The title of this post sounds pretty bleak, huh? Well, the sad reality of doing anything is that you will fail at some point. You’re going to pour your heart and soul into creating something beautiful, and it’s going to wind up being like the ugly kid at school. You know the one… that goofy looking kid whose parents think she’s beautiful, but everyone else is wearing tight smiles as they try to find a compliment. It’s harsh, but everyone knows someone who fits that bill on the outside. Knowing this before you start is the way to keep going when you realize you have an ugly story, a red hot mess that no one can read.
Why? Because when you know what you’re facing, you can overcome it.
So, you poured time into writing a story every night for a year. You’ve asked someone to read it and they told you it was the best thing they’ve read all year, so you send it off to publishers, confident that it’s going to be picked up.
You wait a few months, telling yourself that it must be a good sign because rejections should be swift, right? Your hands shake and your heart races when you see the publisher’s name in your inbox. With eyes clamped shut, you open the email and peek through one eye. And your heart sinks into the basement when you read that your story isn’t what they were looking for.
That leads to months spent reading everything you possibly can from that publisher, determined to see what you were missing. The problem is, you can’t find anything magical in any of the other stories. In fact, in your own biased mind, some of the books they’ve signed and published are rubbish in comparison. But then doubt creeps into your mind, and you figure it must be a personal failing and a sign that you suck even worse than all those books you didn’t enjoy.
It’s not any of that. Sometimes, it may be as simple as the publisher has already contracted similar stories, or that your style doesn’t fit their publishing model. For example, if I sent most of my manuscripts to Harlequin, they’d likely be turned down immediately because, according to whoever mans their social media, they only want third person stories. There’s another story I’d been working on (that’s somewhat buried right now but will come out) that my agent was going to shop around if/when I finished it. Had that happened and she had sent it off to one publisher, they’d have turned it down because it had a similar premise to a story they were getting ready to publish at that time. It’s not that my story copied another one, it just so happened both of us had a similar concept and wrote the stories as we saw them. But it wouldn’t make sense for the publisher to buy both stories.
But what if it is a matter of your story not being up to par?
Your first option is to accept defeat and wallow in misery. Lock that manuscript away in a vault, delete it from your hard drive and convince yourself that you suck. It’s not a good option, but it’s there.
Do you know how to succeed? You work at it until your attempts outnumber your rejections. All you need is to try one more time than you fail and you’ve succeeded.
What does that mean? (my Lutheran upbringing just had me straightening my back and sucking in a deep breath)
It means you take time to absorb the rejection, and then you get to work. You find someone you can trust (a little hint, many times this isn’t a close friend) to give you honest feedback. You steel yourself for the harsh criticism, because if they’re doing what you ask of them, there are going to be days you’re going to feel like a failure all over again.
You’re doing this because you’re not willing to give up. You need to take a step (or ten) back and not get pissy when you’re told what’s not working or why. You’re going to look at that section of the manuscript with fresh eyes and see what you can fix.
Another tip: you’re never going to please everyone. There are going to be times when you stick to your guns and refuse to change something, and that’s okay. I’ve gotten in near screaming matches with beta readers when I feel strongly about something they don’t like. And that’s my right because it’s my story. But more often than not, you’re going to see something that can be changed, and that is what’s going to take your story from decent to really freaking good.
About a year ago, an author friend of mine asked me to read a novella she’d written. It killed me to go back to her and tell her she’d made me hate a character I’d loved through the entire series. And I really, really hated him. Everything I’d loved was erased by one scene.
We wound up talking for a while about why I felt that way, and no joke, she changed fewer than thirty words in the manuscript, but they changed the entire tone of the character. Those few words took him from being a self-absorbed, immature punk to a tortured soul who had no clue how to have the love of his life and the dreams no one supported.
She could have published the story without changing a single word, and maybe no one would have felt the way I did. She didn’t, because she felt that she couldn’t make other people love him if I didn’t because I loved him to the point I wished he was a real person I could run away with and be part of his dysfunctional little family.
That misstep was a small failure on her part, but it didn’t stop her. She looked at what was wrong, changed it, and kept going.
The difference between a published and an aspiring author isn’t base skill; it’s the drive to keep learning and revising until you have something that shines.