Rejecting the Rejection

 

Back in the days when one used to query literary agents by way of the U.S. Postal Service, I used to go to great lengths to ease the blow of rejection letters. In those times, not so long ago, with every query letter you were supposed to include a SASE: Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope. This increased the chances of getting a response, usually a softly worded generic letter letting you know that your material was not right for that particular agent at this time.

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Even though those form rejections had clearly been photocopied a thousand times, I never could resist the urge to search for meaning in those blanket-rejection forms, looking for some reason why my writing wasn’t good enough.

In an effort to combat this, I devised something new: a self-addressed stamped post-card with three checkboxes: ___ Send Sample Chapters, ___ Send Full-Manuscript, ___ Not Right for Us at this Time.  This way there would be no agonizing interpretations of meaningless rejection prose. It was all business.

However, after enough of these little cards came back, it didn’t take long for even the sight of one in the mailbox to cause the feeling that a mule had driven its hind legs simultaneously into my gut. Or worse, a sense that I had been lanced through the heart by forge-hot steel.

It took many years to put rejection letters into perspective. A rejection letter is not saying that your writing is not good enough. It is not saying that you are not good enough. It is only saying that this particular agent isn’t the path to your success.  The path is out there, this just isn’t the way.  Keep looking.

There is a narrow little trail wending its way through the trees, waiting for you to discover it. It exists. You just have to to find it.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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Redefining Success

So you’ve been at it a while, haven’t you? This writing thing is something you know you are supposed to do. You feel whole and alive when the words are flowing through you. You’re pursuing your life dream and it just feels right.

Yet success has thus far eluded you.  Oh, there have been triumphs. You’ve finished writing your first novel, maybe, or had an article published online. But you’re not where you want to be. Success, as you define it, has not yet manifested.

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And there’s been heartbreak along the way.  You’ve been rejected by agents and publishers. Someone who you love, admire, and respect has read your stuff and wasn’t impressed. Or worse, maybe they didn’t bother reading it at all.

You continue to write, of course, because you know this is what you are supposed to do.  But it feels like this should be…  easier. You don’t know exactly what the next step is, but you feel like it should have happened by now. You understand that this thing you are doing is supposed to work out, it just hasn’t yet.

Here are a couple of things to consider. First, you get to define success. All you have to do is acknowledge that you are successful right now, at this moment, and you are successful. Make success something in your control: “I am successful if I write a little everyday.” Whatever success is for you, put it within reach and allow yourself to take it.

Stop measuring yourself by the yardstick of others’ biographies. The success stories you hear where writers get their Big Break and become big time authors often don’t mention the years those authors spent right where you are now, practicing the craft and experiencing heartbreak.

Be patient. Allow things to unfold in their own time. Often seasoned authors are grateful they didn’t get published any sooner than they did, because they wouldn’t want their earlier writing on display. Or even worse, some of them were published too earlier and are utterly embarrassed by their initial efforts. You are learning things now and growing in ways that you cannot perceive until you have a little distance on it. There are people you are supposed to meet, circumstances to get involved in, that are on the horizon, they just haven’t happened yet. Trust that they’re coming and throw away your personal timeline.

And finally (this is the big one, trite though it might sound), don’t give up! Because, you’re right. This is what you’re supposed to be doing. This feeds your soul. In the end, that’s the best nourishment you can provide.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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Why Am I Doing This Again?

Every year the Pacific Northwest Writers Association holds their summer writers conference at the end of July or the beginning of August. One of the many benefits of the PNWA conference is the ability to meet with literary agents from New York and points beyond. By my second writers conference, I had developed a strategy of talking to as many as three or four agents, usually all of whom would ask for sample chapters of my manuscript.

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I never sent out the sample chapters right away. My thinking was — correctly or incorrectly — that everyone who the agents met at the conference would likely be sending in their writing samples in the days following the conference. Maybe if I waited a week or two, I thought, I might avoid the big post-conference pile. By the end of August, though, all my requested materials would be in the hands of the agents and the waiting would begin.

Every year September would be a month of Hope, capital “H”. These weren’t just sample chapters sent out with blind query letters. I had met these agents, pitched my project, and the words of enthusiasm they spoke sparked the inevitable daydreams of landing representation.

September inevitably would pass, October would creep in, and one by one the crushing rejections would come, killing off each parcel of Hope corresponding with each agent packet I’d mailed. Eventually, there were no more queries left unanswered and the bone-crushing sense of defeat seeped in, defeat made all the worse by the weeks of optimistic fantasies that had  preceded it.

Perhaps my toughest rejection came after one of my most dramatic agent encounters. I’d just pitched my novel in a one-on-one agent appointment and she’d loved the idea. Looking furtively from side to side, she bent closer and whispered. “I never do this but… Do you have any sample chapters with you?”

By some crazy miracle, I did have a few sample chapters. Every year I printed out sample chapters “just in case,” but I always felt foolish at the end of the conference when those sample chapters remained untouched in my briefcase. Of course agents aren’t going to ask for sample chapters! They tell you as much at the conference. The agents have to fly back to New York. The last thing they want is to lug around piles of paper. That year I almost hadn’t bothered printing anything. Almost.

I surreptitiously slipped the agent my pages as if a drug deal was going down. That, along with samples to four other agents I met at the conference, made me feel success was only steps away.

That September I traveled to London.  For ten days I walked and walked. Kensington High Street. Kensington Garden. Hyde Park. Oxford Street. Trafalgar Square. Oxford Street. Covent Garden. Soho. The Theater District. And with all that walking came thinking. Even though I knew it was folly, I daydreamed of book deals, cover art, book signings. It’s positive visualization, right? What is wrong with that?

The final rejection came in the middle of October. (I do miss the days when rejection letters came in your physical mail box, when at least you could mentally prepare for their arrival.) I was in a restaurant having lunch with my parents, who were visiting Seattle, when the email reached me. It was from the agent who had taken my chapters at the one-on-one meeting. Two months had passed and by then I’d guessed the outcome. But Hope was strong. What made it worse was that I couldn’t do what I really wanted to do, which was slump under the table and curl into a fetal position. That would have been, I don’t know, awkward.

That day, like I did every year when the last PNWA conference rejection came, I asked myself: Why am I doing this again? Is this really worth all the pain?

I’d think about all the countless hours I’d spent writing and think, Why? Why am I torturing myself? Am I just wasting my time?

So I quit writing. Then what? I’d mentally projected ahead five, ten, twenty years into the future, when I’d realized there was something missing in my life. An emptiness that would at first be unrecognizable until I realized… Writing! I haven’t been writing. I must start writing again!

Then I’d think back on all those imagined years that I hadn’t been writing, years wasted! I’d be sick to my stomach with grief at the lost opportunity. Why had I given up? Because a handful of agents hadn’t taken me on as one of their clients? That didn’t mean my writing sucked. It didn’t mean what I was doing wasn’t worth while. It meant that those agents weren’t part of the path to my success.

Then I’d be back in the moment, still heartbroken by the recent rejection, but understanding that, in the end, I’d feel worse if I stopped writing than if I persevered through the pain. There was a moment in every successful author’s journey when they were not a successful author. They eventually made it because they performed through the pain.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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When the Well Runs Dry – Part 2

Last week in Part 1 of “When the Well Runs Dry,” I explored the cause of why sometimes your writing might not feel inspired. I conclude that the reason you might not feel passionate about what you’re writing is that you’re too conscious of your audience and not focused enough on what will please you. To combat this, I recommend giving yourself permission to write what you want to write. When you care about what you’re writing, that feeling of inspiration will return, and that sense of emotion will carry through to your readers.

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For some of you, simply giving yourself permission to write what interests you will be enough to find that inner voice. Sometimes it takes more.

For me, writing has grown more difficult now that I have a published novel out there. Now that I have readers, I find myself growing more self-conscious about pleasing my audience and less about what is important to me.

An invaluable resource for me has been the book Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, penned by Author Magazine’s own editor-in-chief, Bill Kenower. Far from a how-to manual, it’s a book of two-page essays that make you think not just about why you’re writing, but why you’re here, and how much of who we are is reflected in what we choose to write and how we approach it.

Having interviewed hundreds of authors, Kenower writes not only from his own perspective but from the perspective of the authors he’s met. In “Practically Done,” Kenower writes, “Life can appear to be divided in two: that which you must do, and that which you want to do. The musts are certain; the wants are optional.”

He goes on to say that there will always be something else you must do. When a friend points out that it would be more practical to write books like John Grisham, make a pile of money, and then write the books you want to write, Kenower points out the impracticality of doing things one doesn’t want to do, writing things one doesn’t want to write. “I usually can [do those things] for a time,” he says, “until the tension between where I want to go and where I am telling myself I must go becomes so great that something snaps and I must start again.”

I keep a copy of Write Within Yourself at my desk and start my writing day by turning to a random page and reading whatever essay falls under my eye.  The book is my daily reminder that in order to be true to my readers, I must be true to my own passions.

Write Within Yourself  is not a guide, but a companion. A guide will tell you where to go. As a writer, only you can know that. A good companion, however, can remind you that forgetting where you want to go is different from not knowing where you want to go. Author William Kenower believes that what it takes to write the book you most want to write is also what it takes to lead the life you most want to live. This collection of essays serves as a companion for those times when you need inspiration. Write Within Yourself will help you stay connected to the writer and the life within you.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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Manifesting without Effort

 In past posts I’ve written about manifesting the things and experiences you want through affirmations and visualizations, by remaining positive and feeling good. But the simple truth is that it doesn’t take listening to positive affirmations to attract that dream job you’ve always wanted. It doesn’t take ritual morning visualizations to manifest that completed novel you’ve been promising yourself you’d finish. Manifesting can be as easy as setting an intention, putting it out there in The Universe, then getting out of the way and trusting that it’s going to come to you.

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I have the privilege of sitting on the board of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Every year at the PNWA summer writers conference, I’ve met extraordinary new people and have mind-blowing experiences. What’s more, every year they get increasingly better. After the three-day conference is over, it often takes me several days to decompress from such a high-energy event.

As conference time rolled around this year, I wasn’t feeling the magic. Between traveling and major house renovations, I’d had no downtime for a solid two months. The thought of mustering enthusiasm for the three-day conference was starting to mess with my chi. All I wanted was an afternoon to sit around and read books, maybe have a solid satisfying writing session where I could spend a whole morning just creating. On the eve of the conference, I was starting to feel almost depressed and recognized that I would not, in this state of mind, manifest anything all that great.

As it happened, turning it around was simply a matter of deciding that something wonderful was going to happen and trusting that it was going to come. I don’t know how,  I thought, I don’t know when, but it’s coming. In truth, there wasn’t a lot of high-energy enthusiasm behind it. It was just a matter of deciding it was going to happen and trusting.

Thursday, the first day of the conference, began slowly. It was enjoyable, but nothing out of the ordinary occurred. As I turned in at the end of the day I only nodded pensively. I don’t know when, I thought, I don’t know how, but it’s coming.

Things began to get moving the next day. I had a blast moderating a panel with author Megan Chance on writing historical fiction. That night at dinner, through a series of unforeseen circumstances, I had the opportunity to sit by author Deb Caletti at dinner and have a profound conversation with her.

By Saturday, the last day of the conference, I was in The Zone. I moderated a panel that included my agent, Kathleen Rushall; moderated another on writing structure with Terry Persun; and moderated a third with Author Magazine’s Bill Kenower in which he interviewed authors Robert Dugoni and Deb Caletti. Perhaps the most amazing thing took place at the end of the day when, as a result of a last-minute illness, I filled in for a panel member as a speaker along with two literary agents and another author. The high-energy talk that followed was one of those sessions where everything goes right.

What is it you want to manifest? Don’t make it difficult.  Simply set your intention, put it out there in The Universe, and let it come to you.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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My Ah Ha Moment

In July I had the opportunity to travel to New York for the International Thriller Writers’ summer conference, ThrillerFest. The conference lasts four days and is broken into two parts. CraftFest, which takes place the first two days, comprises various breakout sessions about the craft of writing novels in general and thrillers in particular. The second two days are a fan/reader appreciation event, with various thriller writers speaking about their books and their careers.

This was my third ThrillerFest and every year the experiences there have been more amazing. This year, while having lunch with fellow writers and authors – many of them bestselling authors – I had a profound “ah ha” moment.

imageAfter spending several days listening to authors talk about their work and work habits, I began to identify a pattern. Again and again, I observed a correlation with the really successful novelists and their ability to produce output quickly. Almost without exception, these authors wrote every day (with Sunday sometimes being the exception) and they pumped out the pages. For them it’s not just good enough to have Butt Time in front of the computer; they demand output.

So, I wondered, is that the key? Writing fast? Is it that simple?

You might be thinking quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality, and I would agree. Many of these authors write quickly because they have to write quickly. They are under contract to write one (and sometimes two) books a year. With a schedule like that, you pretty much have to write fast.

Yet there is something to be said for churning out the pages. Like anything, the more you practice, the better you get. Is it just me or have you ever noticed that your best writing is almost always your most recent project?

One might also argue that the more products you have to sell, the greater your chances of success.

The fallacy with writing quickly is that you have to get a lot done in a short amount of writing time, when in fact it is more about writing consistently over time.  Think about it. Even we writers with day jobs can set a small but reasonable daily word count, say of five hundred words a day, and produce an eighty thousand word first draft in less than six months. What is that old saying? Slow and steady wins the race.

Five hundred words — two double-spaced, Times New Roman pages — a day seems utterly doable. Even one page would mean producing a book a year. How many of us can say we write a book a year?

What holds you back? I’d love to read your comments.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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15 Seconds of Fame

Two years ago, while at a writers’ conference in New York, I attended a party that HarperCollins was throwing at a small bookstore in downtown Manhattan.

The bookstore was exactly the kind of place you’d imagine an independent, New York city bookstore to be. Wooden bookcases reached to the top of the high ceiling. Ladders that rolled along on brass rails were required to access the upper shelves. Large picture windows looked onto a street lined with trees and brick-covered storefronts. The bookstore wasn’t small, exactly, but it was cozy.

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Several of the HarperCollins authors were in attendance, there to have a good time, as well as sign books in case any of their readers happened to catch the news of the gathering. Many of the authors there I’d had the good fortune to get to know over the years at the various writers’ conferences, so there were a few recognizable faces.  At the same time I was in awe of the scene, a mixture of the familiar and the imagined, the hoped for and what I’d fantasized in positive visualizations.

I stood at the edge of the party with a glass of white wine in my hand, trying to look, I don’t know, literary or something. (I always like to hold a drink at parties, even if I’m not drinking it. It gives me something to do. I mean, if I wasn’t around, who would be here to hold this drink, right?)

I’d been speaking to one of my favorite writers, who also reviews books for the Associated Press, when three young Asian women approached me.

They gazed at me with a sort of reverence that I didn’t quite understand. They seemed to want to speak to me, but simultaneously afraid to do so. It was as if I was one of the best selling authors in the room and they were my readers, eager to meet the storyteller that had been entertaining them for these many years. Just for a moment, I actually felt what it might be like to be that best selling author, as if I’d dropped into an alternate universe where that scenario were true.

The woman in the center looked at the book cradled in her arms. “Would…” she began in broken English, “Would you sign?”

I looked and there was James Rollins’ latest bestselling thriller in her hands. I smiled, the moment passing, rapidly being sucked up and drawn back into my own universe.  “I think you are looking for Jim Rollins,” I said, pointing a few feet to my left, “who’s standing right over there.”

Somehow I’d managed to manifest that moment, having skipped a couple of steps to get there. Here’s hoping that happens again someday, but next time that those fifteen seconds of fame grows to fifteen minutes.

This blog entry was originally published for Author Magazine‘s Author Blog.

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Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.

 URL: www.brianmercerbooks.com

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