I have achieved another milestone with my writing. It was not a fun one. Yesterday, I received my first rejection on my full manuscript. It stings. It is disappointing. There are questions I have that will never be answered. Most of them begin with “why.” You’d think that the feedback in the email would be telling. In true writer fashion, I’ve read the rejection email more times than is healthy. And then I tried to pick it apart piece by piece. It’s what writers do. We stare at words and imagine subplots between the lines. The spaces widen to include offstage characters. Entire melodramas with series potential are explored at the periods. Commas become crossroads in a choose-your-own-adventure story arc.
When I couldn’t make sense of the feedback, I asked trusted family to read the tea leaves with me. I continued to ask questions with no easy answers: Is this normal? What does this mean? Why?
And I am having a Neil Gaiman moment. Neil Gaiman has 8 (brilliant) rules of writing. Number 3 is my favorite. But number 5 is the rule of the day: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
And this is quite possibly where I am with this manuscript. There is a camp that is telling me, “It’s not quite there.” And no one in the camp can put her finger on what isn’t there. I’ve had beta readers say, “It needs tightening.” I’ve had beta readers say, “You’re 90-95% there.” And then of course I had this agent say it needs a good polish. Couldn’t quite explain what or how though…
Lest anyone think that I’m crazy and started the querying process prematurely, I’ve also had trusted beta readers tell me that I’ve arrived. They ship my book with fangirl passion. They’ve encouraged me to find agents, attend conferences, query, and pitch. I’m glad I sent out those fulls. I’m also glad I had my tub of Rocky Road in the freezer. Because rejection isn’t fun.
My BIL tells me that it is important though. He’s a storyteller too. His medium is film. BIL is encouraging. He says that it comes down to proving it. When I’m not smarting from my new rejection badge of honor, I pragmatically see the need to prove it. Prove that you are talented. Prove that you can learn from feedback. Prove that you won’t give up. Prove that you can start the process of building the labor-intense platform. Prove that subsequent agent won’t have to spend her limited time holding your debut-novelist hand. Prove that you can write a book in a profitable timeframe. PROVE you are not a risk but an asset.
Sigh. That’s a lot to prove.
My dad has good advice. He tells me to move forward and turn it into a win. I’ve given myself the day for the feelings. It’s okay to have them. But I’ve decided to share my rejection (with the incriminating details removed) below because I spent some time googling manuscript rejections to try to make sense of my own. I’m also sharing my thank you reply. Those can’t be forgotten.
MY THANK YOU REPLY:
So what do you, think? If this had landed in your inbox this weekend, how would you have responded? What do you think of the feedback? Helpful? Confusing? How would you move forward and turn the experience into a win?