By Wendy Tyson
We’ve all been there. Maybe it was your first agent rejection letter. Maybe it was your one hundredth. Perhaps it was a scathing Big Name Publication review that called your plot “trite” or your characters “shallow.” Maybe it was as simple as a Goodreads DNF or an Amazon reader who questioned your very right to existence. It could have been the complete lack of response to what (you believed) was a brilliant query. Whatever form the rejection came in, two things are certain. One, unless you aren’t human, it stung. And, two, it won’t be your last.
I’ll share a little (not so secret) secret: the writing business is rough. We earn our stripes by enduring the comments, opinions and rejections of others, and we do it quietly, and with grace—at least outwardly. The act of writing may be a solitary affair, but the business is very public. There is no arguing with the agent rejection letter, no responding to the nasty Amazon reviewer (don’t do it, no matter how badly you want to), and no writing to Big Name Publication to tell them they got it all wrong. You have created something and, once you put your material in the hands of others, you lose control. Those, my friend, are the breaks.
I got my start writing short stories. Back in the 1990s when I began submitting to literary journals, very little was done electronically. Instead, I’d mail a copy of my story with a cover letter and a self-addressed stamped envelope and at some point—weeks or months later—I’d receive a response. Usually that response was a form rejection, often typed on a tiny square of paper. I eventually learned that magazines had different form letters depending upon whether they liked your work enough to ask you to submit again versus the “thanks but no thanks” version. I compiled quite a stack of rejections, but it didn’t take me that long to figure out I’d need patience and perseverance if I wanted to succeed. In fact, if I’d quit after the first dozen rejections, giving in to all those negative feelings and fears about my own abilities, I wouldn’t be writing this today.
I eventually did publish short stories, and that led to full-length novels. It was my third book that earned me representation, but my second novel that my agent sold first. I just had to keep going despite the rejections.
Here’s another secret: writing affords second chances. And third chances, etc. It’s a rough field but, for those willing to put in the time and labor, and to swallow their egos in order to improve their craft, there is always the possibility that their book will find a home. Or a readership. Or that their book will be IT.
Which brings me to my final secret: know when to quit.
Growing up, my mother had a thing for Kenny Rogers. I can’t hear his name without thinking of the song “The Gambler” and those wise lyrics, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away…” You get the point. (And if you have “The Gambler” stuck in your head now, you’re welcome.)
During a recent mystery convention, I had the chance to talk at length with an as-yet-unpublished author. She shared with me her journey, which basically consisted of writing and re-writing the same novel over and over again. Every time she received a rejection from an agent, she’d take any constructive criticism that agent provided and use it to rework her mystery. Six years and many revisions later, the book was still being edited—and she’d begun the sequel. She expressed her frustration with the endless rejections, her own perceived lack of writing ability, and the industry, and asked me what I thought she should do next.
“Stop,” I told her. “Put that series aside and write something completely new.”
Based on the look in her eyes, it was clear I’d blown a big fucking hole right through her day.
“That would mean six years gone.” She shook her head. “I can’t do that.”
You can. And sometimes you should. I know many fantastic authors who haven’t been published because they’ve done this very thing: reworked a novel to the point that they’ve lost touch with the original vision for the book. Some eventually gave up. Others are still picking at the same tired work in progress. The key is to put it aside long enough so that you can read it objectively. In the meantime, get back to work—on a fresh manuscript.
That first novel I mentioned earlier? After it was turned down by Big Five publishers, my agent at the time told me to put it aside and write something new. She called it my “training bra novel.” Intelligent words. At the time, I felt like a loser. I’ve since realized that knowing when to stop working on one project in order to start another didn’t make me a loser any more than the pile of rejections did.
Remember those second chances I mentioned? What matters in the end is the quality of your work. The time I spent writing that first book made me a better author. Now I go back and read it when I want to remind myself just how far I’ve come.
WENDY TYSON has written four published crime novels, including Dying Brand, the third novel in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series, which was released on May 5, 2015. The first in the Campbell series, Killer Image, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com. Wendy is also the author of the Greenhouse Mystery Series, the first of which, A Muddied Murder, was released on March 29, 2016. She lives with her family on a micro-farm near Philadelphia.
To learn more about Wendy Tyson’s most recent novel, click on the cover below.