Critique and Rejection

How apropos that this article from Query Tracker landed in my email inbox today. What do they call it? Kismet?

A couple of days ago, I received a critique on the YA story I’ve been working on forever. I had begged my Editor for Life for said constructive critique, as I had never written anything in the genre. (Usually, Mr. ED provides me with written direction as to development and an opinion on whether the story will fly, but not this time. This time, he and his fellow editor oohed and aahed and implored me to hurry up and make the changes and submit the novel to an agent, post haste.) But since I insisted, he passed my draft to a reviewer.

When the review came back, he prefaced the email by telling me a few things. One, he doesn’t agree with the assessment. Two, Nameless Reviewer reamed me a new “b***hole,” or two.

Still, I’m no shrinking violet. I encourage critique, especially if it is constructive. Plus, I asked for it.

And the review? Scathing doesn’t quite describe what I read.

And guess what? I survived it.

Nameless Reviewer brought up several good points. One being that my technology was dated. Yes, yes it is. I started writing this novel in 2008. That’s four long years ago. I rushed to complete it because I wanted to finally finish it. It was the one piece of work that I already had 50K worth of words and was closest to finishing.

There were other technical issues that I totally agreed with. She reviewed my first draft. My first drafts are typically horrible, if not downright obnoxious. Especially true of a first draft that took me four years to finish. And I tried too hard. When I wrote the beginning, I had ‘dumbed’ down my main character. Teenagers these days are rather savvy and more sophisticated than what my character exhibited in the first few pages of my book.

However, I have to disagree with her on the rest of it. She thought it was an unbelievable tale and that my character was unlikeable. I am in contact with 14 to 18 year olds all day long. I see what’s going on. My teenage character is rather spoiled and not very likeable. I wanted to portray her as such in the beginning, because in the end she finds her better self.

Plus I based the character and her antics on my Real Life daughter and her friends. My Real Life daughter can come off as 1. spoiled, 2. bitchy, and 3. not very likeable. But my Real Life daughter can be very compassionate, is fun, smart, and talented.

Why do I blather on about this?

Well, for one thing, I’ve sent out queries and I’ve been rejected. I’ve submitted my work for various contests and have had mixed results. Some people like what I write, and some people don’t. Similarly, I feel the same way about some novels. There are too many books out there, and I can’t expect to like every one, or to have everyone like my work.

I like what Jillian Medoff said about writing as an art. It is an art. Like any artist, writers build their body of work. They grow and learn new concepts; they build a gallery of pieces that (hopefully) show a positive progression of improvement. I’m thinking of a gentleman I know from the Michigan Silversmith Guild, who is holding his 50 year retrospective in Kalamazoo. He was not proficient at metals when he was a college student, but what he creates now is nothing short of stunning and amazing.

Critique is not meant to tear down, but to point out various avenues not apparent to the artist. This is my take. Rejection can only be felt by the beholder, not by the artist. If you feel torn down and rejected, it might be time to start working in earnest.

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To Borrow a Line from My Other Blog: It’s My Pity Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To

The one good thing about being a writer: You get to make up all kinds of stuff in your head, transfer it to the written word, and glory in your obvious gift of converting language into entertainment.

The one bad thing about being a writer: Real Life.

Real Life has taken the wind out of my sails in the last ten days. There is the impending death of a family member – no picnic, to be sure; spring, when the yard beckons for attention; summer, when the Real Job heats up; and the antics of my children (yes, even though they are grown – responsibility doesn’t lessen, it just morphs into a different monster). So I have not been writing as much as I should.

I like writing, really I do. I’ve done it continuously since my mother handed me my first pencil. However, my mother was not a fan. I leaned toward scathing pieces from the get-go. In fact, a little known ironic anecdote: I was thrown out of Catholic school for a little story I wrote on a dare. I have always pushed the envelope.

My mother gave me a Remington typewriter that weighed about 25 pounds for my high school graduation, wished me well, and advised me to “stop writing stuff that makes people angry.” Then I entered my twenties, went to college, and partied a little too hard. No direction. My very first novel typed on that very same typewriter sits in a box in my basement somewhere. No, it’s not complete. I ran out of steam after 100 pages or so.

Being an adult means making choices, like working to eat. I did that. I got married. I had kids. I love my family, but Real Life really sucks the time away from the creative side. So what did I do? Made time for me. It was easier to do when the kids didn’t need me as much. Before that, I felt guilt for being selfish.

And so started art classes and writing. I’m totally amazed that I have completed two novels. Two entire books with the words “The End” at the bottom of the last page. This is epic, my friends. I have so many balls up in the air, it’s a miracle I can complete anything.

My first completed novel needs major work. The second has been majorly worked on, and I thought it was ready for submission. I thought I was ready for the standard rejection. There are literally thousands of people writing novels and only a small percentage ever snag an agent or ever get published in the traditional sense. These facts made for a nice buffer, and I’ve been handling my “sorry, not what we’re looking for” s with aplomb.

This week’s rejection was different.

I was told my novel concept might be too novel to be published. (I agree, it’s different. But too unusual to be published? That was crushing.)

Huh. I then went into Pity Party mode. For about a minute and a half. (Okay, a day and a half.) I ate a lot of fast food and chased it with chocolate and soft drinks. While chocolate is a writer’s best friend, fast food and soft drinks aren’t usually on my radar. I now have a pimple the size of a quarter (location kept secret because it’s quite embarrassing) for all of my gluttony.

I [psychically] cried about several things, including my rejection(s), my fence falling down, the state of the economy, the absence of the wire wrap teacher (because I like her and she’s funny but she has a broken toe and hasn’t been to class in a couple of months), our tax bill this year, and the fact that every weekend it’s been rainy and cold instead of warm and sunny. I also pitched a fit about my muffin top, my husband’s office (still looks like a bomb exploded), and some of my lesser favorite employees.

When I came out of my funk, I started writing. I also started reading. Here is an amazing blog post about failure. Son of a gun, but that was timely. Here is another about manufacturing writing time. Thank you, I needed that. Then a writing friend sent me this link, which caused me to laugh heartily. Of course there is the famed Rejectionist, whose current post has more to do with fashion than being rejected. I liked that.

That being said, the Pity Party is officially over. It’s time to get busy.

What Form Rejection Means to Me

As per The Rejectionist: (you know me, I like an un-anything)

I wish I could say I’m a veteran of form letter rejection. Heck, I wish I could say I was a veteran of any rejection, period. I’ve been too busy writing as fast as I can, editing, more writing, more editing, pulling weeds in the guerrilla urban garden, staying cool during three days of brown out, writing, editing and more editing. My CTRL-V function has been working far more than the SEND button on my email, and that’s on the days when I have power.

That’s not to say I have nothing to send out to potential rejectioners. (Rejectionists? Rejectionistas? The Reject Police? S&M Rejection Agency?) I have plenty of material. My books are not ready, not yet. And it’s not as though I’m afraid of rejection. In my incarnation as a Real Lifer, I face plenty of it each and every day. In fact, you could say F* O* You Be-yotch is my middle name. I can’t say it to the customers, but oh, I think it plenty.

I’m also war-torn from being on a certain social-creative-highly toxic-troll infested web site where on a slow day the comments would run the gamut from mildly irritating to stalker scary. Since I use my own real name – and I’m published, in the book – I would at times be afraid if some goon were lying in wait right outside my front door, ready to give me a good going over (or worse) because of something I had blogged or posted.

You live on the Big Blue Ball long enough and you realize that rejection is a part of life. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” That’s my motto, right after “I’m writing as fast as I can.” Have a ready made slot for rejection, and you’ll probably come out smelling like the proverbial and cliched rose.

My one and only non-form rejection from my one and only query was a honey. I blogged about it back at the time. It wasn’t a form rejection, but a rather thoughtful, generous email about how my work was okay, but not yet ready for prime time. (Told ya. What can I say? I placed in a Query Tracker contest and I had to try.)

I’ll likely send out a massive email blitz sometime in September once I am finished editing the last book I wrote. I’ll probably get a few dozen form rejections, I don’t know. Here’s the thing about automated form rejections: Most of them are machine generated, having never reached the human eyeballs of Agent or Agent Assistant. I can hardly fault a computer program for doing its job, now can I? I figure if a big gun agent sends out a form rejection, he/she is too busy for little old me. That makes me think the agent has no time for a new, aspiring novelist and I can cast my net into the uncharted waters of Agents Who Just Landed a Job and Are Hungry For Talent. After all, I’m so good (yuck-yuck) that I need someone who is driven to sell my property, which I have to say is unique in soooo many ways.

Form rejections are like those email from Nigerian businessmen wanting to give you a couple million dollars. It’s very close to the messages that promise you a Rolex for $9.99 or guaranteeing to grow your penis (even if you don’t have one) a full six inches. In that case, you do what I do.

You smile, say, “heh,” hit the delete and go on to the next.