Life After Rejection, or How to Pick Yourself Up Again

One of the hardest things a writer ever faces is the fact that the novel they love so, SO MUCH is not good enough and must be trunked. Maybe you've gotten to the end of your agent list, or you have an agent but the publishers aren't biting, or you self-published, but after a year of 20-or-fewer sales per month, you realize maybe that novel is never going to take off.

A lot of writers quit at this point, because they LOVE that novel, they put SO MUCH work into it, and they just don't think they could do it all over again.

I'm thinking about that right now. Not that my current query round has failed -- it hasn't by a long, long shot -- but after 100+ rejections on two previous novels, even a single form letter can make me wonder if I'll ever get past this stage.

So here's what I do (in order of increasing surety of failure):
  1. Take another step. If you got a rejection, send out another query. Another month of slow self-pubbed sales? Hit up some book bloggers, write some guest posts. Basically, as long as there's something you can do about it, get up and do it.
  2. Remind yourself what's good about the novel. Find the critiques where people told you how much they loved the humor or the dialog, or the comments on your query that said, "I would request this." Remind yourself that you DIDN'T write crap. You just haven't found the right agent/readers yet.
  3. Make a new plan. You love that novel a lot, right? So how can you revise it to be even stronger? What critiques did you ignore before that now, maybe, look like something you could do? Revise that novel you love so much, then try again.
  4. Find a new story you love. Maybe there are no more steps you can take. No more agents, no more revisions. That novel is done. This is hard to accept, but the best way through it is to find a new idea that you can love even more than the first. Believe it or not, you DO have more than one story in you. Everyone does.
  5. Take a break. Feel you have no more ideas, or the ideas you have just aren't big enough? Take a break. Remind yourself why you love your life, and why writing is NOT your life. If writing really is your passion, then the ideas will come, but don't worry about that right now. And don't write the first idea that comes knocking either. Give them time. Let them grow into something HUGE, and enjoy your life in the meantime.
How do you pick yourself up after rejection?

Answers! (and a Selfish Request)

Before I get to the questions, I have a task for you. You remember that story I wrote, "Pawn's Gambit"? The one about the escaped convict trying to find his daughter (before the assassin he works for does)? If you haven't read it, go read it now.

Your task (assuming you like the story, of course) is to go to this thread on the BCS forums and vote for "Pawn's Gambit" to appear in their Year Two anthology. And next time you need an internet vote for something, I'll vote for you too.

(There are lots of other stories you can vote for in addition to mine (you're allowed up to 5). Beneath Ceaseless Skies is easily my favorite fantasy mag (all the more for being free), and it's worth clicking through to read the other stories.)


Jodi Meadows says: Your Q&A comes with sound effects: how much input do you have in that aspect of your videos? Can you request certain sound effects?

My sound effects team is not the easiest to work with. She only takes on projects she's interested in and rarely takes creative input. And if her mommy's around, she refuses to do any work at all.

Despite all that, she's one of the best in the business. After all, she was raised by sound effects masters:

Susan Quinn asks: When are you going to start writing for children? You have a massive built in critique group. :)

I don't know if I can trust my critique group. They still pick Garfield the Easter Bunny for bedtime reading (if I forget to hide it). I do, however, have an idea for an ABC book that includes "A is for Airship" and "Z is for Zombie." If I could illustrate it, I think they'd really like it.

Dave asks: If you could fight anyone from history, who would it be?

Man, I don't know. Why would I fight someone? Cuz it's cool? Cuz I hate them and want to beat them up? Cuz I want to learn something?

See, I'm pretty sure if I fought someone, I'd lose (unless I'm fighting a five-year-old, but then why am I beating up a five-year-old?). Does growing up in a dojo and sparring with other ninjas count? Maybe I could do that.

Deniz Bevan asks: Where or when would you vacation if money and time were no object?

My wife and I really, really, really want to go to Italy someday. And maybe Paris. I think we could pull together the money, but the real issue is the ten kids we'd be leaving behind (or worse, dragging along behind, that would be terrifying).

The funny thing is, I think both of us want to visit those places because of the food.

C Ann Golden asks: If you could be any superhero who would you be and why?

That's a really tough question for someone like me. I want to spend weeks researching all the different superheroes and their powers, then write a thesis about it. (That's only partially true. I actually just want to read a lot of comic books).

He's probably on my mind because of the movie, but as a kid I always liked Green Lantern. He seemed so cool because he could do ANYTHING. Though I have to admit having your weakness be "the color yellow" is kinda lame.

David Jace asks: If you could become any animal (and turn back) what animal would it be?

A seagull. No seriously, check this out: I could fly, live near the ocean, have no natural predators, and feed on a diet of sushi and beach BBQs. IT'S THE PERFECT ANIMAL!

That's it! Thank you for your questions (seriously, one time nobody asked any questions and I cried for a week (okay, so I didn't cry)), and don't forget to vote for "Pawn's Gambit"!

Question/Answer Time

It's been a while since I opened things up for questions, so now's your chance. Same as before: ask anything you like in the comments -- serious or silly, professional or totally inappropriate -- and next week I will answer your questions. I'll probably even tell the truth.

And because I hate leaving you with nothing on a Friday, here's a peek at what it looks like when I'm reading your comments and blogs.

Star Wars, Gangsta Style

This has been around since before YouTube, but if you haven't seen it, you need to. Right now.

The Future of Print Books?

We've got a new girl in our home, so posts will be lighter this week. By which I mean they're shorter, not fewer.

Piracy FAQ

It's the end of piracy week. As you've seen, my opinions on piracy are mixed (or "balanced" or "wishy-washy," depending on your point of view). I don't like the practice, but I don't think it's worth getting upset about, but also I don't think it's something to be proud of.

Mostly, though, I don't like the justifications used to support piracy. Granted, the arguments against it aren't great either, but since they're supporting a mostly-reasonable law, I have less issue with them.

This post, then, addresses some of the more common arguments for piracy. In FAQ form.

1) Is it okay to pirate something if --
Let me stop you for a sec. "Okay" is kinda vague. I think you mean to ask whether it's legal, or maybe whether it's ethical, yeah?

2) Okay, smarty pants. Is it legal to pirate something in certain situations?
In general, no. Never. Though apparently it depends where you live. I've heard it's okay in the Netherlands. If you get caught in New Zealand, they shut off your internet. It just depends.

3) Fine. It's illegal, but isn't it ethical in some situations?
This is something of a gray area. Your sense of "ethical" might differ from mine.

I see it as a spectrum. On one end, there's the guy in Thailand who makes $7 a day selling computers. He can't afford to pay $500/copy to put Windows on each computer (and if he could, his customers couldn't afford to buy it). If he doesn't sell computers, his family doesn't eat (at $7 a day, they barely eat as it is). So for him to buy the $3 version of Windows around the corner, and install it on every machine he sells, could be considered ethical.

A little farther on the spectrum, you have the poor mountain villager who makes $1/day and has a stack of copied VCDs next to their ancient DVD player. Those VCDs aren't legal, maybe aren't ethical (since they're not necessary to survive), but I'm not going to begrudge the entertainment of a village that only eats rice and chilis most days.

Near the other end of the specturm, you've got the middle-class American with his $2,000 computer system, his "low-end" job that pays $100/day, his easy access to libraries, his unrestricted Amazon and Hulu and Pandora, and his difficult decision of whether to order pizza or to microwave burritos whenever he's hungry. Unless this guy's got some kind of medical condition in which he must read 20 hours a day or he'll die, I'm going to say his piracy is both unethical and kinda silly.

But hey, that's just me.

4) Dude, isn't that kind of harsh?
Probably, yeah. Sorry. My point is we need to take a broader worldview before we decide our lives are hard enough to justify downloading things that we can reasonably afford and don't need.

5) But e-books are so expensive, and I can't even loan them out or give them away. How is that fair?
It's not fair. It's capitalism. I think it's unfair that I have to spend $1,000 to visit my parents, even though the plane flies there whether I paid for the ticket or not. I think it's unfair that the Thai goverment requires I make $16,000/year to "support my wife" and therefore stay in the country. Fairness is subjective, but fair or not, it's not okay for me to forge a plane ticket or to stay in Thailand illegally.

If you think e-book prices are unfair, don't buy them. If enough people agree with you, the publishers will eventually get the hint and lower their prices. Whether they do or not, the perceived unfairness of it does not make piracy any more ethical.

6) What if I want to pay for it, but I can't? Like if the publisher doesn't release an e-version, or they don't release it in my country?
It doesn't change the ethics of it.

7) But what if I payed for the hard copy and want an e-version, too?
It still doesn't change anything. Look, I would love it if life worked this way, but it doesn't. I owned Star Wars on VHS for years, but they didn't let me sneak into the theater for the re-release, or take home the original-release DVD edition for free. Companies release products the way they want and price them the way they want. Unless I pay for it, there is no justification that gives me a right to a similar-but-different product, no matter how much I might want it.

Companies release different versions of things for a reason. If you want the e-version, buy the e-version. If there isn't one, read something else.

8) What if I want to try it out? How else am I going to find new authors I like?
Try one or more of the following: libraries, Amazon's "Search Inside" feature, excerpts from the author's website, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, read a few pages in a bookstore, ask your friends.

If you aren't satisfied with these, maybe don't try that author out at all. It's not like you have to.

9) What's the difference between reading for free at the library and downloading?
Libraries buy the books they loan, and loaning physical books is legal. There is no question of ethics there. They pay the authors and follow the law.

10) Are pirates bad people?
No (and I'm sorry if I made anyone feel that way). There is not a single person on this planet who doesn't do mildly unethical things, then justify it after the fact.

If you know they're only justifications, we don't really have a problem. You pirate books, I'll break the speed limit (or eat my chocolate cake), and we'll still hang out afterward. Just don't tell me piracy is a good thing.

And, uh, maybe don't pirate my books, okay?

Piracy and Other Things that are not Theft

One of the quickest ways to get a (media) pirate angry is to equate piracy with stealing. "Piracy is not theft!" they cry. Theft removes the original, thus making it so the true owner can no longer use it. But when you pirate something, you're only making a copy. The original is untouched.

Legally and semantically, they're right. Piracy is not theft. But there's a justification implied: that because the owner still has the original, the copier didn't do anything wrong.

We talked a lot in the comments yesterday about how the negative effects of piracy are not as bad as we think, but that doesn't necessarily make it right. For example, here's a list of other things that, like piracy, are also not theft:
  1. Hacking into someone's secured wireless network.
  2. Breaking into a government facility and copying down top secret information.
  3. Sneaking into a movie theater.
  4. Forging a plane ticket (unless the plane is full, of course, then you're stealing a seat).
  5. Plagiarism.
  6. Writing a program that steals rounded-off fractions of financial calculations (yes, like Office Space).
  7. Hacking into an Air Traffic Control computer and changing the schedules.
  8. Slander.
  9. Most acts of federal treason.
  10. Kicking someone in the nuts.
So, yes, I agree that piracy is not theft. But that doesn't justify it.