Off the Clouds

Most writers play the comparison game. As I said yesterday, when I compare I tend to err on the side of pride and criticism. Others of you mentioned the same tendency.

Sometimes we need a reality check, something to bring us off the clouds and back to earth.

Today I thought I'd share one of my reality checks.

After an entire year of research and writing, I finished my first historical last May. I spent the summer revising it and getting it ready to send to agents. I was just sure they'd take one look and want to represent me.

I researched all of the Christian agents that accepted queries from unpublished authors and quickly discovered I had very few choices. So, as with most over anxious writers, I sent multiple submissions and then sat back to wait (and check my email every few minutes for responses). Little did I know. . .

After weeks, the responses started to trickle in. And I rapidly descended from my euphoric cloud back to earth. Here's a snippet from one of my rejection letters:

Thank you for sending us your proposal to review. While your project exhibits merit, it is not quite what we are looking for at this time. This is a good idea for a series. Unfortunately the writing of the books would be much more effective if they spoke and thought in the voices of that era. They are far too modern right now. Almost as if Hollywood were remaking a classic instead of setting it more accurately.

Ouch! I was grateful for this personalized letter which was better than the form letters and emails that told me nothing. But, nevertheless, the letter was a huge reality check. It helped me see I still have a long way to go on the path to publication.

As much as we need those reality checks from time to time, we need encouragement too. The same manuscript that got the rejection I just mentioned, also got an encouraging response too:

I really like this! May I see a complete manuscript via a single email attachment?

Wow! As short as it was, it gave me incredible encouragement. I learned something from both responses: my manuscript still needed work, but I was doing something right.

What's your experience? Have you ever gotten a reality check? Or what about encouragement--what's the best thing any one's said about your writing? We'd love to hear!


  1. I got a rejection letter from an agent just a couple months ago. She read my query and asked for a partial. And like you - I thought she would love it. But she said my first line was passive, and after reading the first page, she wasn't compelled to keep reading. Ouch! It stung big time. As far as the most encouraging thing I've ever heard. A woman from my church read my two books and loved them so much (like genuinely loved them.... sometimes you can just tell if someone is being nice or being sincere - she was being sincere) and she compared me to Francine Rivers!! I was like, Whoa! I know I have a LOOONG way to go before I'm ever like Francine Rivers. But still, it was wonderful to hear. :) And she keeps asking me about my WIP because she's excited to read it. So that's fun.

  2. Jody, I just printed off what I have of my WIP so my husband could start reading it and critique it for me. (I haven't let anyone ready it yet except for the first chapter) Yesterday morning my daughter woke up and told me she had started reading it the day before and stayed up really late and finished it! All 257 pages of it!!! She said she just couldn't put it down....I loved that!

    I am sure that when I get brave enough to let my dad (an editor/author) read it, I will get my share of criticism. :)

    So did you ever hear back from the agent who requested a partial?

  3. Hi Katie,
    That is a HUGE compliment to be compared to Francine Rivers! It's too bad the agent couldn't get past your first page to read on! Maybe she would have liked it too. I guess that just shows the importance of getting our first few pages/chapter good enough to keep the agent/editor reading. Even if the rest of our book shines, they won't see it if they can't get past the first page.

  4. Hi Sherrinda,
    How cool to have your daughter love your book! You must have an "unputdownable" in the works! And that's really neat that your husband and father will both have the ability to edit your book. I couldn't imagine my husband editing! Gives me the giggles just thinking about it! But what a bonus for you!!

    I'm still waiting to hear back from the agent that has my MS. I've been waiting a LONG time to hear back from her, but she said that she may have time to read it in April. So, now I'm starting to get nervous!

    BTW, that's cool your father is an author. What has he written?

  5. What a nice rejection letter! I've gotten personalized ones, but not like that. One agent didn't care for my heroine, but the heroine gets a lot of flak, so I know she's probably someone I need to revise. LOL I'm just waiting because some people really like her.
    Contests are a great reality check. LOL

  6. Wow, that's a great rejection letter. Such great advice, concrete, something to tangably work toward. How awesome is that! You must be very good to garner such clear direction from an industry leader! Congratulations!

    I'm praying for you to hear good news from who has it now.

  7. Hi Jessica,
    Seems like an oxymoron to hear "Nice rejection letter"! But in the writing business, we take all of the compliments we can get, even rejection ones! :)

  8. Hi Eileen,
    Thanks for your vote of confidence! I've gotten other rejection letters that told me nothing, so I do appreciate one that at least gives me an idea of what I need to work on. And thanks for your prayers!

  9. Congrats on the request! And even though the other one was a reject, at least that agent took the time to go into why exactly it wasn't for her/him. (Which is always helpful) :)

  10. I've had some rejections that say, "This doesn't fit my needs, but I like your writing - do you have anything else?" so that is definitely encouraging.

    But I great - reality checks are a MUST in this business.

  11. My first rejection letter was personalized too. it said something like, "Your idea shows promise, but your craft needs work."

    Considering I'd decided I hated my first chapter about two days after I sent, then sat down and rewrote it, I completely understood where he was coming from!

    My first big conference I went to, I met with that same agent (in my feeble mind, I thought I'd worked on my craft and had it mastered... ha!). He was very nice, read the first few pages, laughed a few times (yeah!) gave me some suggestions, then thanked me for my time. I left feeling like, okay, I know he doesn't want it, but at least he was pretty nice about it.

    The next appt was with an editor, who was VERY nice as well. She liked my idea, asked to keep my onesheet, asked what I was doing now that it was complete, was impressed when I said I was editing and also working on the next book. She said they don't accept authors without agents, but that my idea showed apromise and was something like what they were looking for. Again, not an acceptance, but a bolster of my confidence.

    The last appt was with another agent, who pretty much ripped me to shreds. It was frustrating, degrading a little, but like you said, a reality check. Not everyone will like my book.

    I think God knows that with the bad stuff we need a few "wins" from time to time to keep us sane. A few months ago RGardner had on her blog to post elevator pitches on her blog and she would critique a few. Shocker of all, she picked mine on the second day and, *gasp* said positive things! I was rediculously excited! That was a win day:-)

  12. Hi Jennifer,
    Thanks for your encouragement! Any letter is better than none, right?

  13. Hi Melissa,
    I would love an editor or agent to ask if I had anything else! That would be a dream come true! Did you get any more bites?

  14. Hi Krista,
    Sounds like your experience at the conference was frustrating. I guess that brings up a good point that even with agents, our work is subjective.

    And I do remember those elevator pitches and I remember yours! So, this year you'll be all ready to go to the conference and stalk the elevators! :)

    We do need encouragement in some form or another, don't we?!

  15. Congrats on your full I hope you get your dream agent! My fall's have been hard and many! I do love the ones that ask for more and I still have few floating out there somewhere.... But I do get the deluge of rejections as well. Pass the bandages and ice packs, buckle up it's one bumpy ride.

  16. Hi T.Anne,
    I love the ones that ask for more too. But I hate the wait and the uncertainty, wondering if I'll end up getting another rejection and what they'll find wrong. So pass the bandages this way when you're done!

  17. Hi Jody,

    A few years ago I'd been fortunate to sit in on a presentation by the phenomenal Judi McCoy. She had us split into groups to brainstorm and would come around and listen to each group before moving on to the next.

    Afterward, she came up to me and asked me how many books I'd published. I sheepishly admitted "none." (This was the very first Virginia Romance Writers Chapter meeting I'd ever attended.) She said, "Well, you have the mind of a writer."

    Those words have helped me through many a rough spot, including receiving rejection letters.

    I hope every author realizes how simple words can carry another author through rough patches. Our words truly are powerful.

    Thanks for another great post.

  18. Ooooo, I will definitely be praying about your full and the agent this month! Let us know...

    My dad has written 3 novels. The Crown of Eden, Devil's Mouth, and The Bride of Stone. It is a trilogy, but they can stand on their own. They are out of print, but can still be purchase on amazon for a couple of dollars. (

    He is a masterful writer and weaves a beautiful story full of God's truths. He is working on a contemporary lawyer type book, but does editing and ghost writing for some major authors. He also has some books out with Josh McDowell.

    Can you tell I am bragging a bit here? He is the coolest dad ever!

  19. Jody, the conference was frustrating at some points, but was a great experience for me too. It was my first time pitching, and I learned a TON of stuff. And, looking back at it, I had tons of work to do on my book and sales pitch too. So, I can't say that I blame those poor three people who had to listen through my first flubbering attempt at pitching.

    Hopefully it will be a little better next year!

  20. Hi Jill,
    What a great compliment, for someone to tell you that you have the mind of a writer! That would sure keep me going during those difficult times too.

    You are right. Those littlest words can encourage us so much! That's why we need each other!

  21. Hi Sherrinda,
    Sounds like you have every right to brag about your dad! How cool is that?!?! You are so lucky! I'm sure you've inherited his talents. And what a blessing for you to have his editing to lean on. Thanks for sharing that! I took a quick peek at his books, Thomas Williams? Looks like fantasy?

  22. Hi Krista,
    Was this at last year's ACFW? I'm trying to figure out if should go. It seems so expensive! But I'm becoming more and more convinced its one of the best ways for newbies to get their work in front of agents.

  23. Jody, yes, it is fantasy, but more of a medieval story with fantasy elements (wizards, creatures...kind of Lord of the Rings, but on an easy to read scale...of course, there is an element of romance to them, which is so cool to read coming from my dad! ha!

  24. I definitely agree that even if encouragement is brief, it still boosts us to keep going. I have many rejections and unfortunately, most of them were not personalized and did not give helpful feedback. I did use the Writer's Edge Manuscript Service a couple years back, however, and really appreciated the uplifting advice they gave me before placing me in their monthly report to publishers. This was eventually how my publisher found me.

  25. Hi again Sherrinda,
    Looks like he published with Thomas Nelson, which is no small feat! And his books got five stars! So, did he have an agent and struggle the way we all are now? Or was it easier when he began his publishing journey? Maybe you'll have to do a post about it!

  26. Hi Cindy,
    I've heard of Writer's Edge Manuscript, but haven't ever talked with anyone that's used them. That's encouraging to hear that you found your current editor through them and that they liked your work enough to contact you! I'd be curious to hear more about the service. Maybe you'll have to do a post sometime to enlighten us!

  27. Jody, my dad had an inside edge at Nelson. Nelson was Word before it got bought out and my dad had been the Art Director there for many years. (Insert Brag here: He designed several of Max Lucado's books and won best cover for 2 of them.) So....when he wrote his book, he of course presented it to Word/Nelson first. They published it and the next one, and my dad designed the covers. The third was picked up by another publisher.

    So really my dad doesn't have a whole lot of advice, becuase he had connections. He's said he has had is share of rejections though.

  28. The best encouragement I've ever received was in college for a short story that made it into publication. That story is what made me choose creative writing over technical writing. It will always be close to my heart. I should share it on my blog, I suppose. :)

    Thanks for a great post!

  29. Hi Lady Glamis,
    I would love to hear your story sometime! Please do a post on your blog about it!

  30. Jody, yes it was, and I HIGHLY recommend ACFW. It is a little pricey, but the friendships you make on top of the opportunity to network and pitch to editors/agents is invaluable. I viewed last year as a practice run (I seriously tripped over ever other word in my first pitch session, it was horrible!)

    This year, I plan on going, and my hubby is going with me (it's around our 10th anniv. so we are staying a few days afterwards just as a vacation)

  31. Hi Krista,
    Maybe I'll get to meet you there! What a great idea to go with your husband and use it as a couple vacation/celebration. I was pondering the possibility of making the trip to Colorado a family vacation, but I don't know what my crew would do the whole time I'm the conference, so I'm still not sure. We used to live in Denver, so maybe I could plot out a bunch of museums or fun parks for them to visit while I'm busy.


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