The Way I Like My Rejections – Guest Post

I am so excited to welcome my friend Lara Schiffbauer for my first-ever guest post here on Seeking the Inner Ancient. It’s so appropriate, as Lara and I have a growing history of shared firsts. She was this blog’s first-ever commenter. Then she conducted an interview of this humble writer for her wonderful blog, Motivation for Creation–a first for both interviewer and subject.

Lara  is a talented writer I first met via Writer Unboxed. She and I bonded over our mutual love of Star Wars, and we have since been sharing the road toward publication together, which leads me to her topic for the day. It’s one I’m all too familiar with, and I couldn’t be more delighted by her views and advice on a subject we, as writers, all face.

Take it away, Lara:

This summer I entered the dubious country of Queryland.  I finished my manuscript on May 30th, and crossed the threshold into the world of query letters, synopses and rejections, oh my!

Queryland isn’t exactly a warm, fuzzy place.  Nor is it totally unknown to me.  I started submitting short stories about two years ago, and amassed quite a few rejections before I got some acceptances.  I’ve been querying my novel for a month, and now have four or five rejections under my belt.

Over time, I’ve realized certain rejections are preferable to me, and certain rejections aren’t.  I also realized I’m only at the start of Rejection Trail for my novel, and I better come up with a method to handle all the stress without becoming suicidal (joking!)

Three Ways I Like My Rejections

Quick – The first rejection I ever got, I received less than twenty-four hours after I submitted my story, Bear Hug.  I later submitted to an audio short story book publication which took eight months to reject it .  I learned that quick is better.  A quick rejection allows me to move on, and hopefully get the story to a person who thinks it’s as cool as I do.  The only downside is that you can rack up the rejections faster, too!

Friendly –This is where I like the magazine rejections better.  I don’t know if they had any less submissions than the agents I’ve sent my query to, but three of the rejections for Bear Hug wrote back really nice, encouraging (albeit short) comments.  It was like using a doe-skin glove to slap my face rather than a chain mail gauntlet.

 Do No Harm – At the very least, I prefer my rejections in the form of a form letter.  I know that sounds odd, but the alternative can be evil.  I’ve read stories of scathing rejections.  That kind of nonsense is cruel and unhelpful.

Three Ways I Don’t Like My Rejections

Ganging Up – It doesn’t matter if I’ve sent queries/submissions out months apart, they will inevitably end up back in my e-mail box on the same day, or insanely close to each other.  This has happened frequently enough that last week when I got one rejection on Tuesday, I asked my husband if he wanted to take bets on which day the second would come in.  I was surprised it waited until Thursday.

Well-intentioned Mean Stuff – I have a friend who received a rejection from an agent who, after telling my friend what she liked about the story, told her to “bone up on your grammar.”  My friend does not have a grammar problem.  I believe the agent was trying to be helpful, but it didn’t end up helpful at all.  The upside?  If nothing else, the whole interaction let my friend know that she didn’t want to work with that agent, anyway.

Bad Timing – No, there is no good time to receive a rejection, but there are definitely times that are worse than others.  Remember that rejection I received on Thursday?  It came about ten minutes after I had just had a fabulous plotting session for my next novel.  I was flying high on creativity, and thinking “Yes! I can do this writing thing.”  I didn’t even get a full evening of feeling competent before the rejection came in.  Please, please, please, gentle rejection, give me a chance to feel some pleasure before the pain!

So What’s a Writer to Do?

I have identified three things I do that help me get my brain straightened around and remember a rejection is not the end of the world.  Really.

Exercise – There are two reasons why I think exercise helps.  The first is the endorphins, as well as the serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline, which are released and work together to make us feel happy and have happy, creative thoughts.  The other reason is because by exercising we can burn off the frustration we feel with each and every rejection.  Or, am I the only one who gets frustrated?

Chocolate (or some coma inducing junk food of your choice) –  I have long reacted to stress by eating.  When my date for the senior prom ditched me a week before the event, I ate a half-gallon of cherry nut ice cream in about a half-hour flat.  What I have learned over the years is moderation.  Put a limit on how much you can indulge yourself, and then go for it, if you want.  It’s called comfort food for a reason.  Sometimes we just need Hersheys to kiss the boo-boo on our writer egos.

Write, damn it! – There is no substitute.  Kurt Vonnegut says it best.  “You must stay drunk on writing so reality can’t bite you in the ass.”  That’s the version I live by.  Reality, and rejection, can be a nasty you-know-what.  Writing is a magic pill that takes me out of myself and my insecure feelings, and plops me into a place full of witches, angels and happy endings.  It’s a much more preferable place to be.

How do you handle rejections?

 Lara Schiffbauer is a writer, licensed clinical social worker, mother of two, wife of one, and a stubborn optimist.  She loves Star Wars, Lego people, science, everyday magic and to laugh.  You can find Lara on Twitter at @LASbauer, or at her blog,  Motivation for Creation.

Epic Impatience

Sonically Epic: I received an email alerting me to the upcoming release of a new Sigur Rós album. I’m excited by the news, and I’ve been playing their older albums almost nonstop since. Whether you’re familiar with the Icelandic art-rock band or not, you’ve probably heard their music. It’s often featured in film soundtracks, and rightfully so. Their music is lush and atmospheric. Even though their songs lyrics are never sung in English, powerful emotions are conveyed to the listener with a language that is beyond mere words.

Many of Sigur Rós’s songs are like miniature epics. Hoppípolla, one of their best known pieces, is a good example. It starts with a restrained but subtle urgency and builds to dramatic and joyous crescendo before fading with a cathartic sorrow. It leaves you feeling… something. I’m sure that something is different for every listener.

Epic Pondering: And so it was that I spent the week considering the next steps on my journey toward publication to a backing soundtrack of Sigur Rós. The music got me thinking in a new light. Like a Sigur Rós piece, my trilogy is designed to be an epic. An epic, by definition, is a long-form narrative about the life and deeds of a hero(ine) or heroes. Because of a series of helpful rejections from literary agents, and advice from my editor (the fabulous Cathy Yardley) and my writer-friend/beta readers (thanks WU Mod Squad!), I am considering lopping off the front quarter of book one of the trilogy. This in the service of getting the reader into the action sooner, closer to the inciting incident. I understand the whys of the advice, and I’m grateful for it. The whole thing just has me wondering about patience in this immediate gratification world.

My Epic Reading History: Many of my favorite books are sweeping historical epics. They introduce you to the hero(ine) or heroes early in life, and build with a restrained urgency. They incorporate lush atmospherics. Many don’t offer up an inciting incident for many long chapters. I’m thinking of books like the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, in which we meet Morgaine’s mother, Igraine first. We learn all about the atmosphere of Cornwall and the vacuum in the politics of the Britons caused by the withdrawal of the Romans. The first of the story from the primary protagonist’s (Morgaine’s) point of view comes in chapter nine.

Another that comes to mind is Kushiel’s Dart, by Jacqueline Carey. We are introduced to Carey’s heroine basically at birth. Phèdre narrates (in an incredibly powerful and unique first person voice) her own life’s story as she’s raised in the Night Court and introduced to the ways of Service to Naamah. Phèdre doesn’t move into the home of her patron Anafiel Delaunay until chapter six. And her introduction to the intrigues of the royal court, and her introduction to and involvement with her nemesis Melisande, proceeds from there. Many other books spring to mind—The Far Pavilions, The Thorn Birds, to name a few more—but I’m sure you get the idea.

Write What You Want to Read: It’s all I set out to do. I can’t get enough of epic historicals, fantasy or otherwise. And I still feel good that in the epic culture clash of the Germanic Tribes versus the Roman Empire, I have a unique setting and conflict foundation. But, in light of my situation, I’m questioning whether there is still room in the world for epics. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the story must be compelling from the first page. Every note of a Sigur Rós song draws you in, leads you on the journey. Every sentence uttered by Phèdre no Delaunay delivers intriguing atmosphere. This is the type of story I wanted to tell in Legacy of Broken Oaths. I wanted to begin with the meeting of my hero and heroine, hoping their being forced together, entwined by a destiny foreseen by their grandsires, who died long before they were born, would be intriguing to readers. I had hoped that I could create an atmosphere that drew readers in to a world of mysticism, political posturing, and looming war.

It’s on me: Then again, perhaps it’s not that the patience for epics is gone. Sigur Rós may never sell as many records as Lady Gaga, or even Adele, but they are internationally renowned. Jacqueline Carey’s historical fantasies may not always make the NYT bestseller list, but she had success with a whole new epic trilogy (Naamah’s Kiss, Blessing & Curse) set in Phèdre’s  world of Terre d’Ange, but which tells the tale of a new heroine (Moirin mac Fainche) who lives several generations later. And one has only to go to her facebook page to see that her fan-base is loyal and vocal.

It’s worth it: Perhaps I simply have yet to create the necessary intrigue. I understand that atmospherics aren’t enough. Perhaps I just haven’t struck the resonant notes needed to draw readers in quickly enough. I’m honored by the praise of many beta readers who have read on past the opening, and who have told me of their fondness for my characters and for the story. But I realize, whether I lop off the front or not, I’ve got to get them there. I’ve realized that it’s me who needs to be patient.

I’ve decided I’m up for the challenge. I’ve decided the trilogy is worth the effort. I’ve come this far, and I’m willing to continue to strive, for as long as it takes. I have the patience to read and listen to epics. Now I need to strive for the patience to perfect my own epic.

What about you? Do you have any favorite epic historicals? Is there still room in your reading or listening life for the longer form?