May 18, 2010

Surviving Rejection Week! -- The Public Forum Rejection

Surviving Rejection Tip #2: Oftentimes, a rejection can be a great gift. Granted, it's a gift that punches you straight in the face, but then it gives you an ice pack and makes you stronger.

Yesterday, I talked about my rejections in the magazine and newspaper world. Today, I'd like to discuss the rejections of my novel.

Joy of joys!

A little back story... In early 2010, I had been working on my MG science fiction novel for over a year and a half, and I finally felt it was ready for querying. With my manuscript all polished and shiny, I decided to enter a "Secret Agent" contest at a blog called, Miss Snark's First Victim. Every month or so, this blog invited writers to submit the first 250-words of their manuscript for public review. Once all of the submissions had been posted, a Secret Agent would critique them and choose a couple winners who would receive some cool prizes.

So awesome, right?

On the day my excerpt was posted, I bit my nails and refreshed the blog page every five minutes. (Okay, it was more like every two minutes.) I had no idea if I would win or not, but I kept hoping that something good would turn out of this. After all, I had workshopped my first chapter to a bloody pulp and it had been through the ringer with my critique group.

I thought I might have a chance.

But once the comments started rolling in, my heart sank into my stomach. Some of the commenters liked the excerpt, but some of them pointed out a few big time mistakes. (ie, over-writing. D'oh!) Yet, I kept my chin up because I knew the Secret Agent would have the final say.

Yeah, I was in for some bad news... Ultimately, the Secret Agent was very gracious and gave me some good advice, but she didn't ask to see more pages. Once again, I was crushed--and embarassed. I sobbed into my blanket for five minutes and moped around the apartment for the rest of the day. Indeed, I was a major cry baby.

I kind of looked like this, minus the plastic surgery:


I didn't look at my manuscript for about a week, but then I decided to brush off my wounds and get back on the revising horse. I re-read all of the comments and I took a harder look at my first chapter. Slowly, I realized that the Secret Agent was right and that my story lacked a certain oomph. And so, I re-wrote the first 250-words of my book until they barely resembled my original draft.

Here is my original version compared to the revised one. I've only pasted about 100-words each.


Original

A loud knock on the front door jolted twelve-year-old Danny Singer from his math homework. He scratched his head and put his pencil down, wondering who had come to the house. His mother didn’t get off work until six o’clock and his trumpet teacher wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow afternoon.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Three more knocks thundered on the door, ringing throughout the walls. Danny stood from his desk and padded down the stairs. He figured the mailman needed to drop off a package for his mom—she liked to order tubes of oil paint from the internet.

Grasping onto the knob, Danny turned the handle and swung the door open. “Hey, do I have to sign something or…?” His voice trailed off.


Revamped

Danny Singer knew the rules. He could recite all three of them by heart, like the times table or the Pledge of Allegiance.

Rule #1: Homework first. TV second.

Rule #2: Only healthy snacks after school. (No candy!)

Rule #3: Never answer the door when he was home alone.

His mom had posted the rules on the refrigerator door and Danny followed them—for the most part. Sometimes, he would nibble on a Snickers bar or flip on the TV before opening his math book. But he had never broken Rule #3.

Until today.


Of course, the revamped excerpt isn't perfect and I'm sure I'll have to tweak it some more But at the end of the day, my public forum rejection injected some much-needed life into my novel's opening. A few weeks ago, I even spoke to an agent who really enjoyed the first chapter of the book.

Even now, I still remember quite vividly the sadness I felt when the Secret Agent rejected me. BUT, I'm really grateful for the comments she left because my book is much better because of them. In the end, my disappointment (and despair!) was well worth the result.

Never give up! Never surrender!

16 comments:

  1. The second version is awesome! It's always tough when rejections punch you in the face, but I've always found that the harsher the rejection, the bigger the jump in my writing quality afterward. The key is to crawl back to the computer and learn from the rejections, and you've clearly got that down :)

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  2. i love that you're writing all week :) great post!

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  3. I love reading your Rejection Week posts. I wish none of us ever got rejected, but it's nice to know we're not totally alone.

    I entered MSFV Secret Agent contest a few months ago. I got a fair bit of good feedback, but a couple people (including the agent) made some comments I finally used to tweak my first chapter. I wish I'd done it before I started querying- another agent made the same comment. Doh!

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  4. Love the revamp! Love the photographic illustrations of your grief! Love you!

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  5. Lynn,

    Oh, I totally agree! My harshest rejections and critiques always helped me out the most in the end. I just had to learn how to swallow my pride and listen to the advice! Haha.

    Tracy,

    So good to hear from you, babe! I hope all is well! Congrats on being a mama! :o)

    Stephanie,

    Thank you for your comment! And it's nice to meet another veteran of the Secret Agent contest. Yeah, I kind of wished I had workshopped my excerpt more before I'd posted it... Oh well!

    Lex,

    Love you back! Man, can you believe it's been so long since our roommate days at the Colony? Why can't you and Gabe live closer to me?!

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  6. Oh yeah, you turned your catipiller into a butterfly. I have totally been there - tons of times. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I put my first page on the Miss Snark's First Victim blog last year. The agent told me to dump everything except the first and last sentence. Harsh, yes. But he was totally right. What he helped me do was discover the true voice of my story. Those two lines that he liked became the guiding lights of my revision. Rejection sucks. But I've never learned how to be a better writer from someone who loves my stuff.

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