By John Gilstrap
Before getting to this week’s real topic, I thought I’d preen with a bit of shameless self promotion. A while ago, I revealed that I had optioned the film rights to my nonfiction bestseller Six Minutes to Freedom. I can now announce officially that I have signed on to write the screenplay as well. Hoorah! For details, please visit my website (see above). I am thrilled beyond belief.
We now return you to our originally scheduled blog . . .
I was chatting the other day with a writer-in-waiting who was distraught that “no agent wants to represent me.” Ah, the angst. She moaned, “I’m never going to be published.”
At that point, she’d collected 7 rejections. Seven. As in one less than eight. And they’re just cold-hearted form letters to boot. Can you imagine? Oh, please.
I wager most of us have a collection of blistering rejection stories. My favorite of the 27 rejections I accumulated before I finally landed an agent was the New York publisher whose rejection consisted of my own letter sent back to me with a stamp—you know, one of those rubber things that you pound on an ink pad—that said “No.” As if it would have broken her hand to actually hand write those two words.
Okay, I have another favorite, too: the one who sent me my rejection letter two months after my book had been published.
Rejections are a constant in this business. I know more than a few authors whose rejections numbered in the triple-digits before they finally made a connection. It’s just the way it is.
During this rejection stage, you often hear dejected writers complain, “Nobody wants my book.” Self pity aside, such is never the case. Nobody’s rejecting your book; they couldn’t possibly be. That’s because nobody’s seen your book. They’re rejecting your query.
In my experience, the vast majority of query letters suck.
They’re flat, lifeless bits of business correspondence that get lost in the shuffle of the hundreds of other bits of flat, lifeless business correspondence that litter an agent’s desk or email inbox every day. It’s astonishing, really, when you think that after spending months or years crafting a novel, a writer would quickly pound out a query letter and launch it into the world where creativity and originality of voice means everything.
At the moment when a query letter matters, it is the most important document of your creative life. It’s the only tool you have. It needs to be carefully nurtured. Carefully crafted. If you’re interested, I wrote an essay on query letters a few years ago. You can read it here: http://www.johngilstrap.com/essayqueryletter.html .
What about you? Have you got any inspiring (or frightening) rejection stories you’d like to share? C’mon, spill. We’re all friends here.