Rejection and My Road to Publication
When looking at an author’s published book, it’s easy to only see what they accomplished and to forget that there were likely many failures before publication. I only know of a few authors who enjoyed success straight off with the first book they wrote. Those rare, fortunate birds are the exception to the rule. Most of the time, the road to publication is a long, bumpy one, with plenty of stops and starts. My journey was like this, complete with crushing disappointments and hundreds of rejections. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it.
No one will ever read my first book. It was a dreadful adult paranormal romance with a vampire and C4 explosives and a weirdly awkward love scene that told me very clearly: you are not an adult romance writer. Message received, but not after a few more failed attempts. My first young adult novel, on the other hand, was the first manuscript I wrote where I felt like my writing, storytelling and voice, all leveled up. My critique partners loved the book. My mom loved the book. I started querying. Rejections came, but so did requests for the full, and then came a delightful little thing in publishing called a “revise and resubmit.” It was an edit letter, essentially, which if you make the suggested changes, the agent will consider your manuscript again. I dug in and revised the crap out of that manuscript. That agent passed, but the revisions paid off when another agent offered and I signed with her. At that point, I was so naive, I thought for sure the book would sell. I mean, the agent wouldn’t have signed me if it wasn’t a sure thing, right?
The book did not sell. It came close three times, but didn’t make it through the acquisition meetings. This was the first time I felt the rejection as more than brief, generalized disappointment. My mistake was thinking this whole process was easier than it was. Let me back up a moment and explain my thing with rejection letters: They are form letters sent from a person who doesn’t know you, essentially telling you that your book isn’t what they’re looking for. I’ve never taken this personally because there is nothing remotely personal about them. I have known writers who do take them to heart and it seems like a terrific expenditure of energy. Maybe I was sleep deprived, or maybe I’m missing a brain component, but either way, when rejection letters came, I checked off that agent and went back to work.
Several books later, a manuscript did sell, but I wasn’t out of the rejection waters yet. My hardest trial was to come several months later when the publisher closed its U.S. division, orphaning over fifty projects and five debut novels, including mine. Not long afterward, I began to realize that my agent and I weren’t the perfect fit any longer. After another failed submission on a new project, my agent and I parted ways on good terms and I took the first break from writing I had since I’d begun writing in earnest, five years earlier. This was the first and only time I felt defeated. Maybe I’d made a mistake, thinking I could do this. Maybe I should find something more productive to do with my time. I took up soap making as a hobby—why, I don’t know. I think I made about fifty pounds of soap, but while weighing out oils and water and lye, my brain started incubating a new story idea. Not long after that, I was back at the computer, doing what I loved most (although, I DO miss smelling like sandalwood and lavender).
The summer after my Soap Adventure, I received an offer on the orphaned book AND signed with a new agent. That book is my debut, Black Bird of the Gallows, and when I hold it, I feel my whole history as a writer under my fingers. It’s all there—the triumphs and the disappointments; the hope and the anxiety. All the rejected manuscripts that perished in order to push me to write better, plot better, tell the story better, served a purpose. I’m sure I haven’t seen my last rejection letter. I’m not so naive anymore, and I am still not the writer I know I can be. Rejection can be a crushing blow, or it can steel your resolve. You really do have a choice in the matter. Then again, no one has ever rejected a pleasantly scented bar of handmade soap.
Meg Kassel is an author of paranormal and speculative books for young adults. A New Jersey native, Meg graduated from Parson’s School of Design and worked as a graphic designer before becoming a writer. She now lives in Maine with her husband and daughter and is busy at work on her next novel. She is the 2016 RWA Golden Heart© winner in YA.
Black Bird of the Gallows
Young Adult Romantic Fantasy/Entangled Teen – Entangled Publishing
A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.
Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human.
What’s more, she knows something most don’t. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.