Thursday, April 18, 2019

Harsh Rejection Stories

My story isn't technically a rejection story, but it's right up there.  It's as devastating. I was on one small, private on-line critique group.  The set-up was pretty casual: upload things to a shared folder, and then critiques are either A. sent via group email or B. also uploaded to the shared folder.  No specific timeline, just put it up and people will get to it or not.  Because of this system, I had some things up there that I wasn't actually seeking critique on anymore.  I hadn't taken them down, mostly because I wanted the other members of the group to be able to look at the whole body of work/larger plan if they were so inclined.
And then I got this on one manuscript.

I made it no further than page 5 before nearly chewing my left arm off in the frustration of knowing that a writer with a great imagination, a lot of drive, and most likely a wonderful story to tell hasn't bothered, after all these years of effort, to learn the basics of story crafting. To improve your writing, you need to, at the very least, read some well-crafted books and analyze the plotting, sentence structure, foreshadowing, and subtlety of the writers' works. No one is born knowing how to write or craft a story. Those are skills that take some effort to learn. You could be a great writer. If you don't put in some study time, all your efforts and talents are wasted.
Wow.  That's brutal, no?

That's the sort of critique that could send someone running for the hills.  Heck, that's not even a critique, that's a dressing down.  

Fortunately, I just laughed at it, and then promptly deleted myself from that group.
Because the manuscript in question was The Thorn of Dentonhill, which at that point had already netted me an agent and was out on submission.  And it was bought by my publisher just a few weeks after I got this.  I mean, what exactly was this person trying to accomplish with this critique?  I'm not sure.  But I feel like they were trying to just grind me down.

This business is tough, and you do not get handed anything and certainly don't deserve anything you don't earn-- you don't just get handed accolades and awards and film options-- but you need to keep pushing on as they try to grind you down.  Success could be right around the corner, and if you let them beat you-- you let a drubbing like that one up there break you-- you won't get there.

Don't let it grind you down.  Because every rejection and drubbing can be followed by that call.  Be ready for it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Thank you for that rejection. No really.

In preparation for this blog post -- ha! you thought I never prepped these things in advance and just wrote them all stream-of-consciousness style on the day of, didn't you? -- I scoured seven years worth of emails, beginning with extremely unwise submission of some very bad short stories. Despite the universal ickitude of the crud I foisted upon these editors and agents (and interns), I couldn't remember any stand-out scathing rejections.

So I wasn't entirely surprised when my search yielded...nope. Not one mean note. That's not to say there weren't a metric crap-ton of "this isn't a good fit" or "keep trying, noob" or "not interested at this time" form phrasing. But everybody was super polite with their language. (Nobody used the word "noob." I just put that in because it's a fun word and lack of professionalism suits me.)

Anyway, I'm not sure if I should be flattered or disappointed by the unbroken monotony of vague, bland rejection. I mean, it took time and energy for editors and agents to compose the passionate rejections littered with Shakespearean insults that other folks received.

And then, somwhere in the fog of 2015, I found it, the exception. The one rejection that was personal, different, dare I say brutally honest. It wasn't cruel, but it was super, super true, and I wish I'd paid more attention to it.

I'll paraphrase so I don't embarrass this person, but an editor said, basically, "Kid, you need to decide whether you're writing science fiction or romance, cuz right now you could go either way with this book, and readers aren't likely to dig that kind of wishywashiness. Pick a freakin side."

If you read that book right now (because sadly, I did eventually convince someone to publish it), you'll find yourself nodding and agreeing with that honest editor. I know I do. That unnamed-here person taught me a valuable lesson in knowing the market and realizing that all the fancy words in the world ain't gonna sell a book that can't decide what it is.

So, I'm not being sarcastic in the least when I say thank you, editor who rejected my manuscript. And also? Truth is always valuable, even when it hurts.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Worst Rejection: Public Scorning

Worst rejection I've ever received from an agent or editor?

Public Scorning
Once upon a writers' org, we used to have editors from agented-only publishers hold open submissions for a finite period to unagented authors. We'd post our query to the forum and the editor would respond with their asks or passes. For those who received requests for fulls, the editor would comment on what part of that query piqued their interest. Great opportunity and learning experience...until one particular editor posted her pass on my submission. It wasn't the canned "thank you but not for me" that was used on other passes. No, my query was special enough to merit a diatribe, wherein the words "disgusting" and "unthinkable" appeared. And she didn't keep her scorn limited to the work, she decided to light into me too. Something in the mere 200 words summarizing the opening of a fantasy romance had teed her off.  If the editor had chosen to unload her vitriol in private via email, that would've been harsh, but I would've gotten over it. The public lambasting? Yeah, that makes it memorable. 

Bonus "Worst": "No answer means no."
Back in the days when agents were moving from hardcopy queries (see Jeffe's Sunday post about the beloved SASE) to email/FDM queries, a no-good and very-bad trend cropped up among the agents. In response to the deluge of emailed queries, agents and agencies adopted a "No answer to a query meant no interest" policy. ~facepalm~ No answer turned out to mean a lot of things. Mostly that technology is only grand when it works as designed, and back then filters and private servers worked less reliably than now. Lots of queries disappeared into a void, worse, requested materials were also gobbled up by technology gremlins. Once in a while, silence meant the agency was one of those outfits that respond five years after receiving a submission. Far less often did silence mean, "I have received, read, and rejected your query." From an author's perspective, the silence policy ended up being a poor excuse to avoid the bare minimum of professionalism.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Sound of Silence?

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Knife in the Heart: The Harshest, Meanest Rejections from a Publisher/Editor/Agent. I think this is a great topic because it's always good to hear that *every* author receives rejections. While 99% of them are usually vaguely kind, there's always some who have to be vicious about it.

Arguably the worst rejection is the one you never receive. Send out a submission, you can even do it old school with SASE and everything and wait. And then wait, and wait and wait. It sucks. 

The worst I ever got was pretty nice. That might be because, for the majority of my writing career, I've looked like a Viking with enough rings on my fingers to remind many people of brass knuckles. or it might be because I'm a relatively nice guy. Or it might be the luck of the draw, but I've heard a few stories that would have very likely ended with me using those very rings to rearrange the position of oh, every part of a face. 

One of the very worst I ever heard was a truly nasty letter coming back from a small press editor who told the writer that he should consider any career but writing as his words were poorly chosen, his plot was derivative and his characters shared one voice. 

Personally? I think the editor was having a bad day and took it out on someone who didn't deserve it.

My personal worst wasn't all that long ago when a publisher told me, through the editor, that I was invited never to submit again. I don't take offense, I just move on to other opportunities. Once again, I suspect a bad day and possibly annoyance that I wasn't maintaining the publisher's "vision" for their company.

The end result of that sort of nastiness was in the case of my friend, reminding that fellow writer that editors are only people and like all of us their opinions vary. I also pointed out that the press was minuscule and the editor was very close to an unknown quantity. Said press long since went belly up and I have never heard the editor's name again. Be an ass often enough and you, too, can be forgotten in what is really a rather tight-knit industry. Seriously, the number of people who are editors and writers both is rather substantial. Most know better than to be jackasses. 

It should all be taken with a grain of salt. The people who offer help are wonderful for their efforts. The ones who offer a serving of piss and vinegar are usually only hurting themselves. I am far more likely to remember an editor who offered me a serving of feces than I am to remember a form letter. The difference is I'm willing to forgive the form letter and I am fairly confident that I am not alone in that. 

Here's the sort of thing that can take the sting out of a mean-spirited letter. Some praise for BOOMTOWN. A few of these were utterly unexpected and very kind. They also come in several cases from peers I both admire and respect. 

"A good weird western is a rare find, and Boomtown is very weird and very, very good. James Moore's effortless prose puts you in the company of fascinating characters as he subjects them to enough bizarre mayhem for three novels by any other writer.  You won't be able to put this one down, folks."  F. Paul Wilson--Author of the Adversary Cycle series

"Boomtown... F@*k. It's amazing. The way Moore captures the snowy landscape, the beauty and the absolute horror of what's happening within it. I loved the moral complexity, loathing humanity but knowing life is so precious, the way Moore writes so honestly about most of these guys being racist ... It's a really powerful book and I'd be very happy to say that anywhere."
                                                                              --Anna Smith Spark, Author of the EMPIRE OF DUST trilogy

"Just finished reading BOOMTOWN by James A. Moore. Holy moly! This is the kind of weird west that defines the genre. Read this now." -- Jonathan Maberry -- Author of the Rot & Ruin series

"I can't recall another author who can write of walking dead men, blasphemous sorceries, Native American legends come to life, immortal hunters, and neverending horror--and still elicit chuckles in the reader with subtly unannounced humor. Then, too, is Mr. Moore's complete obviation of the need for suspension of disbelief. As in others of his books, the reader is immediately absorbed and immediately believing.

BOOMTOWN is a "Weird Western". There's a lot of violence and grabby greediness and political incorrectness which we might expect from the culture of the day (the era of the American Civil War) but there's so much more. Skinwalkers and animated dead men; monsters which might even make Lovecraft quail; and an immortal Hunter, Jonathan Crowley, who is neutral in character, neither good nor bad nor in-between. In this era he is in effect a 19th century scientist like Darwin or Alfred North Whitehead, traveling the globe seeking out flora and fauna to study.

I can't imagine any reader not adoring BOOMTOWN, but I especially recommend it to aficionados of horror, grimdark fantasy, and Weird fiction." --The Haunted Reading Room.

"On the Weird Western front…well, Moore certainly doesn’t skimp there either. Carson’s Point is positively littered with all kinds of supernatural hijinks, although the primary nuisance here is the skinwalker and his creations. The skinwalker is able to reanimate the dead and he calls forth a band of Native Americans slaughtered by former soldiers now resting easy in the settlement. Although there are zombies aplenty in Boomtown, in the case of the Native American undead Moore puts a nifty little spin on this trope that really helps separate them from your usual pack of shambling brain-eaters, which I appreciated greatly.
Boomtown is a dark and very effective work of wild west horror, and Carson’s Point is densely populated with monsters, both human and otherwise. American expansion and settlement into the west was certainly a perilous and tumultuous period of US history, to put it lightly, and Moore doesn’t shy away from the violent and inhumane aspects of the era. While several women fall victim to rape and children are counted among the murdered, Moore never writes such scenes in a salacious, leering, or gratuitous manner. Even spared the grisly details, one depiction of a helpless child’s murder managed to hit hard. Sensitive readers may still wish to prepare themselves, although, thankfully, such mentions of sexual assault and child death are kept very brief and directly to the point. Boomtown does not offer a romanticized view of the American west, but a gritty horror story of predators and prey, and, in keeping true to the period being written of, the violence that ensues." 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Still Bleeding - the Worst Rejection Ever

I had to share this tweet from Agent Sarah. We got the cover flats for THE ORCHID THRONE (out in September 2019, but review copies are going out now - eep!) and they have foil! That's the shiny stuff on the cover. It shows best in the video from her tweet, but here's a still pic, in case the video doesn't play. Super cool, huh? It's my first cover with foil, and it's SO PRETTY!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Knife in the Heart: The Harshest, Meanest Rejections from a Publisher/Editor/Agent. I think this is a great topic because it's always good to hear that *every* author receives rejections. While 99% of them are usually vaguely kind, there's always some who have to be vicious about it.

This was on my mind the other day because there's one rejection I received about 25 years ago, when I was a super newbie author - and it was so mean I STILL THINK ABOUT IT TO THIS DAY.

I know, I know - I should really let it go. For the most part, I really have. I don't feel bad about it, but I do remember the words from this editor and they float back into my head from time to time.

So, I'd made this Huge Life Change™ and gone from a PhD program in Neuroscience to working as an editor/writer for a petroleum research group. The job had flexible hours, paid well, and let me develop my chops as a writer. I'd decided I didn't want to be a research scientist and wanted to be a writer instead. As part of this effort, I took courses from visiting writers at the university. One of the first was the class Essays on Self and Place. Thus, my early writing efforts were personal essays, also known as Creative Nonfiction.

(In fact, my first book was an essay collection: WYOMING TRUCKS, TRUE LOVE AND THE WEATHER CHANNEL.)

But before that happened, I was doing the magazine circuit. I'd send out work to places that published essays, from literary journals to commercial magazines. And I sold essays to that broad gamut, with my biggest score an essay I sold to Redbook for $1/word. I built this career largely through writing a lot and sheer tenacity. Which, come to think of it, is what I still do.

I'd read a piece of advice from some author I can't recall now to treat submitting like a game of ping pong. You submitted work, and as soon as it got rejected, you batted it right back out to another venue. I even called my folder of essays I was actively submitting "Ping Pong." I had a rule that I had to have every finished piece on active submission at three places at one time. As soon as a rejection arrived in the mail - and these were the days of paper printouts sent in the mail with a self-addressed, stamped envelope (the infamous SASE) - I had to whack that essay back out right away. I kept a list of publication venues (in a spreadsheet, OF COURSE), in order of preference, and I'd just go to the next on the list.

All in all, this approach worked very well for me. Treating the submission/rejection process like a game helped to take the sting out of rejections. It also meant I got a LOT of rejections. Every time that envelope showed up in my mailbox, addressed in my own hand, I'd feel the pain. They almost never *accepted* via the SASE. An acceptance came via phone call, maybe email (depending on the year), or as a thick envelope with their own postage containing a contract. Maybe even a check! I always wondered what they did with my SASEs in those cases, but it seemed cheap to ask for them back, even though I could have reused them.

So, yes, I received many, many rejections of various flavors, but I also published work at a steady rate in a variety of venues. I kept up a high velocity in my personal game of ping pong. It worked well.

This one magazine though...

It was called something like Women's World Weekly. I could be conflating several publications. But I do recall I discovered it in the Women's Bathroom at the petroleum research institute I worked in. Someone left copies in there every week. It was low-quality paper, with lots of ads for things women supposedly liked, and then those kind of heart-wrenching "real life" stories of love and loss.

So I sent them one of my essays on love and loss. And I got a rejection back pretty fast - hand-written, saying that it wasn't exactly the kind of thing for them - too long, or whatever. This was early on and I didn't always pay attention to the content of the rejections. Often they didn't say all that much that was useful. Also, I came from a scientific background and the non-scientific nature of their criteria often stymied me. Finally, I was busy - and the game of ping pong meant I had to get stuff back out there rapidly.

I sent them another essay on love and loss. I got another rejection saying no, it wouldn't work for them.

I sent a third essay. (Maybe I only sent two, but it might have been the third submission.) And I got this hand-written, black-ink, furious scrawl that said:


And I don't remember the rest. It was some sort of excoriation on how my work would never, ever, in a million years, be right for them.

Thing is - they were probably right. And it was true, that I didn't "get it." I was very new at that point, and green. I didn't yet understand how to discern what a particular publication or editor preferred. I viewed it all as a vast crapshoot - or a game of ping pong - and figured the right thing at the right time was what got accepted.

Which is actually very true.

But there was something in the sheer venom of that rejection that has always stuck with me. And sometimes I hear that guy's voice - the editor was male, which is interesting in retrospect - shouting at me in that scribbled note, telling me that my work was a waste of his time.

Of course, I took that publication off my spreadsheet and never submitted there again, which likely came as a relief to them. I sold those essays elsewhere, and I've gone on to build a career.

Still, every time someone implies that I "just don't get it," I feel the twinge of that knife to the heart. Funny, what gets to us, huh?

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Writing Is a Snack Free Zone

Author's Titanic tea cups (reproductions)
Here we go again with a theme for the weekly post that I don’t have much of anything to say, not because I dislike the theme but because it doesn’t apply to me.

“Perfect writing snacks.”

Umm, yeah, I never snack when I’m writing.

If I’m writing, I’m writing and my hands are in constant motion, typing.
I’m not a snack-y person really. I have an apple in mid-morning, a string cheese if I’m feeling extra hungry in between meals and need protein and either a banana or an apple between dinner and bedtime. I might have a cup of tea on occasion and that I may actually drink while I’m sitting here at the keyboard, but is tea considered a ‘snack’?

On snacks in general, I used to love M&M’s, maybe when reading, but on three occasions over the years I’ve had one go down the wrong way and nearly asphyxiated, which since I actually came within a few seconds of brain death years ago and required heroic Heimlich maneuvers from the friend I was out with (that occasion was a piece of toast, not candy)….I have considerable anxiety on the topic. So M&M’s are off my list of edibles. Sorry, little guys!

Author's piece of coal
from the sunken ship

VS Note:  107 years ago this week, the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank with a terrible loss of life. I was always fascinated by the sinking and wrote my scifi action adventure novel WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM loosely based on the events, but set in the far future on an interstellar cruise liner. There is a romance but the book is much less steamy than my normal stories. I later wrote a sequel about two of the supporting characters in response to numerous reader requests. STAR SURVIVOR is written in my steamier style.

Buy Links for WRECK OF THE NEBULA DREAM: Amazon  Barnes & Noble  iBooks    Google Play   Kobo   (There’s also an audiobook…)

Buy Links for STAR SURVIVOR: iBooks      Amazon    Kobo       Barnes & Noble

Friday, April 12, 2019

Fueling For the Fight

Food and writing don't really go together for me. Tea and writing? That's almost nonnegotiable. But food takes too much concentration. Food tends to be concentrated at meal times which I may take in front of my computer while I sit there staring at the flashing cursor while I chew. I may contemplate a plot, character, or scene issue. Eating and ruminating, so to speak. But eating and writing are two very separate things that do not go well together for me. It's almost like it take different parts of the brain or something.  

Granted. I do my fastest and best writing stupidly early in the morning before food or tea. Water yes. Feline companionship, yes. No noms. Except for said felines. Feline snacks are a MUST for writing. Feed the cats or wear the hangry cats. The struggle is real. 

But if you want a glimpse into the "Thank the gods I'm not eating her diet" depths, this was lunch:
quinoa with fake cheesy ranch dressing, Indian-spiced pan roasted brussels sprouts, and a spoonful of black-eye peas. It was topped off with fake black cherry 'ice' cream (topped with vegan mini chocolate chips)

I cannot imagine that anyone wants these recipes unless they're plant-based as well, but here you go. The fake ice cream.

Black Cherry Nice Cream

chop and freeze 1 banana (lay the slices on parchment paper on a cookie sheet in the freezer for 2 hours)
Bag of frozen black cherries
bag of vegan chocolate mini chips
plant milk of your choice (I use Ripple, a pea protein based product)

Put 1/2 cup of frozen banana and 1/2 cup of frozen black cherries in a blender. Turn your blade speed down (4 on a Vitamix does well). Blend. This is going to sound like you're blending gravel. You are. Ish. Once the frozen fruit has broken down a bit and collected on the sides, shut down the blender, scrape the fruit down, and add plant milk 1/4 cup at a time. Blend. You'll have to turn off the blender and scrape the sides a few times to get everything to ice creamy consistency. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Dig in. 

And don't forget. Iced tea goes with everything.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Fueling Up for the next big thing

Friends, my whelm has been a bit over.  In the past two weeks, I've launched one book, sent in the copyedits for another, and finished the draft of yet another.  And now I'm starting the process of drafting what's going to be a Big One-- PEOPLE OF THE CITYwhich is technically a Maradaine Elite novel (i.e., starring Dayne and Jerinne), but in practice, this is the first Big Crossover.  And it's a LOT.
Right now I'm in that less-sexy, more data-driven part of things of making sure I have timelines and terms squared away, knowing I've got all the who's and what's and where's and when's locked down.  
This stuff requires fuel.

My big go-tos right now tend to be coffee in the morning and herbal teas in the afternoon and evening.  Add in apples, peanuts and granola, and I'm good to go.

And I'll need to be.  There's still a lot of work ahead.