Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Guest blogger Courtney Summers on how rejections can be a positive thing.

It is ~*me*~ again.

(My secret wish is that by the time I am done these guest blogs, you will forever associate ~*~ with "that Courtney chick.")

(So then years from now, should Colleen one day decide to ~*~ , you'll be like, "Hey, whatever happened to that Courtney chick?")

(And the answer will be, "Oh, she married Jeff Probst.")

(Yeah, that's right. Jeff Probst.)

Since my first guest blog was about How I Got My Agent, I thought I'd make my second guest blog about the agents I didn't get... and why they're just as important as the agent I did. I also thought I'd close this entry with a Heartfelt Moral, but no guarantees...

So when I first started writing and querying agents, I was pretty much prepared for the constant rejection that would follow. This is because I was unpopular in middle school and middle school rejection made an agent looking at my e-query and replying with a polite, no thanks, almost, but not quite, as easy to swallow as the ~*amazing*~ pumpking pie I had last weekend (I hope you Canadian Swivet readers had a Happy Thanksgiving!).

What I wasn't prepared for was the way certain rejections would positively and majorly impact my adventures in writing. And I didn't always realize it at the time because not all of those rejections were positive experiences. Rejections can be total Dream Destroyers, yes, but sometimes they can be--trite as this sounds--a gift. Gifts disguised as Dream Destroyers, even!

The first important rejection I received was from one of the first three agents I queried for my first novel (which might've been women's fiction about a directionless 20-something, but was definitely a mess). She requested a partial. I sent it off to her and dreamed of that partial request turning into a request for a full. I did not anticipate opening up my inbox and being told that I wasn't ready for an agent. What. I stared at that line in the email for so long--feeling stupid and embarrassed--that it took me a while to see the "But." But? "But," the email said, "You will be." Below that was her phone number. She wanted to arrange a talk.

Later that week, I found myself having a 30 minute conversation with a literary agent who told me I wasn't ready for representation, but I could be, it wouldn't happen with this book, that it would probably take years and it would be a lot of work, and what was required of me to make it happen. I remember hanging up the phone feeling like the whole thing was totally beyond me until I realized at least one person in the industry didn't think it was. That was a lucky first time out, I admit, but that agent expressing a certainty that it would eventually happen was something that kept me going when I wasn't feeling so certain myself, and her rejection gave me the courage to let go of my first book and write my second.

My second novel (featuring a younger directionless 20-something, and only slightly less of a mess than the first) brought about many, many rejections from agents, and none of them said too much about why they were passing, which never bodes well. Finally, one agent tacked a note onto their no that changed everything. It said, "Sorry, but I don't handle borderline YA." After I read that, I swear I left a dent in my forehead, I smacked it so hard. Without that agent's rejection, it might've taken me at least 10 more years to figure out what I was meant to write.

Seriously, I'm pretty slow on the uptake.

My third novel was a high-concept YA (yay YA!), except, tired of rejection, I decided to write to what I thought the market wanted, even though I wasn't really feeling it. This novel garnered a lot of interest. An agent emailed me, loved the book and wanted to talk about it. We had a great phone call. She had revision suggestions. I liked them. She had more. She said she'd write up a revision letter and if I agreed to it, we'd go forward with representation. I notified other agents of the interest and they bowed out, but that was okay because I was 99% sure I had an agent. I waited on the revision notes. And waited. And waited some more. I sent 'what's up?' emails. They went unanswered. The new year came. Just when I had completely given up, the agent emailed me... to let me know she was leaving the business and was sorry we wouldn't be working together.

It didn't feel like it at the time--I was devastated--but after I regrouped, I realized not getting that agent was one of the best things to happen to me. I didn't want an agent representing that book; one I wasn't really in love with and one I couldn't write again. I decided the next novel I wrote was going to be a total uhm... balls-out experience and it was going to be everything I wanted it to be. Without that agent's rejection, I might not have written that novel. That novel was Cracked Up to Be.

So that's why the agents I didn't get were as important as the ones I did. Their rejections made a large impact on my writing life and without their 'nos', I truly believe I would have never gotten my agent's 'yes'. Consequently, I'm totally one of those writers who believes every 'no' brings you closer to a 'yes' (if only we could all know how many 'nos' before that yes, though!), and I've decided this holds true not only in writing life, but in life-life as well.

Like, I am SURE if I just keep asking Jeff Probst to marry me he's gonna have to give at some point.

~*insert Heartfelt Moral here*~

How about you, Swivet readers? Have you gotten a rejection for your writing that made a positive impact on it?

25 comments:

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

rejections can be so hard, but it's a part of any writer's career.

whenever i get a rejection, it only pushes me to become more passionate and determined to improve myself as a writer. AND to make it as a writer, too, of course.

Joya said...

~*~Hi, Courtney!~*~

It's so cool one of the first agents you queried wanted to actually talk to you and stuff. I'm jealous of that experience!

Anyway, I agree with everything you said about rejections. I hate them, but then I sort of like them, too. Not that I like them enough to be getting them forever, but I'd be lying if I said a few of the rejections I've gotten haven't benefited my writing! One such rejection came from Colleen, actually! She pointed out some plotholes in the first version of my manuscript that she read. At the time, I was slightly confused, but after I sat down and looked through my manuscript for about seven straight hours, I realized that even though certain things seem obvious to the writer, they may not be so obvious or easy to believe to the reader.

Geez, that seems so obvious and ~*~omg duh!~*~ now that I'm rereading that explanation, but oh well, lol. At least I learned! :) Because in retrospect, I'm glad about that first rejection from her. I think the newly revised manuscript is so much better, and part of that is thanks to her (and some other agents that have provided me with some helpful notes in their rejections to me).

Anyway, so glad to see you blog here again. Your entries are fun to read, and I'm excited about CRACKED UP TO BE!

GeekyQuill said...

I know the theme was how rejection could be a positive thing, but I felt like crying when I read it. The world of writing is so intimidating. I so admire writers who stick it out long enough to get published. This is a blog to keep in our back pockets for those long loney days when we need encouragement.

Emily said...

I don't know what you mean, I thought it said ~*Courtney*~ on your birth certificate.

I got a great rejection like that. The only personal rejection of 18 form rejects - and from somebody HUGE. I had no idea what it meant at first either, but have figured it out after reading it a couple hundred more times.

GREAT POST on an oft-overlooked important topic!

~*Sparkle-E*~

Susan Adrian said...

~*We are so separated at birth.*~

I'm just saying.

Min said...

An encouraging rejection on my first manuscript motivated me to finish writing my second manuscript. I spent 18 months writing and rewriting and polishing that sucker because I wanted to show the agent that s/he was right to believe in me.

Now, I'm in the midst of getting requests and rejections (even as I write this probably!). But I press on! Because it's all going to turn around if I keep trying. Yes.

~*sparkle*~

Julie Weathers said...

Thanks so much for sharing this.

I think it's good to have someone who has "made it" remind the rest of us the journey starts the same for everyone.

Sex Mahoney for President said...

I'm glad I started reading these blogs for practical, if slightly vague, advice like this.

I like it when agents attach personal comments on the things you send them. This nice man from a Mormon Agency in Provo, Utah told me that he would pray for me when my soul was burning in hell. Perhaps I should research an agent before I send them my drivel.

Sex Mahoney for President

Scott said...

Great blog entry. My perspective on rejection: I haven't found the right agent . . . yet. There is an agent out there, somewhere, that is right for me. I just have to find him/her. Rejection is part of life. We can either let rejection beat us down, or like Courtney and so many other writers, we can let the rejection inspire us to work harder. I work harder and keep a positive attitude. It is all about the right "fit" between the agent and writer. A bad "fit" is not really a good thing.

Brigid said...

What a great blog entry. My most memorable rejection is this: I sent a query at 6pm Friday evening. Saturday morning I woke up to find a request for a partial. Monday morning I had a request for a full! Of course I was imagining my name gracing the NYT bestseller list by that point. When I got home from work that night, I sent off my full at 7pm. My baby wasn't sleeping through the night at that point, so when I got up to feed him at 3am, I couldn't help checking my email.

There it was. The rejection. The first two lines, which I will NEVER forget, were, "Hey Brigid. There's no plot here."

I sobbed. But then I read the rest of the rejection, which was encouraging. It gave me the kick in the ass to write a tighter, more focused novel (which is almost complete). So even though I'm not represented yet, I feel that rejection shoved me down the road to something better.

Brigid said...

What a great blog entry. My most memorable rejection is this: I sent a query at 6pm Friday evening. Saturday morning I woke up to find a request for a partial. Monday morning I had a request for a full! Of course I was imagining my name gracing the NYT bestseller list by that point. When I got home from work that night, I sent off my full at 7pm. My baby wasn't sleeping through the night at that point, so when I got up to feed him at 3am, I couldn't help checking my email.

There it was. The rejection. The first two lines, which I will NEVER forget, were, "Hey Brigid. There's no plot here."

I sobbed. But then I read the rest of the rejection, which was encouraging. It gave me the kick in the ass to write a tighter, more focused novel (which is almost complete). So even though I'm not represented yet, I feel that rejection shoved me down the road to something better.

pseudosu said...

As always-- you rock Courtney.
Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm now glad my first one is still under the bed where it will stay.

I agree with Scott too-- my agent is out there, waiting, hopefully not currently enrolled in kindergarten.

Cat Moleski said...

I received a form letter rejection on a manuscript last year and even though it was just a form letter, it totally inspired me to rewrite the book. It is now on its way to being a better book.

Also, thanks for mentioning that it was your fourth book that finally got published. Sometimes you do just have to let go of the first one or two (or three). Yay!

Bobbie said...

Thanks for reminding us to keep going, Courtney.

I had an agent to whom I'd sent the first 3 chapters as part of the initial submission (at the agency's request)send me a helpful and encouraging rejection on my first book. She said the plot was there, even called it high concept, but felt I started the story wrong. She said she had sold something similar recently and wasn't interested in taking on mine as well but that it was "worth persevering with to get it right." I was so happy that I didn't even care about the "no" part. Okay, maybe cared a little. But it gave me the boost I needed to start some heavy revisions.

It also reminded me how varied opinions are in publishing and it's just a matter of finding someone who believes in not just your work but you.

I can't wait for "Cracked up to Be"!! And I'm glad rejections led you to write what you wanted to write and not what you thought people wanted to read. From the sample pages you linked to your blog, I think you managed to do both.

Amie Stuart said...

I can't think of any life-altering agent rejections, though I have gotten some really great editor ones (I know...sounds like an oxymoron huh?)

Rena said...

Courtney,

Your post is the most inspirational post I have ever read on rejection. It's refreshing coming from a writer who has been there. Thank you.

Rena

Joelle said...

Dropped by via Janet Reid. My agent story is different in the details, but basically just as long and with the same results...and I too feel good about how it turned out, although along the way, I wasn't too sure! Haha. I write YA too, my agent just sold my first book to Putnam. I'll look for yours!

sruble said...

"Oh, she married Jeff Probst."
hee hee

Great post Courtney. What a journey! You had some great rejections though, especially the phone call and the "not YA" one.

I've learned from my rejections, but I think I learned more from having to send them, which was torture.

C.K. said...

I thought the same as Joya, how cool that one of those agents you contacted early on was willing to take the time to have that conversation with you. Wow. I can't imagine many people would bother to do that if they're not planning to represent you.

You already know my agent story, which is kind of a reverse inspirational thing that made me think Oh yeah, just watch me do this without you then, Mr/Ms Agent Person X!

Really inspiring post, Courtney! I totally agree that you can't find the right agent until you're really ready. The problem is while you're in the middle of it all it's so hard to tell when you've reached true readiness. Agent searching is like adolescence, such a crazy time.

courtney summers said...

deaf brown trash punk: rejections are definitely part of the writing game. that was my mantra in the beginning. glad to hear your rejections push you in a positive way too!

joya: ~*hi joya!*~ (love those sparkles! thank you!) "I realized that even though certain things seem obvious to the writer, they may not be so obvious or easy to believe to the reader." <- YES! I feel like I'm still learning that one all the time--I think it's one of the trickiest things to remember!! glad you're part of the camp of positive rejections! I have a love-hate with rejections too... in the case of writing, they're kinda addictive, aren't they?

geekyquill: it's a tough biz, no doubt about it. but always keep at it. :)

emily: it DOESN'T. but maybe I will legally change my name to ~*Courtney*~. hmm. you have to love those helpful rejections that require some deciphering! thankee, ~*sparkle-E*~ :)

susan: ~*it would not surprise me*~

min: ooh, that's awesome. it can be hard to let the first manuscript go (I know before I heard from that one agent, I had every intention to bleed that MS dry and never give it up). & yay for the subs process! *\o/* <- cheerleader. ~*sparkle*~

julie: thank you so much for reading and commenting. :)

sex mahoney: 'practical if slightly vague' is my middle name!

scott: thanks! I think you make a good point about rejection too--that we can either let it defeat us or let it inspire us to move forward. all best on your agent hunt! a bad fit is definitely not a good thing.

brigid: thanks! and good to have you in the positive rejections camp. it can be hard to dust yourself off after those rejections (sometimes the most helpful rejections cut the most, don't they?), but I'm glad to hear that you did and that it's nudged you in the right direction!

pseudosu: aw, shucks. thanks. :) and your agent IS out there (and not in kindergarten, darn it!).

cat: that's awesome! congrats on rewriting your book and good luck with it! (& letting go multiple times just seemed to be in the card for me!)

bobbie: thank you so much! I definitely agree with you--that opinions are varied and it is a matter of finding someone who believes in you and your work. good luck with your heavy revisions and all best when the book goes out on subs!

amie stuart: will it be weird if I say 'yay?' I mean, not yay for the rejections, but yay that you benefitted from them!

rena: wow! thank you so much!

joelle: it's a hard business but it's worth sticking it out for! congratulations on your sale, that's fantastic! I think I found it on PM... I'll be keeping an eye out for yours too!

sruble: hee, here's hoping that because I said it, it will be true (re: marrying Jeff Probst). ooh--I can only imagine what it's like to be on the other side of the fence! I've no doubt it's a learning experience.

c.k.: I was really shocked when it happened, and still extremely grateful that it did. definitely not the norm! I *love* your agent story, it's among my favs. and you're very right--smack dab in the middle of the process it's hard to tell when you're ready. I know seeing the good in that last rejection I listed was a longer time coming!

leesmiley said...

For me, it's not been so much the rejections that have had a positive impact on me as much as the stressful waiting period between submission and rejection. I'm still waiting on a full manuscript I've had out to a few agents since May and in that time I've put together most of a really strong novel, perhaps better than the one I have out now.

The rejections I have received, though, have been positive and often serve to throw another log on those creative fires that keep the work in progress moving along.

Picks By Pat said...

This year I received my first request for a partial from a crime fiction agent that I respected and had heard many good things about, so I was pretty excited. Alas, I was told that my material wasn't quite right for her, but she encouraged me to continue sending it out to other agents, and that made me feel better about the rejection.

Steve Stubbs said...

I know who Courtney Summers is. She's an important writer to me and all her other fans.

But who the hell is Jeff Probst?

You have proved that talent and persistence will get you what you want. Maybe Probst will be your next conquest.

Angela said...

Are you going to send that first agent a book! You'd better!

I am a firm believer that for a book to be exceptional it need to be written from the gut, no holds barred. We have to risk everything--thanks when our work shines out as unique and fresh.

courtney summers said...

lee: that's excellent--that time between can be a great motivator too, definitely.

pat: yay! good luck while it's on subs! it's always encouraging to know that an agent thinks you should keep on it.

steve: aw, shucks. I HOPE YOU ARE RIGHT. he hasn't answered any of my phone calls. ;)

angela: I should! I wonder if she'd remember me. and I definitely agree re: writing from the gut.