginning, watching my writing grow and writing about the process of writing a novel. But, in my twenty-four years on this planet, I’ve come to accept that I am habitually late: to work, to hanging out with my friends, to understanding my emotions, to acting on those emotions, to surprise parties, to meetings with people I respect. I’ve also accepted that perspective always changes in hindsight. So, whereas I normally feel guilty about all of the above, I’m letting this one slide.

For those of you who don’t know, and at this point, none of you do, I’m a writer living in the rural outskirts of Pittsburgh. I have a MFA in Creative Writing, and my speciality was children’s literature, along with publishing and travel writing. My heart is in writing for young adults. It’s one of those markets that’s flourishing as it grows, and as of many recent publications, it’s starting to do things that other areas in the lit world haven’t quite caught on to yet. (So, I’ll say it right now. This is a blog that celebrates all aspects of diverse writing, diverse characters, and the continuous push for own voices and marginalized writers. Every child/teen/person deserves to see themselves on the page.) I have hope that YA Lit will continue to harness respect from other genres, and that when I talk to people about what I write, I’m not ashamed to tell the truth.

That, alone, is a post for another time. Which makes me excited for all of the things I want to write about more in-depth.

Anyway, for the past nine months–at this point, ten–I have been writing a YA contemporary novel. For now, I’m keeping the details and title to myself. It was a big step, going from writing fantasy to writing contemporary. I spent a lot of time researching YA contemporary novels in order to better understand how they told their stories, because mine is very much a character-driven story. And when you’re used to writing lots of plot, it all just feels. So. Slow.

I took a different approach with this novel. I just wrote. I withheld from my usual habit of editing as I went about forming the draft. And on January 25th, 2018, I finished the first draft at around 3:30 a.m.

It was scary, because this one felt different. It still feels different. Like it has more potential to go places. Of course, it’s not ready yet. It’s been through several read-throughs by other writer friends, a round of editing, as well as structural revisions. It’s about to depart from my inbox to another round of reading by my critique partner. (Who I met through grad school and is an amazing person and writer, btw.)

I guess all of that is why I’m writing this blog. I want to document this journey. The one of finishing a novel, of polishing it, of researching agents and querying. It might be one that ends drastically, but also, there’s a chance I might prevail. It could be the adventure I’ve always dreamed about. Except with maybe less dragons, which is probably the most disappointing thing about it.

In the end, I would love it if you stuck around! Maybe you’re about to embark on this process as well, maybe you’re published, and maybe you’re not a writer at all. Either way, welcome.