The other day I received a rejection letter from a Literary Agent. It broke my heart. But it also made me a better writer.

We All Make Mistakes

A funny thing happened on my way to rejection: I discovered even the most refined writers make mistakes. Take for example the agent who kindly wrote me a rejection letter. The opening sentence is missing something. Can you find it?

“Thanks for letting read your synopsis and beginning pages.”

Go ahead. Read it again. I’ll wait. =]

There! Did you spot it? The word “me” is missing. It’s a simple mistake. We’ve all done it. But why is this so important to – pardon the expression – me?

Simple. It means the agent is human and capable of making mistakes. This is huge!

Learn From Your Mistakes

This was my first experience with rejection from a literary agent. To be fair, this was also the first time I’ve ever submitted my work. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect beyond the horror stories I’ve heard from other writers:

Agents are evil. They have no soul. They don’t care. No one reads your manuscript anyway, so why bother? Your work just lands on the top of a slush pile where it suffers a slow, painful, and lonely death.

Ok. Maybe that does happen. I really don’t know. I’m new at this whole “submit your work for approval” thing. But in my case, things were different. This agent seemed to care. If fact, not only did I receive a response, but it was filled with professional critiques beyond my wildest dreams.

Here’s some of what was written in the letter:

I like the general storyline.

There are some fun things to the writing, but if this is a fantasy, you need to set the stage for the reader anticipating that fantastical elements will prevail. There should also be a sense of place, so that this fantasy unfolds to the reader in a specific place.

Hope this helps. I guess my main thought is that doesn’t feel ‘fully-baked’ yet. So, perhaps it just means you need to spend more time working on it. Never a bad idea.

Honestly, this advice couldn’t be more on point!

The Fantastical World In My Head Wasn’t Built In A Day

Ok. Actually, it was. And that’s where I went horribly wrong. That was my mistake.

The synopsis and sample chapter I sent to this particular agent were written in less than two hours. Granted, the story had been floating around in my head for years, but the work I submitted was done within hours of initially contacting the agent.

Was more time needed? Absolutely.

The characters from my story have been running amok in my head for a long time. I knew every detail about them. I knew their history, their secrets, their fears, their desires. I knew what made them tick. Unfortunately, the details of the landscape in which they live – well… I didn’t know a whole lot about that.

The bottom line: My story lacked a proper setting and I needed to fix that.

Give Back: The Breakdown

So what’s the point of this post? Why on Earth would I announce to the world my embarrassing rejection?

That’s easy! I think it’s important for all of us to realize that we’re not alone in this journey to create. Each of us has something to offer to another. In my case, maybe my story will help someone else avoid the same mistakes I made. Maybe they can learn from my experience.

For the record, here’s what I learned:

1) Don’t rush to the finish line. Take your time. Plan things out because it’s darn near impossible to make a run for the finish line when you have no clue where it’s even located.

One day I woke up, decided I wanted an agent, and sent an email. I hadn’t even figured out *why* I wanted an agent, much less what I would do with one had I managed to actually get one. Heck, I still don’t know!

2) When a professional offers professional advice… take it!

This particular agent saw enough ‘something’ in my work to merit a response. Or maybe I’m kidding myself. Maybe the agent simply had extra time to kill and was just being nice. Who knows? Whatever the case may be, advice was offered and I took it. I gobbled up every last morsel that was handed to me, licked the plate, and then my fingers until nothing was left.

The result…

A New Beginning

Below is the original beginning and the revised beginning. Personally, I like the revised one a lot more. Is it done? Probably not. I wrote it in less than fifteen minutes. Ha! Maybe I haven’t learned a darn thing. =]

Before:
Finn McCool stood silent. Life is rotten, he thought.

“Don’t worry, Finn. They always pick me last,” said Jeremy. His horrible breath filled the air. By the smell of it, life was not the only thing rotten in Oak Grove.

After:
Finn McCool was an odd boy. But not nearly as odd as the town in which he lived. You see, this was no ordinary town. This was Fork Mountain. Home to 1,565 of the strangest folks Finn had ever met.

Most of the residents here kept to themselves. They talked quietly with one another and didn’t take kindly to outsiders.

A few weeks ago, Finn overheard Mr. Mooney, his 6th grade teacher, talking with the Principal. They were discussing the old abandoned mine shafts on Cricket Hill. Finn was sure he heard Mr. Mooney say something about this town having a heart as black as the coal buried beneath their feet.

A town with a heart? What did he mean by that?

“Don’t worry, Finn. They always pick me last,” said Jeremy. His horrible breath filled the air. By the smell of it, life was not the only thing rotten that day.

In Conclusion

Like many of my posts, the theme is the same. Never give up on your dreams. If you want something bad enough, keep at it.

Failure only happens when you quit – not before.