Tag: rejection

How I found my literary agent

Two weeks ago, I got “the call.” 

You know, the call writers who have agents always talk about? The magical moment a literary agent calls them on the telephone and offers to represent their work.

Most authors believe “the call” will never happen to them. I was no exception. 

Let me explain.


It is a truth universally acknowledged that every author must experience rejection. And not just a single rejection, but continuous rejection over and over throughout their career.

Several years ago, I attended a talk where the speaker—a multi pen name, multi-published author and Golden Heart (a prestigious contest for unpublished romance authors) winner—talked about rejection. She said she won the Golden Heart, found an agent and was offered a three-book deal by a big press. She thought she’d made it until she was…well…rejected after the third book released and had low sales. 

She then went on to sign another book deal for a series with a different large publisher and…you guessed it…was later rejected. Eventually, she self-published a series, which offered her a big advantage over the traditional publisher. No one can tell you no when you self-publish—you’re your own boss. You can’t be rejected unless you reject yourself and who in their right mind would do that? So, self-publishing worked out well for her.

About the time I heard this author’s talk, I was in the throes of dealing with a painful rejection. It was from an agent I had high hopes would fall in love with my work in progress. She said she didn’t see anything worthwhile in the work, and it would be a hard sell to publishers. 

I appreciated her honesty. Really. 

But at the same time, I had also been rejected by my current publisher for my second book in my series. She said my plot needed more work, and what I had in my head wasn’t coming across on the page. She said I was telling and not showing enough in my writing, and she just didn’t “feel” the characters. She said she wouldn’t offer a contract.

Wow.

Harsh words from someone I thought liked my writing. 

If I hadn’t already published two books with two different publishers, I would have probably been crushed at this point. But I reminded myself, if I did it before, I could do it again.

And therein lies the rub. Sometimes the world will give you a resounding “no.” Sometimes you have to block the noise. You have to look deep inside yourself and listen to your heart.

Last year, I picked myself up and finished a new manuscript. The story, SWEET STUFF, finaled and then won its category in the 2019 Stiletto contest.

Great news. 

I figured someone would offer for the book, right? Wrong. The judges liked the book, but apparently, not enough to offer for it. I gave myself a healthy dose of positive self-talk and started my agent search for SWEET STUFF last September.

And got rejected. And rejected. And rejected some more. 

I scratched my head. 

If a contest win and great reviews by critique partners and beta readers didn’t generate results, what would? Maybe I should give up?

I took a breath, ate large amounts of Malley’s chocolates (they’re big in Cleveland), and continued querying. Every time I got a rejection, I sent out two more queries. Every time someone said no, I told myself yes (after shedding a few more tears and eating more chocolate). 

And then one day, an agent I queried asked to read the full manuscript. 

Yay! 

But it was only one request and was followed by five rejections. Then another request came in to read the full followed by more rejections. Then another. And so it went. Soon it was five requests from agents wanting to read my manuscript.

This had to be a good sign, right?

But would any of them actually offer for the manuscript? Two of the agents sent me a nice email indicating they liked the manuscript, but ultimately, it wasn’t quite right for their lists.

What a bummer. I swallowed painfully and sent out more queries.

Soon another agent asked for the full. Would she be the one? Six months had now passed since my first query, and I’d gotten six requests with no offers. I doubled up my research. I loved Hallmark movies, and had a favorite Hallmark writer. I googled and read an interview where she credited her agent with getting her a movie deal. Maybe I should send my manuscript to this agent? It’d be a stretch, but what did I have to lose?

Late one night, I sent my query zipping across the Ethernet. A day and a half later, I received a request for the full. I responded with the manuscript the same day.

And waited.

A week or so later, I was eating lunch with my husband and a friend, when an email notification flashed on my mobile phone. I caught the words “arrange for a call.”

My heart jerked inside my chest. Was this “the call?” 

I texted my critique partner, who’d just landed her own agent, and she suspected it was. Now I was really excited. 

The next day I took “the call.” The agent, Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein with McIntosh & Otis, loved the book, read it in a weekend, wanted to represent my work.

I don’t remember all we talked about during the call, but I do know we discussed a few tweaks (minor) and other ideas I had for new work. We seemed to click. I signed the contract and mailed it off this week. 

And that is how I landed my literary agent.

If you’re a writer looking for an agent, wondering if you’ll ever get “the call,” keep trying. Don’t give up. Rejection is a part of this business. It’s true what they say: writing is subjective. I suspect I’ll be rejected again before too long.

Take it a day at a time, be persistent, have faith in yourself. And when you feel like giving up, which we all sometimes do, reach deep inside, dig for courage, and keep going. Your heart knows the truth, and the truth will carry you to where you need to be.

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Keeping Up When You’re Feeling Down

Up and Down
The title of this blog post came easy. The rest I’ve rewritten at least a dozen times. And that’s pretty much how its been with me lately. It’s all a little twisted. Like I put my shirt on backward or got out on the wrong side of bed.

Not that I’ve done those things. But every time I start to write, the words seem somehow wrong. No sooner do I type, I’m hitting the delete key. I write, rewrite, edit, write some more. Then I scrap the piece and start over.

It’s frustrating, annoying, downright depressing.

Why do I do it?
Sabotage my writing before it has time to sit on the page. This week, it’s due to a large dose of negative feedback.

The first came on Monday from an agent I had queried a while back for my newest work, Charmed By Charlie. “I couldn’t connect to the story as much as I wanted to,” she wrote.

Okay…I get it. Not everyone will like your work. But I had such high hopes for this one. I’ve been offered a contract from a great publisher. How could the agent not see how beautiful, wonderful, special this story is?

She seemed nice when I met her back in June. I really wanted her to be the one.

Bummer.

And then on the heels of this email, I received word the manuscript also failed to final in a contest I entered. What? I was so sure it would do well. I read over the feedback. The judges made statements such as, the goals, motivation and conflict weren’t clear.

But I plotted out the goals, motivation and conflict before I began writing. What went wrong?

Major bummer
Before I knew it, I found myself sliding, slipping, drowning in a sea of self-doubt. How could I write another word of my current manuscript, which is only sixty-six percent complete, with this kind of feedback?

The answer is I couldn’t. I stopped writing, walked straight to the freezer and downed the rest of the vanilla ice-cream left over from my son’s birthday party. Then I gorged myself on cottage cheese and granola bars–two late night snacks that have no business mixing together. And the next day…well, you don’t want to know how I felt the next day. Let’s just say, it wasn’t good. I’m grateful I can work from home.

Getting back in the chair
I started thinking about what drives me to write. From where does the passion come?

I love the feeling of starting a new project–the spark of inspiration, which motivates me to type for hours when I should be sleeping or doing laundry. Or the surge of excitement I feel listening to a favorite song or movie or reading a good book. Or the exhilaration of seeing the sun set or spotting the perfect piece of Lake Erie beach glass.

A favorite shot of beach glass I gathered from Lake Erie with a quote from my upcoming release, Mind Waves.

A favorite shot of beach glass I gathered from Lake Erie with a quote from my upcoming release, Mind Waves.

These are the stuff of creativity. They stir the pot of ideas and keep me moving. They’re a jolt of energy telling me I can take on the world or at least my small piece of it. Nothing’s gonna hold me back.

Until someone throws out a negative comment about something I’ve written, and I come crashing back to earth with a resounding thwack.

It hurts.

And then I calm down
Time brings perspective. I go back and reread the letter from the agent.“I’d definitely be open to seeing something from you in the future,” she wrote. “So please keep in touch and hopefully we can work together on a different project.”

Hmm…she must like my writing to offer to look at new material.

I also take a closer look at the contest feedback. The final question asks for overall commentary. Here are excerpts from the judges:

“The important points being brought up indicate a strong storyline being crafted: a boring boyfriend, disappointment at work, an unpredictable best friend, a hot new co-worker…all these are excellently introduced. I think the story will be very compelling once some pacing issues are addressed and the hero makes his GMC known to the reader.”

“This is a manuscript worth pursuing. The setting is interesting, the characters compelling, and the writing make me want to turn the pages!”

“This is really nearly there. Your voice is good, easy to read and entertaining, and you do banter well. Some very funny lines.”

Okay, so the manuscript needs some work. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a great story. Stop listening to the world and listen to your gut. It knows what no one else does.

“This is gonna be a great one,” it says.

Okay, where’s my iPad? Time to get back to work.

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The Long Road to Publication: How I Got An Editor to Say ‘Yes’ to My Manuscript


It seems like a dream to post this blog entry.

Two years ago, I took the plunge. I spent nine months writing my first book, a paranormal romantic suspense novel called Mind Waves. Whenever I thought about quitting, I reminded myself that I also want to quit running but that doesn’t mean I should. There are huge payoffs when I exercise regularly and the same is true of my writing. Without steady writing, I can’t finish the book, and I certainly can’t improve. Without steady exercise, my overall health suffers, and I gain weight.

My waistline and I are both happy to report that we kept running and writing. By April 2015, I had written an entire manuscript. I can still remember the utter joy and astonishment I felt when the last words hit the page. It mirrored the moment I saw each of my three babies for the first time in childbirth. Although nothing can match that excitement, finishing my book was a close second.

In fact, as I wrote in this post back in May, in many ways writing a novel is like birthing a child: you carry the story around with you for nine months, while you painstakingly nurture it, and then before you know it, the big day arrives, and you are showing your baby off to your friends and family.

A Slew of Rejection
What I wasn’t quite prepared for was the first year of my manuscript’s life. Although I had heard all about the pitfalls of rejection, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get the attention of an agent or editor in such a crowded marketplace. Since the advent of self-publishing, the number of books hitting the world has swelled from 600,000 a year to some 3.3 million. In fact, I read somewhere that every five seconds a new book is posted to Amazon.

Saying there are a large number of query letters landing in agent and editor inboxes at any one time is an understatement. Although I don’t know the exact number of aspiring writers submitting manuscripts, I can tell you there are so many, that it takes months to get a response (if you even get a response) to your query. And most of the time, these responses are cold, impersonal rejection notices.

“Thank you but your book is not quite right for our list,” or “While an interesting premise, I’ll have to pass.”

Editor Extraordinaire
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I got a lucky break in May 2015, when I joined the Northeast Ohio Romance Writer’s Association (NEORWA) and learned that their annual conference would be held at the end of the month. I signed up and managed to pitch one agent and two editors, all of whom asked for my manuscript. One of those, Ms. Laura Kelly with the Wild Rose Press, took the time to provide me with specific feedback. While she didn’t feel my manuscript was up to Wild Rose Press’s standards, she did provide suggestions for improvement and the titles of a few books on self-editing.

I took her suggestions to heart. Bought the books and read them. I’ve never been much of a “book-learner,” though, preferring to learn by doing. So I continued to seek critiques and tweak my manuscript, while jumping back into the fray of pitching and querying.

Contests Generate Feedback…and Wins!
I started entering contests and kept this up throughout the year. Right off the bat, I was runner-up in the Music City Writer’s Pitch Contest, so I knew then my storyline had merit. More importantly, I found contests to be the best source for gaining professional feedback from other writers.

By August 2015, I had been awarded second place in the paranormal category in the 2015 Central Ohio Fiction Writer’s Ignite the Flame Contest and had rewritten the story painstakingly several times. I felt it was improved enough to resubmit to Laura Kelly. Shortly after Thanksgiving, she let me know she liked the story but felt certain plot changes would need to be made. If I was willing to make the changes, she said, she would look at the story again.

I felt her suggestions were sound, so it was back to revising. I spent the next two months reconstructing the plot. During this time, I also joined a critique group. The willingness of other members to provide constructive feedback was invaluable.

In January, I resubmitted the revised version. Laura Kelly responded immediately to tell me she would review and be back in touch by May.

Meanwhile, I learned the story received a bronze medal in The 2015 Rudy Writing Contest. For kicks in February, I decided to participate in a Twitter pitch contest, where publishers could favor pitches they liked. My pitch was favored by seven publishers, who after reading the initial chapters, all asked for the full manuscript. Five of these publishers eventually offered contracts, putting me in a quandary–should I accept one of the offers or should I hold out for the editor I wanted, Laura Kelly?

Final Pitch
After some internal debate, a flurry of emails and some googling, I decided to notify Laura Kelly about one of the contract offers, asking if she had had a chance to review the manuscript. She had not, but requested a week to take a look.

Before the week was up, she emailed to let me know she liked what she had read. Although only half way through, she was sending it out to a preliminary reader. Within a few days, I received a notice that it had passed the preliminary reader and was being forwarded to the senior editor for final approval.

Another week passed, while I tried not to worry about the outcome. Meanwhile, Laura Kelly wrote to tell me to relax over the weekend as I probably wouldn’t get a response until the following week. Easier said than done, but I made dinner plans with some old friends and managed to forget about it for a moment or two. Of course, it was while sitting in the restaurant that I received the email from the senior editor,  Ms. Amanda Barnett. Her email titled, “Contract for Mind Waves,” was enough to make me gasp and nearly fall off my chair. Instead, I did the next best thing and ordered dessert.

It’s a Wrap
I didn’t spend a long time reviewing the contract before signing. The Wild Rose Press has a certain reputation as an author-friendly outfit. They’ve been listed by the well-respected Preditors & Editors (P&E) website as “Best Book Publisher” seven years in row. Laura Kelly herself was voted the number one book editor at P & E three years in a row.

It has been long road to publication, but I am thrilled to be entering the final leg of the journey.

Now, it’s time to think about planning a book launch party (or parties!). Although I’m still working out the details, one thing’s for certain–you’re all invited!

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Light Up Your Inner Muse: Join a Writer’s Group

I’ve joined many groups over the years. Some have been paid experiences, some volunteer. Some I joined to chase after boys I liked; others were to get away from boys I did not. Many I joined because a teacher, parent or employer insisted I needed the educational experience. And then there are those few, far and in between that I joined…well, just for me.

Theatre days
One of those came when I majored in theatre in college. Acting was my dream, and I was determined to join the theatre crowd with all the passion in my young heart. And I did.

I once acted in a play that was entirely improvised every night for a new crowd of ticket holders. I stood in the wings, quaking with fear, and sang songs to calm myself. That’s how I discovered and accepted a profound truth–I was much more comfortable behind a stage than on it. I achieved more personal satisfaction (and a better grade) after I wrote a play about a young man who discovered he had AIDS. I should have known then that writing was the path for me.

But I didn’t.

It would take many years and a few unsatisfying job experiences before I would have the courage to admit to myself and those around me that I held a deep, inner desire to express myself in writing. And not just any writing–romance novels, where relationships between a hero and heroine take center stage, and I, the author, can stay hidden within the pages.

Match meet heaven
In April, I had another one of those life-altering moments. I joined a writer’s group and attended their monthly meetings. I didn’t expect much from the experience–perhaps my theatre days had hardened me to other artists. But from the moment I walked through the door of my first meeting, the unexpected happened. I felt a tingling, and the tingling spread. As I talked to writers at different stages in their careers, creative sparks appeared, first here and then there. This one is self-published and has advice on cover artists and promotion. That one is a former English teacher with a talent for developing other writers and willing to share her vast knowledge. This one dreams of plots at night and has advice for my next scene. That one is releasing her tenth book with her fifth publisher and warns me of who to avoid. Whatever stage I’m in, whatever questions I have, there is someone in the group with the knowledge I need to improve my writing and pursue my dream. They welcome me with open arms, bolster my inner critic and recharge my creative juices.

Like that final piece in the puzzle, I fit perfectly.

No naughty girls
Saturday was the annual holiday party at Punderson Manor. We dined, exchanged gifts, passed out awards and honors, and generously shared advice and words of encouragement with one another. No cutthroat competitors and bah humbuggers in this audience. In the true spirit of Christmas, I am given a generous dose of literary cheer to put in my writer’s stocking. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over. Enough to last well into the new year–or at least until that next rejection.

My new writer friends spreading the holiday writing cheer.

My new writer friends spreading the holiday literary cheer.

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Rejection Is a Bitter Pill. But Here’s Why You Should Swallow It

I stay up late most nights to do my writing. At 1 a.m. the house is quiet, and I can think uninterrupted. But even in the wee hours, I sometimes procrastinate. Like yesterday. On that particular day, YouTube was the distracting culprit.

Enter Taylor Swift
I was looking for a song about moms that I might be able to use as the ringtone for my heroine’s mother. After a quick search, I found myself listening to a tune by Taylor Swift called, “The Best Day.” Take a listen if you haven’t heard this one. It’s sweet with video clips of Taylor’s mother holding her as a child. I watched it twice–it was that entertaining. But just before I clicked out, I happened to notice that the song had received more than one thousand downward thumbs. It was hard for me to imagine that anyone could give this tender song a thumbs down. Really? What’s not to like?

That got me thinking about rejection.
As writers–and really every artist–we must stomach a LOT of rejection. It goes with the territory. It doesn’t matter who you are or how far you’ve come, someone out there won’t like you or appreciate your work. Guaranteed.

Although my manuscript was only completed six months ago, I have had to swallow a large dose of rejection. Where does it come from? Agents who receive my pitches, editors who I meet at conferences, other writers who critique my contest entries, my husband who reads everything I write and gives me honest feedback, and even my children, who want me to skip the romance and finish the young adult novel I started ages ago and never finished.

Rejection stinks
And yet, it is the one aspect of writing that I can count on. I screw up my courage to present my work to the world, only to have my hopes dashed–over and over again. Since I finished my first manuscript in April and began the search for a publisher, ninety-nine percent of the feedback I have received has been rejection. But did you know that even rejection has a learning curve? That’s right. It goes something like this:

Phase 1: The Impersonal Rejection: These are impersonal and mechanical email responses, generally consisting of a standard form message. Here’s a sample (in case you haven’t had the pleasure of getting one):

“Thank you very much for sending your query and for offering me the chance to review your material. I’m sorry to state that I will not be asking to represent your manuscript. It is crucial to find an agent who will represent you to the best of his or her ability, and your project did not seem like a good fit for me.

Please understand that this is a subjective industry, and what does not work for one agent or publisher may in fact work well for another. Although I cannot recommend someone specific, I encourage you to continue seeking out representation elsewhere. Should the occasion arise to submit a new project for consideration, please feel free to contact me again.”

Phase 2: The Personal Rejection: Later, after some revisions, more personal rejections began landing in my inbox:

“Thank you very much for the opportunity to consider the opening chapters of MIND WAVES.

I really wish I had better news for you, but I’m afraid I didn’t connect with the material here, and am going to have to decline to offer representation. While I can certainly see why it did so well in the 2015 Central Ohio Fiction Writers Ignite the Flame Contest and the 2015 Music City Romance Writer’s Pitch contest, MIND WAVES isn’t the best fit for me.

Thank you again for the opportunity to read your work. I wish you the best of success with this and with all your writing, and I would enjoy seeing new queries from you when I’m open again to queries.”

Phase 3: Pointed Rejection: For me, this type of rejection has come from editors or contest judges who read a small portion of the manuscript and have specific negative feedback they want to convey. In some cases, there are suggestions for improvement, but often, they just don’t like it:

The dialogue is a significant weakness. It felt wooden and unnatural.”

There was far too much telling and not enough showing. Much of the narrative is clunky and unnecessary.”

So, how to deal with it?
The trick is to read the comment, question its validity (which takes honesty), and then if it really doesn’t mesh with what you know to be true, toss it off and don’t look back. But if in your heart you know the criticism is valid, then use it to learn. If you follow this mantra, soon you’ll notice changes in the criticism you receive.

At least that’s what happened to me. After spending the first six months incorporating feedback, I reached a point when I noticed the number of rejections dropping. Instead, I began receiving prompt responses–please send the full manuscript. One editor went as far as to ask me to let them know right away if someone else had offered a publishing contract. And check out this recent feedback from a contest judge:

“I definitely want to read this once it’s published. This story is engaging and leaves me wanting more. I’ve made note of the title so I can watch for it. It takes nerves of steel to toss our “babies” out to be judged, and I am honored to have read yours.”

These are positive signs that I am getting closer to a publishing contract and to seeing my book on a bookstore shelf. But if I would have ignored those initial rejections and comments, I would have learned nothing and still be back in rejection central, waiting and wondering.

When the day comes
And when I finally publish the book? Will that be the end of rejection? I suspect not. Just like Taylor Swift, I am sure there will be those who still don’t like the book. I just hope there are thousands more that do!

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