New writers often ask me : Who helped you the most on your road to publication?
My best answer is an agent who rejected my manuscript not once but twice. It was not a brutal set of NOs as in "Not ever you talentless hack" but a gentle set of NOs as in "Hold your horses newbie, writer, woman, you still got work to do." I remember receiving her letter in 2006 and being disappointed .
Dear Ms. Simpson
Thank you so much for allowing us to read ACT OF GRACE. This is certainly a heartfelt, dramatic, and compelling project, and one, which boasts a fresh and amazing concept. The possibilities here are limitless.
While there is much to savor her, and so much promise, I'm afraid I found the execution to be a bit rough. The narrative is, too often, uneven, and the voice tends to have a “ Young Adult” tone to its storytelling.
I just don’t think this book is yet where it needs to be (or could be, given its potential) but remain very interested in it. I encourage you to hire a freelance editor or book doctor, someone with professional savvy who can zero in on the book’s weaker spots, and advise on how to repair them and strengthen the execution as a whole. Should you opt to revise and work with an editor, I would love to take another look at this wonderful book. If not, I wish you the very best of luck with this project, and with placing it with the right agent.
I thank you again for the opportunity, and encourage you to keep working on this book.
I was so excited, yet I was hurt, What do you mean my beautiful baby novel wasn't ready for the world, I kept thinking. It took a huge amount of chocolate cake and the booming voices of reason and sanity from my best writer friends to make me really look at what the letter was saying. Act of Grace was good but it could be better with more work. Still I was hurt because lord have mercy, I was as green as grass, and silly back then.
But a few days later I realized the agent was right, my novel was not ready for the world. I would also realize I didn't have the first clue on how to fix what was wrong. So I borrowed money from my beloved sister, and signed up for an extensive novel critique and several workshops. I sent my manuscript back 6 months later and the agent passed on it again saying it was better but still not good enough to sell. That time I shrugged, sat my butt down in front of my laptop and went back to work.
A couple of years and thousands of pages later I finally succeeded. Part of learning to write is learning to listen to criticism from other writers and professionals. If an agent cares enough about your work to reject it, but still takes the time to send advice your way, don't look at it as the end of the road, but rather, look at it as a set of new directions on how to continue your journey toward publication.