Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Hope in Rejection

A day + late, shame on me. Knowing my schedule was going to be bad this week, I had this post *mostly* written out by Thursday, but my organization’s board meeting on Thursday kept me out late, and then I had to deal with a dead cat and having to tell my child about said dead cat (and let me tell you this, telling someone about their pet when that someone is 7,000 miles away bites the big one). Friday morning was getting the Catbird out of the house by 7 for a pre-school activity while dealing with a minor (hah) car issue, all while having the anxiety of doing a new presentation for a group of college students by nine–and then last night we had an Audubon meeting and….yeah, I’m late.

I have not talked much about the submission process. For the uninitiated, ‘submission’ is a word that, when used here, means shopping a manuscript to publishing houses. Querying is what the writer does to land an agent, submission is what an agent does to land a publishing deal. Anyway, my reasons for not doing so are three-fold: first, there’s a chance that an agent, encountered with my manuscript, might—just might—look me up and find this blog. And if they find this blog, maybe it’s not a good thing to see tales of a manuscript that’s ten years old and has been rejected scores of times and revised hundreds more (NOTE TO EDITORS: THIS IS NOT THE CASE! MY MANUSCRIPT IS A THING OF GENIUS AND YOU SHOULD MAKE A HUGE OFFER RIGHT NOW!). So I suppose I have this sneaky fear that something like that might make an editor who is on the fence fall off on the wrong side. Of course, they might cruise through some of my other posts on here and run like hell, anyway.

Second, like querying, there’s a lot of downtime while the manuscript is being considered, and there’s only so many times you can post videos of Tom Petty singing “The Waiting.”

Third, as mentioned above, the submission process is handled by Carrie and I figure the best thing I can do is get out of her way and write the next one. It also seems (wait, this makes four) that the best policy for the most part is to say, “What happens in Submission stays in Submission.” (that sounds kind of…kinky…doesn’t it?) So that’s my policy.

Until now.

At this point, I have suffered several rejections. And while rejection hurts, I’ve received some very nice compliments from the editors, compliments that they don’t really have to offer. It’s overall encouraging.

But what really drove me to this was a recent thread on AW. The person who started the  thread was upset that their work–which they were pitching as literary–was being viewed as a Dystopia. The problem, of course, is that Dystopia is dead.

Now, this person’s plight is one I can relate to. One of the themes of feedback that Agent Carrie has relayed to me is that Dystopia is a tough sell right now. It doesn’t matter that I don’t consider my work a Dystopia; I’m not the one who has to place it on the shelves in the bookstore. Here is what one agent had to say:

“Unfortunately, the market’s already pretty saturated with dystopia, and I don’t know that this will distinguish itself from the horde.”


Wait, this is not encouragement, is it? On one level, no. On one level, the editor is essentially saying I’m good, but not good enough. Those are not words you want to hear, or read. However, there is an underlying message in this, and this one should be encouraging. Essentially, if you write it well enough, if you distinguish it from the horde, you have a chance.

The encouragement here is that if you’re writing Dystopia, or teenage magicians, or sparkly vampires, or any other genre whose day has come and gone, you don’t need to give up hope, or re-write it to fit whatever you think is hot right now (actually, if you’re writing for what’s hot right now, you’re probably already too late to ride the wave). What do you need to do? Write it better.

I don’t know about you, but I find that comforting and encouraging. How about you?

8 Responses

  1. I feel your pain, Jeff. Submission is the one place we all want to be in, and yet no one talks about how hard it is.

    When I was on submission all I heard was urban fantasy/paranormal was dead. If dystopia is dead, what the frick is selling?!!

    My philosophy is this is where your agent proves their worth. They mustn't give up until every option is exhausted. I was on submission for exactly 12 months with THE DEVIL'S INTERN, and that became a Kirkus Book of the Year!

    I'm keeping everything crossed for you.

  2. I have another few friends who're on submission, and they never talk about it, but I assume in this case that no news is bad news – they just don't want to admit that getting the agent wasn't the rainbow to the pot of gold everyone thinks it's going to be. In truth, most books don't succeed on submission, so you should always be writing a new one. Just keep plugging away and good luck!!

  3. Thanks, Donna. I hope this didn't come off as a 'pity post' because it really wasn't meant to be one. I see a lot of folks worrying about whether they should change their story or start writing a different genre or whatever, when the the real take-away is "write it better." And that's something we're constantly striving for, anyway. Thank you for keeping your fingers crossed, but don't let that stop you from typing!

    Lexa, we spend so much time and energy on getting the agent that it's easy to forget it is but one little step (albeit a big one) on this particular road that we have chosen. Just as people usually don't litter their blogs and tweets with "Rejected by [agent's name here]", it seems like a good idea to keep who's received (and rejected) submissions on the QT. Thanks as always for posting.

  4. Yeah, my novel has dystopian overtones, and it's not meeting with a lot of love out there in query land so far. I'm going really slow with the querying, though, so maybe by the time I get through my list dystopian stories will be hot again.

    And good luck placing your story. There are so many tales of novels that were rejected by multiple publishers that later went on to be successful, so hang in there. 🙂

  5. Thank you, Suzie!

    -Stacy–That's the message I'm choosing to see in it, but I think that's the message that is essentially there: If it's good enough, it will get out.

    L.G.–I'm hanging in there and I'm working on the next one (which has no elements of Dystopia at all in it), and I'd like to believe I'm getting better all the time. Good luck to you, to. Stay the course!

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