Guest Blogger: Billy Coffey

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.” – Barbara Kingsolver

Writers compare rejection notices like veterans compare war wounds. And that’s appropriate, I think. The two are very similar, evidences of battles not necessarily won or lost or even stalemated, but simply fought. Both begin as a bitter pain that seems unendurable but, with hope and God and perseverance, may become points of pride later.

See this? we say. Got that one three years ago. Hurt like hell, too. Doesn’t really bother me much anymore though, except when it rains.

For the past dozen years or so I’ve kept my rejections in a file folder that’s shoved into the bottom of an old wooden chest in a corner of my office. The chest is both latched and locked, and there are approximately thirty pounds of books stacked on top.

I suppose there is some psychological explanation as to why I keep that folder as far away and inaccessible as possible. I’ve thought about it. The truth is that I still can’t bear to read some of them and still can’t throw away any of them, and both for the same reason—I fear I will lose a little bit of myself in the process.

However.

Last night I took those thirty pounds of books off my chest, unlocked and unlatched it, and dug out my folder. For the simple reason that there are times in a person’s life when he must pause in his forward movement just to see how far down the path he’s come.

I counted fifty-seven. Fifty-seven letters and emails that chronicled a writer who began as a veritable literary idiot then progressed to a rank amateur and then hardened veteran in need of a miracle. There they were, all of them. A picture of my dreams.

Every writer knows rejections come in three different classes. There are the standard form-letter ones, the more personal ones, and, if you’re especially fortunate, ones upon which an actual living human has scrawled a few actual words with an actual pen.

I had a lot of the first, some of the second, and a few of the third.

Some were blunt. I found one in the stack that was simply a return of my query with “No Thanx” scrawled at the top.

There was lot of “We’re sorry, but this book does not fit our publishing interests.” A testament to my lack of proper research.

One of the handwritten comments said, “You are an excellent writer, but unfortunately our calendar for the year is full.” That one got me through another couple months of No Thank yous.

But then I got this one from a newspaper editor: “I cannot in good faith accept this query. To be honest, you’re just not a good writer.”

That one? That one killed me. I quit writing for about three months after reading that.

Some said I was too country. Others that I wasn’t country enough. Some said my words were too simple and my thoughts too erratic, and others said my thoughts were too simple and my words too erratic.

I wasn’t experienced enough.

My platform was lacking.

And on. And on. And on.

F.X. Toole, whose short story “Million Dollar Baby” became the movie of the same name, gave up writing for boxing when he was a relatively young man. A broken jaw, he said, hurt less than a rejection.

I understand what he meant by that.

And I also understand that the above quote by Barbara Kingsolver sounds wonderful in theory but very, very hard in application. Because it doesn’t matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we’ll always fight the temptation to see a rejection as not simply a pass on our book, but a pass on our life.

Go to your local bookstore and you’ll see entire shelves dedicated to the art of getting published. And while many of those books are worthy of attention, the secret is much simpler. Much better.
Write your book. Make it as good as it can be.

And after that, send your queries.

And then, after all that, do one more thing. The most important thing. The one thing you must do no matter how many rejections you get and no matter how discouraged you become.

Always try one more time.

***

Billy Coffey is the author of Snow Day, releasing from FaithWords in fall 2010. He has a popular blog, “What I Learned Today,” which you can visit at BillyCoffey.com. (This post originally appeared on his blog.) You can also find Billy on Twitter (@BillyCoffey).

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  • Kathi Lipp

    >Great stuff. It is amazing the power those rejections have over us (publishing or otherwise.)

    Thanks for opening that drawer.

  • Ronda Laveen

    >Ahhhh…

  • Anne Lang Bundy

    >Wouldn't it be ironic if writing about agents' rejections was done so well that it was the catalyst for the writer to obtain an agent and get published?

    You make an excellent point here, Mr. Coffey. Success is the result of just one more try, multiplied as many times as necessary.

  • Jody Hedlund

    >Beautiful writing, Billy! I think partly during those years of rejection we continue to grow, until we're finally more ready AND the publishing world is finally more ready for us and our voices. Both come together at the perfect place.

  • Jessica

    >Wow, what a great post Billy! Thanks for it and all those quotes. What a journey you've been on. :-) Thanks for sharing it and what you've learned from it!

  • A. Grey

    >I'm reaping (and collecting) the rejections right now. And posts like this are what keep me slogging. Thanks Billy, for sharing. :)

  • Katie Ganshert

    >I remember reading this on your blog. I loved it just as much the second time around!

  • Wendy @ All in a Day’s Thought

    >Like Katie, I remember it too. Kingsolver is my literary hero. Excellent thoughts, Billy. Resiliency is something I aspire to.
    ~ Wendy

  • Matt @ The Church of No People

    >Ha! Billy, I love the comparison to "war wounds." I read with the recent death of JD Salinger, that criticism was his biggest problem. He just couldn't take it. And even sadder, most of his wounds were probably self inflicted. He rejected himself so no one else would have to. Just thought I'd throw that in, but great guest post!

  • John Richardson

    >The worst comment I've ever had as a speaker was "It was just OK." Tell me it's great or tell me it's bad, but not that lukewarm term… it's just OK… arrgh.

  • Richard Mabry

    >Billy,
    I guess you beat me (or vice-versa)–I count forty rejections before my first fiction contract. But I take comfort in rejections like the one best-selling author Tony Hillerman received: If you're ever going to be a success, take all that Indian stuff out. (I have a whole bookshelf of his Native American-based fiction.)

    I agree. Rejection is a part of the process. Glad you persevered, and looking forward to your book this fall.

  • Lyla

    >Thank you for this post! It's inspiring, especially when I forget everyone else goes through the exact… same… thing.

  • katdish

    >I'm so glad you didn't give up.

  • LJCohen

    >I think we are formed as much by how we deal with disappointment as how we deal with success.

    I really enjoyed the Kingsolver quote, as she is one of my favorite writers. I also had to laugh when I read what you wrote about FX Toole. So true!

  • Marla Taviano

    >I read this on your blog too–and have gotten quite a few rejections since then. :) Not giving up. Thanks for the inspiration this morning!

  • Nicole

    >I love this post because that's exactly where I am write now. I just got another rejection on Tuesday. This is my fourth in this wave of queries. I started sending them out in December and then stopped, now I'm healed and sending them out non-stop, 5 per week. I don't care how many more wounds I get it will be better than never getting published! I'm bound and determined. I'm also working on my third novel…keep writing till you get it right!

  • Angie Mizzell

    >I have become a fan of Billy Coffey… I found him after you featured him on this blog a couple of months ago. I love his writing style and the honesty behind his words. Can't wait for Snow Day.

  • LeAnne Hardy

    >We writers are the only ones who get excited about personal rejection–it's so much better than impersonal rejection!

  • Cassandra Frear

    >I think you're a REALLY good writer. A dark horse maybe, because your writing doesn't immediately impress with the first sentence. But it sneaks up on the reader. The words seem so simple and ordinary, then all of the sudden WHAM! There is the truth that pierces and makes us reconsider how we're living.

    I've enjoyed reading what you have to say here and on your blog.

    Keep at it!

  • Kristie

    >Thank you for this wisdom and encouragement. Sometimes the grandness of my aspirations seem insurmountable, and almost silly. Many thanks for your transparency and for your perseverance. And so looking forward to reading Snow Day!

  • Chantal

    >I appreciate the candor. I's hard to keep going–but in some ways, I think that makes our journey's end (if there really is one, LOL!) all that much more sweet. Thanks for your insight and powerfully motivating words.

  • Marilyn Yocum

    >Holy smokes!

    I shoved a rejection letter from Random House that had a long, handwritten comment from the editor in a drawer and left it there….and haven't touched the manuscript since. I've gotta stop reading blogs and go look at that story again!

  • BnB Paulson

    >Is it totally inappropriate that I think "yum, good looking, faith filled and smart too?"

  • Courtney Walsh

    >I really loved this post. And I can already tell I love your style of writing. I'm glad you didn't listen to the newspaper guy who said you can't write!

    Clearly, he didn't know what he was talking about.

  • lynnrush

    >Great post, Billy. I remember this one from your blog and it is just as great today as it was when it originally posted.

    I'm glad you pushed through the rejections. Looking forward to buying your book when it comes out!

  • Julie Gillies

    >Every time I read one of your posts, I feel like I'm relaxing on a rocking chair on the front porch of an old farm house, listening to you talk. Your words are honest, simple and sincere, Billy. You wrap powerful truths in friendly, comfortable banter, and they're always a delight.

    Anyone who doesn't agree is an uptight city-slicker. *wink*

  • jennlkelly

    >Rejections are so hard. But so worth it once you get the acceptance.

  • Beth

    >Rejections don't bother me so much anymore. I don't know why. They used to feel devastating, but now they rank more in the annoyance-because-I'll-have-to-go-over-it-and-send-it-out-again level. Haven't entirely figured out why.

  • Jen Parsons www.theevolvinghomemaker.com

    >Love it.

  • T. Anne

    >I'm always so inspired by your posts! Yes, indeed, I will try one more time. The sting of rejection doesn't get me far. It's the desire to succeed that pushes me forward.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    >Boy, did I need these words today.

  • Misty

    >This was such a great post, and perhaps the perfect post for me as i dive in after a year of refusing to query. I have hated (and been wounded) by those letters… but your perspective has really challenged me. I am bookmarking this post and if i have to read it 12 times a day- I will.

  • Elle Strauss

    >Great post. I have that stack of rejection letters, too. Not giving up is the key–in many areas of life.

  • Arabella

    >About ten years ago, I got a rejection that basically said, "I don't know who would want to read this tripe." It was my first book and, though I can find glimmers of good writing in it, I now agree with the rejectionist.

  • Heart2Heart

    >Billy,

    As always no matter what you say or how you say it, I love how it comes out and comes across, simple and to the point. That is why I keep coming back to everything you write and each of your blogs. You are one amazing man!

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  • Dana Bryant

    >Billy,

    You are an inspiration. I am new to all this and when I hear stories like yours, it makes my first rejection last month not hurt so bad.

    Dana

  • jasonS

    >Giving up on our deepest dreams only seems like the right option after rejection, but it never is. I may not have the strength to face a hundred possible rejections/acceptances, but I can always go for one more.

    Good stuff. Thanks, Billy.

  • L.L. Barkat

    >Well, I'm glad you found our address. We like having you at our HCB house. :) You make the place cozy.

  • Raquel Byrnes

    >I once had my work just eviscerated at a writer’s conference. I cried in the bathroom for twenty minutes. I was a little new to rejection back then. When I started receiving rejections in the mail, I decided to cowboy-up and go about things a different way. I bought the prettiest, shiniest, folder I could find and used that for my half-sheets of “No Thanks” form letters and the scrawled-on first pages of my proposals. I wrote in big, metallic letters, “Proof you’re trying…keep going!”

    A famous author once wrote that he used to keep his rejection notices on a railroad spike on the wall. He’d just skewer them on there and keep writing. What’s funny is that he received so many that the metal spike eventually fell off the wall with the weight. He is a national best selling author. He kept trying. So will I. I thank you for the reminder.

  • E. Elle

    >Sometimes it's hard to separate your vocation from your life but, as my Shakespeare professor used to say, "this grade is just a test grade and not a reflection of your nature as a human being."

    Thank you for such an encouraging guest post!

  • ninidee

    >Wonderful post. I find that simple thoughts and simple words make the biggest impact.
    Rejection always feels like a punch to the gut but it makes my stomach stronger. Without rejection there would be a lot of inflated ego's walking around.
    :)
    Maribeth

  • ajcastle

    >This article is amazing. Perfectly and beautifully said.

    Rejections, no matter how few or many you get, sting, stab and downright cut sometimes. At times you can shrug them off, but other times you just want to cry. And it does feel like you're being rejected and not just your project. Even though you're told over and over that that isn't the case, sometimes you just can't help but feel that way.

    Thank you for the encouraging words. I will try to remember them as I sludge through this querying game.

  • Alison Eckel

    >Thanks Billy for your timely words!

  • emilymurdoch

    >THE Billy Coffey, winks.

    Your writing is beautiful, clear, and swiftly — easily — fosters a connection with the reader. I have no doubt that great things await you.

    That said, *thank you* for this post. Posts such as yours inspire writers on Query Road to email a few more queries and to keep on chasing the dream.

    Most of all, I love the serendipity that oftentimes acompanies the timing of posts such as this one.

    All a writer can do is continue to nurture, protect, and shine their light. Sobering, to think of ones favorite writers and the books that would've been lost to us had they snuffed out their lights with fear and self-doubt.

    The truth is, many of us are scared and doubting. That's where faith and perseverance come in, to save the day.

  • Anonymous

    >Ola, what's up amigos? :)
    Hope to get some help from you if I will have some quesitons.
    Thanks and good luck everyone! ;)

  • Terresa

    >Billy Coffey is the real deal, and I haven't even read any of his books yet. But will.

    Great, encouraging post!

  • mkcbunny

    >Good timing. Thanks.

  • M Clement Hall

    >Can't understand why anyone would store rejection letters unless they had useful criticsm which needs to be remembered. Bit like keeping a "Dear John" letter to mull over in later years.
    I've kept one from way back which pointed out (in the nicest way) my errors in construction of a story — periodically I re-read it and find I'm still making the same errors. But to read "Thanks but no thanks" would do nothing for me.

  • Rachelle

    >M Clement Hall: To each his own, of course. Nothing says you have to save rejection letters. But you said you can't understand why people do it, so I just wanted to say there are a number of good reasons. Keeping the letters serves as a record so you'll know who you've already queried. You may want to know what they said in case you ever want to query them again on the same or a different project. For many authors, their stack of rejections reminds them that they're submitting — they're trying, which is important. When it's taking a very long time to get published, sometimes it's helpful to have a tangible reminder that you haven't been sitting around watching TV, you've been working, and those rejection letters prove it. There's also the hope that someday you'll get published and be able to look at that stack of rejections and realize just how far you've come. The prize is sweeter with a reminder of how hard it was to obtain it.

    I'm sure writers could pitch in with more reasons. The vast majority of writers save all their rejections. If nothing else, the stack of rejections is part of publishing lore, it's something we have in common with the greats of literature.

  • Henya

    >Rejections don't bother me as much as they used to. Now, I read each line carefully and try to get the best meaning out of it. After all…it's not me they are rejecting, it's another reason. And there are many.

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >Thank You!

  • Rita Kaye Vetsch

    >Here is a Wonderful & Inspiring Multicultural Children’s book called “The Many Colors of Friendship”. Realizing how important it is to give our children tools and the right education about Diversity, Multiculturalism and Racism, I wanted to write something meaningful that children come away with a positive message. A great way for us to give children ‘wings’ for the future, and encouraging our children to make new and diverse friendships.
    Rita Kaye Vetsch
    http://www.eloquentbooks.com/TheManyColorsOfFriendship.html

  • Marybeth Poppins

    >I love how these posts always seem to show up just when you need them the most.

    I have to admit, I tend to procrastinate on querying just because I hate the gut wrenching feeling of rejection.

    Sometimes it's good to know I'm not the only one.

    Thanks for this post!

    Marybeth
    Ask a Bipolar

  • http://www.animill.com AniMill

    I see searching for the right publisher as Thomas Edison saw creating the lightbulb… We don’t have any failures, we’ve just found out another way to not get published. Eventually, we’ll find the right way.

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