Saturday, March 15, 2008

It's Not About Falling . . . It's About Getting Up

Unfortunately Lisa got sick on Friday so it looks like I won’t be able to post her answers to your questions until at least Monday, but today I thought I’d talk about something every writer deals with. I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve been writing very long at all, you’ve been told many times that a writer has to have a thick skin so they can deal with the dreaded “R” word. REJECTION! Rejection is a part of writing. You have to learn to live with it. Those are the mantras you hear at every writing convention.

But nope. I’m not going to talk about rejection. Why? Because I hate rejection. Who doesn’t? We all pretend it’s okay. We say things like, “Rejection is good for you.” And, “Each rejection brings you one step closer to getting published.” To me that’s like saying, “Falling down the stairs is good for you. Each time you fall down you get closer to reaching the top.” Does that make sense to you? If someone gave you that advice as you started to climb a staircase would you take it? If so, remind me not to stand behind you.

What I want to write about is not getting rejected, but succeeding. Let’s say you wanted to ask a girl to go out on a date. (If you are a girl feel free to replace girl with boy.) You’ve talked to all the other girls and this is the one for you. She’s funny, smart, attractive. She can hit a 3-2 curveball, bowl 217, and she loves the Lord of the Rings movies. This is the one.

You walk up to her and say, “Hello, would you like to go to a movie with me Saturday night?”

She looks you over, wipes a crumb of egg salad sandwich from your chin, and says, “Sorry. I’m going bowling with my family that night.”

Conventional rejection wisdom says you should nod stoically, square your shoulders, and say, “I understand.” Then walk away and find someone else to ask out. After all, she’s a busy girl. She probably wasn’t a good match for you. Getting turned down will make you stronger. Learn from it. Next time check your face for crumbs. Work on a better pitch. Besides rejection brings you one step closer to getting accepted. Go home and eat a candy bar. Get enough sugar into your system and soon you’ll feel better.

I hope that sounds like total bunk to you. Wouldn’t you check to see if Saturday was better? If she was that great wouldn’t you at least put up a fight? If not, maybe you didn’t deserve her after all.

Let me tell you a little secret about getting published. It’s not about how many times you get rejected. It’s about how persistent you are. I don’t know the details of Obert Skye. But I can tell you Brandon Dorman had the first book he submitted to Shadow Mountain rejected. James Dashner had the first two books he submitted to Shadow Mountain rejected. I initially had Farworld rejected. That’s three out of four Shadow Mountain fantasy authors rejected.

What did Brandon Dorman do? He asked Chris Schoebinger what kind of book they’d like to publish. What did James Dashner do? He scheduled a lunch to discuss book ideas, but decided to write a synopsis and three chapters to send Chris and Lisa before the lunch. What did I do? I e-mailed Chris and Lisa and called them, to understand why they rejected Farworld and to see how I could get the issue resolved. Now rejection proponents might say we succeeded because we were rejected. I say we succeeded because we were persistent.

I received an e-mail from a very good author friend of mine who lives in Houston. She’s just received a rejection from Shadow Mountain last week. Typically when I get rejection messages, they are very depressing. Understandably, the authors are hurt, they feel lousy, they want to quit. Often chocolate is a major topic of discussion. But let me tell you what my friend asked in her e-mail. Turns out she has a 1on1 meeting with Lisa next week at a writers’ conference. My friend really liked the feedback Lisa had given her and wanted to know whether James and I would suggest reworking the bad parts of the book between now and then, or coming up with more ideas. She really felt SM would benefit from what she had to offer and was looking for the best way to convince them of that.

Here is my answer to her. First of all, you totally rock! I am so dang proud of you. Not only are you a great writer, but you also believe so completely in yourself that giving up was never an option. I would recommend you do both. Rethink your rejected story, so you can discuss how you would fix it if Lisa is open to that. But also come prepared with a handful of ideas for other stories. You’ve got fifteen minutes to get an editor at an awesome publisher excited about what you have to offer, so go in with both barrels loaded. True you only have a couple of days until the conference, but making a good impression on someone like Lisa is what it’s all about. Find the time.

Last year at this time, I was at the same conference. Back then, Lisa was in the middle of reading my manuscript. I honestly was too scared to talk to her, but James, who is the ultimate brown-noser, made me go over. I actually had a close call where I nearly sat at Lisa’s table wearing my wife’s name badge, but thanks to a helpful tip from a fellow attendee, I averted if not disaster, then at least serious embarrassment. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure what to think when Lisa started off our conversations with things she thought I should fix in my book. But I did fix those things, she passed it on to Chris, and ultimately I got invited to lunch with them (which is a pretty funny story in and of itself.)

How many times has persistence paid off in my life? Well my literary agent rejected me twice before taking me on. My wife totally blew off my first date request. In fact she told me she’d call me back with a day that would work, and I didn’t hear from her for over a year. The publisher of my previous books told me she was sure Shadow Mountain had no interest in Farworld. I’ve probably rewritten this book easily ten to fifteen times, and I’m still making minor tweaks.

There’s a poem called “The Race,” that says something to the effect of, “It’s how many times you fall. It’s how many times you get up.” I don’t believe in falling down the stairs. I believe in getting to the top. If I could get there on my first try, I’d do it. If I fall, I’m going to be ticked off about it. But I’m not going to sit there and cry. I’m going to try again, and again, and again.
My good friend’s name is Tami. I tell you that because I want you to watch Shadow Mountain’s coming releases. I don’t know when it will happen, but I have every confidence that in the not too distant future you will see her name as one of their authors.


Kaleb said...

Wonderful post- you capture it perfectly. It's the persistence. Anybody can make it if they're persistent and willing to work hard to really write well.

Tamra Norton said...

You rock, Jeff! Thank you so much for such great advice. It's nice to have such wonderful friends!

Brian said...

Great post. I can't wait to hear about your friend's book.

Anna said...

If I have to go through one hundred rejections, I will not quit. Writing is what I want to do, and I can't imagine doing anything else. That post was really encouraging (even though I haven't been rejected yet).
It also makes me feel better that you have re-written your book ten or fifteen times, because I know mine will need re-writing at least that many times before it is fit for publisher's eyes. :)

Bookworm1520 said...

Yah woderful!!! I yhink you get it perfectly!!!