Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Exquisite Pain of The First

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?


Joyce Tremel said...

You already know what I think you should do, but since you're asking, I'll tell you again!

Start the new book, which is going to be great, by the way. After you have a few chapters done, go back and revise Cat Fight. Then query again while you write book 2. Agents who are interested will want to know what else is in the works. You might end up with an agent like mine who wants to pitch it as a series, rather than a single book.

And the Queen of Queries will be happy to help you with your letter when the time comes!

Anonymous said...

I think the firsts are so exciting, Mike, because they contain all our naive enthusiasm with no real understanding of the amount of hard work involved.

Hang in there! In terms of specific advice, I'll defer to Joyce and others who've read it.

Annette said...

Mike, my condolences on you rejection. Bummer. Don't you dare ditch Cat Fight on the basis of one rejection. Keep revising, keep querying. There is an agent out there who will be as excited about your story and characters as you are! The trick is finding him.

And you've got an offer of assistance from the Queen of Queries herself! Go for it!

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear of your rejection, Mike. But one "no" does not a failure make. Without touching this book, send it out again and again and again. If you get the same kind of criticism from a couple of agents, you can revise, but at the moment you've got a product that's worth money---but only if you send it!

Meanwhile, if agents appear to like your concept, get to work on the next book in the series. Use what you've learned in the first book to make this one an even more compelling story.

You don't sound blown away by one turn down, though. You know what to do. Get some mailing envelopes! And congrats on getting to the next phase of the writing process--submitting.

Anonymous said...

Mike, I agree with Joyce and Nancy. Get to work on that second book and keep sending out those queries. The rejection is tough, but the fact that they liked the style and concept is a big plus. As far as not being able to "get into the story" - well, that just goes to show that people with ADD shouldn't be literary agents.
Keep up the good work, soldier - we're all behind you.

Anonymous said...


Another person chiming in to keep querying *and* start on something new. I had a similar rejections for a book that went on to be published -- this is just one agents opinion. As Nancy said, if you start hearing a lot of the same sorts of things, then it's time to consider that there's something you really need to work on.

Anonymous said...

Mike, you also know how I feel about it, but I think it's worth saying again.

This is ONE rejection. Your journey has only begun, my friend. Work on the revisions until you feel satisfied that it is ready to be sent out and then start addressing those envelopes. At the same time, brainstorm and start on the second book. You'll need something to keep you busy while you're waiting (and waiting and waiting) for those responses to come in.

Anonymous said...

Send it, send it, send it!

It's like fishing. Toss good bait into enough promising spots and you'll eventually get a bite.