Monday, February 01, 2021

Dodging a Bullet vs Missing Your Chance


I recently received an email from a writer who had queried me in 2015. The email was to inform me they were self-publishing, and I'd missed my chance.

To hang on to the sting of rejection for five years, let alone now take the time to email me about it  now, indicates a tenacity I wish was put to better use.

And what Righteous Writer doesn't know is that this kind of email means I dodged a bullet, not missed a chance.

Here's why: the writers I want to work with get better with each book. Ask most working writers about something they wrote five years ago, and before you even stop speaking, they've got a red pen in each hand, and a fourth behind the ear to mark up what they want to fix and improve.

My own limited experience here on the blog bears this out. When people link to an old post of mine on Twitter, I'm glad for the shout out, but I'm even happier to get a chance to go back and fix some things I didn't notice at the time.

Does your experience support this?

Are you a better writer now than you were five years ago?

Did I dodge a bullet or miss a chance with you?  


KMK said...

Oh heck yes, you dodged a bullet! I had a long and ugly journey to conventional publication, and the one consolation is that I'm a waaaay better writer than I was when I started querying the disaster that was my first mystery. None of that is why you're well out of it, though. Someone who's still nursing a slight from five years ago has real issues with perspective and dealing with rejection...which would be a major problem on sub.

Katja said...

1) Yes, my experience does indeed support this.

2) I hope I'm a better writer than five years ago - not sure if I am, but hopefully.
And when I, sometimes, look into my first, also-self-published book, I'm like "How the heck could I put it that way..."
(My 2nd, current WIP is linked to the first, so I have to check it out from time to time.)

3) I don't know. You tell me! 🤣
A bullet, maybe, but then I didn't send you that email. Nor is it still sitting in my draft box!

Katja said...

*2) not sure THAT I am (not if)

Kitty said...

I agree with KMK, the writer has issues dealing with rejection. I can't imagine sending an email like that if for no other reason than to keep that bridge intact. I wish the writer well with self-publishing.

EliasM said...

Controversial reply: you kindly helped me on my way. I simply wasn't ready yet. The story wasn't ready yet. I've grown ten-fold since then.

Timothy Lowe said...

Has the writing grown? In leaps and bounds. Has that improved my chances? I guess we shall see.

Off topic: anonymous hackers took control of my school's server and shut down several key areas (ransomware). Luckily Gmail is not affected. I plan on spending the afternoon pulling my manuscripts off of Gmail from agent submissions and backing them up. In other words, Janet, I was the one who dodged a bullet, although it feels more like I dodged a grenade -- the MS you returned to me is the only copy I have access to!

Kregger said...

Definitely dodged a bullet with me, but eleven years out...back then I wasn't even pointing a gun in the correct direction. I didn't know better. You would probably still dodge the bullet with me today, but I'm learning.

The self-publish/self-credit is a low bar. It's like going back to your Driver's Ed teacher who gave you a failing grade and wave your driver's license in his/her face.

Now--an Indy 500 first-place trophy?

That's a shark of another color.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

During 2020, I edited and submitted two short stories from my reject pile and both were accepted for publication. Yes, I'm a better writer than I was in 2014 and 2015, more savvy about where to submit, and lucky.

Margaret S. Hamilton
"Black Market Baby" in Masthead: Best New England Crime Stories 2020

Unknown said...

Can I just check... how many hands does this writer have? Because if these writers have three hands, I want an extra, too!

(unless we're just talking about a red pen behind each ear, which is fair, too).

Android Astronomer said...

Heck, yes, I'm a better writer than I was five years ago. If I'm being honest, JR--can I call you JR?--I'm the one who dodged a bullet when you rejected my murder mystery spy comedy psycho-thriller love story memoir twenty years ago. And now I'm the one getting paid to write brochures for the reverse-mortgage industry in the totally not-fake country of Ambiguistan.

As far as you know.

Just think: you could have had a piece of that.

Ah, if only we could go back in time and do things differently. I would have made my fiction novel a murder mystery spy comedy psycho-thriller love story memoir COOK BOOK.

Maybe then you would have been enticed to take me on.

Any chance you might reconsider?

(So yeah, bullet dodged. Well done, JR.)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Yes and no.

If I revisit my published op-eds, essays, articles and columns from eons ago, I realize that some of my stuff was pretty damn good. Which means that editors are miracle workers.

But, I am hankering to jump from bylines to a title page. Ah fiction. If I look back on my older attempts I am utterly embarrassed. But, after asking Janet if should hang up on fiction she said, “If it brings you joy, do it.”
So, still at it.

Thanks Janet. Miss you terribly.

Mister Furkles said...

I once fished for Bass. Never did I become angry at the fish who didn't take the bate. If the fish don't bite, it's because they have already eaten or because the fisher is doing something that needs correcting.

Getting published is kind of like fishing for Bass. The query is the bate, the agents are the fish, setting the hook is getting a publishing contract, and reeling in the catch is meeting the terms of the contract.

If we get angry at the fish, it's time to quit fishing and do something else.

For me, self publishing is going to the market and buying a fish. Nothing wrong with that but it isn't the fish's fault when the fisher fails to catch one.

Theresa said...

Yikes, that is a long time to hang on to bad feelings about a rejection!

Like 2Ns, I can find some good stuff in my older work--and I also credit the editors of those books. Still, I mostly fantasize about the opportunity to rewrite to make them even better, now that I've had so much more practice.

Janet Reid said...

oh my godiva Timothy Lowe!!!!!!!!

There may be 8 inches of snow on the ground but my shivering has nothing to do with the weather!


I'm so glad you have at least one copy!

Timothy Lowe said...

That's not the half of it. Thank God I've been submitting this stuff. Thanks to full requests over the years, I'm able to save all 8 of the manuscripts I've written in the past six years.

The district is a mess, though. Word on the street is we may need to be virtual for 2 weeks as our BOCES scrubs every device on campus. I just had to purchase Microsoft office for my home computer to be able to save the MS and make a few changes for a full request that came in today (yay for SOME good news on this rotten day!)

Back up your stuff, people. This could have turned into a horror movie.

Beth Carpenter said...

Oh, Timothy Lowe, that's terrible! Good luck with mining your email.

Janet, that's food for thought. I sure hope I'm better than I was five years ago. I've noticed my average star rating on Goodreads has been slowly creeping up (despite that one person who seems to use one-star ratings to mark books she might want to read, since the "Want to Read" button is so on the nose--but I digress.)

Honestly, though, every time I write a new book, I'm convinced at some point that I don't know how to write, that what I have written is awful, and that the MS will need years of revision to make any sense at all. Thus it's always a surprise to find the during the revision stage that I don't need to rip it back to the studs. A little spackle, a couple of coats of paint, and it's ready to decorate. That's progress, I think.

J said...

You didn't dodge a bullet, but I missed a chance with you! Your rejection was so comforting and supportive and kind, it made me wish I could work with you!

Craig F said...

I think that you dodged a bullet in the short run, but I have to hold onto some hope that someday you will have missed a chance.

All the little pieces I have focused on have, like ingredients, are coming together and will soon bear fruit, or a tart.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

1. I started following this blog in 2015 - thought I had the greatest book ever ready for publishing. It did not get traction after what I thought was a promising start. I reread that book about 3 months ago. It needs work. Lots of work.
2. I have written several books since then, 3 of which I would never show to anyone in their current state, but my writing got better. Much better.
3. The last book I wrote and queried went no where. I was crest-fallen. I was sure it would get past the threshold of the discerning agent eye. Some agents did not even respond to my query. It needed more revisions than I thought. It needed lots more work. Lots. And my query was crap. I had been impatient and it was a finished book. Or so I thought. I still have hope for it but have put it aside and sometimes work on the revision - it will be painful. Best take it in pieces. There is quite a nice, little story there but must let it sit until I can focus properly on that little bit.
4. I am hopeful for the books I am currently working on - more than 1 which I never thought I would do but sometimes I feel like hard-core fantasy and sometimes I feel a bit of organic cyberpunk is in order (no, it's not really a thing but it's one of the things I write) and sometimes I work on my re-imagined fable told as a noir detective story. I get better even if I feel no closer to publishing. That forever feels another five years away. Five years I am not sure I have anymore. Ah well, best to persist.
5. Keep writing. Sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes your work won't publish. Maybe self-publishing is the best path for you, but don't do what the writer subject of this post did. That's just plain silly. Agents reject for different reasons. Usually, it's not personal. Most of the time it doesn't even mean you're a bad writer. The market is narrow. Always is.

Anyhow, much to the alarm of many agents, I will never stop writing. Even if the publishing gods deem me not worth their time. And I will keep trying to penetrate those nearly impenetrable gates.

Hi everyone, I miss you.

Janet and other New Yorkers and others caught in the latest wintery blast, I hope you are all cozy and snuggly warm during this snow storm.

Elissa M said...

I hope I'm a better writer now than five years ago. Either way, I don't see rejection(s) as something to stew over, just a nudge to keep writing and keep querying.

There are a number of good reasons to self-publish. Not writing well enough to attract an agent isn't one of them.

mhleader said...

(a) You definitely dodged a bullet. You don't want to work with someone who carries that kind of grudge! and (b) PLEASE stay home and stay safe! This wintry blast is not fooling around--it's dangerous!

John Davis Frain said...

Oh, you dodged a bullet.

In 2015, I could tell I was better from five weeks earlier.

In 2018, I was better than I'd been five months prior.

Now, in 2021, I'm better than I was five years ago. But at least when I go back to the first chapter of my WIP, I recognize the same person was writing that chapter as the person who finished chapter 50, the finale.

That's measurable progress. And I can attribute some of that progress right here to this blog. Thank you. (Sorry, didn't have time to keep it under 100 words!)

KDJames said...

Wow. Five years later? I sure hope the writer accomplished more in that time than holding onto a resentful and pointless grudge. I can't help wondering how many other agents they queried and how many other unwise emails were sent.

I don't know whether I'm a better writer, but I sure hope so. I know I'm better at seeing the sloppy/awkward/stupid in past work. No guarantee I'm not making different and somehow worse mistakes instead. But yes, I have seen this with countless published writers who have a backlist available. Practice over time makes all the difference.

Timothy Lowe, YIKES! Thanks for the nightmare fodder. *shudder* What a relief that you were able to track down copies through submissions!

Mister Furkles, I really like that fishing analogy.

Janet, I hope you're having fun with all the snow!

Mary said...

Hmm, I published my first book in 2015 and it remains my favorite. Every now and then I look at it and think, WOW I WAS AMAZING. But, I hope I continue to write as well as that--how's that? (OK this sounds like a huge brag. Not meant that way at all. I am convinced some book fairy wrote this book while I was sleeping)

I can't even imagine writing one of the agents who turned me down.

JEN Garrett said...

Well, since I'm not published yet, I CAN say I hope I'm a better writer now than 5 years ago. I really believe that I am.
You might have dodged a bullet with me five years ago... I queried you, and you showed interest (more like a 'query me with that project when you've got it finished') but that novel STILL hasn't been written.
It's a great project, and I wish I could write it, but I realized I'm a more of a picture book writer at heart.
One bullet dodged by Janet.

Rachel Neumeier said...

That's a really interesting question.

I still really like my debut novel, which was the ... fifth I wrote, I guess, and the first I sent to agents. It came out in 2008. It's far, far better than my earlier attempts. It's different -- more lyrical, more fairy-tale-ish -- than anything else I've written. I like it a lot. I would pick up a red pen, but I'm not certain I would actually do too much with the pen.

If you pushed me, I would have to admit that I like, let me see, three of my most recent novels better than anything I wrote in between my debut novel and these. Although there are several in there I do like very much.

My favorite of all my books is one I wrote just a year or to ago and self-published. Not sure it's better, but it's definitely my personal favorite.

Beth said...

I recently sent a query letter in and the first chapter to an agent and she said the chapter didn't pull her in like she had hoped but my next "work of art" to consider her. I'll take that! Here's my thought....either reach out to an agent and be respectful or self publish, don't jump on the insult train. Agents are there to help us and if your work doesn't draw them in that's ok, keep trucking and keep your chin up and be professional. I have saved that agent's contact info and when I have another project ready I will send it!

Beth and her doggies! : )

Joseph S. said...

Timothy Lowe

After reading your story, I saved my manuscript to a thumbdrive.

I felt so much lighter afterward.