Saturday, February 12, 2011

Guest Post by Magdalena Ball

The Zen of Rejection
by Magdalena Ball

It couldn’t have happened at a worse moment. My car had just been hit side-on by a truck, and I was standing amidst the wreckage of glass and metal when the local mail lady pulled up. After ascertaining that I wasn’t hurt, she handed me a package: the obvious thick SASE that went along with my novel’s manuscript. I was being rejected again, and this time by the small local publishing house I thought would definitely take the novel.

I’m not sure which hurt more -- the loss of my lovely vehicle, or the final rejection of the novel. Both hurt, but in the aftermath that followed, I’m sure it was my manuscript I was primarily thinking of. After all, I had won a mentorship for this work, and my mentor, a multi-published novelist, told me that the work was publishable and ready for submission. I’m not na├»ve about the difficulties of getting a first novel published, but I did begin the submission process in a hopeful state of mind.

It wasn’t all bad news though. Although I did receive a few form letters (“due to the volume of submissions, we regret that we are unable to provide feedback, etc”), many of my rejections, including those from large houses, were very positive, and cited the quality of the writing, the strength of the characterisations, and the powerful nature of the plot, using words like “heart-wrenching,” “complex,” and “rich.” Many also suggested that the sluggish market for fiction, especially literary fiction, meant that to be accepted, a novel had to be perfect, startlingly good, and possess a fairly strong commercial angle.

Mine was apparently good, just not good enough.

The criticism received was very thorough in some cases, and provided specific examples where the work could be strengthened, and once I was over the sting, I began to feel grateful to those professional readers, who had taken such trouble over my manuscript, and who were unwilling to accept a novel which hadn’t reached its complete potential. I am after all, the author, and the books I write set benchmarks which my readers will judge me by. The quality of the work is really all that counts. Everything else is just ego and transition.

I have heard many people, authors and publishers alike, bemoan the state of publishing, and criticise the overtly commercial world which seems to be focused solely on profit. It’s a natural defence mechanism and one which I have been tempted to participate in. After all, it’s so much easier to blame my rejection on "the state of publishing today" than on the work. However, looking back over the novel, and reading through the criticisms, I began to believe that the comments were both generous and valid. I was heartened by the full scale and thoughtful reading which even the most commercial of publishers gave my work, taking it seriously and taking the time to provide real feedback. I rarely encountered the dreaded slush pile, and was taken seriously, without an agent, by almost all the publishers I submitted to.

The process also helped me appreciate, and this is certainly part of the tremendous learning curve that goes along with writing a full length novel, just how much hard work -- not inspiration, just graft -- is involved in taking a novel from sketchy draft to full scale polished work of art. The book was ultimately published, by a picky, high quality traditional publisher, but only after multiple re-writes. I believe strongly that this is the most important part of the writing process – where a piece of work goes from being okay to being really professional. It’s not just painful – it’s also utterly necessary and work that doesn’t get worked on extensively, and with multiple inputs, can’t reach its full potential.

I’ve always loved fiction, even more as a reader than as a writer, but writing my own novel and seeing just how much crafting is involved in the books I love, read and re-read, has made me appreciate even more what a wonderful and powerful art fiction writing is. There’s no point in sobbing, or putting the work away in a drawer forever, shunning further rejection. It’s all part of the game; the very reason why great literature exists. Good novels take time and a tremendous amount of work, and in the end, the speed and ease of publication is the one thing which readers and critics will ignore. This is no easy lesson for an impatient writer used to fairly instant gratification. But it’s a lesson worth learning. Every rejection is another part of the process, and to be welcomed and embraced.

So what can you do if, like me, you receive your 20th rejection and begin to wonder if you’ll just print up an e-book as is and sell it from your website, or leave the work sitting in the dark unread caverns of your computer’s hard disk for the rest of your life? The answer is simple and almost too obvious. Ask for help from a cluey editor, gather in the criticism, and get back to work. At the end of the day, you’ll be grateful that you took the time to make the work shine. And so will your readers. It‘s all part of becoming an overnight success story (and if you don’t believe me, ask JK Rowling or John Grisham – both famous for the number of rejections they got on their early books).

Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at

Tomorrow, February 13, my writing buddy Steven Tremp is being featured on Karen Cioffi's blog -- check it out!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Interview with Jennifer Probst

Yesterday, we featured an interview with young author Taylor Probst. Today, in Part 2 of our feature, we talk with Taylor's aunt Jennifer, who is a successful romance author. Welcome, Jennifer!

What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction?

I have always known I wanted to be a writer, and started spinning high school romance tales when I was a pre-teen. My journey has been filled with hard work, rejections, and seeing my dreams of being published come true. Along the way, I had my own happily-ever-after when I met my husband and had two beautiful boys. Now, the writing is a bit harder to accomplish, my life is chaotic, and my house is never clean, but it's so worth it!

You have been writing since you were a kid and have had much success as a writer yourself. How does it feel to now see your niece Taylor blossom as a writer?

Watching my niece create a story and see it develop into print is an amazing experience. She is like my daughter, and I am so proud of what she has accomplished. She's learned a lot about working hard and not giving up on what she wants. Watching someone you love grow into a beautiful young woman is a humbling experience.

How did you first get started writing?

I knew my whole life. When I was in sixth grade, we had to complete a career report and I did mine on being a writer. I wrote teen romances and read them to my friends, and passed them around school. It was only a matter of time before I began seriously submitting to publishers and honing my craft.

What is your writing process like? Do you write on a computer? In a spiral notebook?

I am only comfortable writing on the computer because I type an insane amount of words per minute, and my fingers can't keep up with my brain if I'm writing longhand. I don't have a set writing schedule -- with a hectic household I write any time I can squeeze in a moment.

I'm assuming that helping Taylor write and publish Buffy and The Carrot was a much different experience than when you write your novels. Can you talk about this a bit?

Absolutely. I have been published in the romance market and am comfortable with the environment. I never ventured into the children's market but after my boys were born, I thought I would try if I found a great story. Once Taylor told me the story of Buffy, I knew it was special. We sat together one morning in the diner over breakfast and we wrote out the story longhand on the back of a placemat -- she had only the verbal version at the time. Then we agreed we would try to get it published. She was involved in every step of the way: editing, deciding on illustrations and what she imagined Buffy looking like, the cover, etc.

Again, writing a book and publishing one is a very different experience. I sent out a few queries for the book but received rejections. I then contacted Strategic Publishing about their program and found it a perfect fit. They accepted the book and we all agreed to publish the book in a more non-traditional way. Then we needed an illustrator and my best friend's husband is a fantastic artist. He agreed to do the illustrations so I feel like the book is almost a family event.

What have you learned or been reminded of about writing from Taylor? 

The story is the most important. Tell a great story and the possiblities are endless. Marketing and agents and sales are important but she reminded me to go back to basics.

How do you get ideas for what you write?

Everywhere. I have a long commute to work so I do a lot of daydreaming. As a writer, I believe ideas lurk in every corner of the world -- it is our job to unearth them. Every conversation or encounter is the idea for a story. You just need to find the one that is interesting enough for you at the time. That will change as life progresses.

What is your biggest advice for young people reaching for their dreams?

Believe in yourself. If you have a dream, work hard and go after it. There will be a million people ready to tell you to give up -- rejection is everywhere. Dig deep and believe you can do it and the possibilities are endless. People used to pat my head and call my writing a "nice little hobby." I received tons of rejections but I dug deep and kept trying. Eventually, I found an editor who loved my voice. It's a long journey and it's hard, but if you do the work and don't give up, I believe you will get there.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Competition is fierce and the market changes on a dime. Write what you want. Write your dream -- the book you believe in and has to be written. If you can't sell it, write another one. I had to write five full length novels before I got published. It's the journey that is everything -- not the goal. Sure, it's wonderful being published but it's not the end of your career -- only the beginning.

Young adults need to be encouraged to love books and write what they want. We need to encourage them every step of the way.

Dallas, on a side note, you are an inspiration to many people out there and I really aprpeciate being able to be on your blog.

Happy writing, everyone!

Contact Jennifer:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Interview with Young Author Taylor Probst

(Taylor, right, and her aunt Jennifer, who helped her publish her book.)

Taylor Probst is a junior high student who loves reading and writing -- especially fantasy, she says. Her first book, Buffy and the Carrot, has just been published by Strategic Publishing Group. Taylor was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions about what it is like to be a twelve-year-old author!

Tell us about Buffy and the Carrot. What was your inspiration behind writing this book?

My inspiration to write this book was my two little sisters and my two cousins who begged me to tell them a funny story. I wanted to make them laugh, so I made up the story of Buffy and the Carrot. They loved it and started to spread the story around. Then my aunt encouraged me to make it a real book so we can share it with other children.

What have you learned through writing this book?

I've learned how hard it is to write a book and that it doesn't happen overnight. Writing and getting a book published is a lot of work!

How did you get started writing?

I always loved hearing and listening to great stories, and like to make them up. I'm always begging my parents or aunt or uncle to tell me stories about when they were young, especially the mischief they got into! This led me to wanting to make stories of my own up and write them down.

What is your writing process like? Do you write on a computer? In a spiral notebook? Do you draw illustrations?

I usually make up a story in my head and if it sticks with me, then I write it down. I use a notebook or talk into a tape recorder. I'm not the best artist but I like to draw pictures to match the story also.
How do you get ideas for what you write?

I look at pictures and things happening around me. All the sounds and sights around me can inspire a story. I start with a character that is interesting and try to make a story around that character.

What is your biggest advice for other young people reaching for their dreams?

Go for it. If you have a great story, just try writing it. If it doesn't work out, at least you get to say you tried.

What are some of your favorite books?

I love Judy Blume. It's Not the End of the World was a great book since my parents are divorced. And I love Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. I also love fantasy and am currently reading The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore. It's wonderful.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

If a twelve year old can write a book, anybody can accomplish a goal or a dream. Never give up and don't be afraid to ask for help along the way.

Come back tomorrow to read our interview with Taylor's aunt, Jennifer Probst, who helped Taylor publish Buffy and the Carrot!

Get your own copy of Buffy and the Carrot here:

It is also available at or
Wholesalers please email