Monday, July 27, 2009

Letting go - the post partum blues


Now speaking of books and stories-as-children I'm the old woman who lived in a shoe (well, silver-bearded old lady living in a miner's boot) with somewhere between 30-40 out and I find myself doing something like the famous "You -yes you - you live here. I KNOW you're one of mine. I'll find out just what your name is again eventually," about some of my stories. OK so maybe not quite that vague, or that many, but I find readers who just read RATS BATS and VATS expect me to remember the precise details of a dialogue I wrote 10 years back... interesting delusions they have about my memory! Hells teeth, my mind is an anti-computer collating vast amounts of good data and turning it into chaos, not the other way around.
But that doesn't mean I've forgotten just how hard it is to send your beloved manuscript out there (it actually gets harder, not easier, because unless you're that rarer than diamonds author who sold for vast sums off that first submission you know that there is a good chance it'll bounce back with a rejection that really doesn't suit your present needs. I've done it with a huge number of proposals and stories. I have seventy-four rejection slips in my top drawer.)


That doesn't mean that you don't have to do it, be it ever so hard.


My boys have just gone back to Uni, and them going hurts. I miss them. I worry about them. I would also be insane not to help them to go. To do go off into a life where I probably won't see them often. They're my sons, and I want the best for them. That means letting them go out there, letting them get into trouble, accepting that they may come home with their tail between their legs, needing succour, and yes, sometimes listening to unpalatable comments about them... and learning from that. A book or a story isn't a child... really. Nothing like as important in final analysis (although listening to the outraged squeals when someone dares to not love the little authorial oeuver you might think otherwise), but the same kind of rules apply to making it a success. (You know: 'beat the keyboard to sleep with a broken bottle and make it get up from the family home in the middle of the road, three hours before it goes to bed, lick the Encycloepeadia Britannica clean of ink with tongue and then go and work seventy hours a day down pit - we writers 'ad it tough - but you tell the young authors of today and they won't believe yer' - with apologies to Monty Python) or give it the best prep you can and send on to the best place to go further that you can... and prepare for that wholly inadequate rejection.


And one day it won't come.


Your story will be out there making it's way in the world. But it can only do that if:

1)You keep sending it out. Really, it'll never get published from you hard-drive. And trust me, it's NOT going to be stolen. (and even if this wildly improbable thing happened is that worse than it sitting on your hard-drive or in your story trunk, rotting?)


2) If when you get that rejection or piece of advice from a fellow writer... you curl into a defensive ball and refuse to accept that it wasn't perfect (even for their needs/kneads). Sometimes, they are idiots. Yep. Happens all the time. Books are rejected and go on to become bestsellers with someone else. And sometimes they're NOT wrong. Sometimes the book is fruther edited and polished by the author... and sells. Be dispassionate and sensible. It's weird but it works ;-).


And sometimes it doesn't sell. Ever. (shrug) The best way forward is to write the next, and send it out again (and while you wait, write the next), until you're sure it doesn't have a home to go to. Because... well if you have one story you've obsessed about and tried to sell for 20 years... when the dam bursts there is no weight of manuscripts to sell. Otherwise, when the dam bursts finally on that 23rd manuscript... you might find a great future for all the other 22.


OK so who is sitting on those 'children' polishing them that little more more before letting them out? And who got really shirty at a vaguely harsh comment? And who wrote a snotty comment back to the rejector?


Don't all shout at once ;-)

21 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

You're right, Dave. A story won't sell sitting in the bottom drawer or on your hard drive.

I tell people who come to my workshops that once your writing reaches a certain level, selling is a matter of hitting the Right Editor at the Right Time with the Right Story.

Some of my little children's books have been around to 5 different publishers before selling.

A YA book has made it to editorial meetings three times before the marketing people have turned it down. What? A stand alone SF story for Young Adults? It'll never sell.

The only thing to do is to keep writing and keep sending out.

matapam said...

Let's see. I have three books tromping around the circuit, two with one rejection apiece and one new one. And . . . ouch! Nineteen in various stages of incompleteness sitting on the hard drive? I really do need to learn how to finalize a project.

I think my problem is the editing, polishing, and shoe-horning in a couple of subplots to get it up to the expected word count that I dislike.

I can send them out into the cold cruel world without too much agony. I seem to be balking at the "send them off to Kindergarten" level.

Amanda Green said...

Okay, my current count -- not counting those poor little dears sentenced to hide under the bed because they really aren't good enough to see the light of day -- one book currently sitting on an editor's desk waiting for the final decision, two books making the rounds or about to make the rounds, a couple of short stories out and waiting for responses. I've had rejections, but that just makes me send the book back out after a few grumbles and a day or so of feeling sorry for myself.

The only time I've come close to even wanting to respond to a rejector was to the agent who rejected a work in less than 15 minutes from the time I sent the email -- an agent with a waiting period according to a blog entry the day before of at least 3 weeks. Yes, I did exactly what the guidelines said. From what I gathered later, this agent really wasn't taking new clients despite what the blog and the agency website said. I was more than a bit ticked then.

To be honest, the only time I do respond to a rejection is when the editor/agent gives some constructive advice or tells me they like my writing but the story just didn't fit what they were looking for at the moment but they hope I'll submit again soon. Those get a short thank you note. The others, well, they get filed. I swear one day I'll paper a wall with all the rejection slips I'm collecting. I look at them as my badges of honor -- or would that be dishonor? [G]

Dave Freer said...

Being brutal her Matapam - you probably COULD finish off a decent proportion of those if you were bloody minded enough to focus on one at a time! But on the other hand finishing them off is less of a mission than those who keep polishing and resending the same book.

Dave Freer said...

Amanda, honor. Courage in face of enemy fire. And the truth - about mine anyway - is some of those were mistakes - on my part and theirs.

Dave Freer said...

Rowena, you'd be amazed at how many people I have met who tell me "I wrote a novel - but I never sent to a publisher." The opposite fringe to the ones who send out garbage and are affronted when it gets rejected - a better fringe, IMO but still no route to publication.

C Kelsey said...

By my last count I have 4 finished short stories awaiting re-write, plus two started novels and five or six started short stories. I have never made a serious attempt to sell. A lot of it rattles around in my head and gets written just for me. I've had some storylines that I love to go back and re-read all the time. Then I have those (like one I just dug up) that I think "nice concept, who the heck wrote this piece of trash?" :D

And then, as I read here or I read Mike Resnick's articles in JBU, there is some trepidation at sticking a toe into the shark infested waters of publishing. :)

Amanda Green said...

Chris, don't say you have a little trepidation about submitting, at least not around certain authors who write for this blog. They tend to grab you by the collar -- or the ankles -- and drag you kicking and screaming out from under the bed and poke at you until you send something out. Which is how I got started. Otherwise, everything would still be going under the bed, never to see the light of day.

Seriously, if you want a second pair of eyes to look at anything you've written, you can send it either to the email addy associated with this blog or to the email addy I use for the Bar. I'd be glad to read some of those stories you like to go back to. I have a few of those myself.

C Kelsey said...

Thanks Amanda.

The biggest hurdle I've experienced is not that the (one piece of) advice I received from a professional was wrong, or damaging to my ego, or anything like that. It was that I rushed to try and comply with the advice without really understanding it. :)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Amanda
whoever CAN you be talking about?
O:-)

Chris
This is my problem. I don't have the normal problem with critiques -- become upset and/or discouraged -- my problem is that I can't tell good advice from bad, so I take it all. I once destroyed a perfectly good novel by taking everyone's advice. Years later, I pulled it out, saw that the excrescences were just that, took them off, polished it and... er... it comes out in January from baen. You might have heard/ Darkship Thieves?

All -- my first short story to sell had EIGHTY rejections and had been written over eight years before. Thirst. It's in the free collection -- Crawling Between Heaven And Earth -- in the Baen free library, if anyone is interested. In the meantime, before that story sold, I had written another sixty odd short stories. Also five novels.

None sold for those eight years. Sometimes I felt I couldn't win for losing. I sent to reputable presses and shady ones, to the ones who paid professionally and the ones that paid in peanut shells. The response was always the same.

And then Thirst sold. Another story Plaudit Cives, also in the collection, sold almost immediately (it had almost as many rejections, by then) then two more over the next year. A novel in three months. A short story in Analog by the end of the next year. And right now, of those early, forlorn sixty stories, I have sold all but five WITHOUT rewrites. To professional markets, where they were well received critically.

Moral of the story? D*mned if I know. Just keep pushing and eventually something "gives" I guess.

Sarah -- who is finishing a proposal to send to her agent JUST before going off to Portugal. (And Dave, please tell your better half her corrections were excellent and not at all intrusive. (And not the kind of vague "suggestion" that makes me insane, like -- to quote my husband -- "your girl character should be a male alien."!))

Sarah

Dave Freer said...

Chris Kelsey, the authors I emulate had a profound pay forward attitude, wanting to build this genre and other writers. I tend to find that goes with people I like and respect in the whole writing game. So, yes, we do try and get others to publication :-) Life is a bit fraught right now, but I've read the first 4 chapters of your manuscript. The problem I see first off is 'just what IS this?' (I think a novella?) and just who do you target it at. I'll let you have more feedback when I finish it.

C Kelsey said...

Thanks Dave.

I look forward to your comments.

I kind of consider that story to be a novella. But only kind of. Considering how long some of the novellas I've read are, that one is either a really long short story, or a really short long story.

Kate said...

Er. Guilty as charged yeronner, on the not submitting part. I don't send stuff out nearly as much as I should. I tend to use the time I've got to write it rather than package it up and send it.

I don't usually get stroppy over harsh comments, unless the person making them also demonstrates severe irredeemable stupidity at the same time - and even then I do my best to be polite and vent in private.

Ditto with rejections. Scorched earth and poisoned wells in a direction you'll probably need later is a pretty dumb idea. If I respond, it's a polite thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Any bitches are made privately to friends who I trust not to go telling tales out of school.

Come to think of it, there haven't been many of those. One recent rejection was pretty rough on me for a number of reasons, all of them on my side of the fence, but once I'd finished my obligatory chocolate and pity party I picked up and got on with things.

(To those who are wondering - Dave and Sarah both allow their mentees a day of abject self pity after a rejection. Then you've got to get back to it. But that day is one of chocolate, alcohol (alas, not for me, so sayeth the Surgeon General in those nice warnings that read do not drink alcohol while taking this medication) and of course "oh woe! woe is me! they hate my baby!")

KylieQ said...

Guilty! Far too much polishing, thinking "it's not ready yet". On the last edit I did for the current book, I barely touched anything and finally thought it was ready to go out into the big wide world. So far I've had three agent rejections. And of course, as soon as it's out there, I started panicking and going "oh no, i'ts not ready, I have to re-write it again" (history: this book has been about 10 years in the making; it's had a LOT of re-writes and is all the better for most of them).

I'm fine with the rejections. Actually hubby takes it harder than I do. I knew there would be a lot of rejection and so I was able to be mentally ready for that. I give myself a glass of champers with each one as it's one no closer to a yes (I've plagiarised this from someone but can't remember who).

What bothers me is that the rejections have come in within 48 hours from agencies who currently advertise a several week turn around. I don't know whether to think this indicates a huge problem with my query letter or just that it's not right for them?? I followed Miss Snark's advice for the query - write the letter, drink copious amounts of gin, trash original letter, more gin, rewrite, trash rewrite, more gin... I think it's a decent query but it's getting hard to tell now as I've looked at it so many times. I've done my research on the agents too - it's only going out to those who accept fantasy, who are currently taking queries and who sound like they might have a sense of humour. I'm not sure where to go from here. My thought was to wait for rejections four and five with the current query and then rewrite and try a new letter for the next five...

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Yep. The stories have to leave the house to be seen. You are right. They aren't children. They're products. We want other people to spend their money on our stories, and that in itself puts the stories to a certain level of judgment. We have to learn that not every consumer likes red shirts. Some like yellow, or green, or...


And unless an editor is mean about it, I don't take the rejections personally. Sure, I'm disappointed and wonder if the story's any good at all, but out it goes again anyway. I figure someone might like it. I comfort myself that I read all sorts of crap that got published, and maybe my piece of crap could get published, too.

Sarah, go you. I highly prize the concept of momentum. It seems that once a particular hurdle has been jumped, more follow suit.

I also agree with not revising stories. I write the story I want how I want it. If no one else wants it, so be it, but I don't waste my time trying to mold a completed product into something it's not. One day, I'll do it right the first time.

And lastly, I don't hang on to rejection slips. I had a friend many years ago ask why I kept them. He pointed out that they are simply negative energy in his opinion. After thought, I agreed. I didn't figure keeping someone else's negative opinion of my work was a worthwhile venture. I understand that many writers do keep their slips, and I understand why. The little so-and-so's just don't hang around my house.

Anyway, back to a story! Hope you all have a great week.

Linda Davis

Anonymous said...

Hi Again Dave,

As I read my comment above, I feel I should specify when I say that I don't revise stories, I meant before they go to another market. Of course, if an editor says, "We'll buy it, but we'd like you to do this and this to it," great. At that point, it's HIS story and he can have it the way he wants. And I'm talking about shorts, not books. Okay, now I can go to bed without worry of seeming harsh. :)

Linda Davis

Dave Freer said...

Kate, the sad truth is scorched earth ain't worth it. But truly some of them deserve it. My evil plot is to prove them wrong. A dish best served cold ;-)

Dave Freer said...

KylieQ there is a point where where you're polishing when you should be writing the next thing. I know precisely of what I speak :-)(also guilty)

Dave Freer said...

Linda -revising and not revising: the key here is to be dispassionate about comment - and that's not easy. I tend to get quite a lot of first readers and comments - if one of them thinks something is wrong, I try to step outside myself and look at it. if 2 or more independently think something sucks... it probably does...

On the other hand if an editor asks me to change the heroine to a blonde alien boy, I'll try. I made the mistake once of saying 'I can't do that.'

Dave Freer said...

Sarah I thought girl characters WERE male aliens (gdr)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Dave,

They are to me! Have you noted none of my girl characters are well... made of sugar and spice?

Though to clarify, my husband didn't tell me I needed to change my character, it was just his sample of "incomprehensible" comment.

Comments I've had that devastated me came more commonly from writers' groups and were weird in the extreme. One that stopped me for six months was "your verbs are too vague."

Best served cold... Well, the ONLY rejection I ever wrote a letter in reply to (Never sent the letter. Not stupid) was based on the idea they knew more history than I did. They were wrong. Also, not very bright. So, not only didn't I send the letter, but I lived to sell them THREE other stories. And THEN once in conversation, the editor told me how much he loved the story (since published by another magazine) and how it was the finest piece of historical writing in decades. So, what was with the rejection? Who the heck knows?

Also, I was rejected by an agent who sent me THREE PAGES handwritten tearing down everything about the story, including but not limited to my name. And finished by inviting me to submit again! My revenge? I've now had four agents (until I found the fourth who is as everyone knows the goddess of agenting) and NONE of them was as "low" on the totem pole as the three page rejection guy. ;)

On rewriting. I have a friend who takes what every editor -- including small press, pays in copies, existed for three days -- tells him about his stories and rewrites whenever he gets a rejection.

The stupidity of this cannot be emphasized enough.

For instance,if there's one thing I do well it's characters. Characters have always been effortless. Yet for YEARS an editor to a now defunct magazine sent me rejections that read "Your characters are cardboard and probably lifted from TV." Since no one else complained (and I had no TV) I ignored him.

Anyway, this friend of mine slowly makes his stories unreadable by taking everyone's opinions. Once it's making the rounds, write the next one. You'll learn more doing that, anyway. And you can always come back to the original novel ten years later. I have and I'm about to again. THEN your rewrite/recasting will be MUCH better.