Saturday, July 10, 2010

The R Word

There is something nobody has talked about. The big R. Just a few days ago a gym friend of mine who knew me before my books deals asked me how I handled all the rejection. The easiest answer was that I just kept going.

But after I talked to her, I started to think about it. How did I keep on going despite boxes of rejections - everything from poorly reproduced copies of letters, to personal letters, to the we liked it, but not enough sort of letters.

The first answer that comes to mind that when I succeeded it was so sweet. The first time I remember feeling that way was in fifth grade. It was a particularly bad year for me. The first teacher left on a maternity leave and after that was followed by one substitute after another. Most of the time the class was bedlam. But in the middle of all that we had an assignment. I don’t even remember what it was just that I made up a story about going to Paris and Tokyo. Most of the information I used for the Paris part came from the cover of Seventeen Magazine - a beautiful shot of a model in front of the Eiffel Tower. My Tokyo trip was based on what I learned on the Mickey Mouse Club. I just remember something about cooking on a teppan grill. My story was a huge success. The teacher, which ever one it was, read it in class. It was my first shining moment in school.

Something similar happened in high school English. I wrote my first mystery story about jewels being smuggled in bird’s feathers. Most of my English papers didn’t please that particular teacher, but she liked the story well enough to read in class. It was my second shining moment in school.

And then in college everything changed when I started to work on the student newspaper. I began writing news stories. Seeing my name in print was pretty cool, but not as cool as when I started writing a weekly column. After all the years of being on the outside looking in, I was suddenly on the inside - all because of my writing.

I dreamed of working on a newspaper when I graduated, but that didn’t happen. It took years and years of writing all kinds of different things. There were lots of disappointments, and some victories. What kept me going was that just like my shining moments in school, the victories were so sweet that I was willing to climb over rocks and hear a million no thank yous to get to the yeses.

I had just about given up on ever selling a book. I was ready to give away the book I had on how to promote your first novel, figuring I would never have use for it. Maybe the Woman’s World stories, the one script I sold, and the assorted newspaper and magazine pieces were going to be it.

Even so I kept sending out the young adult mystery I’d written. Every time I dropped it in the mail, I said to myself that sometime it wouldn’t come back. And then it didn’t. Instead I got a call from a small publisher saying they wanted to publish it. That was just after new year’s in 2006. Blue Schwartz and Nefertiti’s Necklace came out in September of that year.

Meanwhile I had the idea for a crochet mystery. That summer I met my agent at a RWA conference and discussed the idea. She said the magic words. “If you write it, I can sell it.”
Right after Blue Schwartz came out, I wrote the proposal for the crochet mystery series. My agent sent it to Berkley and St. Martins. And within two weeks, both of them wanted it. From no books, I was in a bidding war. Well, not exactly a war. Berkley upped their offer and I went with them.

The first time I saw a copy of Hooked on Murder face out in the Border’s in Chicago, all the no’s to get there fell into the background. It was the sweetest moment of all.

Nobody exactly told me how to handle rejection. My father definitely did let me know it was part of writing. My advice is to concentrate on those sweet moments when you get accepted and maybe to keep some chocolate around to get you through the times when you’re not.


Kathy Bennett said...

Great blog. I'd never thought of my own 'shining moments' as a salve to rejection, but that's just what they are.

As I read your post, I realized I had more shining moments than I'd thought.

Although I'm still struggling for that first sale, I truly believe it is attainable. I believe patience and persistance is the key.

Betty Hechtman said...

Yes, Kathy, patience and persistence are the key. As long as you don't give up, anything is possible.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Wow, Betty. What a great story.

Camille Minichino said...

Thanks for reminding us, Betty. I have a couple of favorite rejections, including one on the back of scrap paper, and one that is one inch high, as if the publisher copied the same sentence 11 times on a sheet of paper and cut the strips!

Linda O. Johnston said...

Great post, Betty. I always enjoy telling those who haven't published yet about what a good thing it is to graduate from form rejections to "good" rejections where you get personal comments from an editor or agent. Of course, both kinds are still rejections, and I've collected quite a few over the years. But it's such a joy when something gets accepted and published.

Betty Hechtman said...

Thanks, Joanna.

Camille, you actually got strips of paper with a rejection. Yikes!

Linda, only us writers understand that there are different levels of rejection. To other people, a no is a no, no matter what form in came in.

I actually got a rejection from an agent that said "loved it!" on the outside of the envelope. Inside was my letter with a note scribbled on it saying that she loved it, loved it, but the way things were in New York, she was passing on it.

Monica Ferris said...

Betty, I can't believe an agent who "loved it" wouldn't try to sell it. Surely she knew an editor who might love it, too.

This is an important blog entry. i wish I'd thought to write on the topic. Dealing with rejection is a hard skill to acquire. It helps to have a writing friend who can really understand.

Camille Minichino said...

I believe the "I love it but can't sell it" comment!

I had an agent tell me that my (nonfiction) book on communication changed her marriage and helped her daughter immensely, but (she said) "I don't think I can sell it!"

Betty Hechtman said...

Monica, I couldn't believe it either and so I wrote the agent a letter and asked what was going on in New York that was such a problem. She answered, but it was some mumbo jumbo that amounted to she didn't think she could sell it.

Wow, Camille, that is amazing. You'd think she would have realized how important your book was if it helped her and her daughter so much and then made a crusade of selling it.