Surviving Rejection

Surviving Rejection

There are lots of blogs and articles on rejection in the writing world. Mostly because there’s a lot of rejection in the writing world. Today, I’m just adding my two cents to the popular topic. Well, maybe popular isn’t the right word…more like infamous topic. No matter the adjective, rejection is an unavoidable part of selling your writing.

When I worked for a certain humor department at a greeting card company, we had to turn in eight funny cards a day. (It was during a rather tyrannical rule.) Can you guess how many cards I had accepted in a day? Meaning, how many of my eight cards would be selected to go into the database for possible production? If it was a really good day, I’d get two cards accepted. That’s 40 cards a week with a 75% rejection rate – if it’s a good week. And that number held true for the majority of the staff. Based on that experience and my experience with rejection in the publishing world, I have a few helpful points to get you through any intense barrages of rejection. Alcohol is optional.

  1. Keep a Business Perspective
  2. Keep Your Eyes on Your New Work
  3. Keep Your Writing Buddies Close…and Keep Going!

Keep a Business Perspective

Seeing the business side of greeting cards helped prepare me for the rejection gauntlet of publishing. If you haven’t had experience with the business side of creative writing, here are a few things to consider…

There a million reasons you can get a rejection from an agent that don’t have anything to do with the quality of your piece: They already represent something similar. They didn’t connect with the voice. They like it, but not enough to represent it. The list goes on.

Why is it such a subjective industry? Why do they have to like it so much to represent it?!

Agents are going to be investing a lot of time and thought into helping you polish your work and into submitting to publishing houses. It’s a big commitment and they’re looking for something they’re really passionate about. Something they believe in their heart they can sell…because, you know, that’s how they make money. They don’t get paid until you get paid.

Of course there are reasons your manuscript could be rejected that have to do with the craft. Maybe you need to work on the plot structure, or your characters, or the all-important opening pages. If you get that feedback with your rejection – instead of just a form rejection – that’s a gift! An agent took their time to give you a more personalized rejection and now you have something to consider before you send out more queries. It’s a step-up from just any old form rejection! Yay! (See? Rejection can be exciting!)

And if you do land that agent, you need to remember that publishing houses are not your Aunt Molly. They aren’t going to publish you because they love you and think you’re smarter than the other kids. They publish your work because they believe you’ve provided them with a product they can sell…and make money on.

If you’re going to try to publish, get comfy with the idea that you are offering a product for someone to sell. It’s no longer your little manuscript-baby. It costs boatloads of money to publish a book. It would be a bad business decision to publish something that isn’t going to make money (no matter how many copies Aunt Molly promises to buy).

Twitter decided I needed to see this thread today and emailed it to me. It’s a little encouragement from an agent on rejection. (They’re watching me.)

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Revise, Revise, Revise

Before we start the post, we must announce the winner of our giveaway! Drum roll, please…

The winner is Cara Martinisi!

Thank you to everyone who entered! Cara, we’ll be in touch. We hope you love the Kate Spade desk set and Christian Lacroix journal.

I know our posts are usually a mix of writer and parent talk, but this one is focused on writing. Specifically, revision. If you aren’t a writer, you might still enjoy the peek into this dark, lonely world. And maybe you’ll buy your writer friend some alcohol the next time you notice her mumbling about revising as her eye twitches.

Revision is on my mind because I just revised a manuscript, and it was a big, whole book revision. I love revision. True story. One of my mentors called me “cheerfully aggressive” when revising. I think I love it because I know if I put the work in, there’s something even better waiting on the other side – stronger characters, better description, a tighter plot. I love this quote from author Shannon Hale:

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

Revision is when you finally get to build your sandcastle. It’s where all the crafting comes in. Let’s pretend you finished that first draft. You sent it out to a few trusted critique partners and have feedback on what’s working and what’s not. You mulled over their points and have a game plan on what you want to do. It’s time to revise! Here are a few techniques and supplies that helped me get through this round of revisions…

1.Kidding. This is whiskey. I drink vodka.


2.     Okay for reals…Have a list of the key things you are looking to change, so you can refer back to it. Or put big checkmarks over key things listed as you finish them.


3.     Copy/paste your file into a new document and then save it as “manuscript title revisions” or “my feeble attempt at fixing this hot-mess of a first draft”. I usually go for something similar to the latter. This way, your original draft is intact and you won’t feel so nervous about slicing and dicing passages or whole chapters. Don’t talk to me about Scrivener. It’s like trying new vegetables. I know it’s good for me, but I’m still afraid. One day, I will learn how to wield its awesome power. Not today.

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The Benefits of Breaking Routine or 6 Reasons to Travel (even with kids)

I know a lot of people are wary of traveling with kids. Especially young kids. After all, the key to child-rearing generally boils down to routine, right? Snack times, lunch times, bed times – life is good when they all run like clockwork. Our four year old is a creature of habit, seemingly happiest when he knows the drill. Figure in sports practices, music or art lessons, and social outings/events and it’s clear that taking time out to travel, even during vacations, means making some sacrifices.

And then there’s your writing practice. Isn’t it all about butt-in-chair time? How often have you been told that the Muse won’t show up if you deviate from routine? There’s certainly some truth to that, but I refuse to believe that the Muse is quite so limited as to be unable to find you in another location on the planet. I mean, the Muse is genius. Surely with Wayz, we can all be found.

So why risk it? Why travel? Why take the precious vacation time you have and then add the stress of breaking from the routines, from your collection of go-to strategies for dealing with boredom, from the things on the to-do list, from the known? Well, I’ve just returned from over a month of voyaging with my travel-stressed husband and home-loving four-year old and I can say we all had an AMAZING time. We visited three different countries and transited through two more. We traveled by plane, train, bus, ferry (even an overnight ferry which was AWESOME), tram, trolley, and put I don’t know how many miles on our legs. And though there were hiccups and challenges, we all loved it – so let me tell you why.

1 – Because everyone needs a reset sometimes. Everyone. You, for sure, but also the kids and probably your spouse or partner. But it can be tough to reset at home. Sometimes you need to take a wrecking ball to the routine to truly be free. For me, when I’m at home, there are the chores, and the meal prep, the social engagements, and don’t even talk to me about the garden(!), all vying with my word count or revision goals. Running away every now and again gives you – all of you – permission to put it all down.

2 – As long as you’ve set down the load, take a moment to examine it. What is really necessary? What is truly beneficial? What can we afford to be flexible on? Are there adaptations that can make some of the non-negotiables work better. Distance can lend perspective, so take advantage of that and take the opportunity to get intentional about the routines you choose. And observe how people in different places handle these things. You might even pick up a new trick or two.

3 – Kids are sponges, but when they sit in the same places every day, do the same activities, see the same people, there’s only so much new stuff available for them to absorb. Put them on some form of public transit though and WOW! The learning is instant and self-driven, and the adventure promises to get better from there. Travel teaches us flexible-thinking, problem-solving, emotional resiliency — and when it doesn’t go as planned, it challenges us to figure out how to make the best of things. What parent doesn’t want these skills for their kids? But they’re also good for the grown ups too. As we age, it gets harder to grow, but travel expands your horizons.

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Lights Up! An Interview with Greg Vovos

Photo credit: Steve Wagner Photography

We were very excited to interview Greg Vovos for this week’s post. He is a playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director in Cleveland. You can read his impressive full bio here. I worked with Greg at American Greetings where he is a Senior Writer by day. We asked him about his creative process, his most recent play on the heroin epidemic, and how being a dad impacts and informs his work. This is longer than our usual posts, but there’s so much great stuff in here! We couldn’t leave any of it out!

And now, the talented and unfailingly kind Greg Vovos.  -Julie

Tell us about what led you to writing.

Writing has always been a part of my life. Even as a kid, it’s something I would do for fun – write stories, poems, plays – but not necessarily something I was good at. (I can still remember my rejections from 3rd grade!) Growing up I was actually a better musician. But when I was at Ohio State things began to change. First, I dropped out of my clarinet major because I knew I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. Then, feeling lost, I went into Business like so many others, and wrecked my GPA. Quickly. So I decided I’d take an acting class because I knew I’d like it. My teacher was a grad assistant – Megan Freeman – and I will always be grateful to her. Because on the first day of class she told us to bring something personally meaningful to our next class, something we would save from a burning house. So I brought a notebook that I’d write stories in and I talked about that. When she asked me what my major was and I told her Business, she looked at me confused and asked, “Why?” I had no answer.

After that, I switched my major to English, which might not seem like a big deal, certainly not professionally, but for me it was everything. A lot of people thought I was making a mistake, but it was the first time in my life that I legitimized what I truly wanted to do. Now, I had a loooooooooooong way to go and a lot to learn (and still do), but the hard part was over. I knew what I wanted and I was going to pursue it.

Not long after that, Ohio State brought in a visiting professor, Julie Jensen, to teach playwriting. I was actually considering on giving up creative writing altogether at that point, because I wasn’t having much success with fiction or poetry. I told myself this was it: either something happens for me in this class or I’m done. The class turned out to be a turning point for me. Julie invited me to UNLV to study playwriting with her and to earn my MFA. To this day, she is still my greatest mentor and will offer dramaturgy on my work.

After grad school, I spent a lot of time working as a director and playwright. But my day job was as a typist. Which wasn’t so bad, because I love to type (weird, right?), but the job didn’t burn my creative brain and I wasn’t proud. In fact, when my son was born they allowed me to work from home. But when he was a year old, they wanted me to come back to the office, and I was pissed. So I started looking for a different job, specifically one with writing – and I found the perfect posting late one night – writer for American Greetings. And my life changed .

You work full-time as a writer by day AND you’re also a playwright. How do you structure your time? 

This is a really important question. And the answer for me is pretty simple: I schedule my writing. I schedule it as if it were a business meeting, but the meeting is with myself. Every writer is different as far as when they do their best work, but for me, for my playwriting, I like to write EARLY in the morning. And I want to get at least two hours a day (5 days a week). Sometimes I get less, sometimes more. If I get less I don’t beat myself up. I learned this from a different writing mentor of mine. If I get off schedule, I just work myself back into it. I look at it like exercising or running, just get in the habit and it becomes really easy and it’s a great way to combat resistance.

I start with my playwriting in the morning because that’s when I’m closest to dream state – less tainted by the day – so it’s when I feel most open and creative. After that, my brain is actually primed to do my day-job writing, which is also creative in nature. But honestly, it’s as simple as scheduling it and holding myself accountable. And then once I’m in rhythm, it’s pretty easy.

One tip: I do a variation of Julia Cameron’s morning pages just to warm up. I write longhand about whatever comes to mind and I find it extremely helpful. When my writing’s not going well, and I’m looking back on my process to diagnose the issue (good process = good product, I believe), the problem usually lies in the fact that I haven’t kept up with my morning pages. If I write something I love and others enjoy, obviously this makes me happy, but I get my most satisfaction and worth as a writer by staying on schedule.

Do you have any time-management tips for other creatives out there balancing multiple projects?

I think it’s worth taking time to separate the projects and see where you’re at with each, and then determine what time of day your brain best meets those particular demands. I think of things in terms of Conceptual Brain and Intuitive Brain (I learned this from screenwriter Corey Mandell).

We know the intuitive is the part of our brain that just loves to write, doesn’t think, just writes and writes without any inhibition, like when my daughter is playing with her dolls. She’s just playing, having fun. I do that kind of writing in the mornings – if I’m exploring. But if things are more conceptual, i.e., think structuring your story, outlining, editing, things of that nature, I can handle those tasks later in the day.

Or another tactic is to work first on the thing that is causing me the most anxiety. That way I just get through it and it frees me for my other projects. And, of course, nothing sets a schedule better than a deadline, right? But again, schedule it. It sounds so uncreative – but I find it lightens my spirit and anxiety. And PS, if you’re a writer like me, and you doubt your writing or what you’re working on, keep an anxiety journal, a journal where you can just write down all the things that are freaking you out or the voices in your head that are trying to stop your momentum – the witches. Do this, get those thoughts on paper as fast as possible, and you will become more productive in the time you have. Even just five minutes of doing this can be really helpful. But the best advice I can give is schedule your creative time and protect it – guard it like you would a newborn 😉

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