Guest post: Rejections Slips and other Ciphers by Melodie Campbell

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of rejections, is brought to you by short story, humour author and novelist and interviewee Melodie Campbell.

“Much as I love history sex and violence…” Rejection Slips and other Ciphers

All writers share one experience in common:  Rejection.  Yes, that single three-syllable word can pack more punch than a swat team of grammarians in a first year college class.  I’ve known grown novelists crushed by the impact of a lone one-page letter in a returned SASE.  (You can tell by the thickness of the envelope that it ain’t holdin’ no contract.)  In New York, it is rumored that spurned essayists have been seen to (gasp) forgo imported and guzzle down domestic in their haste to heal the pain.

Rejection is the hurtin’, cheatin’ country song of the writer’s world.

We all know that tune.   Usually sung off-key, by editors who can’t do what we authors do, but have the power to keep us out of print.

Rejection slips serve only one useful purpose as far as I can tell: they prove to Revenue Canada and the IRA that we are indeed working writers and deserve all those measly tax deductions.

But wait – is there more?

In case you missed it, there is a hierarchy of rejection slips!  If you write for a living, or merely for the loving, you will undoubtedly have a collection that cries out for classification.

Keep them. Treasure them.  Devote a drawer to them.  (Better still, a steamer trunk.)  Make your own list of rejection translations and get to know the lingo.

Here’s my list, to get you started:

  1. “…unfortunately, it does not meet our requirements at this time.” This means No.  Allow yourself ten minutes to rant, and then try another market.
  2. “…does not meet our current needs, but we would welcome seeing more of your work.” Hey – you’ve reached them!  Maybe they can’t use this piece, but they like your style.  Send more.  Persist.  Be relentless.  That’s how I first got into Star Magazine.  I wore them down.
  3. “….if you would consider revising, I would happily have another read of it.” Go, go, go!  Whenever an editor gives direct encouragement, run with it.  Act immediately.  Revise and re-mail.  Invite her to dinner.  Walk his dog.  Do what you have to.  But don’t lose his interest.

I cherish personal replies from editors, not only for the time they take to write, but also for the hidden messages within.  Some are priceless.  Here are a few gems from my personal file (er…trunk):

“…not for us, but I think the ‘Idler’ uses satire.” That’s right, pass it off to the competition and hope it sinks ‘em.  The ultimate publisher power play.

“…we found your novel an interesting and compelling work, however…” Shucks.  I should have known they don’t publish ‘interesting and compelling’ works.

And my own personal favorite: “…much as I like history, sex and violence…” Well, gee, that’s interesting.  But exactly how does this relate to my returned manuscript? By the way, what are you doing Saturday night?

That was great, thank you, Melodie!

Melodie Campbell has over 200 publications, 6 awards, and was a finalist for the 2012 Derringer and Arthur Ellis awards.

She is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.

Library Journal says this about Melodie`s third novel, The Goddaughter (Orca Books)

“Campbell`s crime caper is just right for Janet Evanovich fans.  Wacky family connections and snappy dialogue make it impossible not to laugh.”

I then invited Melodie to provide an excerpt from The Goddaughter: We got through the border with no problem at all.  Of course, it’s much easier getting through borders without a semi-frozen dead body pretending to be asleep in the back seat.

You can buy The Goddaughter: Amazon.uk and Amazon.com.

And A Purse to Die For: Amazon.uk and Amazon.com.

Follow Melodie’s comic blog at http://funnygirlmelodie.blogspot.com and visit her website www.melodiecampbell.com.

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with fantasy novelist Ginny Atkinson – the five hundred and sixty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

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You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internetview my Books (including my debut novel!) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog you can now donate and receive a free eBook.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Guest post: Lessons in Failure by AJ Race

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of perseverance, is brought to you by multi-genre author AJ Race.

Lessons in Failure

I’ve come to an interesting realization regarding failure, we all know that many people are terrified of failure, but it’s kind of curious as to why? Why are people so afraid of failing?

I think part of the reason people are afraid of failure because in school we are taught that failure is the worst possible thing that could happen to us. And in school, failure is bad, if only because failing means you have to retake a class. In life, failure is simply something that happens. Failure is something we all have to deal with at one point or another. There is no successful person on this planet who didn’t fail at one time or another in their life. The difference between a successful person and a ‘failure’ is that the successful person NEVER GAVE UP. The only way you can truly fail is if you stop trying.

Let me give you a real world example. My very first blog through Blogger, had no readers, except me. I’m not even sure if anyone even knew it existed. Then, I got a website, ajrace.net, which again could easily be considered a failure. In fact, even my earliest Cult of Racewood blogs were not as successful at all. But I pressed on. I refused to give up and now I have an amazing group of readers and commenters, for whom I am beyond grateful for.

Even in my writing life there have been many quote unquote ‘failures’. During the last decade I’ve failed to secure an literary agent and publisher at least a hundred times over. But I refused to give up, so much so that I decided to take matters into my own hands and self publish my first novel Bridge of Memories. But will it prove to be a success or a failure in the end? I don’t really know. Statistically most books will fail, whether because of the author’s giving up on them or because it just wasn’t a good book, it doesn’t matter. What makes a successful author is someone who will continue to fight. Who will continue to write no matter what anyone says, and maybe you fail the first time out, but if you get up, if you continue to get back into the ring, then you can never really fail at anything.

One of the best quotes on failure, came from J.K. Rowling, my single greatest writing role model. In 2008, she spoke at a Harvard Commencement Speech in which she explained the benefits of failure:

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” –J.K.Rowling

Thank you, AJ!

A high-strung, type-A personality, LGBT rights activist and twenty year old multi genre author, A.J.Race first found his love of books and writing with the Harry Potter series in 2001 after the first film came out in the fall of that same year. Growing up A.J. had not been much of a reader, in fact the first chapter book he’d ever read was at the behest of his fourth grade teacher, and it was in his fourth grade year that he really found a love for reading.

In 2002 he wrote a short story that at the time he had been convinced was an entire novel, and sent it off to a major publisher. This was his first experience with rejection.

Over the course of the next nine years A.J. experienced many rejections in his writing career. Then at the tail end of 2011 A.J. Rejoined NaNoWriMo.org (National Novel Writing Month) and in a matter of 30 days re-wrote one of his original novels: Bridge of Memories. In December of that year, one of his good friends offered to design for him a hand drawn cover while his former creative writing teacher offered to edit his book for him.

On February 12, 2012 the first novel in the Secrets of Witches Trilogy, Bridge of Memories was released to the public. AJ’s website is website www.cultofracewood.com. You can also read AJ’s interview and spotlight.

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If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with romance, paranormal erotica and young adult author Linda Palmer – the five hundred and second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me. I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) 🙂 on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

Guest post: How Do You Handle the Big “C”? (Or What Do You Do With Criticism) by Nancy Ellen Dodd

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the wonderful topic of criticism, is brought to you by interviewee Nancy Ellen Dodd.

How Do You Handle the Big “C”? (Or What Do You Do With Criticism)

Personally, I handle criticism very badly. I cry. I tell myself I’ll never write again. I beat myself up for being such a poor communicator—or at least I used to.

Then I learned five simple words: “S/he is not my audience.” It’s as simple as that. My writing can’t possibly appeal to every person in the world, so this is someone my writing doesn’t appeal to.

Unfortunately, if you are in a group getting critiqued, you may find several “someones” who aren’t your audience. What typically happens in a workshop or writer’s group is that people feel it is their duty to find a flaw. If everyone figures out a different flaw, or if the group sees a flaw, but doesn’t know how define it, then you will get more criticism, possibly than warranted, and some of it may be hurtful, some of it confusing, and some of it wrong. I mean, have you ever jumped on the bandwagon when you weren’t sure yourself and agreed with someone who seemed to know what they were talking about?

The best way to handle criticism and negative comments is to know your own work so well that you know when someone is giving you good or unhelpful feedback. And even good feedback isn’t helpful if it derails you from your story.

Good feedback that takes your story in a different direction than you are interested in writing can cause you to lose interest in the story or even create writer’s block. If that happens, I suggest looking at your story and saying, what if it didn’t happen that way, what if it happened this way. Sometimes taking a fresh approach will reignite the idea you wanted to write.

So how do you know what you want to write and what will derail you. By knowing your story and being clear on what you are trying to say. Look at your theme repeatedly throughout your story development and see how you can tighten it, make it more specific. Look at your theme from different angles: as a premise, as a dramatic question, as a logline, as a brief synopsis, as a full-page synopsis. The more you write and develop your ideas, the more you understand what you want to say. Each time you rewrite and strengthen your theme, you get closer to the core of what you want to say about the world, about life, about humanity, about why cats sometimes love dogs, about whatever you are focused on.

How Do You Evaluate Comments

Let’s go back into the writing group. Sherry loves your story, Mack hates it. You’ve set your story in Fresno. Sherry suggests you move the setting to London—more people will be intrigued by a glamorous setting. Mack is sure it needs to be in a small rural town no one has ever heard of—you can create more mystery in an unknown setting and change the details to anything you want. They both have other ideas, Sherry’s from how to make it even better, Mack for improving it. However, they both agree that your main character would not spit on the sidewalk no matter who was standing there.

What do you do with all of this? First, it’s your story and maybe you don’t know why it takes place in Fresno, but the thought of moving it out of that setting feels wrong in your gut, however both Sherry and Mack have good points. And they probably do, they might even write a great story if they set it somewhere else, but that’s their story, not yours. There’s something in Fresno that matters to you, you have to keep writing about it until you figure out what that is and then use it.

Sherry and Mack both agree that you’ve misread your character. One of two things has occurred, you did misread your character and the character you thought you wrote about isn’t the same one they are reading about, or you threw something in to surprise the audience, but it doesn’t work organically with the character you’ve created. However, Jane loved the spitting on the sidewalk, it was so unexpected. How much stock do you usually put into what Jane says? If not much, this may not be the time to start; if a lot, then maybe the problem is that you haven’t completely setup the character to your readers that you have in your head.

Margo, along with several other people are telling you there is a problem with the way your characters are acting in the fourth chapter. Maybe if you change their attitude you can fix it, but everyone sees something different as the problem in chapter four. The motivation isn’t there. You’re missing a pertinent scene. Why do you have so many or too few characters? Something’s missing. You’ve included too much. No one can be specific or explain it in a way you understand. This means they may not know what the problem is, it just doesn’t work for them. You are going to have to keep working at it until you figure it out. However, too many people do a complete rewrite instead of tackling what could be a much smaller problem. Sometimes the issue is consistency or it may be a logic problem or maybe you haven’t set up the scene in such a way that the events are believable, which could be done with a couple of well-placed phrases.

Basically, when you get feedback you need to evaluate what that feedback means.

  • Is it someone else rewriting your story with their own ideas?
    • If so, unless it feels like a direction you want to take, no matter how good an idea, ignore it.
  • Is it a general consensus that you keep hearing?
    • If so, then you need to take a long hard look at whether you are being clear and communicating what you thought or if you are missing a key element in your writing.
  • Is this negative comment an attack and/or the person usually cynical?
    • If so, then maybe s/he isn’t your audience.

Thank you Nancy, that was great!

For more than 25 years Nancy has invested thousands of hours of studying writing including two graduate degrees: a master’s in Professional Writing (MPW, which is a multi-discipline approach to writing) from the University of Southern California and an MFA in playwriting at USC’s School of Theatre. She has received numerous awards for her writing and some of her stories have been read on public radio. Nancy has also studied writing with several successful, award-winning writers. Her book, The Writer’s Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages, covers the full creative writing process. She’s published more than 130 articles and been editor of two print and two online publications. Presently Nancy is academic editor of the Graziadio Business Review, a business journal for the Graziadio School at Pepperdine, and currently teaches screenwriting at Pepperdine University to undergraduate and graduate students. Her website is http://nancyellendodd.com.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with Stella Deleuze – the two hundred and forty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my $1.49 eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.