Never Give Up (aka the rejection letter that made me cry tears of joy)

OHI0122-PitchQueryTo blog or not to blog? That isn’t the question.

Honestly, I haven’t blogged in so long because a) I didn’t feel I had anything inspiring to say and b) I made a decision to spend more time writing, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve reworked and rehoned (I know not a real word but I’ve decided to employ it anyway), my first novel and am deep into writing my second.

But I digress.

I’m now about to discuss the title of this blog post (tsk tsk I’m a journalist and I just buried the lede). So back at RWA 2014 Nationals in San Antonio I pitched my book to several agents and editors. There was one in particular who was genuinely excited about my book. I felt a rapport with her. You know that feeling, right? You sit down in the 10-minute merry go round that is pitching appointments and hope your tongue doesn’t swell and you don’t break out in hives as you pitch your darling, your baby, your brilliant story you’ve slaved over to the people who can launch your career.

And this particular agent was wonderful. She not only asked for my partial manuscript she asked me what else I was working on. When I told her she said she was excited about the concept. She said she’d never seen a book about the issue I was writing about. I felt good.

When I got home I sent my partial off two weeks later. And waited… And waited… And waited… You know the drill. Four months went by. Nothing. Not a blip. I was too wimpy to send a follow up. I figured if she hadn’t responded by this point it was probably a “no” anyway. I figured the book gods were laughing at me for wishing she was the one who I most wanted to want my story. Oh well.

As the months dragged on  I was deep into my second novel and also reworking the first one after taking lots more workshops, classes, working with critique partners and continuing to learn. All hail the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and my RWA Chapter LARA, and the Women’s Fiction chapter of RWA and the Pro Org of RWA. I have learned and gleaned and honed and battled and slaved over a hot keyboard with input from amazing minds from Donald Maas, Margie Lawson and the brilliant blog Writers in the Storm and Writer Unboxed  to following the ups and downs of colleagues on their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. I am inspired byLiana LeFey’s work ethic, Laura Drake’s sense of humour, Barbara Claypole White’s gin-infused, Doc Martin wearing, garden tending tales, Kathryn Craft’s emotional bravery, Amy Sue Nathan’s generosity, Maggie Marr’s prolific output, Lynne Marshall’s world domination of medical romances, Robena Grant’s determination to carve her own path and her dry Aussie wit, Robin Bielman’s joie de vivre, Betty Bolte’s sumptuous descriptions, Sarah Vance Tompkins and Christine Ashworth’s can-do attitude, Pamela Dumond’s quirky tales (and even quirkier neighbours), Dee J Adams‘ take no prisoners attitude, Claire McEwen – whose success story is my daily inspiration –   and countless other writers who help me sit down and bash out (sometimes awful) words on a page every day.

So when month five rolled around I saw someone had “followed” me on Twitter and said they were working at an (undisclosed ) big agency and I could pitch my story in 140 characters to them. I tweeted. He tweeted back. He was an assistant at the agency of – you guessed it – the person I had now been waiting five months to hear from. He requested a partial. I told him my submission was in fact still with one of his agents and I hadn’t heard back yet. He said he’d look into it and get back to me. He told me he reminded the agent and she said she’d get back to me.

Another month rolled by and I heard nothing. Until today. Firstly, she apologised profusely for taking so long to get back to me. Apparently my submission landed on her desk just days before she gave birth (timing has never been my strong suit) and it’s taken her a while to get back on track.

And then she wrote this:

I jumped eagerly into [title of book], it’s a unique premise and you have a very entertaining voice. Unfortunately I didn’t connect with this story the way I had hoped I would. While there were elements I loved, i.e. the dog, the clean writing, the relatable heroine, in the end I just  didn’t love the execution. This is an entirely subjective opinion. As I’m sure you know this is a business based on personal tastes, and this is purely indicative of that fact. I wish you the best in finding a better suited match for this project.

As I mentioned I think you are quite talented and do hope you’ll keep me in mind for future projects. Please feel free to query me directly in the future should the opportunity present itself.

The first thing I did after reading this was cry. Tears of joy, because it was such a beautiful rejection letter. Weird, I know. But it was so specific and encouraging and everything that many of us wish a rejection letter would be.  And she’d said she would be happy to look at anything else I wrote. So I sent her an email back thanking her for her kind words. I told her I was halfway through my second book and it was the one she had expressed interest in at our meeting when I pitched the first one, and that I would definitely send it to her when it was ready. I also mentioned that in the six months that had passed since I had first submitted to her, I’d done some extensive rewrites on the first book and that as a result I hoped to find a home for it soon.

She emailed me back and said she was thrilled to hear I’d made progress, asked what changes I’d made and that she would be more than happy to have me resubmit it to her.

So there you have it. A wonderful rejection and  an opportunity to reread the new, improved, updated version of my manuscript.  Six months later, the connection I felt with this agent back in San Antonio was still there in these email exchanges. I have no idea whether she’ll take me on when I submit my revamped manuscript. But whatever happens, it’s all part of the journey. I feel I’m one step closer to representation. In the meantime I’ll keep working on my craft and pushing myself to be a better writer.

I know that there are paths to publication that don’t require agents; that there are publishers out there that will take you on without one; that there are a myriad of self-publishing opportunities; that there are lesser known agents at smaller agencies all of whom are hungry and eager to take on first time novelists. I love that there are so many paths and that we have so many choices. Right now, though, for whatever reasons that make me me, I’m still pursuing an agent and the traditional publishing channels.

Hold on to your publishing dreams, whatever form they may take and whatever roads they take you down. But have a solid writing community to back you up whether you’re crying tears of joy or frustration at yet another rejection letter. And keep learning, keep taking classes, keep putting your words on the page and never give up.

20 comments

  1. robenagrant says:

    What a wonderful post. And thank you for including me in such grand company. 🙂 I understand those tears of joy, and I’ve experienced them. Believe me when I say that to receive that rejection, and then get the follow up you did, means you are extremely close.

    We will be in the same group at conference in a couple of weeks, and when I read all of the submissions I was humbled. Such talent. My thoughts were something along the lines of: Holy crap, these people can write. Then I reread my own entry and thought it sounded like it was from a junior high kid entering a creative writing competition. Ha ha.

    Just hang in there, kiddo. You are on the verge of something good!

    • Kelly says:

      Ooh. Excited we’re in the same critique group. I haven’t even had a chance to look at them yet. You’re an amazing writer and I can’t wait to read your pages. I guess our inner demons never really leave us. We have to fight them!

  2. Robin says:

    Woot! Kelly, that is awesome! She sounds like a really nice agent and I’m crossing my fingers for you! ((hugs))

  3. Love this story. This is what keeps fellow authors submitting and giving their best. So proud of and happy for you. Looking forward to your first sale notice.
    hugs,
    Lynne

    • Kelly says:

      That’s sweet, Lynne. No breath holding please. And you’re right (write?). It’s your own can-do attitude that sees you churning out so many books. You’re such an inspiration.

  4. jeff7salter says:

    I was strung along by an agent who expressed interest and requested a full.
    Ever hopeful, I maintained contact.
    She said she was still going to consider it but she didn’t bump any ms. out of line — all were tackled in the order received.
    More months.
    She moved her office.
    She temporarily shut down her email, so there’s no indication whether she ever received my followups. I gave up.
    Never heard from her. Assume she relocated and reopened email in some form.
    I’ve since found a small publisher for that novel and it was released in Dec. 2013.
    Along the way, I now have contracts with three small publishers — 7 novels & two novellas have already been released. Three more titles on the way.
    It stings that this agent could leave me — and presumably everybody in line behind me — hanging for better part of a year… with no explanation other than she was relocating.
    Glad your agent is more communicative and professional.
    Hope you land her (or someone else).

    • Kelly says:

      Thank you. I’m so sorry for your tale of woe. I know that there are a lot of them out there. But kudos for you for persevering and carving your own path to publications. AND being so prolific. Onwards!

      • jeff7salter says:

        It was definitely demoralizing. I had to struggle to keep bitterness and resignation from dragging me down for too long. I kept writing and focused on networking. I got my “break” through networking.

  5. I knew you were getting closer and closer! Congrats to you on maintaining a professional connection with that agent. Not all agents are created equal, as I’ve discovered in the past. Best of luck to you on selling that book and many, many more!

  6. Kady Winter says:

    Congratulations, Kelly! You are so right to take the encouragement from the letter as your point of focus. It is incredibly powerful indication you’re on the right track.

  7. Hi Kelly! Just learned of your blog via David Hochman (UPOD). I love your attitude and your message so much. It’s especially inspiring for me as I attempt to get my book proposal together. I’m going to follow your blog now and look forward to reading it! Best of luck and keep going!!

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Niva. LOVE David. He’s a champion and a cheerleader. Hooray for UPOD. I’m doing his webinar this weekend and did his Academy last year. Am off to check out your blog now! Cheers.

  8. Harriet Hale says:

    Kelly – I loved this post because I, too, judge my progress by the “goodness” of my rejections, what I’m learning, and the connections I make along the way. Best of luck on your path to publication.

    Harriet
    harriethale.com
    @HaleWrites

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