Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm NOT What Willis Was Talkin' 'Bout!

At least that's how I felt merely one day ago. Yesterday morning I got the email regarding the partial I sent out. Not the call, the email. And as you struggling writers know, that ain't what you want my brotha's and sista's. As my father-in-law would say, "Wowzers!"

Let me start this off by saying that I had and still have, a tremendous amount of respect for this agent. From the moment they contacted me, they were up front, firm and corteous. Having said that, I'll try to outline their response, my response (to myself) and lessons learned.

Their response. In short, they did not find the plot all that beleivable. Also, they felt that it is the rare crime novel, which can succeed with a Private Investigator as a central character. Of course, my novel has a PI as a central character. They also went on to express concern about lack of setting, etc. All in all, it was a short and concise response, if not a bit vague. I say vague, because they finished with: "try me again." If someone can tell me what "try me again" really means, I would appreciate it (seriously, what does that mean?).

My response was simple and honest: "Thanks for your reply and feedback. I will put it to good use." I meant every word of it. Of course, this was written while icing my gonads, which felt as though they'd been kicked about twenty times by a large Russian woman, wearing steel toed boots.

I was actually ready to start writing this post yesterday, right after I received the news. Then I stopped and took a step back, letting reality set in. The reality, is that this was one agent and only the first one at that. I then fell apart, slowly but steadily, throughout the day. I finished work, went home, did a lot of thinking while having a few drinks and called it a night.

I woke up late this morning. I remembered my thoughts from the previous night. They rang with Steinbeck, Yates, Matt Hilton and so forth. Why? These guys all had more than their fair share of stumbling blocks in the beginning. And, as far as I can tell, things worked out (well Yates...) or are working out for them. It's called the learning process and it's about what you take away from the experience. I'll list those lessons learned, below.

1. If you have a manuscript to send out, let others read it first. Now, I did this; I let aquantances and a friend read it. Big mistake, at least in my opinion. I would recommend letting someone read your work, who has absolutely no emotional interest in you as a person, whatsoever. It's called putting yourself out there.

2. Think very hard about the query and synopsis you include with your work. Then, go back to step one and include these items in that process as well. Allow people you've never had so much as a conversation with, absolutely shred them to pieces.

3. Have a backup plan for the aftermath. Be confident, but also be realistic. If you get bad news, take a breath, and realize that the world is still turning and will go on turning. If possible, find a place to go and just chill. Are you going to stop the pain? No. But you can at least take steps, not to prolong it. Feeling sorry for yourself, will get you nowhere.

4. Remember that a ton of people are in your shoes. Some have been in those shoes for years and they're still writing.

5. Start writing again, immediately, but do so with a new sense of what you're actually writing. Even if you don't agree with the agents comments, take them to heart and use them. Regardless of how you feel, these guys are the pro's and they do this for a living. You and I, are still just a couple of chuckleheads.

I'm an extreme person who's emotions range from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows. Yesterday was low point: I'd obviously blown my big chance. Today, things look different. Don't get me wrong, I'm still reeling, but I now have something to work with. Before, I was writing off of love for the craft and sheer ambition. I've still got the ambition, and now, I'm also armed with knowledge.

Now it's up to me, to take the next step.

PS. If any of you have questions, want more insight or just have something to add, please feel free to contact me. I've been lucky enough to have several people in the writing community, help and support me. I'd like to pay it forward.


  1. They were chuckleheads once Mike. Stick with it, good things come to good people. Published authors probably have drawers full of rejection slips (James Herbert for one I recall) Keep pushing forward and think positive...and enjoy it. I'm a way behind you at the moment but striving to be published one day. You get knocked down, you get back up stronger.
    Regards, David - fellow chucklehead!!

  2. David, thanks for the encouragement. It's really about perspective, isn't it? Sometimes, you need that little bit of a backslide, to move forward and get over the hump.

    And honestly, I hope that as you progress, you'll go back and look at numbers 1&2 above. While I consider myself a perfectionist, I think you need to take that to another level, when considering an agent. It sounds like you're on the right track and I'll be interested in your progress as well.

  3. I totally agree with you regarding 1 & 2. My wife doesn't really like what I write (not that it's bad...I hope, but finds the genres I write about leaving her feeling uneasy let's say). Now that's not a bad thing in the fact that I submit work and hope that the readers offer their best and most truthful comments. When it comes to the point where I have something ready to submit to an agent, I will definately bear points 1 & 2 in mind.
    It seems your blog is going to be a regular haunt for me.
    Take care.

  4. Hi Mike,

    First, sorry to hear about your recent knockback but from your honest post I’d say that you have taken it on the chin, chalked it up as good experience and are getting back behind the keyboard again.

    I think you have listed some excellent points and 1 & 2 are crucial. I think I’m in a similar position to David in as much that I’m nowhere near putting together a novel length manuscript let alone submitting it but I’d like to think that maybe someday... I really enjoy the sporadic short stuff I do and recently the blogging. One of the reasons I started to blog was the hope that it would discipline me to write more often, which I think it is. That’s one thing I have learnt in the last year since my first short piece was posted on AToN – write as often as I can and read, read, read.

    Your blog on your writing journey is great to read and a great help to people like me who are taking the first steps on a similar journey.

    I’ve read your short stuff Mike and you certainly have talent and a lot of it – so please keep your chin up and stick with it. I’m sure one day you will get that call.

    Just noticed that you have added Brit Grit to your blog roll, which I’m very grateful for and I’ll reciprocate as soon as I’ve got my clunky head around the technical intricacies....

    Best wishes.

  5. Hi Alan,

    Yep, took it on the chin and manned up (must be my rural Kansas upbringing).

    I never wanted to blog. I mean, who the hell am I? I've got only a few, small time writing credits and that's it. But I've noticed that as I blog, I tend to take a little more time and actually think about what the hell I'm saying. That's a good thing.

    While I have several other thoughts for my next novel, I think I'll take some time and work on short stories. I think they're key to making me a better writer. In the meantime, I'm also going to have some people look at my current novel and maybe get some ideas to "fix" it.

    I would bet that writing a novel, is in the very near future for you. What you'll find, is that writing is almost euphoric, but that the query and synopsis side of it, absolutely blows. At least, that's what I found. Regardless, if I can help out, just let me know.

    And how could I not add something called Brit Grit to my roll?

  6. Mike sorry to hear that, but I'm sure you know that there are other avenues for you to walk down with your novel. One man's favourite food is another man's allergy. You'll get the dollar for it, keep sending it out.

  7. Hi Lee,

    I think because it was the "first one" that made it initially like a shot to the nuts. Honestly, the aftershock has come and gone. I will probably have some more people look at it, however, before I send it out again.

    See you got some stories up, must be busy...

  8. Mike,
    Sorry to hear this. Much has been said above and I guess you're still smarting. But I've read your stuff n it's damn good, fella. So chins up (both of 'em).
    My philosophy of turning negatives to positives hasn't been battered out of me just yet. Dust yourself down, pick yourself up n as the days pass and your thoughts clear, take out the positives from the feedback - don't dwell on the ambiguous stuff - and persevere. If your novel 'lacked setting' then strengthen it in that department. If the plot wasn't believable then work out why and tweak that aspect. No work is wasted, mate. And if an agent says, 'Try me again.' My guess is he/she likes your work and hopes you'll try them again! After all, they didn't have to say that did they?
    Ps. Tenacity is key!

  9. And I can't urge you strongly enough to let some people read it. I've had 4 reviews so far for my partial from writer friends and my brother, he don't hold back on what he thinks. Just like the others haven't. From it I've learnt a few things that need tweaking, changing, adding. One writer who was enjoying the red pen so much even added song lyrics to my story to soften the blow of edits lol.

  10. Col, point(s) taken and already in progress. Chins? Both of them? But, I thought I was ripped...

    Lee, I'm definitely going to get in touch with some people for reading. I hope the song lyrics weren't "another one bites the dust".

    Honestly, for everyone who's commented, thanks for the tough love. It's what I needed.

  11. Hey, Mike. Sorry things didn't pan out this time, but you have to take the set-backs and get right back on the route to publication again. I know from reading your comments that you already have and that you're optimistic about the future.
    Put this behind you now and move on. take the agents comments on-board and think about them, it's all part of the process. It's why I ended up with seven unpublished novels and a zillion shorts behind me before I got down to writing one that acceptable enough to get me a deal.
    You're past the first hurdle now. And though it feels like an elephant has done a fandango on your nuts, its over now and will only get better.
    Rejection sucks, but little things like an agent asking to see your work and telling you to try him again are a couple of blazing neon lights marking out that you're heading in the right direction.

    BTW, thanks for the mention above. Such great company too. I wonder how many people reading this will ask; Steinbeck, Yeats, yup, but who's this Hilton guy anyway!!

  12. Who said that?

    Lee/Mike fancy a sing-along?

    1,2,3...'When the goin' gets tough, hoo ha ha, ha...

  13. Mike, it's learning curve. Dave Zeltserman's 'Small Crimes' was turned down by every agent in NY and it is a brilliant book. Keep on keeping on.

  14. Matt, I put you in that list, because you're still above ground. Just kidding. I've read your interviews and like your attitude. I'm working on adopting it myself.

    Col, we use the word(s)"hoo ha" for something, er, else over here.

    Paul, you bet I will.