by Mike Crawmer
What is it about “the first” that causes such conflicting emotions?
Like that first kiss, approached with such hope and bumbling anticipation. Or that first stage role, which could launch a brilliant career if only you can remember your lines and ignore the pain and rumbling in your stomach.
For some people, a “first” is so traumatic that the experience dictates what they do with the rest of their lives. For some writers that can mean giving up a promising career when they read that first rejection letter from an agent or editor.
Last month I e-mailed my mystery to a NYC agent. Her boss was excited about the story when I presented it to him at the Pennwriters conference. I knew the manuscript wasn’t ready for a look-see, but everyone encouraged me to send it out anyway. I did, after a frantic day-long edit. Two weeks ago I got a response. You guessed it, a rejection.
Looking past the disappointment (or at least trying to), I did what many rejected writers do: parse each phrase, looking for any signs of hope or encouragement.
“While I like the concept here…”—good, I like the concept too, so that’s encouraging--“…and I think your writing has potential…”—faint praise at best—“I feel this still needs some work.”—I couldn’t agree more, so at least we’re on the same page there. Then: “I just had a hard time getting into the story.” Ouch! Now, that hurts. I was rather into the story myself. Maybe too much so. Hmmmmm. Then, with the finality of a door being slammed shut: “I hope another agent feels differently.” And, last but not least, the brush off: “I wish you the best of luck in your efforts to get published.”
This wasn’t my first rejection, just my first for this particular mystery. Sometime late in the last century my first attempt at a mystery—same setting and similar characters and set up—was turned down by several agents. I launched a rewrite to fix a key problem with the story, but by chapter five I had lost all motivation in that effort. Besides, my imagination had given birth to another story, an idea that would eventually become the just-rejected manuscript.
Well, seems as if my writing history is repeating itself. Again, I have a rejected manuscript needing a rewrite, but I’m plotting out the next book in the series--and I really like this new story and its crazy cast of characters. So, what do I do? Run with the excitement of the new or keep querying agents on the current manuscript while fixing what ails it?
I know what I’m going to do: hang tight with the current work. I’ve put too much time and effort into it to just put it aside. Faced with the same dilemma (or, to put a happy face on it, opportunity), what would you do?