“Take what you can and give nothing back.” This mantra stated by Captain Jack Sparrow and his loyal companion Mr. Gibbs in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films sums up the movies as a whole. As pirates, Jack and Gibbs take whatever they can get and run with it. In a way, I think this motto can also apply to writers.
While most of us are not saucy pirates who pillage and loot towns and ships, we can certainly take the most of a situation and use it to our advantage. Even if that situation is a rejection.
A few weeks ago while checking my email, I discovered such a rejection. I had met an agent at a writing conference in April and she’d requested the first three chapters of my manuscript. I was ecstatic. She seemed like the type of agent I’d want, we seemed like we’d make a good pair. Earlier at conference she’d read the first chapter of my novel through an anonymous submission, and later, at my pitch session with her; she confessed that she liked it.
I try not to get my hopes up when querying agents, really I do. But as soon as she admitted that she liked my writing, my hopes started to climb Mount Everest no matter if I wanted them to or not. I was filled with all sorts of dreams that she would become my agent and get me a publishing contract with Simon & Schuster or the Penguin Group, and three years for now, me and her would be sipping lattes in a café in New York celebrating my 1000th week atop the New York Times best seller list. Oh yes, I had high hopes that this agent could be the one.
I’d polished up my submission until it sparkled. I wrote the requested synopsis hoping to impress the crap out of her. I sent the email, and I waited. And after nine weeks, I was still waiting for her to reply. Part of me had just accepted the fact that nine weeks without a reply was a silent but definite “no.” I’d lamented this fact for a while, but when I looked in my inbox to find the promised reply from her, my hopes once more soared into orbit.
I opened up the email and scanned it eagerly. But then, all my hopes and fantasies deflated faster than the Hindenburg on fire. It was a rejection. Another rejection to add to the spreadsheet I kept on my laptop. Another “no” from an agent to add to my tally. I suddenly had the urge to go upstairs, crawl under my covers, hug my stuffed unicorn and wallow in my I’m-never-going-to-be-a-published-author self- pity for the rest of my natural born life.
But I stayed, and I forced myself to read the rejection, again. And again. Because despite the scary and rejectiony exterior, this really was a nice rejection—and look there! Is that constructive criticism I see? Upon closer inspection I found that there was really good advice in this rejection. My eyes landed upon her reasoning.
“However, as I started to read Alistair’s point of view, I felt that the flow of the narrative got a bit more stuffy and it was harder to connect with the characters and the story itself.”
Ah yes, so she’d noticed it too. My main male character hadn’t been cooperating with me lately. I was having trouble connecting to him as an author. He didn’t speak to me like the other characters did, and I didn’t know how to get him talking. So I had just spell checked the chapters in his PoV and sent it to the agent hoping she wouldn’t notice. But apparently she did. Well, at least I found the source of the problem; that was good news. I’d have to look at those pages again tomorrow; I’d whip Alistair into shape in no time.
I was about ready to go off to bed and begin my unicorn-squeezing-wallowing-fest, when my eyes landed on another line from the email.
” I truly appreciated the opportunity to review your work, and I am in admiration of the hard work and skill so evident in this portion of your manuscript.”
A smile twitched at the corners of my mouth. She’d noticed. She’d noticed how much effort I had put into these pages. She’d appreciated the time I’d spent to make this submission worthwhile. She understood that hard work went into it. And though this rejection was definitely not the answer I’d been hoping for, I didn’t just close the email and delete it as a badge of shame as I was originally tempted to do; I mined it for all the writing advice it was worth. For this rejection meant one thing: My story needed some work, but maybe, just maybe I was on the right path. So I took all of her constructive criticism and all of her compliments and ran. Because though this wasn’t the answer I’d be hoping for, after all—
Little Lady out. 😉