Nothing stings more than rejection – and for a writer, nothing is worse than rejection from agents and publishers or rejection from readers. You never want to hear that dreaded pause after a friend or family member reads your work, “Yeah, that was… um… good,” and you know they are digging for something nice to say amidst all the things they don’t like about it.
What to do? First, get yourself a thicker skin (easier said than done). Second, learn from the rejection. Remember, it’s not you they are rejecting, it’s your writing. Yes, those are two separate things.
So how do you learn from the rejection? Consider joining your local Toastmasters Club. It is a great way to improve your ability to graciously accept feedback. Another way is to bring on the professionals. AKA: Spend money. That is exactly what I did.
Enter The Book Doctors.
I first came across The Book Doctors at a Pitch-a-polooza at Anderson’s Books in Naperville, IL. If you are looking for a fun, high-pressure venue to pitch your book, this is it. You stand before a panel of professionals, the timer is set and you have one minute pitch with the audience behind you, staring at your backside. Have trouble speaking in front of groups? This will test your mettle.
I pitched, got their book and won a free 15 minute consultation on the phone, which went very well. That was two years ago for another novel currently in rewrite hell.
For this I submitted The Prince of Pigeon Hill, a little crime noir story riddled with intrigue, shame, guilt, death, and millions of dollars in radioactive counterfeit bills. I finished the manuscript in the spring of 2015 and queried several agents. Some of those agents asked to read the manuscript. In time they replied with friendly and instructive rejections. It was then I realized I had a good story, but it was just not good enough yet. I needed help.
This is that adventure.
I paid $250 via Paypal and I sent my query letter along with the first 5 pages of my book. Arielle Eckstrut, my book doctor, and I then corresponded via email to find an appropriate block of time during normal business hours, keeping in mind she is EST. (I had to note this several times for myself for fear of screwing up).
After the introductions, Arielle asked me about my writing history, what I do, and generally getting a quick size up of me and my writing. She also asked about the query responses I had already received and she was very interested in what the agents told me. I did not have them ready (!) but was able to bring them up on email.
The first query was from a #PitMad request in the spring of 2015. The two others were sent directly to agents, both of whom requested the manuscript after the query. For me this was a huge win. Especially Janet Reid (read her blog!) who is quoted as saying she says no to 98% of all queries, and from there only asks for 10% of the manuscript. She wanted my full manuscript.
This tells me I have the right idea, and I’m hitting the right audience, but my writing is not up to par for what they are looking for. At least that is my interpretation.
Arielle then moved to reviewing the first 5 pages that I sent. She told me she was engaged with the main character, was impressed with the starting position of the story (“Perfect place to start!”), and complimented my writing style. All very nice ego boosting good stuff. But once the platitudes were done, the real work began.
I thought my story started strong: A dead wife, a retired mob guy (Rudy), a new mob guy (Karl), a robbery gone arwry. Turns out I was missing a key ingredient. Conflict. (Doh!) Conflict between the two main characters. There is conflict, but only after the story starts to unfold. I need to bring it front and center.
I explained to Arielle the story arcs of the major characters, Rudy and Karl, and how they end up.
“Karl is your unreliable narrator,” she said. Build greater tension between Rudy and Karl, something that is under the surface, eluded to. Trust issues. Conflict. And make him an Unreliable Narrator.
We spent a good deal of time going over the character arcs, and she helped me refine their message and conflicts. The last 20 minutes we spent revising my query letter. I had received successful responses to the original query, but she helped refine and tighten the pitch.
At the end of our hour I asked her: “Should I traditionally publish or self-publish?” I did not mean to put her on the spot, but she was gracious in her answer. Both routes have their pluses, and minuses. With all things, it is still up to me. She mentioned I might have a leg up in the self-publishing world because of my experience as a web developer/marketer.
Closing thoughts for your own book doctor review:
- Have any rejection letters at the ready.
- If you haven’t read your work in while, re-read to refresh your memory. It’s easy to miss points and arcs if you have been working on other stories.
- Have a notepad and pen at the ready and use earbuds so you can easily jot down notes.
- Don’t use speaker phone. She will have you on speaker in order to type your query. With both of you on speaker the audio gets messy.
- Ensure your block of time is completely blocked off. No interruptions. You are paying good money for this, so don’t screw it up.
This experience was well worth the money for me, and it provided me a map to better writing. So far the re-write (for me) has vastly improved the story; but we’ll see how well it holds up under scrutiny.
I hope this post was helpful for your writing, and if you use Arielle, let her know you saw this post, and let me know as I would love to hear your story.