While our hardworking agents are winding down from BEA this past weekend in New York, another author is filling in with a guest post. Enjoy!
Tina Bustamante is a writer, passionate reader, wife, mom, friend, and traveler. A world traveler who hails from the Pacific Northwest, she studied Theology at Northwest University and considers the craft of writing a journey that is sometimes bumpy and downright rough, but always worth continuing. Currently, she speaks when invited and writes fiction during the day. She is married to Rodrigo Bustamante and they have two lovely children named Emma and Lucas.
Seven years ago, I completed my first novel. I considered it a brilliant piece of work, worthy of a great publishing contract. I had worked hard on the manuscript–putting my soul, my mind, and all my attention into crafting a great story full of adventure.
I decided to take a risk and give it to a few friends, who read it and encouraged me to send it out. So, feeling like I might be the next Madeleine L’Engle, I sent it to another author who agreed to help me.
About three weeks later, I received an email from him letting me know I was not ready for prime time. My work was not good enough. He tried to encourage me, told me I had talent, but that he didn’t think The Secret of the Keys was going to make it into the publishing world. He suggested I write my next novel, which I thought rude. In hindsight, I wasn’t looking for critical feedback. I wanted someone to tell me my work was great. I wanted a quick contract and easy fame.
I cried. For three days. Then, with ever-increasing arrogance, I decided he had no idea what he was talking about. I would send it out to other agents and someone was bound to love my book. They didn’t. It got one rejection after another. He was right.
After dozens of rejections and dead ends, I decided to go over his letter one more time. I chose to listen to his advice and write my next novel–the YA book I’d been thinking about, the one I wasn’t sure I had the courage to write. I spent the next three months pounding that book out and when I was done with the first draft, I knew it was different and had come from a deeper place inside me than even I knew I possessed.
I edited and revised it. I paid a professional editor to edit it, which I highly recommend. You can’t expect other people to pay to read your work if you aren’t willing to pay someone to make it better. Then, I started to query agents.
This is when my writing journey took a turn for the better, and also brought me deeper into reality. The reality that writing is hard work and we don’t arrive at greatness on accident. I got dozens of rejections. Dozens. But, after a while, an agent asked to read a partial. Huge step. She rejected it.
Then another agent wanted to read the entire manuscript. Huge Step. She rejected it too. But, any time an agent asks to read a partial or the full–you’re moving towards your goal. Your work is being taken seriously and you’re getting feedback. And here is where I began to learn an important lesson. Every rejection can serve as a building block to move you in the right direction.
I started learning how to read my rejection letters with a critical eye and grow from their critique rather than wallow in the shame of it. Each agent had something to offer me. Every critical comment had something to teach me and move me closer towards the end result: publication.
As Waters Gone By has been a five year project, honed and shaped, refined and edited dozens and dozens of times. Through rejection I’ve gained stamina, self-confidence, courage, and a stalwart, unwavering commitment to the written word and to my own calling as a writer.
Writing is a craft and a great privilege. Words have the potential to outlive you. Just because you have something to say doesn’t mean you know how to say it yet, and rejection is a tool to prove whether you have the courage and tenacity to keep going, to learn, to refine, and cultivate your craft.
Along with listening to rejections and learning from them, I want to offer a few other suggestions:
- Find a critique partner/mentor who is better than you. Someone who knows his/her stuff and can tell it like it is. Learn from them. Grow tough skin and have the courage to cut hundreds of pages and rewrite so many times the book makes you want to puke. If you aren’t at a place where you’re sick of your book – then you haven’t edited it enough.
- Read Read Read. Here is a list of my favorite books on writing. On Writing by Stephen King, Write Away by Elizabeth George, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, On Writing by Sol Stein.
- Spend the money and go to a writing conference, submit your work, and listen to what the agents and editors have to say. Then do what they tell you.