I wrote the gist of this in response to a friend who feels down about the state of things. The process. The I-want-to-be-published-one-day game. And I thought I’d reproduce it for anyone else who might feel the same way, and also anyone who sees it differently, and would be willing to say why.
One thing i have learned…never, ever (ever EVER) take one person’s opinion to mean the ms is flawed. Or even five people’s opinions.
Don’t go back to the drawing board. Don’t open up the document and drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how to change it so it wouldn’t have gotten rejected.
If you get the same specific criticism from two or more people, my advice is to consider that seriously, see if it resonates with you. But if it’s only vague “didn’t fall in love” type rejections, or specific reasons that don’t match other specific reasons you’re getting, just keep sending it out.
This business is so subjective, and bottom line, I think editors are looking for a book they would want to pick up in a store–not necessarily something other people would want to pick up in a store. So you are trying to find the one editor (or agent) who is going to adore your particular book.
If they’re passing it doesn’t mean your book isn’t saleable–it just means that one person didn’t love it. And so it’s a matter of throwing enough spaghetti till a piece sticks.
Go with your gut. If a criticism causes a spark of recognition–or better yet, excitement–by all means sit down and revise accordingly. By the same token, if one feels totally, completely, my eyes-are-tearing-up-at-the-thought-of-doing-that wrong, don’t change a thing.
(Unless you know you’re the type who always resists what’s really right for your work. In that case you may have to sit with rejections a while, until that initial impulse has passed.)
I guess I would add for the purposes of this blog–I know my friend’s work is good, so this caveat wasn’t necessary for her–that it’s a well recognized truism that most everyone thinks they can write a novel. And most everyone can’t. So if you’re querying and you’ve gotten upwards of fifty (maybe even twenty) form rejections without one personal note jotted down–keep at it; this is good, but not for us; try my friend Josie at such and such; I know you’re going to succeed; or the like–then it might be time to hone your craft a little more.
Take an online class. New York Writers Workshop or Writers Digest or Gotham all offer them. Look into workshops or conferences that focus on craft. Two I know of are Writers in Paradise, which features more bestselling legends than you can shake a stick at, and Algonkian. Go over to your local community college and see if you can audit a creative writing class. Find a writers group through your local bookstore or community center.
Otherwise, I would say keep contacting agents. Or if you’re represented, let your agent keep contacting editors. I heard recently from one author whose agent worked a year and a half before making a sale. Don’t get down hearted. And most particularly, don’t give up.
This is how the game is played.