Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My Latest (Much-Needed) Slap in the Face

Rejection. You can't ever really love it, but it's a cold, hard, and sometimes brutal fact when you're a writer and you're submitting material to be read and accepted by an agent or an editor. Your only other alternative is to keep all those stories buried in your notebooks and computer files somewhere, never to see the light of day. But what's the point of that? It's why you write in the first place. For your voice to be heard. For others to get the same excitement and joy from the story that you did when you first wrote it.

Except I think I've reached a point in my life where I DO love rejection. Especially when it comes with some helpful critique, which, as I've mentioned in my most recent post, is coming more and more frequently for me these days. In a world where agents and editors are increasingly busy and more selective, it's great when they can take time and provide some little nuggets to writers. I'm incredibly appreciative of any help they can provide. Personally, I feel the frequency I do get helpful feedback shows that I'm in a good place, that there's something there worth commenting on.

Let's get back to the brutality of feedback. Recently, I submitted a query for my middle-grade fantasy book, Oliver and the Underlings, to Evil Editor. For those who are unfamiliar with who Evil Editor is... well, I'm not 100% sure myself. All I know is, some anonymous professional in the publishing industry has set up a website to publicly help, and simultaneously ridicule, any writer brave enough to offer up their query for critique. In addition to his feedback, you also get, as an added bonus, his Evil Minions (a.k.a. his readers) supplying humorous interpretations of what your title could possibly mean, as well as his own humorous interpretation of your pitch. 

You can check out his website here for more information:

I sent my query last week, and today was the day Evil Editor chose to tear it apart. So here is Evil Editor's comments on Oliver and the Underlings, in all their un-glory:

On the surface, this seems very insulting. Those without a thick skin might slam their laptop closed after reading it and throw it out a window. 

On closer inspection, however, there is much to be learned here within the embarrassing commentary.

First, queries are all about perception. My book is an innocent middle-grade story about monsters, and yet outside readers picked up on all kinds of inferences I never intended nor realized I was making. One lesson you can take from this is to make sure your intentions are clear and appropriate for the age group you're writing about.

Second, queries need to be simple and easy to follow. A main character's goals, journey, and obstacles have to be clear and straightforward. Plus, although your book may have multiple plot lines to it, there is one major plot line that supersedes all others. It will most likely be the one involving the highest stakes for the main character. Find out what it is and make that clear as well.

Third, and this is the scariest realization of all for me, an unclear query might mean an unclear story overall. It makes me wonder whether queries should be written BEFORE the book is finished, almost as a guide to keep things on track. It also makes me wonder if my aversion to writing a synopsis or outline of a story is really a good idea. Although I don't think I'll be giving up my free writing style any time soon. Maybe queries, outlines, etc. would be good tools to use after the initial draft but before doing any real editing.

So, was the rejection harsh? Yes. Was it deserved? A little time to sit and think might be best to answer this, but in my case, I believe it is. Were my wounds deep? No. If anything, I liken it to that pain you feel after you've just done a hard workout. It's a good pain, just another step toward getting a healthy book out into the world.

Anyone else who would like to share their own experiences of rejection and how it has helped you or made your writing stronger, feel free to drop a comment in the box.

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