Agent Hunt #3: Dealing With Rejection

Hey, all! I know I’ve been away from this series for a while! The summer got a little more chaotic than I thought it would, and something had to give for a minute. Things have settled now, though, so I’m back with more Agent Hunt goodies!

To recap your hunt to date, you’ve written an amazing novel and a stellar query letter. You’ve made a list of agents that you think may be interested in your project, held your breath, and hit send. And now your letters are floating somewhere out in the ether of the agency inbox while you anxiously await your fate. You’ve compulsively hit refresh on your professional e-mail (because of course you remembered to make one, right?) and at long last, a hit.

An unread message has appeared in response to one of the letters you sent out. Your heart pounds. A cold sweat breaks out on your brow. There’s only one of three things this could possibly say. Over the next few weeks, we’ll go through each one. The first we’ll cover, and unfortunately the one you’ll probably see the most of, is the rejection.

There are two kinds of rejection letters, and they’re not created equally. You’ll either receive a form rejection or a personalized one. The first is exactly what it says on the tin, a cut and paste response that says the agent in question isn’t interested in representing this story. Some are more polite than others. Some use your name at least; some just say “Dear author”.

I’m not going to lie to you; these sting. A lot. Why can’t they have said anything more personal, you may cry. Why can’t they have told me what I did wrong? The answer is, it’s not about you. It’s probably not a reflection on your work nor an accurate representation of who the agent is as a person. Unfortunately, with the volume of queries that most agents receive, they just don’t have the time to give each and every person even a sentence about why they’re passing on a project. Unpleasant? Yes. But it’s the nature of the beast.

The other stage of rejection is the personalized rejection. This is when the agent includes a note of encouragement or advice for your novel. It could be anything from, “This isn’t for me, but I love the voice!” to “Strong premise, but I feel like I’ve read this before.” No matter what it is that they’ve said or how badly the rejection hurts, take it as a compliment that they’ve gone out of their way to respond to you personally. Take these little tips to heart; they know what they’re talking about!

So how do you respond now that you’ve gotten a rejection? There’s not really a right way to feel; you can cry if you want to. Yell. Curse the agent’s name to yourself or badmouth them over the phone to your critique partners. You can feel down for a few days or weeks. But what you have to do if you’re serious about writing as a profession is get back on the horse. After you’ve had your rant, dust yourself off, mark that query with an R in your spreadsheet or tracker, and send out the next one.

Now, what not to do. Do not respond to the rejection. Don’t call the agent and demand they take another look. Don’t put them on blast on Facebook or Twitter. Agents talk; you don’t want word getting around to their contacts in the industry that you’re a loose cannon. In this as in all things, be respectful and professional.

Rejections don’t get any easier to receive as the number of them grows, but just remember that everyone has gotten them. There are Tumblr and Twitter communities devoted to building up writers from their rejections and to sharing their war stories of painful ones. I know. it sucks. But you’re just paying your dues to the club. Keep submitting and keep believing! Your future self will thank you for it!

Beta Tank 03: Flush That Fish!

Hey, all! It’s another Twin Thursday, so be sure to check out my buddy Rachel’s post at Undivinelight!

This week, we’re looking at the rotten side of the beta world. I wish I could say all beta relationships are uniformly positive, but sometimes it’s just not a good matchup. It happens from time to time that either a reader isn’t a good fit for the story or that something in the relationship between you goes sour. Neither’s a good thing. So here’s a few things to watch for to see if a beta may not be working out and how you can let that fishie off the hook.

  1. Disinterest/vagueness. I put these two together because I find they usually tend to happen at the same time. If a reader’s not interested in your story, they’re not going to be particularly invested in providing you feedback. They might do it out of a sense of obligation or a desire to be helpful, but to be completely honest the notes you’ll get from them will probably not be all that useful. This is when you get comments like, “It was good, I guess,” or “I don’t really remember it well.”

    This kind of response is okay; remember, not everyone is going to like your book even after it’s professionally edited and published. Thank the reader for their time and let them know that they don’t have to finish. Before you let them go, see if you can dig a little deeper into the bit of reading they did accomplish. Where did they lose interest? Is it just not their kind of story? Was there not enough action or not enough at stake?

  2. Aggressiveness. A beta who fights with you or is pushy with their opinions is not one that you want to continue working with. This isn’t the same as a beta saying something you don’t want to hear–sometimes the best notes for the story are the hardest to accept and implement. But if their critiques come across more as insults or if they fight you on the direction you’re taking for the story, it may be time to say goodbye. You’re not writing by committee.
    Now, I’m probably the worst person in the world to deal with a pushy beta. I tend to be pretty non-confrontational by nature. I don’t like making people upset. In this case, I usually try to talk it out with the beta first, to say that the behavior’s not appreciated and not helpful. I let them know that, if it continues, I’m booting them from the process. So far, I haven’t had anyone push me hard enough to actually do it? But it does make me feel more comfortable to know I have a backup plan.
  3. German shepherds. Now, before you go “Whaaaat?”, let me explain. A mentor of mine in grad school had this concept for workshop called a German shepherd. It’s basically when the beta or workshopper reads your story and goes, “Yeah, this would be better with a dog in it.” Even if the story has absolutely nothing to do with dogs. Essentially, it’s when the beta tries to turn your story into something you don’t want it to be. Say, if you were writing a historical romance set during World War II, and they wanted it to be more of an action/adventure a la Valkyrie.

    Much like the aggressive beta, see first if you can correct the behavior. Ask why it is they think your story would benefit from more X or less Y, and then explain that you don’t want to take it that direction. Usually I find that’s enough to keep a beta on task. Heck, sometimes the dog’s a good one and you might end up working it into a story. But if it becomes a recurring problem, you might ask them to step aside on the project, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.

  4. Inability to give positive feedback. This isn’t the same as wanting them to only give you compliments or to never tell you what needs fixed. I mean people who consistently and steadfastly refuse to look for good things. What the readers like or find well-done is just as important because it helps you hone and perfect those things. Writing is hard enough without getting nothing back but the negative.
    If you have a reader who does this, encourage them to use the critique sandwich. This method essentially forces them to give one or two things that they enjoyed, then a few suggestions for improvement, and finish up with a few more things that they enjoyed. It’s not an ideal solution, but it may help a reticent beta actually look for places that your work is successful. If that doesn’t work, it may be time to say goodbye to this fishie. You don’t need that kind of endless negativity.
  5. Failure to follow directions. This is a biggie. At different stages of the beta process, you’re going to need different kinds of critique. Early on when the story is raw and needs a little TLC, you’re going to need people to give you high-level feedback. General notes and feelings on the story as a whole or individual chapters or scenes. You need people who can look at character arcs and subplots over the course of the story. You’re not going to want sentence-level or nitpicky notes right now. Now, it’ll be a different story once the work is more polished and you want those very exacting critiques, and your betas have to be able to tailor their feedback to fit your needs, or at least to be willing to try.

    To be fair, this might just be an issue of miscommunication. But if, after multiple corrections and redirections, it doesn’t seem to be improving, this is another reader you may want to let go. Betas are there to make your job easier; you shouldn’t have to babysit them for that to happen.

Beta Tank 02: Fishies Worth Their Salt

Hope everyone’s week has been good! I’m back with more insight on beta readers with my lovely twin poster, Rachel of Undivinelight. Be sure to check out hers, too!

So last week we looked at what a beta reader does and what their primary responsibilities are. They’re deceptively simple, actually: read the story and give feedback on it. But not all betas are created equal. How do you know if you’ve got a good one? Here are five things to look for in an ideal beta reader.

  1. Reliability: Let’s face it; it doesn’t do much good to send your story out to a hundred beta readers if 95% of them forget to read your work. Or got busy playing Pokemon Go. Or just made a tiny human and didn’t realize it would cut their sleep and free time down to non-existent. None of these things necessarily make a bad beta, just less than ideal. You want to know that the people you’re sending your story to are going to actually get back to you. Even if an emergency arises or plans change, you need to be able to trust that your beta will keep you in the loop.
  2. Honesty: You also need to be able to trust that your readers are giving you their honest opinion of your work. Asking your spouse or your mom to read can be a very good thing, especially if you’re like me and routinely need reassurance that it’s not a puddle of dog drool. But it’s just as important to know that they’re not simply saying it’s good because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. You need the full range of their response, the good, bad, and ugly.
  3. Courtesy: This might seem like a contradiction, coming on the heels of #2, but the two actually go hand in hand. While you do need someone who will tell you where your story is less than stellar, you need them to be able to do it without being insulting. There’s a big difference between, “This was slow as hell!” and “I found my attention wandering here.”
  4. Precision: In an ideal world, you’ve got someone who has a certain amount of experience at close-reading and can tell you exactly where something is off. But if nothing else, a beta should be able to point at a chapter or a character arc and say that something’s not working for them. Vaguely if not precisely, though the more detail they can give you about their reading experience, obviously the better. “It was good” or “I didn’t like it” does you not a whit of good when you’re trying to find ways to fix your story.
  5. Investment: The most important thing I’ve found in a beta reader is that they’re invested in the story and genuinely want to see it improve. These are the ones that I’ve found are more likely to give in-depth feedback and to stick with a project through the end. Now, it does depend a little on if you just want a one-time beta to get some instant feedback and don’t want them to see the project again. For my own experience, though, I’ve had the most success working with a group of two to three other people who all love the story and are committed to helping me make it shine.

Next week, five things you don’t want your beta to do, or when it’s time to flush that fish!

Beta Tank #1: A Bit About Betas

For today’s–slightly late, sorry!–Twin Thursday, Rachel and I will be talking about beta readers. Who they are, what they do, and how to find a good one. This will be the first of an ongoing series, if all goes well. Be sure to head over to her blog at Undivinelight to see her take! (Also, don’t worry–I haven’t forgotten about Agent Hunt! I do plan on getting back to it once life settles!)

First, what is a beta? A beta, or beta reader, is a person who reads an early draft of your story or novel and gives you feedback to improve it. Ideally, they’re going into it blind with no expectations of what the story is about or any spoilers. I know it’s tempting to talk about the BRILLIANT thing you came up with for chapter four, but try not to tell them. You want an honest first reaction to it.

Much as we as writers like to think otherwise, we don’t catch everything. We can’t; we’re just too close to the work to see its flaws. Therefore, a beta’s primary responsibility is to respond to the story on the level of a layperson. If they happen to be well-versed in craft, so much the better; it can only help you if they’re able to say, for example, that your pacing here is slow or the tension in this arc is lacking. But, on the whole, they’re reading for comprehension, flow, and appeal. Is the story too long or too short? Predictable? Nonsensical? Are there plot-holes or unresolved threads? Sections where your characterization slips? These are among the things a beta should be told to look for.

The other thing you’ll want to ask your betas for is to pay attention to the parts of the story they enjoyed. If the dialogue sparkled or if the villain scared them witless. It’s easy as a writer to dwell too long on the things we need to fix. It’s good sometimes to get some distance from that and follow up with some positive news.

Next week, I’ll hopefully talk about what makes a good beta reader and a few things to avoid. Happy wording!

The Book that Changed My “Why”

For tonight’s Twin Thursday post with Rachel from Undivinelight, we’re looking at a book that changed our writing. Not the what. Not the how. The why. The thing that brings us back to the keyboard day after grueling day. For me, that’s Tamora Pierce’s first book, Alanna.

Now, more than a decade after first reading it, I have books that I enjoy more than that one. Even from among Pierce’s work. But Alanna stands out for a reason: it’s a fantasy book written for girls like me. It was the first work that I remember reading that really drove home to me that women not only could write but could write the kind of stories that I wanted to tell. Stories for girls who want to go on adventures like the boys. Whose defining characteristic isn’t who she falls in love with or the color of her hair, eyes, and dress. That female characters could be brave, quick-tempered, who don’t have to “pretty-cry” when they’re upset.

The reason this stands out to me is that it gave me the courage to pursue writing for myself, to tell stories to young women who feel like I felt. It keeps me going when the rejections start coming in (and, boy, do they ever) or when I hit a block on a story. Sometimes it helps me to take a step back and imagine someone pulling my novel from a shelf and feeling that, yeah, there’s an audience for this. I can do it, too. If I can do that for just one person, it makes the whole thing worth it!