Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rejection Project - Johnny Worthen

There’s a quote from Hemingway I like a lot. One of his most famous ones.

“Write drunk; edit sober.”
 — Ernest Hemingway.

Wait, no. That’s not it. It’s this one:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” 
– Ernest Hemingway

Writing is a deeply personal thing. I often say though not every book should be published, every book has to be written. That’s because writing is a catharsis. Some projects are full on psychotherapy, the author struggling to understand the universe and their place in it. Issues from their past, troubles in their present, worries in their future. From this in all writing, there is a residue of the maker—a connection and a love.

On any level it is a reflection of the writer, and a rejection of a part of someone is easily translated into a rejection of the whole. This is made doubly difficult for writers who sand down their nerve endings to experience the world more vitally, to be able to experience a universe with keener senses. We are all half mad with it. I know I am. The same mental openness I turn toward an orange sunset, is an unguarded path to my psyche, a way in to depression when I am rejected.

Authors seeking publication are a strange egotistical animal. We tear open our own wounds and then try to sell the bandages. That’s the corollary of Hemingway’s quote.

It is tough business and writers are poorly equipped for it by definition. This is why we all strive for agents, people we believe will stand between us and the ugly unappreciative world, champions who’ll find us our audience, our kingdom and lead us to glory. But alas, that ain’t the case. At least not for me. Rejection has not ended with me getting an agent, she rejects, and the world still stabs through my other unguarded gates.

Even with published books, awards, and fans, the rejections still hurt.

“A boo is a lot louder than a cheer.” — Lance Armstrong

So, what’s there to do?

Press on. It’s all there is.

I either believe in myself or I don’t.

Rejection is a form of criticism and there are three ways to take criticism.

1) “You’re right, I’ll fix that.”
2) “You’re right, I can’t/won’t fix that.”
3) “You’re wrong.”

Unfortunately most rejection is not so specific that we can apply these reactions. Instead we have to guess and assume, naturally, that it’s a complete rebuff of ourselves, our art, our hairstyle and friends. Writers are imaginative. Don’t think we can turn it off easily.

I know, consciously, that this is a very subjective business. Maybe my work was rejected because the editor/agent/assistant was so overwhelmed they didn’t actually read it, never had space in their magazine, publishing schedule, etc. Maybe they read it, but had been visited by three ghosts the night before and hadn’t recovered. Nothing to do with me, but still “no.” Maybe they don’t like my style, setting, first word. This industry is looking for a reason to say no, even if they have no reason.

Rejection is the cost of being a writer: how else could it justify the piddly paychecks and long hours?

I’ve said before that the only way to be a writer, is to be insane. It’s not just having voices in your head (though these are required), it’s holding an unrealistic optimism and stubbornness to keep fighting.

I collect rejections. I’ve got thousands and thousands of them. I hang them up like trophies. Bloody bandages from my literary campaigns. They remind me I’m trying. Beside them, I hang my contracts, to show the victories. I decorate my house in books and book covers, bookmarks and manuscripts.

Sometimes I get really good rejections—explanations, advice and hope, but most of them are condemn my very existence in form letters.

I keep trying, and, I keep writing. It’s the only thing I have control over. Plus, I can’t not write now. It’s as much a part of my life as sleeping, just the opposite really, but just as necessary.

I’ve learned to handle rejection by working through it, writing, and sending five queries out for each rejection I get. I’ve learned to accept them, put them aside, but I sure as hell haven’t gotten used to them. They eat at me like a controlled cancer.

I asked many authors to take part in The Rejection Project, to share their feelings about this ugly underbelly rash of the writing monster, but most of them rejected the offer to participate. <sigh>

I’d like to thank the authors who did take part in The Rejection Project:

When I feel particularly low, I turn to people like these for commiseration. Authors understand.

This is the last official post in The Rejection Project. I’ll put it aside for now, get back to work on other things, keep a stiff upper lip. Smile and pretend I’m not dying inside when the best thing I’ve ever written can’t find a publisher.

I’ll sure I’ll be back here one day, talking about the business and the psychological quirks of authorship, but for now enough is enough.

Love and kisses,
Johnny Worthen

From the peanut gallery:

“I am crying over the loss of something I never had. How ridiculous. Mourning something that never was – my dashed hopes, dashed dreams, and my soured expectations.” 
― E.L. James

“I really wish I was less of a thinking man and more of a fool not afraid of rejection.” 
― Billy Joel

“Was I bitter? Absolutely. Hurt? You bet your sweet ass I was hurt. Who doesn't feel a part of their heart break at rejection. You ask yourself every question you can think of, what, why, how come, and then your sadness turns to anger. That's my favorite part. It drives me, feeds me, and makes one hell of a story.” 
― Jennifer Salaiz

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.” 
― Hunter S. Thompson

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Rejection Project - Adrienne Monson

Adrienne Monson and I go way back and a past visitor of The Blog Mansion before. We share a publisher, experiences and scars. We've paneled together and commiserated.

How do you deal with rejection? Do you have a ritual? Do you save your rejections? Keep count?

I think rejections are helpful. Each one is a step further towards success. Publishing is a business and I don’t take it personally if my query has been rejected. I guess you could call me a fatalist: it’ll happen when it’s the right time, and no sooner. Doesn’t mean I don’t go out and get some Ben&Jerry’s to help soften the sting of rejection, though!

What was the best rejection you ever received?

An agent responded and told me that I needed to make a bunch of improvements. She’d gone through the manuscript with notes that must have taken half a work day for her to put in there. That she was invested enough to show me where to improve my craft was totally flattering!

What was the worst rejection you ever received?

For me, they’re always the ones that don’t bother to respond! Because I’m still hoping, and waiting. If they don’t want my novel, I want to know sooner rather than later so I can move on.

What are you shopping now?

Nothing, at the moment. I’ll be submitting something to my current publisher next year and I’ll go from there.

What would you like me to promote?

All my books, Johnny!!! All of them, even the ones that aren’t written yet. :-P

Dissension and Defiance are part of a vampire trilogy. The last book, Deliverance, comes out April 2016.

Not into vampires? Check out Eyes of Persuasion, a paranormal historical romance.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

CELESTE — Official Launch this Saturday

The girl who must not be seen, is.

My official launch party for CELESTE is this Saturday at the King's English Bookstore in Sugarhouse, Utah, between 4:00 and 6:00.

I know the parking is icky, but the store is so cool. Come out and support your local authors, independent bookstores, and the fractured girl who can be anything but noticed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Letting go of CELESTE

It’s getting a little easier, I guess, to send my books into the world. A little.

I still am filled with worry and dread on the eve of another book release. What if it’s hated? What if it’s liked? What if it exposes too much of me? Can I claim it’s all only fiction?

CELESTE is my fourth novel release, my first sequel. I wrote it right after ELEANOR and just before DAVID. I wrote all the books in a single stretch. The whole trilogy flowed out of me like blood from an open wound. I have only vague memories of those fevered months of writing, living with a story that filled my days like light and shadow, followed me to bed at night, and woke me each morning. It’s all a continuum to me, at least in its conception.

ELEANOR was my breakout book. It garnered me awards and a best seller rank on Amazon for a time. It’s the book I’m most contacted about. The one that resonates with the most people. It is a tender, loving and mysterious book.

ELEANOR is a standalone title, as it’s called in the business. This means it has complete narrative arcs and all the major strings are tied up by the end. When I wrote it though, I knew that Eleanor’s fate could never be so neat and easy. I knew what lay ahead and I mourned.

CELESTE picks up the page after ELEANOR ends and continues until the moment of crisis. It is not a standalone, be warned. The complexities of her life in Jamesford could not be contained in even 93,000 words. I wrote to the crisis and again I mourned.

CELESTE is the crux of THE UNSEEN trilogy. It is Eleanor becoming Eleanor. It is a story of pain and growth, change and trust, and like the first book was, and like the third will be, it is a personal part of me.

Thanks to Amazon’s disregard for publisher release dates, many people already have CELESTE. However, July 14th is the official date and that’s the day I’ve fixated upon for the fear of the thing. I shouldn’t be afraid, but I can’t help it. I’m always afraid.

The one great advantage I have with CELESTE that I’ve never had for any other book, is a fan base for it. Though I suppose anyone can read CELESTE without reading ELEANOR, I think this will be rare. The smart, beautiful people who read Eleanor's first book are already friends and that makes the fear manageable. It makes all the difference.

My feelings mirror Eleanor’s facing an uncertain future, unsure whether affection is real. Hopeful and daring, we step out of ourselves and into the light and brace for the consequences.

On this the eve of the release of CELESTE, I am fretful but optimistic. I am exposed but hopeful. I am among friends and the dangers are manageable. Or so they appear from here.

I’m having an official launch/release event on July 18th from 4:00-6:00 p.m. at The King’s English Bookstore in Sugarhouse. Please come by. I’ll do a reading and sign books and I could use all the support I can get. I may look cheerful and confident, but we know appearances can lie.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Rejection Project - Paul Genesse

Paul Genesse
I first met Paul Genesse at a writer's conference long before I was published. I was in the audience and he was on the stage. He struck me as not only a dapper fellow but a damn nice human being. As our paths have crossed since then I've gotten to know him personally and realize my first impressions were spot on. When he talks about authors supporting authors, he knows what he's talking about. (He's helped me more than I care to admit.) Paul is a master of the short story and novelette like I will never be. He's an editor as well an author. He's been doing this long enough to have experience with both sides of the rejection equation but it's interesting to note his take on the subject is very much from the author's POV - he knows the pain. Take a look.


How do I deal with my novels when they are rejected by agents and publishers? Overall, not very well. Every rejection takes the wind out of my sails for a while and I have to spend some time recovering to bounce back.

I find nothing redeeming about it, though sometimes I think I may have dodged a bullet when I didn’t sign with a certain agent who offered to represent me and has since left the business. Be careful what you wish for, as what you thought you wanted might turn out to be the worst decision you ever made.

Rejection might actually be the best alternative in most situations, as getting into a relationship with a publisher or agent might be a terrible venture that will only end in even worse misery than you think you’re in now.

I’ve gotten better at dealing with rejection of my novels over the years, but it still hurts a lot and leaves me frustrated.

I remember being crushed in my early years of writing, 2001 to 2006, when my first novel, The Golden Cord kept getting rejected by agents and publishers. It was almost always a form letter. For years all I ever heard was “No.”

Closer to 2006, which was the year I finally sold The Golden Cord to a publisher, Five Star Books, and editor John Helfers, I started getting personal rejections with notes about my novel. They were all very encouraging and some of them actually helped me become a better writer. I was still green, a work in progress, but I was close to that professional level.

I used to save my rejection letters, just to keep track of who and where I’d sent things, but I eventually recycled all of them. I found a couple of them recently, and immediately put them in the recycle bin. They just bum me out and make me feel bad. I need lots of positivity in my life. Now I do save the rejections in my “Agent” folder in my email. I never look at them. I’m glad things have moved to email, as they don’t seem as bad as the paper rejections I used to get in the early 2000’s.

The best rejection I ever received was from an older agent who had been in the business a long time. She took the time to make notes in the first 25 pages of The Golden Cord. She provided a lot of advice and sent me a pamphlet with lots of tips on how to improve writing in general. It had the famous joke I’ve used many times since then:

“There are three rules in writing. But no one knows what they are.”

She gave me very encouraging advice, writing it on the last page of the partial manuscript I sent: “Keep at it.”

Those words meant a lot. I’ve never forgotten them. We’re all a work in progress.

The Golden Cord came out in 2008 and became the bestselling fantasy novel my publisher had ever had and went through six printings. I was feeling great, and then the second book came out, The Dragon Hunters. This happened right during the economic downturn in 2009, and my publisher folded up their fantasy line leaving me orphaned. That was the worst “rejection” I ever had. The publisher wanted to keep me, but one author, even with good sales, could not keep an entire line open. Recovering from that took about two years, and found out that no major publisher will touch an orphaned series. I had to self-publish the third book myself.

During all this time of not knowing what would happen to my series, I kept writing short stories and novellas. I had a lot of success, and have sold 17 shorter works, at the time of this blog, June 2015, but not everything sold.

A recent rejection I received was entirely my fault. I was invited to submit for a steampunk anthology, but I did not follow the guidelines. I wrote a story (a novelette actually) that was nearly 15,000 words. The word count limit was 7,000. The editor liked the story, though he wanted more steampunk elements in it, which I could have done, but the deciding factor was the length. That one hurt, but it was self-inflicted damage. The story, “The Lightning Men,” will come out someday, but it really needs to be a lot longer, and keeping it at 15K was not an ideal solution. I need to expand it to become a novella, way over 20K someday. I think it needs to be at least 35K to do the huge story justice. It’s a super bad idea to blow the word count like I did, especially when the anthology is going to be printed up and published. Trying to do too much in a short work is a terrible idea. Better to trim it down.

That rejection of my steampunk novella was the first rejection of one of my “short” stories. I’ve had novels rejected many times, but never short stories. I don’t intend to repeat that experience.

I thought recently that I was finally going to sell a novel in a new series I’m writing. Things were looking good, and the publisher was into me, but the editor chosen to work on it said “No.” That sucked. I got my hopes up and shouldn’t have.

The novel I’m shopping now, and that has been getting rejected by agents and publishers over the past three years is, Medusa’s Daughter, a gritty and dark fantasy set in ancient Greece. It’s a love story with a supernatural element, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, but I can’t seem to sell it. The process has been very disheartening. The time it takes is also a killer. Waiting for six months to hear back from someone, and then another someone, really adds up.

I see that email in my inbox now and freak out a little. Could this be the one? Could this be the time when an agent says “yes”? Then I read a rejection, often with a few kind words, but in the end, it’s a “No.” Anger. Disappointment. Obligatory binge TV watching and feeling sorry for myself. I snap out of it, and get back to writing, but it’s never easy.

Being resilient and determined are probably the best qualities a writer can have. Oh, and writing well doesn’t hurt either, though it won’t get you through the tough moments.

Learning coping skills to deal with rejection is key. I think the best thing we can do as writers is support each other. Encouragement is priceless. Don’t forget to give your writer friends a kind word when you review their manuscript. Getting rejected by strangers (agents and editors you’ve never met) is hard enough, but getting rejected by your friends is often much worse.

Look for something good about the draft of their novel or story you just read, and let the writer know what they did well. Start with the good stuff, and provide advice that can be acted upon to make the work better. When/if it gets rejected by an agent or editor, be there for your friend and let them vent.

We are all going to have our work rejected, but that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is moving on. No matter how long it takes.

About Paul Genesse:

Paul Genesse spends endless hours in his basement writing fantasy novels, adding to his list of published short stories available from DAW Books and various other publishers, and editing the demon themed Crimson Pact anthology series. His first novel, The Golden Cord, book one of his Iron Dragon Series became the bestselling fantasy his publisher has ever had. Book two, The Dragon Hunters, and book three, The Secret Empire, all set in the treacherous plateau world of Ae'leron, are out now and available as trade paperbacks and eBooks.


Author of The Iron Dragon Series

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