WFMAD Day 18 – You Ask, I Answer

(I didn’t give the whole story on the exercise thing yesterday. I’m feeling guilty about it so I will now come clean.

Aside from the future-marathon running, I have a five-week book tour coming up, starting in mid-October. My doctor said if I packed on some muscle it would improve my chances of not being a total wreck by Thanksgiving. So I hired Angelika, a trainer at my gym. I pay her to kick my butt once a week. We’re calling it Operation Booktour Beast.

I have this fantasy that if I can achieve Booktour Beastdom, I will have arms that fall somewhere between Madonna’s and Michelle Obama’s. Angelika is doubtful this will happen, but she is using my unrealistic fantasy as an excuse to pump up the pain.

After yesterday’s session, I can’t exactly lift my arms. I am typing this with my nose. All of which is a long way of saying that if today’s entry rambles more than usual or has an offensive number of typos, I’m sorry. You try typing with your nose.)

Elaine wrote:

“The main one floating across my brain that won’t go away is…what if you’re at the point of getting “good” rejections (aka feedback, compliments on writing, invitations to submit other future material to them, etc.) but they just “didn’t fall in love with it”? How do you keep going or improve your writing in those vague circumstances?

I suppose getting good rejections is better than getting the form ones, but it also means I’m not seeing what I can improve. It’s just a matter of “it’s not for them.” Have you ever encountered this, or what would be your advice to writers who are?”

We call those “quality rejections” at my house. They are a good excuse to break out the champagne. Seriously. Editors don’t have to take the time to send that to you. They don’t have enough time to go to the bathroom most days. So if one of them gave you feedback and asked you to send more you are ….. almost …… there.

But it doesn’t feel that way, does it?

Few things are quite as painful or devastating as a rejection letter, even a nice one. I’ve heard rumors that there are a couple authors out there who have never been rejected. I hate them.


I have an enormous file of rejections letters, including the one sent to me about SPEAK and the several sent about FEVER 1793. Those books earned lots of quality rejections. It was maddening.

The tough part is that sometimes a book can be completely awesome, but it is truly not for that particular editor. OR it could be that the book just isn’t good enough yet, but the editor sees some talent in your pages and wants to encourage you.

How can you tell the difference?

You can’t.

So what should you do?

First, do some homework. What were the last ten books that the editor who rejected you edited? Have you sent a historical to someone best known for editing sci-fi? (Make a habit of paying addition when an author thanks her editor in the acknowledgements of a book. You can learn a lot!)

If you come to the painful conclusion that your story just wasn’t good enough, do not despair. Put it away for three months and get to work on another project. Right now. In three months, pull the rejected story out and see if you can figure out how to revise it to make it stronger. If it still looks perfect to you, stick it back in the drawer. If you let it simmer undisturbed long enough, all of the awkward plot points and clunky phrases will magically float to the surface and you will fix them. But it takes time.

Here is a critical point: make sure your next project has a deep connection to you. If you are writing stories just because you think they are trendy, you are severely reducing your chances of being published.

It takes most people about ten years to break into children’s publishing. If you are getting quality rejection letters, your ticket will soon be punched, I swear.

Have a writing question for me? Put it in the Comments section, pretty please!


“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias.  They do not sell.” rejection letter for Carrie, by Stephen King

Set… file your rejections and turn your eyes to the future.

Today’s prompt:

1. Pick a color.

2. Write down its name then list ten things that the name or the color itself make you think of.

3. Here’s the tricky part. Write ten verbs that spring to mind when you look at that color or its name.

4. Choose the verbs and nouns that resonate the most with you. Write a scene that uses those things and verbs OR go off on an extended riff about what associations those words create for you.

5. Bonus points: Do the exercise again with a different color. This time, combine the nouns from Color One with the verbs from Color Two.


11 Replies to “WFMAD Day 18 – You Ask, I Answer”

  1. Great post!!

    This may be an obvious question….but still I am wondering…how do you get a story to flow? How do you take an idea, then write a bunch of scenes from that, and get them to all piece together and turn into an entire book?

    I guess the answer may be simple creativity…. but I’m struggling a little with that and I was wondering how you do that…

    Thank you.

  2. Good Post today.

    First, I just wanted to say your books have helped me a lot through my life I can relate to Lia in Wintergirls and you are the one who inspired me to write and i have found it a good way to get things out.

    My question is first how, do u overcome writers block? I seem to get it a lot. Second I am only thirteen and I haven’t had all the experience with writing as most people. Is there any advice you could give me?


  3. Great point today!

    I’ve been writing a story (novel) type thing for a while now, and I completely understnad about putting it away and coming back to it later, to see what mistakes have been made. I find myslef editing it constantly.

    So, my question for you is, how do you make a query letter, or synopsis the best that it can be? I know that in a query, you are supposed to give a breif discription of what your story is about, but I have a tendancy of adding too much detail about the story, and unable to keep it all on e one page. Also, i feel that the writing isn’t the best, that i know it can be.

    Furthermore, I have heard that it is always best to have somone read your story, before you send it off to agents, and publishers. Is that always best? Did you have anyone, besides yourself, ready your novels before you sent them off?

    Thank you for your time.

  4. 1) I want Michelle Obama’s arms.
    2) You have a very strong nose. I was going to ask about the condition of your keyboard, but thought snot, I mean “not. ”

    Sorry…there is a clown in every group. I have been working with children for too long. Off to do stroytime…

  5. I would love to have Madonna’s or Michelle Obama’s arms. Your poor nose. Today is the day I get caught up. I have been writing but not exactly to the prompts, having been gone over the weekend. Yesterday I used the Monday and Tuesday prompts together.
    I am curious. Do you have an agent or did you start by sending your manuscripts to publishing houses.
    Off to write.

  6. I think I can compare the editors to my language arts teacher. I love writing, I’ve gotten good reviews, even had a story published in a magazine.

    But I’ve been faced with lots of problems like getting all inspired with what I’ve been writing, then 2 hours later hating it. Should I learn to accept it again or do it over again?
    In fact, 2 hours from now I’ll probably look back on this comment and think “This sounds stupid..maybe I should delete this.”

    Its hard to impress a language arts teacher who you have this love/hate thing going on with. They tell you how great you are, then the next assignment they tell you how flat your work came out.


  7. All the questions that have been posted so far are things that I am curious about too. So I hope your response will be posted for all to see.

    I have two novels that I have been working on for two years. One is a YA and the other is adult fiction. They are far from agent/publisher ready. But I still have tons of questions about the whole process of trying to get published.

    For someone who is brand new to the whole process what is one resource or piece of advice that would be of great value to a beginner like me?

  8. LOVE the idea of describing a color. Totally creative!

    My question is: how to you write for hours at a time? I can only stay truly focused for about an hour or two, and even that isn’t solid writing. It’s filled with breaks that frequently come because I cannot keep my story going…it’s almost as if I get tired of working with the characters.

    Any advice?

  9. Oh . . . to have a nose like yours, Laurie!

    Twenty minutes to complete this prompt,, which led to some self-discovery.
    I got up early today and am writing while my family sleeps in the hotel.
    Glasses of orange juice, water, and coffee are lined up by my computer.
    The air is muggy. Sweat slips down the small of my back.
    The smell of maple syrup fills the air on the hotel’s back porch.
    Forks clink against china plates.
    Two butterflies soar over my head.
    And I am writing.

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