A good rejection

July 13, 2017

I’ve started submitting my novel to literary agents. Of course I had high hopes, but I’m realistic enough to have braced myself for the inevitable rejections that would follow.

The first one was a doozy. I was not prepared at all for it. I got a request for an exlusive first look at my full manuscript from my dream agent. What?

The crash came  48 hours later (they are apparently very quick readers), in the form of a polite pass. The founder of this established London literary agency wrote me an email, and gave me the following notes:

In our view:

1) The writing needs to be tighter
2) Structurally it gets confusing for the reader
3) The characterisation isn’t strong enough – especially Mark.

But ours is a very subjective business. Other Agents may well come in for it.

I wish you well.

This is what’s known as a “good rejection.” It’s not the sound of crickets, nor is it the standard one-liner used for  every hopeful.

It took me another 48 hours of pouting disappointment to see it that way, but I understand now.

I analyzed the three points. Numbers two and three made sense. I knew what had to be done, and how to do it. Number one, however was a whole different story.

It started to make me crazy. It made my critique group crazy. “What does that mean?” we asked.

I was determined to figure it out. I had no choice but to figure it out. I’d been working on this novel for years and thinking about it for decades. How do I make the writing tighter?

As always with creative problems, the only way to figure it out is to stop thinking and start doing. Sit down and write. Keep writing until you understand.

Finally, in the Coffee Bean on Sunset Boulevard, while my fifteen year old son flipped through vinyls with a buddy at Amoeba Records two blocks down, I got it. Well, I got a glimpse of it.

When I first sat down and opened my laptop, I realized it was highly unlikely I was going to “get” anything today. I forgot my glasses. Thank goodness for the zoom option — 200% did the trick. Then there was the amateur stand-up comedian sitting at the table in the corner. That guy loved the sound of his own voice. Granted, he was pretty funny in a bitter kind of way, but the people gathering around him, laughing at every word, were making my job harder — dirty enablers.

I scrolled down to the part where my manuscript seemed to go off the rails — sadly, chapter three. Keep in mind that this is not my first, second or even third edit. No, we are talking double digits.

In the same way I am  smarter when I play Words With Friends in the morning than I am at night, I seem to write better the farther away I am from my house. I suddenly see it. The redundant sentences stand out like dogs balls, where they didn’t every other time I’d looked at them. I was like a woman possessed. I began merging and cutting, slashing and burning. Tight — I kept telling myself — make it tight.

I got a text from my son telling me he was a dollar short and needed me at Amoeba, stat. I packed up my stuff, determined to keep this momentum going at my next session. Once I handed over the money for a record by a band called The Internet, I was invited to leave again. The boys wanted to hang out some more.

I headed for the Starbucks up the street. I got back to hacking away every unnecessary noun, verb, pronoun, and preposition (of course I had already slaved to keep the adverbs at a bare minimum!) from my 98,000 word manuscript. Another hour flashed by.

It took me a moment to register the two handsome faces grinning at me over the top of my laptop. The boys were ready to go home.

I make a promise to myself to travel outside the bubble I live in, at least once a week.

I don’t know why it works, and at this point, I don’t care.

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