Friday, February 02, 2007

Looming Cloud of Failure

It seems a dark cloud of doom is looming over the Playground lately. This time last year, we were on top of the world – editor requests, full manuscripts being edited and passed around offices in NYC and Canada, contest wins…it was inevitable. We were all going to sell. And soon. Everyone said so and we’d almost convinced ourselves that it was true. The call was coming.

A year later, we’ve ridden the ups and downs of the roller coaster and most of us are finding we’re sick to our stomachs. We haven’t sold. Nearly every MS we sent out came back with painful and sometimes unnecessarily scathing rejections. (Makes me long for the days of the simple - "this won't work for our line" letters.)

Over the last few weeks, several of us have found ourselves in a position we hoped we wouldn’t have to face again – we were three boxes from winning Chutes and Ladders and we hit that dumb slide that takes you all the way down to the bottom. We’re starting over.

I can only speak for myself here, but I’ve had a hard time of it. Right now, I’m not entered in a single chapter run contest, no queries on anyone’s desks…nothing except a long shot entry in the Golden Heart with a book that just got rejected. (I forgot I was even in it until just now…) My CP thought I was mad at her because I haven’t responded to her stuff or sent her anything to read in weeks. That leaves me with just six chapters into a new book that has been recently critiqued by Instigator. I’m hoping her words of wisdom will fuel my creativity and get me back on track. I need a book to pitch in Dallas this summer. I need something to send to some agents. It’s February 2nd, so the writing must start up again. I’ve wallowed for a month. Time to move on.

Just in time to kick it into high gear, we’ve had some good news recently – it seems the clouds are beginning to part. PC placed first in a contest recently and her entry goes to an editor, which was awesome. Perhaps this upswing will fuel our souls enough to start drawing the good energy back in – you know, self-fulfilling prophesies of success and all that. Instigator and Angel both have work out with editors and something good will come of them, I know it. PM will hit her stride again and start cranking out great short stories. I will finally sit down and start working on this book, which I truly feel in my heart is THE ONE. The clouds will clear and it will be sunny on the Playground again, this time with a rainbow to reward us for putting up with the rain.

We will sell. It will happen. (Maven LJ has me working on this…) We will succeed. (Repeat...)



Maven Linda Howard said...

I'm confused. Have things changed so much? A long, detailed letter of rejection from an editor used to be a good thing, because editors are so over-worked and stressed-out that they don't take the time to write detailed letters if they didn't like the ms. They wrote letters only when they were intrigued, when they saw something they really liked -- even if they had to ultimately reject the ms.

Do editors now write scathing, detailed letters of rejection, as in "I hate this ms so much I can't begin to tell you," and then proceeds to tell you? Leslie Wainger, who bought my first ms., also rejected my first ms. -- with one of those long, detailed letters, but the magic sentence in that letter was: " if you want to revise these things, I'd like to see this ms again." I did, I sent it back to her, and she bought it.

Do editors automatically assume people know a detailed letter is an invitation to revise and re-submit? Or are some editors now sending out unnecessarily cruel rejections? I want to know. I want to know who they are.

Lori Borrill said...

Well, Linda, after I sold, I got a "here's everything wrong" letter from my editor with the line added, "Please keep these things in mind when submitting future work." And I'll admit, my brain translated that into, "Please don't ever send me crap that looks like this again."

Now, I'm sure she didn't mean it like that, but that's how I took it. It's hard for our brains not to make these translations, but we need to try not to.

I had noticed the recent flurry of rejections and had actually written a blog for this site yesterday about the fact that all the crap we go through before we sell is hard, but really it's teaching us how to be a writer. Reason being, life doesn't all turn gold and glorious when you sell. We keep getting rejections, except now they can sometimes come when you're pushing against a deadline and you don't know how you're going to make it. Bang in the head, when your current WIP is difficult enough, you get slapped when you're down, but the problem is, you don't get to walk away and give yourself those days to sulk and regroup. You've got to push the hurt feelings and doubt to a place you can't see it and get the damn book written.

Seriously, the first time I ever wrote a chapter in tears, crying over every word I wrote because it all seemed so impossible was AFTER I sold, and I am now thankful I didn't sell that first book. If I had, I would have never known I had what it takes to pick myself up and push through even though it seems the world is fighting against me. It was all those MS I'd written before I sold that helped me realize I could do this, at a time when I REALLY needed to believe that. It was the chapters I wrote AFTER those rejections came in the mail that proved to me I could push through my doubt. Because trust me, you don't want to be dealing with that when an editor's waiting.

As a published author, you need all this experience, even though it sucks right now.

My blog had been titled, "Learning How To Be An Author" and I agonized over whether it was going to be an inspirational read for a group that could use it, or a bummer when everyone would like to just forget about things for a while. I chickened out and wrote about nerds.

But what I'd wanted to say in that blog was that there is no such thing as "starting back at the beginning". There is only forward motion in writing. You are moving ahead with another MS under your belt and more wisdom in your mind and more gumption in your heart. You're starting that next WIP tweny steps ahead of where you were when you started the WIP that just got rejected. So no matter what you choose to do from here, you're still on that third square away from the finish line.

Smarty Pants said...

I've gotten the - "this doesn't work for us, but feel free to send me something later" or "this doesn't work as is, but these corrections might help if you want to resubmit." Lately, it seems to be a "thanks, but no" and left at that. Maybe once you reach the full stage, it just won't work and they know it, so they don't bother to throw that bone. It is always nice to get the "feel free to send me something else" line because it makes you feel like although this one didn't work, they liked your writing enough to read it again.

I don't know...

Lori Borrill said...

Hmmm, I never got a "please resubmit" letter before I sold. I got, "Thanks, but no," "Thanks, but no," "Thanks, but no," "We'd like to buy your MS".

Don't look at that as a sign you're deteriorating. It means nothing.

Smarty Pants said...

I think you're right, Lori. A rejection letter pulled out six months later doesn't seem as ugly as it does six seconds after being opened. Most of the time you can agree with some of the things they say after you have time to think about it. And I don't think editors are just sitting around waiting for the chance to crush someone's soul - Linda's right as they don't have the time for all that. It just feels that way sometimes. And when there isn't a "send me something else" at the end to soothe the pain of the rejection, it seems that much worse.

Rhonda said...

SP, I know that you’re all probably tired of hearing this, but you aren’t feeling anything different from authors who are published. My twentieth book will hit the shelves in May. I’m working on a new Blaze right now and even though I have faith in the story, I still worry and angst over my ability to tell it the way it needs to be told. Jen LaBrecque and I are working on connected books. I just read her first chapter and my immediate thought after I finished reading it was, “Damn this is good. Compared to this, mine sucks. I’m going to have to start over.”

When you sell—and firmly believe *every* Playfriend will sell—there will be a brief shining moment where you will bask in the glow of being a writer. You will feel validated. But that doesn’t last. Trust me on this. You will go right back to the “Oh, God, I suck syndrome” and for me, it was worse. I’m getting better at working through it and I have a fabulous editor who has the magical ability to make me feel better, but there’s always a little sliver of doubt hanging in the back of my mind.

The point is, hang in there. It’s not about the contests you win, the pages you manage to get into your critique partner, which are all great for a pat on the back. It’s about the writing—*your* story.

Problem Child said...

Yeah, I know a lot of folks want to get a detailed rejection letter instead of the form one. My very first rejection included the magic line "I do hope you'll query me again."

My last one was pretty blunt. While it didn't say "you suck" there was nothing at all positive in the entire full-page letter. Five paragraphs of how bad it was. No request to revise of course--she hated it. But I didn't even get a "query again." Which I found really odd since I know the book wasn't THAT bad (I have proof from someone other than my CP).

I always figured if they took the time to write a personalized rejection, it meant there was something redeemable in the ms somewhere. Maybe they're just forgetting to tell us what was redeemable...

But onward and upward Playfriends! The clouds will have to move on soon.

See, I'm doing my postive thinking too.

"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and darn it, people like me!"

Or something like that :-)

Angel said...

I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that all the curt rejections coming in lately didn't make me a little afraid--okay, a lot afraid. Because I've read the stuff being rejected and seriously wonder why anyone would buy my work if they wouldn't buy those. So it's scary. And I have to admit to procrastinating about submitting a requested work because I was scared of the rejection. But I feel proud of myself for working through that. And I know if the feared rejections come back, then I'll have loving, supportive friends to turn to who won't let me quit.

There are many, many things I could say here that we've all heard: When you're published, you just exchange one set of problems for another. These tests are only a training ground for what we'll face later. They are a measure of how bad we really want this. Wallow for a day, then get back in the saddle. You just have to keep believing in yourself and one day it will happen.

All are true. All will bring comfort, if not today then tomorrow.

For my part, I'm just trying to learn from each step, whether uphill or downhill. There have been several heartbreaking situations in my life that have required me to just take one step at a time. Some of them were joyous, others took every ounce of strength and hope I could muster. But one step after another I moved on. And I hope I'm a better writer, wife, mother, friend, and woman for having done so. All of us will be, one step at a time.

I do believe we need some kind of cleansing ritual, though. :) Not the "gorge on chocolates until we're ready to pop, veg on the couch until our brains can't take it anymore" ritual. Not that there's anything wrong with that.... :) But something to cleanse our minds and thought patterns of the doubt and worry, renew hope, build strength. Group meditation? Our own set of affirmations? Any ideas, Maven LJ?


LJ said...

Published or unpublished, this business is like a roller coaster. There are great ups and horrible downs. So why is it we spend so much more time and energy agonizing over the downs than we do celebrating the high points? I do it. A good review is a relief. A bad review is cause for self-doubt, wallowing, abuse of chocolate, and more self-doubt. Same for rejection letters, reader letters, conversations with editors, and so on. We seem to cling to the low points forever, and spend very little time celebrating.

I'm a big believer in the power of positive and negative energy. We need to embrace the positive and brush off the negative - Easier said than done, I know.


LJ said...

Group meditation -- any time! :-)


Playground Monitor said...

I wrote short stories so their rejection letters are just as short. Basically it's "This doesn't work for us." But both times I did get the "Feel free to submit to us again" line.

I took the first rejected story and subbed it to another magazine (still waiting to hear on that) and the second one is now sitting with an editor at an e-publisher. I figured I had nothing to lose when the executive editor told me to send it to her to see if they could use it (it was a bit different in that it's first person POV from a man's perspective and it's romance). The exec editor sent it on to two different senior editors and it's been there since early this week. We'll see...

I've been a slug this month due to rejection woes, illness and just plain laziness. But I agree with PC's "onward and upward" statement. I can hear those clouds breaking apart as I write this.


Meljprincess said...

And you ALL will succeed!! Glad the clouds are lifting. Don't EVER give up. Three cheers for The Playground and all the PlayDivas!

Instigator said...

I'm not sure I can say anything more wise and true than what's already been said.

No, selling a book doesn't magically erase the doubt, anxiety and even frustration that can accompany writing. I haven't sold a book but I already know that to be true.

I think it's human nature to doubt ourselves and our abilities - it's also a way to get outside confirmation that we don't suck :-) And of course, those rejection letters just don't give us that confirmation do they?

It hurts. Very much. And it can paralize you as a writer if you let it. The trick is learning not to. Sometimes it's easier than others, sometimes we need to wallow longer or harder. But the end result is always the same. We get back into it because the story is always there waiting and pestering us :-)

Of course, good friends, good food, and a chick flick always help too :-) And I'm totally up for a group meditation. I think we need to do something to clear the negative energy that seems to be swirling around.


Pat said...

Good luck to you all.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to this. I know things will go better soon for all of you. New York is waiting on you!