rejection

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The day I got The Call, I started writing the second book in my series. I knew they would want more—no one wants to be a one-hit wonder, after all. So I plotted, I planned, I pounded out 73,000 words in 5 months. I wrote a synopsis. I pitched. I submitted.

The proposal (and the third book, which I had already started) was rejected.

I stared gut-wrenching, pizza-and-whiskey-binge-style failure in the face once more. How could this be? I'd just sold a book. Surely all those lessons I learned the first time around could only make me better! Surely I was destined to write something even more brilliant!

I wallowed. I put my completed MS aside and put the kibbosh on my third book. There was no point in continuing—it wasn't going to sell as it was. I had to purge the ideas, scrub the stories completely from my brain. (Whiskey and Red Dead Redemption helped a lot in this stage). I had to come up with something new. I was terrified.

Once I'd gotten over the despair, I went back and read my lovely and brilliant editor's extensive notes. The thoroughness and articulation of her thoughts reminded me of why she is a damn good editor. She wasn't wrong in her assessment: there were some rough spots, some contrivances, some areas where the story became predictable and, frankly, boring. I was trying too hard to give the reader what they want. I wasn't being true.

But once I understood this, how could I go about writing something new? Something not predictable? Something that would capture the imagination?

Hell, if I had the answers, I'd already be doing it instead of blogging right now...

If I have any iota of wisdom to share out of thie SYWTBAW bit, it's this: don't get complacent. Don't despair. I've said it before, I'll say it again—Keep moving forward. Just keep swimming.

Now, back to the idea cave...

 

Writing is easy:  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.

~Gene Fowler

 

 

 

 

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Just got my fourth rejection on Her Cinderella Secret from The Wild Rose Press.

Here's the text of the rejection:

Dear Vicki,

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to consider your manuscript Her Cinderella Secret. While I really enjoyed the read, I'm sorry to say I can't offer you a contract with The Wild Rose Press at this time. I was impressed by your smooth, flowing, clever and original writing style; however, I felt that the story's plotline didn't meet the high standards you'd set with your writing and character development. To begin with, I was concerned about the fact the heroine has a physical relationship with the hero while she believes he's seeing another woman; this could make the heroine less likeable or relatable to the reader. On a larger scale, most of the conflicts between the hero and heroine seem to be based on mistaken identities and misunderstandings, rather than developing from actual interior, character-based conflicts. As a result, the hero and heroine's journey doesn't have as much at stake, and it comes off a bit too similar to stories we've seen many times before.

Again, I was impressed by your writing style, and I definitely think you have potential as an author. Thanks again for allowing me to read your work.

To be honest, I knew the inherent flaws in the conflict of my story. The best romances are based on character-driven conflicts, and mine didn't quite hit that mark. So even though I'm a little disappointed, I'm not too surprised.

So what's next? Well, I've decided to abandon trying to sell this story and make it available for free when I put a website together. Or, I might host it on fictionpress.com. It's not a waste; it was a huge learning experience, and I'm glad I wrote it.

Whew. What a week. But I'm back now...no more wedding to think about! HOORAY!

Just before the wedding, I received this rejection from Carina Press:

Dear Vicki,

Thank you for submitting HER CINDERELLA SECRET to Carina Press, and for your patience while the acquisitions team reviewed your full manuscript.

Unfortunately, after careful consideration of your manuscript, we have determined that it does not fit our needs.

Though we aren't able to accept this manuscript, it is always possible that future manuscripts may find a home with us, and we hope you'll consider us for future submissions. Additionally, please remember that publishing is quite subjective, and what doesn't work for one publisher may work for another so we wish you the best of luck in placing this manuscript elsewhere.

Thank you for your interest in working with Carina Press.

Angela James
Executive Editor, Carina Press
www.carinapress.com

Oh, well. Back to the old drawing board. I'll probably try to pitch it to some other publishing houses. Couldn't hurt, right?

Just keep swimming...

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Another rejection, this time from Harlequin Mills & Boon Romance.

This was for Her Cinderella Secret, which placed third in the Toronto Romance Writers' Golden Opportunity contest in the contemporary romance category. I find it interesting how different people like and dislike different things about the manuscript. I don't think any one opinion is wrong, but it hammers home the adage: You can't please everyone.

So, back to the old drawing board....

My next step will be to have another looksee, work out some kinks and submit to Carina Press.

In case you're interested, here are the first rejections for the first drafts of this MS. It was significantly revised for the Golden Opp contest.

From Silhouette Special Edition, and Wild Rose Press.

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Victoria Curran did an interview with the Pink Heart Society about Superromance editorial. She came to me this morning, letting me know she "cited" one of my characters as a bad example of cliche only because my book was the last one she'd read and remembered. I didn't take offense--I'm fully aware of the genre I work in and what I'd written. Heck, I was flattered she even remembered my book!

Read the interview here.

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After my interview with Victoria, I spent a lot of time looking at the notes I'd taken, blogged about it to suss out my problems (and hopefully, imparted some useful information and advice in the process). Then I launched straight into rewrites. That would make this about the seventh or eighth draft since I banged out the original manuscript around March 2009 (maybe more--there were a lot of cuts and detours I'd removed.)

It's likely that when you start out, you might not get as detailed a rejection letter. You will likely not get the opportunity to speak with an editor at all. It's easy to give up and dismiss your work as a waste of time and energy. But I say, NO! It was not a waste of time! Do not give up. Even if you feel like you need to work on something else, go ahead, but come back! All is not lost!

If there's anything I've learned in general about writing in the years I've been doing it, it's that momentum has to be kept up or you end up dead in the water. Victoria's comments gave me lots of direction, and while I started at page one on polishing and tightening, it also got me into the story so I could make the major plot changes that would ramp up the romantic conflict--the thing that was really keeping me from being published.

This lesson reminded me of this:

That's right, when you hit a wall or you start to get grumpy, listen to the crazy blue fish.

Toward the end of our chat, I asked Victoria straight out where she thought I should go with my rejected MS. She asked me what my schedule was like, and I told her I would start revisions ASAP. Then she asked what else I was working on.

"Well, I've just finished the first draft of my fourth book, which is a sequel to this one about the wrestling coach, Kyle Peters, who is training a female MMA fighter who wants to go pro..."

Her eyes glazed over. I cut myself off.

"Er...I'm working on it. I need to sit on it and let it breathe."

Because a story can really breathe lodged under my ass, apparently.

See, after the enlightening discussion we'd just had, I realized where all my problems were and was therefore less enthusiastic about it than I should have been/was before my bubble burst.

And then my brain went into overdrive. I could fix things. I could work on the romantic conflict, the subtle characterizations, the minor details...and I could catch them all on the second draft. (And the third and the fourth...) I knew what some of the issues were, and would be. Of course I could make it better!

To borrow another of Disney's aha! moments:

Bottom line: Never give up! Never surrender! Keep on swimming! Keep moving forward! Keep working on that book!

I hope to have my revisions done before my wedding day...but until then, stay tuned for more on the writing journey!

Just like a car, sometimes minor fine-tuning will give you that extra boost to your performance. Remove a line here, change a word there...you go from outrageous to subtle with the minutest of changes.

This leads me to another one of Victoria Curran's observations about my work:

Characterization

It's no secret that the romance genre is full of archetypes: the powerful CEO, the brooding prince, the playboy cowboy, the hardworking single mom, the rich bitch, the overbearing matron, etc. But in Superromances, Victoria told me it's important to make the characters subtle so we sympathize with them and can identify with them to some extent.

In particular, my heroine wasn't entirely sympathetic because she had very strong perceptions about the people around her. She grew to be more likeable, but even then, Victoria wasn't in love with her. (I wouldn't be, either: but I knew where she was coming from.)

Part of the problem was that the heroine's perceptions tainted the other characters, painting them in shades of cliche. Since the story is told through her (and the hero's) eyes, we tend to take the same view through those tinted lens.

As a result, my villainness, the rich bitch, really stood out as cliche. Here's an excerpt:

A figure darted out onto the road and Fiona slammed on the brakes. Rubber squealed on asphalt. The car shuddered to a halt as another figure dashed after the first.

And wouldn’t you know, it was Denise Kirkpatrick and her spawn of Satan, Rene. Fiona honked the horn and pointed at the big redheaded boy, scowling thunderously. He stared blankly back.

Denise slowly straightened and sent her a shit-eating grin. She said something to her son, and he scooted his pudgy butt up to the sidewalk. Denise sauntered over to Fiona’s car and tapped on the driver’s-side window of the old BMW.

Fiona rolled down the glass and glared.

“Morning, Fiona.” The brunette’s wide lips curved in a scythe-like crescent. A stiff gust of wind wafted her overstrong perfume through the window, making Fiona want to gag. “Guess you haven’t had any coffee yet, huh?”

“Excuse me?” Fiona’s fingers curled around the steering wheel. “Your son just ran out into the middle of the road without looking. You should have been keeping an eye on him.” And maybe a leash and a muzzle, while she was at it.

“Boys will be boys, Fiona.” Denise tsked. “You need to remember that. Here in Salmon River, they tend to be a little rambunctious.”

While she was at it, maybe she could have stroked a cat and twirled her mustache, proclaiming, "Muah-ha-ha, I'm EVIL!"

The catch, of course, is that Denise really IS a bitch and Fiona really doesn't like her. Rene has been bullying her son, after all. So how do you frame a character without making her a cliche?

The key is subtlety. Not that that's easy to work with when you have someone as blatantly bitchy as Denise.

So I had to reason it out like this: Fiona is perfectly entitled to think whatever she wants to about other people; but what they say and do and what they actually mean could be completely different things.

Then I had to put myself in Denise's fashionable shoes for a moment as she walked up to Fiona's car. Why is she smiling like that? What is going through her mind? What does she really think of Fiona? And what kind of morning has she just had?

She could be smiling that "shit-eating" smile because she's trying to regain composure after her son was almost hit. She's a pro when it comes to maintaining absolute poise, after all--it's been drilled into her. She isn't normally so snippy, but Fiona is an attractive woman...Denise has noticed that men's heads turn when Fiona walks by, and Denise doesn't like that. She's the cock of the walk in this town and will be damned if she's usurped by a New Hampshire transplant.

That established, I tried to go back to revise the scene...but I didn't want the reader's first exposure to Denise to lose its impact. So as I went along, I tweaked other things...thoughts, feelings, gestures. I had to make it subtle and "tone down the cliche" as Victoria suggested. I had to avoid spelling out just how much enmity existed between these two women.

I'll still have to come back and pare a few things down as I fine-tune Denise and Fiona. But such is the work of a writer.

Concluding piece of advice: archetypes are fine, but use subtle language to describe them to avoid cliche. Walk in their shoes, and figure out who they are and why they act the way they do. And try to see them through other eyes, too. We should be able to identify (or sympathize)--however minutely--with all characters, even villains.

One more blog on this rejection and I can lay myself to rest!

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My interview with Superromance senior editor Victoria Curran delved into a very in-depth look at my manuscript, which she did say was quite well written. (Yay!) Of course, there's always room for improvement, and I learned a whole bunch of stuff. Here are some more talking points from our interview:

Writing Style

Victoria said she loved my writing for the most part. Said it was a pleasure to read because it was so clean and exact. But its exactness slowed things down--she called it "one-note pacing." Details were actually slowing down the action, and gumming up moments of intense emotion.

Once she mentioned it, it jumped right out at me as I took a gander at my MS, so out came the (proverbial) red pen.

Here's an example (not one she pointed out), ripped straight out of my rejected manuscript, Fighting for Her Love:

“Hi, Mom!” Sean greeted, wiping the back of his hand over his brow. “This is Mr. Payette. He’s teaching me how to fight.”

Dom sent her his most brilliant lady-killer smile. “It’s Dom to my friends.”

The invitation to intimacy went unacknowledged. She scowled. “What do you think you’re doing?” she repeated.

He blinked slowly, hearing the tetchy notes plucking her voice. “Sean very graciously volunteered to help me move my stuff in. He asked if I could teach him some self-defense moves.”

You can almost hear the stuttering stop and go that stalled what was supposed to be a charged moment for the hero and heroine upon their first meeting.

It seemed my formula for describing a scene went like this: "[Dialogue]," [dialogue tag], [action to describe speaker's state of mind], or some such iteration of this. While most schools of writing tell you to always be exact, it shouldn't come at the sacrifice of the pacing, or the reader's ability to imagine the scene for him or herself.

Another issue tied to this was my tendency to describe emotional states as living things. Some examples: "Outrage sparked hotly...", "Guilt slid through her like a fileting knife...", "Remorse twisted through him like a shredded flag in a windstorm..."

Okay, I made that last one up, but I've probably used it somewhere.

I don't remember if I ever wrote like this until I started reading romances steadily. Describing what an emotion is doing or how a reaction affects a character as though it's a separate entity is a method of writing often adopted to escape using the passive voice. Instead of "He was angry," or "He got mad," the emotion itself acts on the character's behalf. Victoria called it a "movement of emotion."

The funny thing is that I've spent the better part of my life writing much more sparingly. But the romance genre has always demanded a little more purple prose, and as I wrote this MS, I remember actively including metaphors and similes where I really didn't need them simply because it was how they were written

When I pointed out to Victoria that it seemed to be the norm to write romance in this fashion, she said, "I know. But I love spare writing. And there's a slow movement away from the tropes of the genre." Part of that, I assume, might be so that more romance stories are accessible to the general reading public.

On my writing style, Victoria gave me this advice:

"Resist the urge to explain."

Back to my original point--exactness is good, yes, but less is more. The reader can fill in the blanks--he or she doesn't need a step-by-step description of everything that happens. It's not necessary to describe the heroine spilling milk, [insert some dialogue], pick up a dish cloth and run it under water, [dialogue] and wipe the spill up.

Victoria recommended a book called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (She wasn't exactly sure of the title, but I will confirm this.) She also quoted two points from Elmore Leonard's Ten Points on Writing:

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

I knew the "Don't use 'ly' words" rule from my high school writer's craft class. But using only the attribution "s/he said" was something I picked up in journalism school, and it always felt a little stilted and repetitive in fiction, especially when characters got into long conversations.

So if you're not supposed to use other dialogue tags, and I don't like using said all the time, what's a girl to do?

Two things:

1) Make sure the dialogue tone and voice makes the speaker clear. The litmus test is to remove the dialogue tags to see if you can identify the speakers. A random example:

"Oh! You...you charlatan! My father will have you thrashed!"
"Whatever you say, little lady. Though I doubt Big Daddy'll be able to find me."
"The constabulary will deal with you then. Assaulting a lady!"
"I doubt it, sugar lips. You were in that kiss, too."

You can hear distinctly the kind of character speaking by the colloquialisms, the tone, the vocabulary, etc. Of course, writing good dialogue that can do this for you is a whole other lesson.

2) Actions speak louder than words. So if you want to show (instead of tell) the reader who's speaking, give the speaker something to do.

"Oh! You...you charlatan!" She pulled her skirts down. "My father will have you thrashed!"
"Whatever you say, little lady." His slow smile hooked one corner of his mouth up and crinkled his twinkling blue eyes. "Though I doubt Big Daddy'll be able to find me."
"The constabulary will deal with you then. Assaulting a lady!" She jammed her mashed hat on her head.
He tugged on the brim of his hat and gazed into the distance. "I doubt it, sugar lips. You were in that kiss, too."

For pacing's sake, vary it. Don't put actions and tags in every sentence.

More to come from my interview with Victoria!

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So, I had my third manuscript, Fighting for Her Love, rejected by Harlequin Superromance today.

*drinks deeply of her red wine, takes a deep breath, sighs, gets over it*

I had high hopes for this particular story—I really loved writing it, loved my characters, and the premise. But I also had the barest inkling of the inherent problem with the piece—what ultimately got me rejected.

After I received the news, I got the unique and extraordinary opportunity to spend time with Superromance Senior Editor Victoria Curran to talk about my manuscript and learn some (not so) secrets about the whole book selection process and what turns the editors' cranks. Eye-opening and insightful, it was thrilling to get the feedback I did (even if I was shrivelling up inside at the thought of yet more edits and more rewriting.)

Let me start by saying that this was my most encouraging rejection yet. It wasn't simply, "Great writing, keep trying!" It was "You were really close, but you missed the mark right HERE." I will be going back to work on this story...right after I get over my four-pizza-slice, four-glasses-of-wine and four-hours-of-TV condolulatory* hangover.

Here are some of the highlights of the conversation we had (roughly paraphrased, so forgive me, Victoria, if I misinterpreted.)

On plot and conflict:

"The romantic conflict is central to the plot of a Superromance. The hero and heroines should be proactively creating their own conflicts through their actions as opposed to reacting to the external conflicts going on around them."

This was the main issue with my story. Victoria, along with the freelance editor who read the book, said while there was lots of great stuff happening around the characters, the real romantic conflict between the hero and heroine was lacking. I'd suspected this in the beginning, and it was interesting during our discussion when I said to her that it was hard to write a proactive relationship because real life never felt like that--that it was much more reactive.

She countered by saying this:

"At the same time, you're here, in this room talking to me about a book you actively wrote and submitted, and now you're reacting to what I'm saying..."

Touche.

Proactive action from heroes and heroines is what character-driven contemporary romances are all about, according to Victoria. And it's by no means easy. Even some of the published and even well-establish authors will write stories in which the action is almost entirely reactive.

Victoria says:

"Lack of drama in the romantic plot makes people turn to external situations to up the stakes. There needs to be a paradigm shift in order for them to act and drive the action."

So contemporary romance is about more than stuff happening to two people. It's about stuff they make happen for and to themselves. The best romantic conflict will lead up to that OMG moment of impasse that makes you wonder, "How will they get together???" The most important moment, or climax, to a contemporary romance has to pit the hero against the heroine in matters of the heart--love and what's important to them.

Here's what Victoria said that really hammered it home for me:

"To love is to lose. Raising the stakes means that to love each other, they must lose something, but to not love each other means they'll lose love and each other. This is the heart of character-driven romance."

A simple and deeply emotional romantic conflict is what drives a contemporary story. The simpler, the better. Victoria says she can tell by reading a synopsis and partial right away how easy the story is to write because of the inherent conflict between the protagonists.

The romance plot is central to Superromances and to all character-driven contemporary romances. The rest of it is just dressing.

Whew. Okay, so that was the BIG thing.

Stay tuned for more great talking points with Victoria--right now, I need to sleep off this condolulatory* headache.

* condolulatory from condolulations (noun; interjection) = condolences + congratulations: expressing both sadness and sympathy with heartfelt sorrow. Ex.: "Condolulations, man, I heard you finally divorced your wife of ten years. She was a bitch and made you miserable."; "Here. Have this condolulatory cake on me. You were horrible to be with while you were on that diet. Good thing you failed."