Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Rejection... And Possibly Starting Over

Back in the day, when I was just finishing up The Whispering Ferns for the Delacorte Press contest, I was contacted by an agent out of the blue. She said that my story looked intriguing and that, when it was ready and after the contest deadline had been passed, she would be willing to consider my manuscript. Now, any agent saying this would have been great enough, but this came from a well-respected newer agent, with nothing but good reviews and an excellent client list.

It took a long time to get it there. I re-wrote the beginning, cutting over a thousand words of lead up and added some elements throughout the story as well. I also shattered my right arm and moved cross country to Maine, which contributed to the delay.

Finally, I felt ready. Even better, a few days after sending it, she wrote back and told me that she remembered me and though she was busy, she looked forward to reading my sample chapters.

Man... I confess, I let my imagination get away from me that day. I'm usually pretty reserved in my flights of fancy, but the idea of actually getting an agent occupied my thoughts for days. Off of that simple note from an agent. Ha!

Eventually, for it did indeed take her a while to get back to me, I kind of set the book aside in my mind. I started working on a Post Apocalyptic Crime novel and inched my way towards finishing Graves, I also started drawing again, which has been long overdue. So the waiting was a good thing, no doubt.

When her response did arrive, as I'm sure you've surmised, it was a rejection. But I had expected that. Honest. I may have let my mind wander to happy published fun land, but I figured a rejection would get here eventually. For one thing, no one writes their first book, is approached by an agent and gets that agent with his first ever query letter. If that person exists, there are a lot of aspiring authors out there that want to spit on him or her.

But what a rejection! Polite, personal, chock full of genuinely useful constructive feedback... As much as I wanted to be despondent and give up, this letter wont let me.

So what did she say? That I have a "neat setting" and a "great premise" and that's about the extent of the outright good comments. But that is okay. Who wants a letter full of praise and raves about your book that ends in a rejection?

The important part is what I did wrong, and not only does she point them out in a useful way, but to my surprise, they were exactly the things that I had started questioning myself.

The story starts too slowly. Despite trimming off two full chapters, nothing continues to happen for another few. At the time, I felt this important to build the world and the supporting characters, to immerse the reader in the misty world of Moonstone Bay, but that doesn't work with Middle Grade books, or any modern books for that matter. You want to start with some action, you want to "hook in the young readers." I'll be honest, I didn't do this out of my own stubborness, much to my regret. I hate books that start with some exciting sequence, only to flash back to where the story really starts, just to get the readers attention with a splash. That seems disingenuous to me and often, it is very blatant feeling. However, a book can do this effectively, I just have to figure out how. And with modern readers having a ridiculously short attention span, I don't have a choice.

She also confirmed my earlier suspicion that my story was written in a too old-fashioned a manner.  I wrote about this a bit ago, asking whether there was room in today's world for a timeless feeling book. The resounding answer was yes, there is room. That gave me a lot of reassurance and helped me sleep at night, but since my rejection arrived, I've reached a caveat to that statement.

There is room in the modern world for Timeless Books - But they have to be written in a modern style.

I mistakenly believed that because my book had a timeless feeling and setting, that it would still resonate with modern readers, but what I didn't register is that my style of writing is dated. I took a formal storyteller position while writing The Whispering Ferns and it never gives the reader a chance to get into Smith's head, to really join him on his adventures. A novel can be what I want it to be, I'm certain of that, I just have to cater to the audience I'm selling it to, and that is not me as a ten year old. Heck, even when I was ten, they probably weren't designing books with me in mind. I was a weird kid that used to read while he walked home from school, lowering the book between page turns to check whether my path was clear in front of me.

So what does this mean? I think it means I need to re-write the Whispering Ferns from Smith's point of view. I should jump into the action, perhaps even creating an earlier conflict to dive at. I may still send off a few more query letters, if only to keep my hopes up as I dive back into a story that I'd hoped was finally finished.

It's a little disheartening, but I believe in Moonstone Bay and I think it's a world that kids could really enjoy, so if this is what it takes to tell my story, I will happily do it!

And though I'm not sure how much agents like to have their name and words bandied about, I do want to take a second to thank the agent. For her time, her willingness to consider me and Smith and most of all for her feedback. I think it will help me become an author. Someday.


The Grows said...

While I am sorry to hear about your rejection letter I am glad to hear that you are using it well. You have an amazing and creative mind and I know that as long as you keep working on it some day you will be a published author. Keep working and you will not be sorry. Thanks for keeping us up dated. I love to hear what is going on with you.

Jonathon Arntson said...

Great post. I have faith that you and all of us will be published one day. The journeys vary greatly from person to person and reading about someone's journey can be difficult or awkward. Reading about yours, however, makes me want to have a book in my hands with your name after the by more than ever.

Sherry said...

That is both bad and good news. I'm glad you got some good feedback, AND that your willingness to work hasn't diminished too greatly (...if at all?). I hope that this helps you become a much better (published!) author! I expect a signed first printing of your book(s).

Steve at Random said...

I'm in the midst of a "hard life" story -- "The Bottom of the Sky." It's a long novel written by William Pack, who spent his formative year in my hometown. The book really talks about "consequences" for actions...some by us and some to us. I'm often contrasting this book with "Whispering Ferns", which really was a fun tale to read and didn't have any of the "bottom of the gut" feelings that I find in this other novel. I guess what I'm saying is, change "Whispering Ferns" if you must, but I liked the draft just as you wrote it out. Call me old fashioned, but sometimes I like to read something to be entertained and have my mind taken away from the pressures of the day...rather than focused on incest, infidelity and greedy, lustful double-talkers.

Caroline Tung Richmond said...

Aw, I'm sorry to hear about this rejection, but I'm glad that you were able to get some good feedback. Keep going for it! It sounds like you have a great story in your hands. :o)

By the way, LOVE the name of your blog. I adore the Princess Bride!

Kristopher and Crew said...

Thanks everybody! I was pretty melancholy for a while, but I think I'm starting to come around to this whole jazz. I'm just lucky that my first rejection letter was such a cool one.

Welcome to the ROUS Motel, Caroline!

Steve, you'll be disappointed to learn that the second book in the Moonstone Bay Mystery series is actually called The Incestuous and Lustful Double-talkers.

Anonymous said...

When my writing was rough, I received mainly form rejections.

When I was getting better at the craft, I received rejections like the one your described. Some agents would take the time to write about my weaknesses...because they saw strengths in other areas.

I appreciated and used their wonderful feedback.

See this as a sign that you're getting closer to your goal.

Surface Protection Films said...

Don't lose hope my friend god has a perfect plan for all of us and everything was made for a reason. Just wait, be patient and don't lose that determination, that attitude will give you the perfect work and company. Thanks for sharing your thought buddy, godbless and keep safe! Goodluck to your career!