If you’re comfortable, you’re probably not growing
If I’d known my desire to publish would mean ten drafts and dozens of rejections before signing with an agent, would I have kept going?
Absolutely. Looking back, I realize it’s all about the journey.
Rejection is hard and often uncomfortable, but if you’re comfortable you’re probably not growing. What kept me motivated was honest feedback from many sources. Working through critiques from writing groups, agents, editors, and contest judges is not for the faint of heart. I’ve got friends who stopped querying after getting passed up; others won’t enter contests because they’re afraid to hear feedback from judges.
I get it. Rejection is painful. But for me, improvement couldn’t have happened any other way. Every time I failed (or what I thought was failure at the time), I learned. I made the choice to consider each piece of feedback, whether I agreed with it initially or not. That’s what helped me improve.
In the beginning
If you take a course on how to get published, the instructor will tell you to take your time and send your best work. Did I do that when I began querying? Nope. Excited, I rushed instead, and my first dozen or so queries got generic responses from agents. When I Googled the language in their responses, I found a blog that basically said: If you’re getting feedback like this, your writing isn’t ready. Go back to your MS. Work on your craft.
So I joined three critique groups and started entering contests. I shook while I read each chapter aloud in my writing groups, smiled brightly at their feedback, and cried when I got home. Contest feedback was even more intense. There’s no relationship between you and the judge, and they can’t see your face to gauge your reaction. That turned out to be a very good thing. Feedback from contests was even more helpful, as most early-round judges were agented or published authors. Some saw a spark in my writing. They encouraged me, gave detailed feedback, and provided suggestions on how to up my game.
In the middle
After 18 months of feedback and multiple revisions, I’d gone from low contest scores to finalling in them. In the contest world, agents and editors are often finals judges, so that led to requests for partials. Even better, when I started querying again, the responses improved and included more requests for partials. When I got rejected, it was with specific feedback. In a couple cases, I was encouraged to resubmit.
After another year of feedback and revisions, I was ready to attend a local pitch conference where I pitched my MS in person to agents and editors. That conference also had a contest attached to it, so I benefited from another round of critiques from the agents who judged it. I met with them privately at the conference and asked for more detailed feedback. That led to another major overhaul to the MS, which took 8 months.
When I started querying again about a year later, I got consistent requests for fulls. At one point, I had 10 out at the same time. And that, finally, is when I signed with my agent.
In the not-quite end
The feedback loop didn’t stop once I found my agent. It takes a critical eye to prep an MS for submission to publishers. When we didn’t get the results we wanted, we reviewed the MS again, and (you guessed it) I made additional edits and changes.
We haven’t sold the MS yet, but when we do, I’m looking forward to the next round of changes. That’s what editors do. They help you improve. Today, I’m better at seeing critiques and feedback for what they are: Ways to craft a better book. Suggestions on how to tell the story more clearly, how to strengthen the voice, and how to connect with readers.
Will the feedback and critiques ever end?
Of course not. Just go on Amazon and check out reviews of your favorite books or authors. Feedback from readers is fierce. Looking back at the contests and critique groups and rejections, I see them now as preparation for what is to come.
If the thought of feedback or criticism is painful, if it makes you uncomfortable, I get it. Breathe through the discomfort and take the feedback for what it is: Suggestions on how to improve. Let the discomfort motivate you instead of shutting you down.
And remember: If you’re uncomfortable, you’re probably growing.