Friday, August 26, 2011

Why We Think "I Want To Quit Writing!" And Why We Can't

A writer friend sent me a copy of her most recent communique with a Fabulous Agent she'd met at a writer's conference. Here's what it said:

Subject: Your YA Manuscript Request

Dear Writer,

Thank you for sharing your work with me. First of all, I should note that you have the teen voice down -- this is incredibly important; I often meet editors who, when I ask them what they're looking for, say "Excellent voice." Well, you have it.

"I am not in love." The phrase fries my brain.
I enjoyed reading this—but, I'm afraid, I'm just not in love -- so I'm going to pass, with regrets.

Still, I do hope you will continue writing and sending out your work. If you haven't done so already, you may wish to look at The Jeff Herman Guide to Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents - there, you should be able to find someone who's a better fit for your work.

Best of luck with this and future projects.

All best wishes,
Fabulous Agent

When forwarding the email to me, the writer in question included a frowning emoticon and the comment: I want to quit writing!

I know just how she feels. Which is why she can't. And, fortunately, she won't.

~I slump under the weight of failure and abject depression.~
If you've ever received a rejection (And if you're a real writer, you have. Just sayin'...), you probably know the feeling. Another "No." Another "We don't love you enough to take a chance on you." Another "I wanted it to knock my socks off, but my shoes are still on."

But that isn't what the agent is saying at all. Real writers take their agents' advice, right? Well, then, every writer should take this agent's advice.

I mean really: this is a LOVELY rejection letter. It should be lovingly framed and admired. It's personal, positive, and encouraging.

Remember: you don't like every book published. That doesn't mean that if you don't like a book, the writer should hang it all up.

I don't care for Stephen King's stuff, myself. (Please, King fans, don't try to convert me. Or point out where I've gone horribly astray. I didn't say he can't write. He can. He's excellent. Doesn't mean I like reading it.) I don't read his books unless they are assigned reading. I can admire his writing prowess, but his stuff is just not for me. If I were an agent, I could never dredge up enough enthusiasm for his work to sell it.

Of course, that doesn't mean he should quit.

Push on. For every rejection you get, sent out 3 more queries to well researched agents who handle the kind of stuff you write.
You may imagine placing the agent's head in your mouth
and squashing it like a grape.

When you get a rejection, you may do several things:
  • You may cry. 
  • You may briefly overindulge on chocolate or gin or 80's ballads -- whatever's your drug of choice. 
  • You may back awa-a-a-ay from your current Work In Progress for a day or two so as not to taint it with any self-defeating "I suck as a writer" content. 
  • You may tell yourself that there is (unfortunately) one more person in the world whom you will not be adding to your Christmas card list.
However, you MAY NOT:
FYI: Destroying the innocent computer
is frowned upon.

  • Kick the cat / your kids / your spouse / a moving train / the bucket.
  • Write a nasty letter to the Fabulous Agent outlining where she went wrong and making dire threats against herself, her pets, or her family.
  • Allow your overindulgence of your drug of choice to render you incoherent for longer than 24 hours. Really: self-pity ain't attractive. It's also counterproductive to querying.
  • Quit.
Repeat: DO NOT QUIT!

You'll make it. But only if you hang in there.

Earlier this week, literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted this list of real rejection letters from publishers to agents. Some of those are brutal -- and every book mentioned eventually sold and did well. Imagine what would have happened if those writers gave up. All those success stories would have died a premature death.

Which would be tragic. Don't let that happen to you.

In short, I'll tell you what I told my writer friend: keep polishing what you've got. And keep on keeping on.


wordboy said...

My usual reaction to a rejection letter is to shrug, say "Your loss" and look for another market. Maybe the next one will be a better fit. The key, as you say, is to never stop.

Ami Hendrickson said...


Thanks for commenting. Good for you & your perseverance! I'm not quite to the "your loss" stage. Every rejection, I feel a little bit sad. ("Awwww... I coulda sworn that publishing pro was a *perfect* fit.") But I'm much more blase about the "I just don't love it" letters than I used to be.

Honestly, sometimes I think dealing with the inevitable rejections is the toughest part of a writer's career. If you can do that, the rest is gravy.

Unknown said...

I would kill for a personalized word of encouragement in a rejection letter! I have about 30 of them and none of them have been anything but the formal stuff. So that it's personalized at all should convince your friend that her writing is good enough.

I think I've sworn to quit almost once a week the last 3 years, crying in my sofa etc etc (though that's rarely due to pub rejections). But I never quit. I guess that says something after all.

And I will so use the "not on the christmas card list" - I think that will make me see reasonably on the whole deal.

Ami Hendrickson said...


The fact that you've not followed through on your threat to quit proves you're in it till you win it!

Here's to skipping the personalized rejection letter and skating straight through to acceptance! I've read your stuff and I know you'll make it -- if you just don't give up.

Durango Writer said...

Funny that writers have similar coping mechanisms for rejection (chocolate, gin, etc.) No matter how many rejections one receives, it stings. It will always sting. It will still when your agent doesn't like your next story idea. It will sting every time a publisher passes. And it will sting every time you get a bad review. So...let's stock up on more chocolate and gin. And absolutely, let's listen to Ami's advice to NEVER QUIT. Remember that crying is nature's rinse cycle. It's good for us in small doses. ;0

Ami Hendrickson said...

Dear Durango Writer,

When I posted this, several writers on Twitter took the "80's ballads" coping method and ran with it. I ended up singing Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" for the rest of the day. Not that I minded...

You're right, of course: getting an agent to say "yes" only opens the door to more rejection: from publishers, from film studios, from critics, and from (some) readers. Weathering the rejection process gives us great practice for future "no's."

The important thing is to have enough of the aforementioned chocolate, gin, or ballads to weather the storm and give us the courage to soldier on. :)