Friday, February 14, 2014

♥ The Heartache (and Triumph) of Rejection ♥

As I've posted in the past, before my first novel was published I was rejected by many agents, many, many, many, many times. And when I say many (many, many) I mean over 200. And when I say I was rejected over 200 times, we aren't talking rejected for 3 or 4 or 5 different manuscripts. We are talking about one manuscript. One little ditty of a manuscript about an underground city of rats, who at the time were getting NO love...and I mean none, zero, zilch. 

So in the spirit (well, not the lovey-dovey kind of spirit) of Valentine's Day and all that love mush, I'd like to share with you some of my real rejections--that stinging heartache that nearly all writers have felt. Not only did they help me become stronger, some actually helped me with my writing and changed the story, made it better. I should mention, since it's been published, my first middle-grade novel, Nightshade City, has won awards, scored some awesome reviews from the big review houses, was blurbed by a super awesome bestselling middle-grade author, got me multiple jobs presenting to schools and groups around the country and has also sent me to the UAE (free of charge), which I'll be going to again later this year. It also won me 4 contracts with National Geographic School Publishing (the editor read my book and reached out), and two more book deals, with the final book in the Nightshade Chronicles series, Lords of Trillium, coming out next month. I'm genuinely not trying to toot my own horn, but after 14 months of hard-core, gut wrenching, don't-insult-my-baby-rejection, I think it's okay to toot just a little. And if I can get through it, why not you? ;) 

Now, some of these struck me as funny, some made me scratch my head, some I took to heart, but all of them made me work even harder. I rewrote the book two times, I cut characters, edited and edited, rinsed and repeated. I think in this business you have to be someone who dislikes the word "no" so much, you will work like a dog until it's changed to "yes"! 

Without further ado, the best of the worst! 

--With the economy the way it is, we have to be very careful about what we select. Rats just aren't in the cards.

--Though I enjoyed the writing, I really dislike rats...very much. I'm not right for this.

--This is above children's heads.

--We represent all genres of children's books, just not animal fantasy.

--I certainly liked the story, but I didn't connect with it. 

--While I think you have a great writing career ahead of you, it will not be with me. 

--I have too many children's writers in my stable right now. 

--Though you have two strong female central characters, we feel this book is mainly for boys. 

--This has as many characters as a Russian novel. 

--You take too many liberties as the writer.

--Sorry, I just don't believe in anthropomorphic animals.

The last one is my favorite--truly an agent I was never going to win over with talking rats! ;) Do you have any rejections you'd like to share? Anything funny, insightful, unexpected?


  1. Thank you so much for writing this post! I have spent four years on my manuscript, edited it 10 times, including twice by a former agent, and it is with an agent now. I am steeling my psyche for rejections. I am bookmarking your post!

    1. Janice, hang in there (insert cat poster)! I used to think it would NEVER happen. It amazes to this day! My husband made me keep every single rejection letter and email I ever got. They are my badge of honor now! :)

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    4. I so relate to your struggles with the whole "Sorry, I just don't believe in anthropomorphic animals."

      I started my site "Talking Animal Addicts" because I longed to find other writers and readers like me who DO BELIEVE in the fantastical, where facts inform but not RULE the experience, if we wanted absolute realism we turn to nonfiction, and seriously, you can love reading nonfiction but STRUGGLE to write it yourself, I'm in the latter camp!

      The comments that hurt the most were ones that implied "Boys will not take to this."

      This REALLY hit me hard.

      While I certainly hope girls will read and enjoy Gabriel, too, I did write Gabriel with boys in mind, but boys that aren't typically written about, but the fact is there are more than 5 of us (Including myself as a kid) and we NEED books that represent us.

      In all the talk about girls needing empowering role models in fiction and nonfiction, and believe me I'm for that, boys need it, too!

      The problem is I feel while the world of female characters is so diverse now, we're stuck in a certain mold of male characters that I want to broaden in some way-

      Boys who are not jocks, but find and enjoy other healthy forms of competition.

      Boys who don't like gross out humor, but still love to laugh!

      Boys who aren't afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves, but aren't spineless wimps!

      Boys who aren't psycho pervs, but make no secret of loving the company of girls, in an age-appropriate way.

      With Gabriel, I've worked hard to invert male stereotypes in realistic ways, and just because the majority of my characters are rats, doesn't mean I take it less seriously than if all the characters were human!

      Writers often tell each other to write what we'd read ourselves, and for me, stories of nontraditional boys and men are important to me, not just in my own work, but reading it in others, too, and the latter's still hard to find, but we are seeing more of it in MG these days, and I think that's part of why I rarely crossed over into YA, as none or few of the male characters in the popular books especially really felt like me, HP was an exception (Yes it started in MG, but after Prisoner of Azkaban it moves to YA territory as far as I'm concerned) and frankly I more often find more nuanced male characters in adult fiction which I know many devout children's authors across the board say that don't read for finding it "too boring and long."

      I don't subscribe to that logic.

      Matters of general literacy aside, what 's the point of getting kids and teens hooked on books only to grow up and have books with characters older than 18 bore them to tears? that's setting readers up for a cruel fall, right?! I don't think any writer intends that outcome for the readers they long to have.

      Sure, some books hit home more than others, but I do feel many YA only authors are so snobbish about adult fiction, and I know this is an MG-focused blog, but I felt I had to address that as it has connections to the lack of nontraditional male characters in YA, whereas in MG and younger we're seeing more diverse male characters, and that there's no one way to "Be a boy." Period.

      Again, I don't mean to sound hostile to the legit need for strong female representation in fiction and nonfiction at all levels, my next novel has a strong female lead, but I do feel boys and men do get marginalized in ways sometimes parents and teachers, particularly SOME women, because girls always have it harder...It's not always easier for our voice as nontraditional boys and men to be heard without going into LGBTQ issues, and again I'm all for that, but you can be a non traditional boy without your sexual orientation being part of it. That's all.

  2. Love the line about the Russian novel!

    Here's one from an editor for May B.. She felt it would be "difficult for today's plugged-in kids to relate to."

    1. It's weird how rejections sting, but now you can chuckle a little. :) May B. plugged in the plugged-in something super special!

  3. Hah! These rejections are hilarious! I never got anything like this in my querying journey. and 200 rejections for one MS?? omg

    1. Sarah, I know, right? You wouldn't think there were that many agents out there!!!

  4. You are my model for grit and perseverance. I think most writers would have been destroyed by 200 rejections for a single manuscript.

    1. There was a fellow writer buddy on that had on her signature, "Never give up! Never Surrender!". Somehow, I really took that to heart. I should mention, she is now published a few times over!

  5. Rejections are my badge of honor! I have scores of them in old blog posts. Funny how the sting fades ...

    1. It does! Just wait until you get one after your first book has actually hit the shelves! Now that was pretty sweet! ;)

  6. Hilary, you REALLY worked for your happy ending. My rejections are either silence or "It's not the right fit" type.

    1. Manju,

      Oh, I received plenty of those! "We are not enthusiastic enough about this work, yada, yada, yada." Toss in drawer or archive in email, move on! .... Hang in there, lady!!!

  7. I'm a member of the "200 club" too!!

  8. Hilary, your story was so inspiring to me when Marissa pointed me to it a few months ago. I've recently signed with an agent after 290 rejections (multiple MSs, though). Together with my playwriting rejections, I've gotten around 700 total. And while I know there've been some doozies, they've completely faded in the thrill of that one awesome offer. You've got some hilarious ones. :-)

    I did have an acting professor tell me, in front of the whole class of first year acting students, "The only Chekhov role you'll ever play is Olga." Olga is the homely spinster.

    1. Joy, we are rejection sisters!!! :) It's a long story, but I even got rejected by my OWN agency! I got the call 3 months later saying they couldn't stop thinking about the story. Can you imagine! It made it even sweeter!

  9. Hilary, I FEEL YOUR PAIN!

    While I sadly didn't have much luck with agents the first time around (I will try again when my new stuff is "Ready Enough" (And you know how that goes...) I had far worse feedback from parents, and I hesitate to say that because I know many great authors who are parents, as many past and present contributors to Project Mayhem are parents.

    But the truth is many parents (similar things regarding my debut novel, Gabriel.

    That said, they were far more narrow-minded than the parents/teachers/writers here on Project Mayhem, and I've since met many authors who are far more open and receptive to what I'm aiming for in my writing.

    I'm often the only non-parent in my circle of writer friends so I try to be sensitive and open to their perspective, but I also feel some parents are too narrow and limited in their thinking. I think many of them have forgotten what it was like to be the kids their raising or teaching in their classrooms or see them through such a narrow filter it's stifling to writers on the outside.

    Many comments were in the vein of "This is above children's heads." and drives me CRAZY! With all respect to kids who had a harder time learning to read than I did, it's hard enough to create something that WORKS. This is why I don''t write chapter books or Hi-Lo books because it requires skills I don't have on top of being a great story.

    1. Hang in there, Taurean! It's totally okay to be a non-parent! Like you said, writing for kids has a lot to do with thinking like one. Sometimes I have to put myself in my son's or daughter's shoes and think what would they do, how would they feel? Not how Mom would feel! Ha, ha! No kid wants to read about me! I'm boring. ;)

    2. Thanks for replying back, Hilary,

      I'm glad I now have writer friends who respect my work and don't take me less seriously.

      I know many great authors are not parents. But it's hard for me to find like minded people in my age bracket, and I don't mean that in an ageist way, but I do feel some people above my station in life can trivialize what I'm going through because it's not where they are anymore, and while this mindset certainly isn't exclusive to parents, I find it's common for some.

      Most authors my age are writing YA or adult fiction.

      Plus, while I agree we need to keep our readers in mind, there are more filters to deal with with readers under 13, and maybe that's changing but I feel there's it's hard to find what works for both.

      I struggle figuring out how to speak to kids and parents, and even your reply to one of my above comments reflects that, what kids find appealing is a harder sell to adults, meaning parents and teachers, since they more often purchase the books, and print is still the preference in kids and non-Luddite parents.

      You can ditch parents in the story but they can't be left out of the equation when it comes to both word of mouth and sales, and when I say this, I'm thinking of kids in less advantaged families, or aren't able to access a library on a regular basis and may not have one at school.

      This is one area YA has it easier as you can more easily reach teens directly, I'd love to see a post on bettering handling the duality you need to sell MG books because while the goal is entertain and engage kids, we can't always sidestep the parents who by most of the books for their kids below YA, especially since part of our job as children's authors is reaching kids who aren't already avid readers (Whether or not they have a learning challenge)

      While it's safe to say the parents and writers who work with kids (Be they their own or part of you community) are open-minded about kids reading what interests them, it's not always the case in families where parental screening is intense to put it nicely.

      Please understand, Hilary, I say this from the marketing perspective, not the writer's perspective, and definitely not my personal reader perspective.

      Anyway, that's what I'm struggling with right now doing a bit at a time to get Gabriel out there and build pre-release buzz and interest that might stir up pre-orders once I'm at that point.

      That said, don't sell yourself short, you are NOT boring! (I think you were joking, but even so, and I do get what you meant by it you as a person is NOT boring)

      It takes serious heart and determination to write your trilogy. Sorry if I'm taking that too seriously, but I don't like seeing one of my "Rivals" down on herself.

  10. This was wonderful, Hilary. Loved reading this.

    1. Thanks, Braden! Every tiny bit of inspiration helps us all!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!