If you’re an author trying to get published, rejection is part of the process. I have no problem with that. As part of my day job as an architect, we submit our qualifications for projects and are rejected 90% of the time. It’s not that we’re not qualified; most of the time it just means we’re not a good fit for that particular project. It’s the same with writing. And though I’m accustomed to rejection in general, I’d like to see a little more success with my writing.
Authors seeking to be published by a traditional publisher generally seek agent representation first. Thus, agents are the first to offer rejection. Here’s a typical rejection letter (email) from an agent.
Dear Mr. Bird:
Thank you for your recent submission. We enjoyed reviewing your work. Unfortunately, at this time, we do not feel we have a good place for you on our client list. We wish you all the best success in the future.
Just a form letter. No real feedback. Nothing to tell you if your writing is truly bad or if it’s just a wrong fit for that particular agent. And this judgement is based typically on no more than the first 50 pages of your novel, and more often, the first 10 pages. I can also imagine than an agent can make the assessment after the first few paragraphs.
Here’s another I recieved.
Dear Mr. Bird,
Thank you very much for your query below. I liked the premise of this story, but I am sorry to say that I did not connect with the writing in the way I had hoped. For this reason, and with regret, I cannot offer you representation. However, I wish you every success and hope you will find the perfect home for this material.
Hey! Positive feedback. This was for Heather Girl and apparently she liked the premise of my story! So that tells my I’m not completely off base with the overall story idea. This is good. Great, actually. Now the bad news.
I did not connect with the writing.
In other words, my writing sucks.
This is what authors tend to do. One minute you’re receiving the Pulitzer, the next your pages are not worth lining the bottom of a bird cage. We’re an insecure bunch. Reality is somewhere in the middle.
After a few days of self-loathing, I decided to try to figure out why the agent might not have connected with my writing. Working under the assumption that she started at the beginning, that’s where I start. And one of the first rules of novel writing is to have a good opening hook. So I spent a few days trying to craft a hook. That was more or less a useless excercise.
Did the agent really not connect with my writing because I didn’t have a clever hook? I doubt it. It’s more than that.
What did I do?
I scrapped the first three chapters altogether. I’ve moved one of my favorite scenes to the beginning of the book. I think it’s more engaging and my hope is that readers will be caught up in the story right from the beginning and be completely unconcerned about the words I use to tell the story. It’s the story, after all, stupid. That stupid is for me.
Yes, it’s taken a lot of work to rearrange the pieces and I’ve lost some of my favorite passages in those first three chapters, but wasn’t it William Faulkner who advised authors to “kill your darlings”?
I’m almost ready to begin another round of agent submittals. We’ll see if any of this has helped.