Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When Rejection is a Good Thing

I don’t know about you, but overnight-success stories do not inspire me. Take Stephenie Meyer and Diana Gabaldon, for instance. According to both of them, they wrote their first novels, Twilight and Outlander respectively, for their own pleasure and that of their close friends without seriously entertaining the possibility of publication. Then someone discovered Gabaldon’s excerpt online (posted more or less for fun) and sent it to his agent who snatched it up. And after being pressured by said close friends, Meyer sent out Twilight to something like a whopping seven agents before getting picked up by one of the most successful agencies in New York. This does not make me feel better, even when Meyer claims one of her rejection letters was so harsh she cried. Poor Stephenie! Wait, let me get my violin. I’m waaaaaaaaaaaaay past the point of crying over a rejection letter from a general query. The ones that make me lock myself in the bathroom to sob are the ones that follow a promising request for a full manuscript that read something like this: Love what I’ve read so far; please send the rest asap. At this point I’ve mentally bought a new car, remodeled the house and been on Oprah. Months later, after they’ve changed their minds, I wonder if I can ever send out another query again. So, frankly, I don’t want to hear about your seven whole query letters, one of which landed you at an agency that ultimately hooked you up with Little, Brown within three weeks and a $750,000 advance. Tell me instead about the JK Rowlings of the world, whose success was gained with considerable blood, sweat and tears.

Someday I hope to be one of these examples like JK. Hell, I could actually be the poster child for Don’t Give Up. I stopped counting years ago, but I’m very confident in saying I have received easily over 300 rejections. I’ve written seven novels in twelve years, and sent many agents more than one book to review if they showed any trace of enthusiasm with prior submissions. One of them made me cry three different times after the initial wow, great, send me more, can’t wait! There were many times when I nearly threw in the towel, but I couldn’t stop writing. And thinking of the manuscripts collecting dust in my closet was too depressing to keep writing without at least trying to find an agent or publisher. Then somewhere around year seven or so, a curious thing happened. I realized my books – four at that time – were complete crap. I was thrilled that no one had picked them up, because now I could make them better.

Shadow Fox, at that time, was a one-volume, 974-page lump of dog shit. It was so bad that “revisions” were not even possible. I had to start from complete scratch, and along the way, I turned it into three volumes at around 300 sensible pages a piece. While the series may not be a masterpiece, it’s still five-thousand percent better than what it was. I sent it out again, and to many of the same agents. Their responses were more favorable, but they still said no. So I wrote two new books, applying the knowledge I gleaned from writing workshops and reading wonderful novels. These, while still not hitting the mark, were closer than ever, earning the best feedback thus far. And while I was counting on them to pull me through, an agent picked up Shadow Fox. When Champagne Books came along in December, I had enough confidence and gusto to do another complete rewrite on one of the original four, and that too is five-thousand percent better.

If someone had told me, twelve years ago, that it would take me all that time to get published, I would have considered jumping off a cliff. I can’t tell you how many thousands of wishes – on the first star, birthday candles, pennies in a fountain – were uttered for publication. I went to three psychics, two of whom claimed they channeled higher beings, asking for some cosmic secret. And now, all I can say is, thank God. I’m not sure I could show my face around these parts if that first book had been published in its original form. I learned something else too during those twelve years, besides how to be a better writer. I learned that being a published author wasn’t the most important thing in the world, and I started concentrating on other things, like my family. Is it a coincidence that I didn’t get published until I stopped wanting it so much it consumed my every waking moment? I don’t think so. And yeah, that kind of sucks in a way: if you want something too much, you may sabotage your chances of getting it. Regardless of whether or not this is true, I’m glad to be in my skin right now, living this life. And I hope I get the chance to inspire other writers who are struggling with rejection. It may just be the greatest gift they could ask for.
Ashley J. Barnard


Big Mike said...

Hey Ash

You need to stop holding back and say what ya feel, girl (g).

Michael Davis (
Author of the year (2008 & 2009)

Ashley Barnard said...

I know, Mike, I know...what happened to the shy girl anyway?!!!

Ashley Barnard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jude Johnson said...

I feel your pain, Ashley, and sympathize completely. Glad you persevered!

Diana Ilinca said...

Ashley, I know just what you mean! After all the years and rejections, I'm glad for them all. Even now, I'm hoping to work in some big changes with the editor.(i finished Zirconya years ago and when i look back, i can make it SO MUCH better!)

Good for you for opening up and letting loose! Everyone needs to hear the truth and reality of getting published. Good job, congrats and good luck!!!

Ashley Barnard said...

Thanks, guys!!! Glad to hear I'm not the only one...