When life hands you rejection letters

It took me a couple weeks to overcome the worst of my disappointment over being axed from the Amazon schwellenbach-scourge-2-396p.inddBreakthrough Novel Award after progressing to the second round. Everyone might handle rejection differently, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the inescapable realities that all writers hold in common.

The best description I can come up with for my method of handling rejection is that I simply don’t deal with it. What that really means is that I sort of gloss over the heart of the message–“we do not want to publish your manuscript,” “you did not advance to the next round of the competition,” etc.–and then distance myself from it. I focus on one of my endless series of projects or manuscripts and thankfully my mind has learned not to linger on the embarrassment and disappointment of the rejection.

Then, in a couple weeks, when much of the sting is gone and I’ve already accepted the outcome, I can return to the scene of the crime, so to speak. I can read the rejection literature for any clues as to why my work was not accepted, glean ideas for improvements I can make to my work, or simply recognize that my work was not, in fact, right for a particular agent, publisher, or competition.

And that’s OK.

Typically, rejection letters perform their essential task–rejection you–without any explanation. Of course, my imagination is more than capable of filling in these blank spaces, allowing my self doubt to flesh out question marks with a never-ending list of things someone might not like about my writing.

But with the Amazon Breakthrough Novel, I didn’t have to. They provided two assessments from “ABNA expert reviewers.” Of course, I found some of the points of criticism to be more warranted than others. I do believe there is always room for improvement in my writing, particularly as I am just starting out as a novelist, and I am very grateful that they took the time to provide some explanation for why my work was cut after the second round. So, bolstered by the incredibly thoughtful book review from Mignon Khargie (which I wrote a blog about a week or so ago), and with the understanding that these reviewers did not read the entirety of Scourge of the Righteous Haddock but rather a pitch as well as the first couple of pageshere are some excerpts from what the ABNA expert reviewers had to say, posted in the question and answer format they used for the critiques:

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

This is an enchanting opening to what promises to be a well-told YA fantasy. Although I don’t enjoy YA fiction as a rule and wasn’t very excited about the pitch, I still found myself engaged by this story and impressed by the set-up for the plotting and the character development.

What aspect needs the most work?

The prose is accomplished, however, I as the reader would have liked more paragraph breaks (although I do suspect this might be a formatting issue and not a problem with the writing).

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

This imaginative, albeit long-winded, YA narrative is infused with nuance, charm and humor. It truly is a pleasurable reading experience.

The author has a refined and expert touch that makes magic of the storytelling. He/she should be very proud of this submission. A little tweaking of the paragraphing should ensure its success.

ABNA Expert Reviewer

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

This pitch and excerpt certainly brim with unique ideas! The author displays a very innovative flair, with quite colorful vocabulary. This Young Adult novel seems to be a fantasy novel with its own distinct geography and interestingly crafted naming conventions. It is certainly original!

The characters introduced in just this short come across clearly and distinctly. The author has a knack for some vivid descriptions of physical attributes. There is some very definite humour woven into the prose as well.

What aspect needs the most work?

This excerpt and pitch are brimming over with creativity – but unfortunately, the execution may leave readers scratching their heads. It’s a chaotic jumble of a pitch and the opening pages do not offer much clarity. Though the odd place names (complete with punctuation mid-word) indicate that this is a fantasy novel, there are several references to our world – Magellan, Aristotle and the Upper West Side. This makes readers question the setting, and this excerpt at least, does little to answer those questions.

Of course my first instinct is to defend my work, to argue that the book was never intended for a reading audience on the younger end of the young adult spectrum, which ranges quite widely from 13 or 14-year-olds to legal adults, that it’s an odd decision to have someone who doesn’t care for young adult novels judging the young adult category of the competition. Ultimately, however, the responsibility to sell the concept for my book lies with me. And that means that I have to take every scrap of information I possibly can under consideration, with the understanding that no single book can please every reader and at the end of the day, if I believe in my work, then I need to find a way to make sure it finds its way into readers’ hands. 

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