Category Archives: Rejection

And They Persisted

As an aspiring author, getting to read the success stories of others – about what it’s like to get the out-of-the-blue (and life-changing) call from an agent or editor that says “yes” – was like candy. They gave me hope.

Except after years of reading those stories and believing success was right around the corner (only to find that it wasn’t), I started to need a different kind of story. I needed stories about persistence. So, to all of those who are persisting in the querying and submission trenches, this is for you.

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The first manuscript I wrote was cringe-worthy. It was short – just 28,000 words – but I had written it one-handed while my baby boy nursed, so it was pretty darn long considering. I wrote it having no idea whether I could write a novel and no idea how you actually publish one (like knowing an appropriate word count for a MG novel.) But it made me realize that I COULD write a novel. Of course, once I immersed myself in figuring out the process for getting published, it quickly became clear that this manuscript wasn’t going to cut it. I started writing manuscript #2.

Manuscript #2 had a snazzy title (SWIMMING WITH TCHAIKOVSKY – it makes you pause, right?) and a good concept. Out of the 100+ queries I sent to agents, I got 30 requests to read the full manuscript. But none of those requests turned into an offer. Looking back I can understand it more clearly now why: the main character was too passive, the plot was complex in certain ways, but too thin in others. I had more work to do as a writer.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t query Manuscript #3 too soon. This time, I would make sure the meat of the story was as good as its concept—an all-girl science club (Sciencetastic Supergirls) that basically has to save the world. Plus, by this point my time in the querying trenches meant I had developed wonderful friendships with other aspiring MG authors who had become invaluable critique partners. And this time, everything came together. To test the querying waters, I entered my first page one of Miss Snarks First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest (http://misssnarksfirstvictim.blogspot.com/) and not only did I love the agent’s feedback on each of the entries, and not only did she end up choosing mine as the winner and requested a full manuscript BUT she was Tricia Lawrence, an agent at the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. This was an agency

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I even have my very own Emu that sits prominently in our living room. Hence, the extra longing.

I had been pinning after since the beginning. A month later she wrote me an email that used the word “love” SEVERAL times. My growing son had been waiting for me to go for a walk in the woods when the e-mail came in. Then, he had to wait more and it started to rain. But then, I was ready and we ran together through the woods with the rain on our faces, and he didn’t quite get why his mama was screaming with happiness, but it sure made for a fun time.

The supergirl manuscript went on submission, and over the course of a year it got a request from an editor to revise and resubmit, but it didn’t end up leading to an offer. But in the meantime, I had learned from my previous manuscripts that the only way to stay sane when submitting work is to be starting something new. As my next manuscript (#4) took shape I could see that it was far bolder than anything I had written before. In part this came from the amazing, intangible benefit of having an agent who believed in me, and in part because in another area of my life I was becoming the leader of the gun violence prevention movement in Vermont, a role that was teaching me I was far stronger than I originally thought. I decided I want to stop submitting Manuscript #3 and focus instead on the new stories I was writing (Manuscript #5 was similar in that dove deep into issues people didn’t necessarily want to talk about – but needed to).

But…. neither of Manuscript #4 nor #5 found a home. Even though they both got very close to big deals – and I was on the edge of my seat, eating absurd amount of chocolate for months expecting to hear the good news any day and even showing up at social events holding a ROCK in one hand because I needed to squeeze something to keep myself from exploding—it didn’t happen.

Thankfully, before I hit that emotional roller-coaster, I found the space to start writing Manuscript #6. When I started it not only did I have an agent who believed in me, but I was fully convinced that I would have an editor by the time it was done. I was sure that this would be my second book and that it didn’t need any shiny jazz hands to grab someone’s attention. Instead, it could just be honest.

I bet you can see where this is going.

A year later I had spent a whole lot of time building up a protective wall around my emotions when it came to the submissions process. I had read the wise Tamara Ellis Smith’s words about longing and how to sit beside it rather than letting it consume you. But still, the best I could do at the time (if I wanted to keep my sanity intact) was to try to sit on top of it. When Tricia told me she was sending out this novel on sub, I had no reaction. Those were just words. The e-mails would go out. Rejection and silence would come back.

But then, a month later, I was driving home from a daylong board meeting (during which I hadn’t managed to find time to pee), late for school pick-ups, scrambling to find someone to pick up one of my kids, hightailing it to pick up the other, and oh-my-goodness did I have to pee. And then I saw out of the corner of my eye an e-mail come in on my phone. It was from Tricia and it had the words “offer” and “love.” Even now, my whole body goes numb just remembering it. I was like a zombie picking up my daughter from pre-school. I even ran into a friend who is an aspiring author himself, and when he asked me if I was okay (because I must have look like someone died), I told him that I really needed to pee. And then cautiously I told him about the e-mail. He, in turn, cautiously said (still looking my somebody-died-face), “But that sounds like a really good thing.” I swallowed. “It does, doesn’t it?”

It took me about a month and many conversations with my writer friends for it to sink in that this story rooted in simple honesty was going to become an actual book. THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS is about a 12-year old girl at the edge of poverty who has to find her voice. There are no bells and whistles. Instead, it is seeped in the realities of the class divide, the gun debate, and complex family relationships. It is about finding hope and pushing forward no matter how much the odds are stacked against you.

And isn’t that what we all need to do?

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Version 3

About Ann Braden

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. She founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which successfully got gun violence prevention legislation passed. She also helped found the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. She is a former middle school social studies teacher. Ann’s debut novel The Benefits of Being an Octopus comes out in September 2018 from Sky Pony Press. The novel is a close, personal look at life on the edges of society, through the eyes of one girl just trying to find her way forward, recommended for fans of Jason Reynolds’ Ghost. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, or on Instagram.

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Filed under Inspiration, Patience, Persistance, Query Letters, Rejection, rejection and success, The Call

On overnight success (Surprise! It’s a lot like failure.)

Both of last week’s posts here were about failure, or at least the constant perceived threat of failure that so often makes it hard for us to move forward. I’m going to continue the theme, but on a slightly different note. Our own Emu Empress, Erin MUrphy, once said something along the lines of, “For every success, there is a waiting period that feels like failure.” And in a post on this very blog almost three years ago, she followed that up with, “But it’s NOT! It’s just waiting!”

When she wrote that post back in 2011, I’d only been with the agency for a few months. One year from now, I’ll have three books published. That doesn’t seem like very much waiting, especially to those familiar with the pace of the publishing industry. Many of my writer friends have walked up to me and said something to the effect of, “Wow, you’re on FIRE!” Some say things like, “I guess you’ve been busy lately!” Others ask, “So, what’s your secret?” as if I’m holding out on them. A few say, “Boy, did you get lucky!” never thinking that some authors might be a little bit offended by that. (I never am: Yes, indeed, I have gotten very, very lucky!)

So, in the interests of dispelling myths and keeping things real, I thought it might be helpful to break down my “overnight success:”

  • Early 1970s: I fell in love with reading: books, magazines, encyclopedias, cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, you name it, I read it.
  • Somewhere around 1980: I sent away for the application to the Institute of Children’s Literature, filled it out and was accepted! Sadly, my parents didn’t think I was quite ready for a literary career, since I was still in elementary school.
  • Late 1980s: I wrote lots of angsty teen poetry, got my first word processor, and discovered term papers – what fun!
  • Early 1990s: I minored in technical writing and grammar in college and took honors English courses, even while I went for a “sensible” career in software engineering.
  • 2000: A good friend told me I should stop telling her about all the things I was learning and just write my explanations down for everyone to read. I suspect she might have just been trying to shut me up, but I jumped at the suggestion.
  • 2004: My first article was published by a regional parenting magazine.
  • 2004: I started working on the manuscript that would become both EMMANUEL’S DREAM and BE A CHANGEMAKER (yes, a picture-book biography and a teen how-to guide both evolved from the same project).
  • 2006: I enrolled in the Institute of Children’s Literature course… finally!
  • 2006: My first magazine article for kids was published.
  • 2008: I joined SCBWI.
  • 2009: I wrote MY DOG IS THE BEST for an online workshop with Anastasia Suen.
  • 2011: I signed with my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary.
  • 2012: EMMANUEL’S DREAM sold.
  • 2013: BE A CHANGEMAKER and MY DOG IS THE BEST sold.

You can see that there was an awful lot of waiting that felt like failure in there. Of course, I wasn’t just sitting around doing nothing in those spaces between the bullet points, either. I was constantly taking classes, reading, studying, writing, getting feedback, revising, submitting… I have dozens of manuscripts and proposals that will never become books and hundreds of ideas that will never even become manuscripts. I’ve collected what feels like thousands of rejections, and still that number continues to grow!

Each one of those could be seen as failure (and, believe me, some days they sure do feel like it), but I try to look at them more as necessary delays, like with air traffic control… or Frogger. Remember how you had to ride the log until another one came by and then jump at just the right moment? Having just the right wait time will eventually put me on the right track with the right skills and life experience for the right idea for the right editor at the right time (hopefully!). After all, what can we do but keep working, putting our work out there, and hoping, even if that means to perpetually risk failure? It’s the only way I know of to get to success.


Laurie Ann Thompson head shotLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: EMMANUEL’S DREAM, a picture-book biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House (January 2015), and MY DOG IS THE BEST, a fiction picture book with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan (May 2015). Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Discipline, Faith, Rejection, rejection and success, Writing and Life

No’s Job, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rejection

     “Dear Author,
Thank you for your recent submission to XYZ Publishing Company. I regret to inform you that …”

Does this letter look familiar to you? If you’ve ever tried to submit a manuscript for publication, chances are you’ve gotten a response similar to this at some time in your writing career. I remember the first one I ever got. I was in college, and my professor had suggested that I submit the dummy that I had done for his literature class to his publisher. Finally- FINALLY- I would be a published author! And at such a young age!

I sent it in. I waited. After a week, every time I went to the mailbox I was sure that this would be the day I would get my SASE back with a contract in the mail. I began to think about changing my major from teaching to writing.

After a few more days (okay, six months), my SASE came back! I pulled out my manuscript dummy and… a tiny postcard that began, “Dear Author…” I was crushed. I cried. I sent it out again in a massive simultaneous submission to every publisher that did picture books.
I got a massive simultaneous rejection.

But I kept writing. I kept learning. I joined SCBWI. I went to conferences, joined a critique group, and took classes. I kept submitting, but I submitted smarter. (Turns out that some publishers only publish certain kinds of books! Who knew?)

I got a LOT more rejection letters.

But. While each rejection letter still felt like, well, a rejection, I noticed that after a while they changed. I was getting some letters that began, “Dear Ms. Van Slyke.” There would be a reference to my actual manuscript, like they had read it. And sometimes the editor would tell me why it wasn’t a good fit for them.

I started to look for an agent. And- oh, goody!- NEW rejection letters came pouring in!
I eventually did get an agent. Unfortunately, it was, shall we say, not a happy match. The rejection letters stopped coming to me. But, as I later learned, that was most likely because no manuscripts were going out. I came to the decision that an unproductive agent was worse than no agent, so we parted ways.

Fortunately, I did get another agent, and manuscripts began going out again. As proof, I started getting rejection letters again. By this time, though, either because my writing had improved or (more likely) my agent was matching them more closely to the right editor, the rejections were very specific. And they started coming with offers to look at more of my writing, or even to look at a manuscript again after a few changes.

Now, after a few sales, I’m still getting rejection letters. LOTS of rejection letters. But I look at them differently now. Instead of focusing on the “No,” I look for themes. Does a manuscript get rejected because it’s weak or because the publisher already has a pirate book on their list? Do I see several of the same comments on the same manuscript? Perhaps it’s time to try another revision based on that feedback.

Most of all, though, rejection letters mean that I’m doing my job: writing. Submitting. Revising. Submitting again. Writing new manuscripts.

Because sometimes instead of a no, there will be a “Yes.”

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Editor, Education, Panic, Patience, Publishers and Editors, Rejection, rejection and success, Uncategorized

Waiting by Rebecca Van Slyke

Waiting

Lord, please grant me patience. And I want it RIGHT NOW!

 

Last month I wrote about getting The Call. As with most deals, I had to wait until it was official to be able to share my joy with my family and friends. When I could finally announce something, I got the same reaction over and over: “That’s WONDERFUL! You certainly have waited a long time for this to happen!”

Yes.

Yes I have.

I’ve been waiting to be a “real author” for a long time. When I was four years old, I discovered that books were made by real people. I wanted to be one of those magical people called “authors” and “illustrators.” So I wrote stories on my Big Chief notebook and drew pictures on typewriter paper.

Skipping ahead to college, I took an educational literacy class where the professor offered us this choice: write a research paper, or write a children’s book. That was a no-brainer for me. I spent happy hours writing and illustrating a picture book. The professor liked it so well that he gave me an A… and passed the book along to his publisher. Unfortunately, they did not publish picture books, but it was all the encouragement I needed. The next thirty-mumble years were spent sending manuscripts out. I started with the first story, but gradually added others. I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes. I joined SCBWI. I learned. I wrote. I sent out new manuscripts. I read. I went to conferences, to classes, to lectures. I learned more. And I waited. Every time I sent out a manuscript I knew that this could be the time.  And it wasn’t. Again and again it wasn’t.

I just went back and re-read this last paragraph and realize how pathetic it sounds. Good gravy, what was wrong with me? Why didn’t I give up? Thirty years without a nibble? That right there is some special kind of stupid.

Except I was making progress, I could tell. I finally took the plunge and decided to do more than take an occasional class. By now I was a teacher, and I did what teachers do. I went back to school. I got a master’s degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. That led to getting an agent. Now I was guaranteed to get an offer.

But the offers didn’t materialize. I watched classmates sell a book. Or several books. I had several near-yesses. I tried not to be jealous. I kept writing. I kept waiting.

A quote from Anne Lamott’s book, BIRD BY BIRD helped:

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark; the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

You wait and watch and work. You don’t give up.

So while I waited, I watched and I worked. I cheered on my published friends. I became more involved in my regional chapter of SCBWI. I started giving talks on writing. I critiqued. I mentored. I didn’t give up.  And the dawn DID come. I switched agents, and, after still more waiting, I got The Call in June.

So now that the excitement has settled down, what am I doing? Waiting. Waiting on revision notes, decisions on illustrators, opinions and decisions on new projects.

I have several friends who are waiting to get The Call. They’re close, I can tell. I know because they’re showing up. They’re waiting, and watching, and working.

Some of you reading this are in “waiting for The Call” mode. I need to tell you not to quit. Keep waiting, but while you’re waiting, keep watching for the next opportunity. Will it be a class? A conference? A chance to help someone else on the journey? Keep working to improve your craft. Write. Read strong literature. Illustrate. Study. Read craft books. Show up. And never, never, NEVER quit. Because The Call could be waiting just around the corner for you, too.

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Anxiety, Education, jealousy, Rejection, rejection and success, Thankfulness, The Call

I Kissed a Dragon, and I Liked it.

If there be a devil, one of his concubines is surely Big Lady Doubt.

She first introduced herself to me in 8th grade. I’d applied to this science & tech high school. Figured I was a shoo-in. My brother had gotten in a few years earlier, and if he could do it, pshhh, please. Plus I was a math nerd. Game over. Thing was, I wasn’t a very dedicated math nerd. And there was also this English component to the entrance exam. English and meI weren’t on good terms then.

Man, talk about getting knocked off a pedestal. BLD told me to lay low and accept my lot at my regular school, but no matter how low I hunkered, the bullies found me. At that special school, I might not be special, but at least I’d be safe, and perhaps even normalish. So I rededicated myself to nerdiness, learned some big words, and tried again the next year. Got in.

The excitement did not last long. My peers were brilliant. 21 perfect SAT scores, a quarter of the class attending Ivy league schools, one guy even patented an invention.

BLD told me I couldn’t compete. You’ve already climbed halfway up the mountain. Don’t want to fall off it by aiming too high, do you? Nope, definitely not. Didn’t take any risks. Not with school, not with friends, and most certainly not with girls.

One thing BLD couldn’t touch was my writing. Why? Because I was awesome, duh. With my arsenal of big words (ambagious, marmoreal, casuistic… bam!), I could not be stopped. That, and I never let anybody but my mother read anything I wrote. She was completely unbiased.

In college, BLD told me to switch from an English/Physics double-major to something practical (mechanical engineering). Kept writing though. I was 300, 000 words into my epic fantasy and it was bound to be a best-seller.

Eventually, I discarded my unicorn dreams and got serious. An 81,000-word MG about a clan of warrior squirrels (there was a basset hound and a lemur involved, too). Serious stuff. I even mailed a query to South Africa, where the story was set.

Rejection. Shocking, I know. But this was my first go and I was just figuring out things. Nothing to worry about. Honing the craft and all that.

Round 2. A story about Gods playing games with kids (kind of Rick Riordan meets THE NIGHT CIRCUS). Got my first request. This is it. She will be wowed by my brilliance. Sorry, the story didn’t really go anywhere. Whatever. She knows nothing.

Then I got seriously serious. Writer’s Market, blogs, a thousand variations of a query (one which got mauled by Janet Reid on Query Shark), even revision. Wrote another story. My best one yet. With action and emotion and even theme. Sent out dozens of queries. Requests came in. Partials, fulls. Got so close. So damn close.

Then I heard laughter. BLD had entered the room. Knocked down the door. Refused to leave.

She laughed louder at my next story. A war story. With romance and darkness and consequence. And dragons? Seriously? Yeah, with dragons. Closing my ears to her noise, shutting my eyes to her sneer, I entered one of Miss Snark’s First Victim’s critique sessions.  25 words to hook a reader. If it sucked, so what? They didn’t know me from Adam. That’s why I used an alias. If they liked it, well, maybe BLD didn’t know everything.

Most everybody was hooked. This gave me a rush of confidence. Then an agent contacted me out of the blue asking for pages. Ammi-Joan Paquette. Me: Who?! BLD: Scam alert!

Unlike my astute agency mates, I was mostly unfamiliar with EMLA when Joan’s email arrived in my inbox (I knew it was a closed agency and I’m a wee, shy thing when it comes to conferences & networking – bad author). Did a quick check around the web and instantly realized how fortunate I was (understatement). This agent, this agency. Oh, hell yeah.

At the time, I was only about 14k into what was then titled KISSING DRAGONS. I was more pantsing than plotting at that point and wondered if I could keep riding the tailwind that had garnered her initial approval. BLD: No chance. You’re hosed. I powered on, if for no other reason than to spite her.

More good fortune struck in June, when one of my scenes from the story co-won* Nathan Bransford’s action-writing contest. Another confidence injection to propel me to the finish line. Sent it to Joan. Figured there’d be a long wait. BLD: followed by a short rejection.

Joan got back to me a day later to arrange a phone call. BLD was at a loss for words. Me: This is it. This is really it.

No. Joan wanted a revision. Why? Because the second half of the story was nutsoid (my word, not hers). I revised, sent it back a month later, ignored BLD’s smug look the best I could.

Another phone call. No, still a little bit crazy. But – and it took me a long time to realize this – the biggest issue was that I tried to wrap up everything a little too prettily. The ending was rather fantastical and shifted the tone from the gritty, realistic feel (her words, not mine) of the first half.

So I scrapped the back half completely, outlined (the horror), and rewrote. I went darker, because in that darkness was truth. Through that darkness was hope, however painful. That’s what I told myself at least.

BLD told me I was an idiot. It’s too dark for YA. She’ll despise this new version. What does she see in you anyway? This rejection could be the end of you.

So be it. Send.

I waited. Joan had gotten back to me on the other revisions super fast.

One month passed. Agents are busy people, I reminded myself almost daily. And they hate incompetent writers, BLD reminded me even more often.  Two months. BLD mated and multiplied. I prepped myself for rejection.

Another month trudged by. Then April came. A week before my birthday she emailed. As much as I expected another dashed dream, I still had that evil worm of hope slithering through my heart. It took me a very long time to open that email.

Loved it. Called two days later. I rambled incoherently, yet this did not dissuade her. Agented. Happy Birthday, Joshua. We did minor touchups and went on submission.

I figured it would be awhile (BLD: Forever). I’d been on the query carousel for more time than I care to admit.

A week later we had our first response from Greenwillow. Is this a trilogy?

A week after that, the offer came in. A trilogy. A gritty, realistic (yes, with dragons) trilogy about how the lines between good and evil blur and fade and sometimes disappear (BLD: maybe it’s just a story about dragons, kid). The first book, TALKER 25, will be released early 2014.

I’ve never particularly cared for the aphorism about life being about the journey and not the destination, but this journey has helped teach me that if you’re gonna kiss a dragon, don’t half ass it.

And, perhaps more importantly, I’m no longer afraid to tell Big Lady Doubt to suck it. At least every once in awhile.

* about a month after T25 sold, the other winner, Josin L. McQuein, also had her book picked up by Greenwillow.

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Filed under Agents, Introduction, Rejection, rejection and success, The Call

Two Quiet Authors and a Wicked Chatty One

Hey!

Here is my attempt at my first Vlog–a follow up to our own veteran vlogger, Mike!

Please watch to find out which two famous authors join me in this post. (Although they are quiet–they were probably stuffed after dinner?)

Here is the youtube link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zelFSP1Tflo

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Filed under Happiness, Rejection, rejection and success, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, Writing and Life