As a writer, the first, and probably most important thing to be prepared for, is rejection. Like a lot of rejection. I’m not talking weeks or months but possibly years. That’s a lot of rejection and although it occasionally is hard, you just have to let it roll of your back and move onto the next query. My college writing professor always said to keep your rejections and in the era before email, that file became pretty thick.
I still keep my rejections but now with email, it’s easier to keep (and also to query and submit). And run the numbers. Since going electronic, I have 61 rejections out of 220 submissions (not all publishers/agents bother to even send a rejection) for three books and one short story. 99% of the rejections are form emails but on the rare occasion I will receive an email with constructive criticism which is always welcomed as I received this week from an agent.
Not to be pessimistic but when I query, I don’t dwell on it once I hit send because I know that first, I might not even get a response and second, slush piles are mountainous. I imagine it’s a bit like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. The response to my query might come in a week, or in three months, or never. One of my favorite experiences has been from an agent sending me a rejection letter seven months after I queried him. In those seven months, I was offered a contract for the book AND it was released by my current publisher. I did make sure to respond to his rejection thanking him for the belated response and let him know about the book’s release. Perhaps a bit snarky but it really was ridiculous. Why even bother after seven months? I figure I’ve been rejected if I haven’t received a response in two to three months.
The other amusing experience from queryland is when I got the exact same rejection letter – word for word – from two different agencies/publishers. I have no idea who plagiarized who, but I found it quite funny considering plagiarism is a humongous no-no in the publishing world. At least they remembered to change the names.
Way back when, I took my first creative writing class at Morningside College. I had dabbled in writing before the course, but this was my first formal experience in a writing workshop-type class. I was excited about the class and came away knowing that I wanted to be a full-time writer when I grew up. But more importantly, I came away with what is often believed to be the number one rule in creative writing – write what you know.
For the longest time, this rule challenged me because I didn't experience anything that would be genuinely story worthy. I would come up with these plot ideas (not based on any of my experiences) but struggled to write with authority and finish a story satisfactorily. I languished with my writing and eventually, life took up most of my time, and my writing took a backseat.
But eventually, life settled down, and I could devote more time to writing, but again, I was challenged by the whole writing what you know conundrum. But I wanted to write, and I still didn't want to get caught up in the limitations of that rule.
And so, I just started to write beginning with just a scene just as I had started back in my first creative writing class. And I continued writing and eventually, I realized I was writing what I knew. It wasn’t the tangible of the story; it was the emotions I was connecting to. I realized that writing what you know is not limited to just experiences. It can be about writing about the emotions I was feeling. Suddenly, the process of writing became less of a chore, and I could just write.
It was such a defining moment for me as a writer.