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Rejection, Rudy, and no regrets.

I get asked a lot about how I landed my first agent/contract. To help me with illustrating, I'm using the movie Rudy. It's where a young college boy longs more than anything to go to Notre Dame and make the football team. For those of you who've seen it, you'll understand my parallels. Those who haven't, well, rent it and then come back ;)

At the beginning of the movie, we learn how Rudy is obsessed with the lore and legacy of Notre Dame football. More than anything, he wants to make the team. Problem is, he's short, not very athletic, and doesn't have the grades to get into Notre Dame (in my case, I've never been to college, I'm not gloriously gifted with intelligence, and I don't have ANY 'in' with the publishing world). So Rudy goes to a local college and studies his ass off, also trying to get into shape for that magical day when Notre Dame will approve his transfer to their campus. (read: I buy books on writing, try to figure out what the hell is a 'good' query letter, and hunt down agents in my genre).

Every semester, Rudy applies to Notre Dame (or I send out multiple query letters and sample pages to agencies). Every semester, Rudy is turned down (or I get back those dreaded form letter rejections). No one in Rudy's family thinks he has a chance. Neither do his few friends (for me, it was hearing lots of "writing is a nice hobby"). But Rudy is determined, despite the odds (and so was I. Or more accurately, I figured I had nothing to lose. I was already unpublished, right? So there was only one way to go from there).

Rudy would get his rejections on good days and bad ones. So would I. Rejection has no mercy for timing. One day sticks out in particular: I had a blasting migraine, and I was leaving to meet my family at the hospital where we were going to have to take my grandmother off life support. Why I stopped by the mail box first, I'll never know, but I did...and found not one, but two rejection letters from places I'd thought were 'sure things'. I'd been querying for about a year then, and that day, I almost gave up for good. However, my grandmother hadn't let a paralyzing stroke ruin the last eleven years of her life, so I decided I couldn't quit so easily, either. I kept revising my novel and query letters, and kept sending more out into the field. About three months later, out of a batch of five I'd recently sent, three came back with form rejections...and two were requests for more.

Let's jump back to the movie. Remember when Rudy opened that letter from Notre Dame, knowing if it was a rejection, he'd miss his last chance to transfer in time for football try-outs? How he sat on a bench outside, read their acceptance out loud, and started to cry? Well, when I opened the email from an agent who'd rejected me before and who I only sent to again because I figured it couldn't get any worse...and saw her reply asking for my full manuscript, yes, I teared up. For Rudy, his chance was being accepted into the college where his beloved team played. For me, it was having an agent read my book for possible representation. I sent my manuscript off to the agent. As a side treat, just a few days later, a small-press publisher also requested my full. I was delighted.
And then after a few weeks, the agent sent me a detailed reply saying that while she liked my characters and my writing 'voice', my book wasn't strong enough. She cited several reasons why. Ow, ow, ow! Think Rudy being bashed around in football try-outs by all the bigger, more athletic players. But at the end of her critique, the agent invited me to resubmit if I wanted to revise. Here is where my reaction was different from Rudy picking himself up and going right back at it without complaint. My first instinct was to email the agent back and tell her how WRONG she was, because my book was perfect, perfect! (yes, I was young and foolish ;).

However...I took a deep breath, emailed her instead thanking her for her time, and then later that night, looked at her critique with my wounded ego locked up. I decided to revise (cue me being like Rudy again, getting up to go back for more abuse). A few weeks later, I sent my amended book off to the agent, confident she would sign me.

To summarize her response: Better, but still not good enough. I was awash in disappointment, but I said Serenity Now! several times and once more thanked her while promising to fix all that was still wrong. I revised again (flash to Rudy getting pummeled by the merciless linebackers), and when I sent it to her a couple weeks later, I was positive this version was a winner.

Her response? Not quite there yet...

In my newbie immaturity, I confess to wondering if she was a sadist just tormenting me for her own amusement (of course, I know now that agents are far too busy to do that). The ironic part? Later that day, the small-press publisher who'd requested my manuscript called me to tell me they LOVED it and wanted to publish it - in its original form. So, I had an agent who didn't want me yet, but a publisher who did. It was instant gratification versus more uncertainty. My family didn't get my hesitation, either. "You want to get published, here's your chance!" was the paraphrased version I heard from them.

I was torn over what to do. The publisher was legit - no fees, no scams, no hidden cost-sharing. But the initial print run would be very small, and furthermore, after revising twice, I didn't like my original version anymore. So, with a lot of fear over burning a bridge behind me and possibly kicking myself for the rest of my life, I told the publisher no. And I revised my novel again, sending it off to the agent a third time.

Six weeks later, she said yes. Cue the Notre Dame coach telling Rudy he's made the team.

The next three months, I'll compare to the part of the movie where Rudy was a member of Notre Dame football team - and no one but him really cared. His family didn't get to see him on TV, because Rudy wasn't a starter. So, he practiced with the team, but never got to play in the games, which made it not 'real' to them. Rudy's coach promised him that one day, he'd let Rudy dress and run out onto the field so everyone could see him as an official Notre Dame team member (much like my new agent told me she thought she could sell my book). But as in life, there were complications. In the movie, Rudy's coach retired in the middle of the season and another one took over. Rudy didn't know if this new coach would let him play, still, he trained every week with the team.

Time stretches. Rudy gets despondent. At one particularly low moment, he bitterly wonders if all his efforts have been a waste of time. But with the help of his teammates (in my example, it was my agent sending my book out to several editors), the news finally comes. Rudy will dress and run out onto the field in the last game, showing everyone that he's accomplished his dream of being a Notre Dame football player. And for me, my agent, away at a conference, emailed me to tell me that a two-book deal was offered for my novel by Erika Tsang of Avon/HarperCollins. Erika loved Halfway to the Grave so much, she offered a deal before she'd even finished reading it (not kidding - Erika swears to this).

My contract with HarperCollins felt similar to Rudy finally running onto the field of the school he loved to be counted amongst people he'd grown up admiring - the Notre Dame football team. For me, my team was the publishing world, and I had my chance to be counted amongst the people I'd grown up admiring: authors. It was more than worth what it took to get there. Now, of course, I'm hoping/dreaming the rest of my story will be similar to Rudy's -  that I'll get time to play on the field, sack the quarterback (or the odds against being a successful writer), and maybe even get hoisted on my friend's shoulders at the end of a job well done.

I'm not done dreaming yet :)


( 50 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
Mar. 16th, 2007 04:36 pm (UTC)
Oh, please do!
Mar. 16th, 2007 04:36 pm (UTC)
This is one of the best posts I've ever read.


*plants a big sissy-girl kiss on you*
Mar. 16th, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)
Aw, you're just trying to get me to squirt more tears, aren't you??

*blushes* Thanks. *kisses back*
(no subject) - lkmadigan - Mar. 16th, 2007 04:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 16th, 2007 05:07 pm (UTC)
We must've been on the same brain wave length this morning. Our posts are so similiar. Wow!

What... oh, that's right. Mine was a wee bit different. Hmmm.

How nice of you to take the time to post this. It does give me hope. I admire your strength and perservierence. And I wish you would've taperecorded yourself after opening Rachel's letters. That'd be fun to listen to. I haven't read your book, (I will one day) and I'll lend a shoulder.

You've combined Rudy's story with your own so well... I going to start calling you 'Judy' from now on. No... please... It'd be an honor;-)
Mar. 16th, 2007 05:41 pm (UTC)
No Judy! It's witty of you, but I hate nick-names.

I told Rachel about how I cursed her up one side and down the other during revisions - AFTER I'd cashed my advance check ;) She just laughed and said every author did that.

Hmm, maybe she has bionic hearing...? ;)
(no subject) - brian_ohio - Mar. 16th, 2007 05:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 16th, 2007 05:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you
Far too often the authors we hear downplay their struggle in an attempt to be encouraging. They tell us everyone can do it, but they forget to mention all the hard work that's involved.

Your story makes me want to keep trying.

(...but I can't lift 20 lbs on my shoulders, let alone another person.)
Mar. 16th, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you
DEFINITELY keep trying, and don't worry about the heavy lifting. I'd be happy with a handshake :)
Re: Thank you - sora_blue - Mar. 16th, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thank you - frost_light - Mar. 16th, 2007 06:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thank you - sora_blue - Mar. 16th, 2007 06:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 16th, 2007 05:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the inspiration girl :-)
Mar. 16th, 2007 05:44 pm (UTC)
You don't need inspiration - you're already cheerful enough for two people as it is...:)
Mar. 16th, 2007 05:29 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful, inspiring post for those of us who are down in the trenches racking up bruises and broken bones of our own...Thanks for posting this! =)
Mar. 16th, 2007 05:42 pm (UTC)
Put ice on those bruises and casts on those bones - and hang in there :)
Mar. 16th, 2007 05:43 pm (UTC)
NICE! I love the Rudy analogy. I was out there when they filmed the music. A bunch of my friends are extras in the bar scenes. It was funny, the film is circa 1970s so all the people trying to be extras were walking around campus with fros and lamb chops.

Wow on the saying no to the small press. With all the rejection in this business, I think it is easy for an author to get desperate. Amazing that you found the strength to make the right and hard decision. I really respect that.

I am also amazed at how much your agent is willing to provide crits to subs and invites resubs. I don't think that is the norm, is it?
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - miladyinsanity - Mar. 17th, 2007 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frost_light - Mar. 17th, 2007 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - miladyinsanity - Mar. 17th, 2007 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frost_light - Mar. 17th, 2007 03:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - miladyinsanity - Mar. 17th, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 16th, 2007 06:07 pm (UTC)
HOMG I so needed to read this post today. I'm even going to add it to my memories. It really made me feel better about the up hill battle of getting picked up.
Mar. 16th, 2007 06:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks :)

Did you want me to cross-popst this to urbanfantasyfan? I hesitated because I didn't want to blog-hog.
(no subject) - sanguinepen - Mar. 16th, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - frost_light - Mar. 16th, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 16th, 2007 07:18 pm (UTC)
Great post. ::sniffs::
Mar. 16th, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
Mar. 16th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
This is just what I needed to hear today! Thank you so much for generously sharing your story. I'm a long way from querying my own work, but you give me hope that it'll be worth the long journey ahead. And, in case I haven't said it on any of my previous comments, Congratulations! Not just for getting an agent and then the publishing deal - but for showing courage, determination and spirit! :)
Mar. 16th, 2007 10:53 pm (UTC)
"for showing courage, determination and spirit!"

*grin* Or stupidity, obstinacy, and stalking. There's a fine line! :)

Happy writing, and thanks.
(no subject) - ex_kaz_maho - Mar. 17th, 2007 10:15 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 16th, 2007 10:07 pm (UTC)
Haven't finished a novel yet, but I can relate to this from the short fiction field.
In the beginning I couldn't make head or tails out of the industry adn what you should or shouldn't do. All I kept running into was quasi-mystical techno-babble like, "standard manuscript format" and "replace smart quotes with straight quotes" and ones far more esoteric. It just felt like there was this secret handshake that everyone but me knew about!
I remember sending off a short story, late May 2005, to Alienskin magazine, telling myself "This is it; if this one tanks, then I'm stopping. No more." Week later, they send a reply, telling me they wanted it.
It's one of most undescribable feelings in the world, I just sat there, totally numb, in front of my PC all night.
Course, like any greedy little boy, once I had a nibble, I wanted more and bigger...

>Rejection has no mercy for timing, as a lot of you know.

oooooh yeah; this lesson I have learned. You get better, over time, learn it's business and there's no conspiracy involved, get more objective and thicker-skinned, but jayz! some days, you are just in that frame of mind, after a long hard day, where one rejection will totally break you.
And there it is, sitting in your mail box, grinning at you...
Happened to me a couple weeks ago. I'd send off a sub to Chiaroscuro (ChiZine), and three days later, they responded. I'd been having a really really awful day, and the thought of a major recection so soon was too much. Took me two hours before I finally worked up the nerve to open that mail.
They liked it, and I got my first short fiction pro sale.

Weird, it just happens some days. All those rejects and "almost, but not quites" start adding up and get too much and then bang! you hit one. And it's all good again - the winning touchdown in the superbowl.

Interesting point you made, about turnig down one publishing option in favor of another; it could have worked against you but you stuck with what you wanted and the better, long-term potential option. Good for you! Too often, I think, the desire to get published at all costs gets too much and writers don't consider the choice of publisher/ agent/ market as well they likely should.

Great post!
would you mind if I linked this on my lj, and in my crit group's forum? Suspect there's a few people who need to read an account like this.

Mar. 16th, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC)
Congrats on your short stories! From listening to friends, it seems it's just as hard to get those published as it is to get a novel out.

Link away. I'm flattered you want to.
Mar. 16th, 2007 10:38 pm (UTC)
This is a great post-- thanks! And I know what you mean about feeling silly about tearing up-- last week an agent rejected me after having me go through two rounds of revisions and I was like ARRRRGH!!! I actually got teary for a moment there too.

And as a total side note-- the real Rudy (the one the movie is based on and I believe he wrote it himself too) is my son's preschool teacher's brother. Kinda neat.
Mar. 16th, 2007 10:59 pm (UTC)
That IS neat! I love that movie. Very inspiring.

Sorry about your bad news with the agent :( Keep at it. It will get better.
Mar. 16th, 2007 11:23 pm (UTC)
This is exactly what I needed to read / hear at exactly the right moment in time. Thank you.
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:04 pm (UTC)
That's so sweet of you to say. You're welcome!
Mar. 17th, 2007 03:39 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Mar. 17th, 2007 02:05 pm (UTC)
You're welcome!

How goes the critique quandaries?
Mar. 17th, 2007 05:59 pm (UTC)
This will (hopefully) inspire me to keep on revising and not wail at every rejection. :)
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