I’m owning up to my biggest fear: Rejection. Not just any rejection, but from someone whose response would matter more to me than anyone. A certain literary agent.
Rejection is not unfamiliar to me now, having plunged into the dispiriting reality of the querying/submission process. So I’ve decided to take the safe option and not submit my work to this person. I’m sure some would say that’s a wise choice given previous failures. It’s surely dangerous to conflate a personal (I’m reluctant to use the word romantic here as that would seem to be getting carried away) preference about a person with an objective regard for how suitable they’d be to work with. But especially when only based on a photo and a short description of the type of fiction she likes. Is it even better for them to publish a picture, one professionally taken, no doubt? Images are so powerful, especially the human face. It’s difficult not to read character into a portrait photo, believing to be uncovering some essence – some truth. And sometimes we are led to do so. Pictures are deceiving, Photoshop and its ilk the creators of illusions manipulating our most innate judgements.
Anyway. If there truly is something sublime about this person, then to be rejected by her (even if it is only for a work of fiction) feels more personal. It will hurt!
Of course such a reaction is not rational. They say develop a thick skin, or you’ll never succeed. After all, it is not actually me that is being rejected. But a lot of it comes down to these two questions: How much is your work is representative of who you are? And: How important are the preferences of the person that can hold the key to you success – and potentially happiness?
These questions are difficult to answer and can maybe be explored in a future post. But suffice to say, even when you thought you’ve avoided autobiography, it somehow creeps in under the radar. The work is never a thing in isolation.
So, I hope I will not be left that one difficult dilemma. I hope another agent will accept my submission. Otherwise I may end up plumbing the depths of that vast murky ocean of self publishing, and never be discovered. Okay, that negative view is a grim exaggeration for effect. Personally when looking for a book online, traditional or self-pubbed is not something i even notice. To stretch a metaphor, maybe that murky ocean is finally clearing to reveal its treasures.
Revised version of a previous post.
My author website: http://www.adriankyte.com/
Surely it’s the time most writers dread: those weeks (and sometimes months) waiting for a reply from an agent. After analyzing the odds, the percentage of submissions rejected, I defy any writer not to be worried. Or to not feel despondent when the rejection does come.
Personally I’d reject most of what I see, not just from debut authors but a lot of professional writers. But then I’d make a bad literary agent: too quick to judge, not being open to something that seems unconnected with my life on any easily accessible level. In particular, science fiction (which, actually, I mostly read) can seem forbidding initially. And, perhaps like most readers, I also rely too much on reviews and reputation. The challenge these days is finding something new and special among the sheer welter of books.
Now that my own work is out there to be assessed by those who are still thought of as the gatekeepers to the literary world, I’m wondering if what i’ve submitted is going to be judged so hurriedly. It would be interesting to know the exact process of each agent: how much is determined by that first page, chapter or synopsis – where I feel I’ve already failed (see Synopsis Hell).
After my last book Time Over had been rejected a few times, I did some rewriting then self published. How tempting it is these days to just give up on the traditional route. Because rejections are troubling if not painful; you read into each word, wondering what s/he truly felt behind the polite or diplomatic language. Well, I guess I have more of that to look forward to in the near future.
…that precious manuscript to an agent is probably the most delayed action in every writer’s life. At least once you’ve had the experience of rejection. You never feel adequately prepared, remembering – in my case – more than one example when I sent an MS off to an agent only to later bitterly regret it. Oh, no wonder they rejected it, it was inevitable, I think to myself with typical 20/20 hindsight. And yet at the time my novel seemed perfectly honed, that covering letter just right. But if only I’d given it a bit more time. So won’t be rushing to send it off now, whether post or email.
Not that rejection could definitely have been avoided. I might be fooling myself into thinking the work had commercial potential if only I’d got the presentation right – the pitch, or made that change to the first page and chapter. Fact is, there are always things you think could have been done better, but you have to eventually move on to the next one. Science fiction is especially tricky when you’re pitching it through a synopsis; it can seem to get bogged down in fantastical-seeming detail which requires too many words to explain why in fact it’s not so fantastical.
I don’t think any author can really know what will meet with wider approval. Even those who are supposed to be objective about these things can often get it wrong. And usually their default judgment is negative.
Here’s an extract from a Guardian interview with this year’s Booker winner Marlon James, who had one novel rejected 78 times.
“No! No,” he says, shaking his head, as if it is the question that is mystifying. “This is why I tell students when they ask for advice, if you’re a writer, you have to believe in yourself.” He bangs accompaniment to the last three words with his hand on the table. “Because if you’re a writer, you’re going to come across that moment where you’re the only one who does.” He sounds freshly disappointed when he adds: “And I failed that test.”
The best way to put readers off your novel is to write a scene-by-scene synopsis. Or so it can feel. Prose is replaced by dry description. It’s like looking at an image of your most precious one rendered as an x-ray skeleton; the bare bones revealing nothing of what made them special.
Yes, I’m in the midst of writing a synopsis for a potential literary agent … and not managing it very well … and feeling that because of it i will fail, facing a winter of rejections. I don’t know if this is a common feeling. But it’s when the doubt creeps in – going over the whole thing again and finding yet more careless errors.
The main problem: how do you compress 100,000+ words into less than a thousand? Whole scenes have to be omitted. Which ones? This is where it’s so easy to become lost; not able to see the wood for the trees. The funny thing is, writing a blurb-style teaser précis hasn’t been a problem – you give an impression, set up the tension (must stop rhyming now). But by the same token that can build false expectations in much the way advertising often does.
I’m certainly not expecting much sympathy from anyone in the publishing industry. They’d probably tell me: “If you can’t manage to sum up your novel in less than a thousand words then maybe there is something wrong with the book itself.”
Very little reward, if you’re one of the ninety-nine percent of fiction writers. Well, that’s what it feels like when you read about the latest multi-book/million [insert currency] deal, and you’re still trying to make that breakthrough, still getting the rejections. Or self-published and garnering fewer sales than some second-rate generic knock-off that managed to get five-star reviews from well-wishers (or dare I say it: followers). Actually some of the most brutal reviews have appeared on Amazon, not so much for my novels but those who have achieved acclaim for their previous works; well that’ll knock ’em down a peg or two – is perhaps the thinking, but also it could be that expectation has been built up way beyond anything a mere mortal writer can fulfill.
So if you do make it to the big league it’s not all plain sailing. Acclaim doesn’t guarantee good sales, neither does fame. I was shocked, looking at the sales rankings for authors with big publishers who are probably only selling in the hundreds. Maybe that goes to show that less and less readers bother to even notice if it’s HarperCollins, Tor or some small press, and instead look for reviews and recommendations. And, yes, this is when it’s good to have many followers. One big league author who got a huge advance and deal was questioned over whether he might not make even more money if he self-published, such has the indie route come of age. He pointed out that it was a risky option – and it is: many successful self-pubbers have accepted the lure of a big publisher, because that means less hassle and more security, if less profit for said author. Editing one’s own book is the most difficult thing an author can do, even when it doesn’t feel like it is.
Of course, writing novels can be a rewarding experience. Just not, in my case, financially.
My site: http://www.adriankyte.com/
In a book review I read only this afternoon someone decried the use of a prologue, recommending that you skip it, saying it detracted from the story. While that can be true, it can also give an insight onto the essence of a novel, a flavour (if it’s done properly) of the style as well as story. In brief, a shortcut.
Not that I’ve managed those things perfectly. There’s always been something of a compromise, having to balance interesting or entertaining writing with explanation (though trying to avoid exposition). There may have even been inconsistencies. My latest focuses more on a key character than any important plot point; it’s about his condition as result of his predicament.
A prologue is not about leading you into the story’s beginning but more like a snap-shot taken from a different angle to the rest, maybe a wider angle or a narrow focus, whatever seems the most interesting and revealing. If it focuses on a specific point in time dealt with later on in the novel then best to avoid repetition, even if the reader has forgotten much of the prologue by then. Peter Watts’ Blindsight is a the best example I’ve read in recent years.
It’s true that the prologue seems to have gone somewhat out of fashion. I don’t know how much publishers and agents are reflecting this or leading the way but many now are showing their dislike, judging by blogs I’ve read. Maybe it became too obvious a device; in science fiction often used to ease the reader in to a complex storyline concept. Then that dreaded word formulaic is invoked.
But here’s a final plea from someone who still cleaves to that old device, not as a standard formula, but just as an option. Because sometimes there seems no better way to begin a story.
If I am to follow the much sage advice I should be preparing my latest submission proposal email for the next agent, instead of writing this. A sophisticated form of procrastination, perhaps.
But you get to a point when you think where have I gone wrong? Especially after having felt i’d finally got it right, then that rejection comes through (or passes through my over-zealous spam filter. The last couple of times in red, as if the computer was somehow alerting me that it could be a dangerous one to read – dangerous to my happiness, especially on a Friday). OK, so it could be the content of those first few chapters. Otherwise I may have missed a trick in my pitch.
So is there a secret to The Pitch? Truth is, if I knew of one I may’ve succeeded. But what I have learned is that it’s best to condense the synopsis and introductory letter/email into something that can be read within ten minutes minutes. (Agents would doubtless speed-read.) Start with a few lines to say what it’s about. I also provided a blurb link http://www.timeover-sf.com/ which does the same, but that might be overkill. I added the synopsis as a separate doc, so more emphasis is on those first few lines to encapsulate a 100,000+ word novel. Not easy!
Really, at the most, all I can tell you is how to fail better.
Btw, I’m still having that technical problem mentioned in my last post. Will have to do something about that.