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What About Rejections? Part I

Now that we’re ready to dig into our various writing projects and (gulp!) even think about submitting a few…we face a common enemy: Fear of Rejection. To encourage your hearts, our faculty shared some of their rejection stories. Now you can say to yourself, “If they were rejected and look how far they’ve come… I can submit my work too.”

Terri Kelly

“My first rejection letter said my picture book didn’t meet the editorial needs of Peachtree Publishing.Poof…my great idea didn’t turn into a children’s book that kids adored, parents raved over, and teachers chose for story time. Instead of giving in, I geared up. Within a year, I attended my first writing conference where I learned all writers experience rejection. Eleven years later I don’t send out a manuscript until I’m confident the writing is my personal best. Yes, I’m cautious, but I’d rather take my time than send a weak manuscript. Before submitting, I share my manuscript with a writer’s group for critique, hire writing coaches to work with me one-on-one, and read, read, read. Don’t concede when rejections come. Gear up to learn how to write for the market, the publisher, and the reader.”

Lori Hatcher

“As I look back on the book proposals I’ve had rejected, they were rejected because something wasn’t quite right. Maybe the focus wasn’t strong enough, the concept wasn’t fresh, or the writing was mediocre.  But every rejection has made me refine my concept, polish my writing, or scrap the whole thing altogether and start over. Then, when the acceptances come, it’s a glorious thing—a book I can be proud of and one that would represent the Lord in the best way possible. I’ve learned to receive acceptances and rejections as divine redirection that pushes me further into God’s will.”

Edie Melson

Rejection can be brutal. At my very first writing conference I took a Bible study I’d written to pitch. It was the late 90s and no one but Kaye Arthur and Beth Moore were publishing Bible studies. Even though this was a huge Christian Conference, no publishers were taking pitches for them. But the conference staff suggested I talk to a nonfiction editor and take his continuing class. I met with him in a 15-minute appointment and it was tough. He suggested I take my in-depth Bible study and rework it into a cross-stitch or quilting gift book.
I wasn’t rude and thanked him for his time, but I was so upset I left my proposal on the table. When I got to his class the next day, he proceeded to use my proposal (with my name blacked out) as an example of how not to write and not to follow God in publishing.
 I was devastated and when I got back home, I locked away my writing. I was certain I’d heard from God and that dream was dead. Then the next year a got an anonymous scholarship to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Since it was anonymous, I had to go or risk wasting someone else’s money. Once there, God showed up in a big way and I sold my very first article to Focus on the Family.
God resurrected the dream I thought was dead. But God did more than that. He also birthed a passion to shepherd other writers as they try on the dream God has given them. As much as the enemy meant this for evil, God has used this for good in my life and in the lives of others. I praise Him for all He’s done and continues to do.

Steve Hutson

I wrote my first book back in the 1980s, and pitched it far and wide to dozens of publishers. Much to my dismay, fewer than half of them responded (and all rejections). No one gave a reason why.

When I started working as an agent almost nine years ago, I decided that I would be the nice guy. I would always give a reason for my rejections. Within a week, I discovered that most writers don’t REALLY want to know. They just want to argue with me.

Writers, if you should ever receive actionable feedback from an editor or agent, thank them for it and consider it gold. Even if you disagree. These are the people who could make all the difference in your career.

In the Bible, even for the prophets, God sent them human teachers. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.
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On Thursday we’ll share more rejection stories from our faculty to encourage you to keep on, keeping on! Do you have a rejection story (or two) that you would like to share to encourage other writers? We want to hear them! Please leave your contact information in the comments, or send Carol Federlin Baldwin a private message on Facebook.
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My Wonderful, Terrifying Journey @ Write2Ignite 2018

Today’s guest blogger, Celeste Hawkins, shares her first experience attending a Write2Ignite Conference.

As I opened the doors to check into my first writers’ conference, I held a print-out of my book draft in one arm and the parking-line-yellow purse that makes me feel more optimistic in the other. I pulled it closer to my side as I searched the crowd of faces.

I spotted her and let out the breath I’d been holding in, then sifted my way off to the quiet side of the chattering writers, editors, and publishers. Everyone seemed to be pulling out their schedules and looking over the first session options:

  • Tessa Emily Hall – “Common Mistakes Newbie Writers Make in Their Manuscripts”
  • Kim Peterson – “Is My Manuscript Ready for an Agent?”
  • Jean Matthew Hall – “Children’s Book Categories”
  • Lori Hatcher – “The Day I Wanted to Quit: Tackling the Mind Games That Discourage and Defeat Writers”

When I reached my friend, Leah and I hugged and caught up on life since we’d last seen each other at a birthday party over the summer. That’s when we’d discovered we were both working on our first books.

We looked at our schedules. It felt like trying to order ice cream: you know you can pick any one and be happy, but you kind of wish you could have all of them.

Finally, we agreed Kim Peterson’s was perfect for us. And for the next 45 minutes, Kim shared the top reasons manuscripts got trashed when she worked at the Leslie Stobbe Literary Agency.

I took three pages of notes.

Later, Leah and I sat together again at our first keynote with Jenny Cote, award-winning author of the popular children’s fantasy series The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz and Epic Order of the Seven.

As she took the stage, I noticed her springy blonde hair that matched her personality inch for inch. She presented like the Energizer Bunny, clicking through slide after slide of quirky quotes and reviewing the pros and cons of each option in the publishing world in detail — in a talk she’d titled “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Deadlines.”

It’s the question every writer must grapple with: do you want to call the shots, or let someone else? I’d been grappling with that myself.

Instinctively, I began to reflect on the answer I’d reached. Originally, I’d considered co-publishing my book. Next, I’d staunchly decided on self-publishing. As Jenny went on, the realization sank in like a rock to the bottom of a lake: I’d defaulted to those options because, deep down, I didn’t believe a “real publisher” would ever publish my book.

The familiar fear remained as I drove off at the end of that first day, curving around the dark rural back roads to home.

But the next day, I couldn’t help feeling renewed hope as I walked into a session with my former classmate Daniel Blackaby, who had published eight books since I saw him last in Shakespearean Tragedies.

If he did it, why can’t I?

The chairs were filled, and we had to bring in more from next door to seat the group consisting of teenagers up to 60-somethings. Daniel encouraged us to write even when we didn’t feel inspired. He gave us silly prompts and the results were side-hurting laughs at soon-to-be stories by creative writers.

  • You’re the coach of a basketball team that’s about to lose. Write the worst pep talk ever.
  • You just woke up, looked in the mirror, and screamed. Write what you saw.
  • Write a back-of-the-book description for this picture. (It was an old-timey ship, a long tentacle rising up out of the surrounding tempestuous waves.)

After the session, Daniel and I talked for a minute about our current projects. To my surprise, he even offered to read my book and provide feedback.

I’ll never forget the next session with Jenny.

She took us step by step through her writing process — from jotting down initial concepts on an idea page, outlining, and planning out chapters to finding a critique team, knowing when to stop editing, and even soliciting endorsements for your book cover.

She reminded us that we do everything first for God and the results are ultimately up to Him.

“My book will get rejected by publishers. But if I give God 100 percent of the steps, then when my book gets rejected, they’ve rejected God’s plan,” I scribbled down in big letters.

The words entered my soul as if they’d been meant only for me.

I rehearsed those words as I waited at the large conference table, pulling out my binder and re-reading the title on the front.

Then he came in, the quiet man with the blue eyes and a tie. I stood, and we introduced ourselves.

“Hey, I’m Celeste,” I said, sure to give what one of our family friends used to call “the famous Hawkins handshake” — the one I’d practiced as a girl when people greeted us at church doors. “Good to meet you, Dr. Lowry.”

“You can call me Sam,” he said in his brilliant Irish accent.

I asked him why he first became interested in books, figuring that’s the only reason anyone becomes a publisher. He recounted how his father had built him a wooden shelf by hand. After that, he felt a sense of responsibility to fill it up with books. He couldn’t stop reading.

The conversation turned to me. I told him about my background as a writer, gave him the elevator pitch for my book, and slid over the three-ring binder containing my manuscript. My heart quickened as I felt powerless to keep it safe and un-rejected any longer.

“It’s short,” he said about the word count, listed on the cover page.

“Yeah,” I said, then gulped.

I studied his every reaction, as he began to thumb through the pages, flipping forward then backward.

“Oh, I’m glad you have questions. You need that,” he added, pointing to the end of a chapter.

I nodded.

“Hmm,” he continued.

Was that the good kind of “hmm” or the bad kind of “hmm”? I stretched my shoulders back, willing every muscle to stay calm.

We sat in a silence that felt like eternity.

Finally, he spoke.

“Well, it’s definitely a good book.” He looked up with a smile.

My heart exploded like fireworks and surprise birthday parties. It was one of the best strings of words I’ve ever heard, lined up together like that.

“Send me the manuscript,” he continued.

Did he really just say that? What is happening? My mind raced. Should I say something now?

“Okay. Of course,” I managed to answer, gathering my things and probably saying “thank you” a dozen times as his next appointment walked in and I left, bounding up the stairs to find someone to tell.

Even now, I hardly believe it. I shared my book with a publisher. Then, he actually read it. Then, he wrote back saying that they’d be pleased to publish it. Now I’ve signed a book contract with Ambassador International. And maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll be on the other side of the Write2Ignite Conference table at North Greenville University autographing my first book.

[This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of 1892, the alumni magazine of North Greenville University.]

Celeste Hawkins lived in the same red-shuttered house in North Carolina until she was 22. After studying English education, Celeste started her career in writing and editing. Her work has appeared online at USA Today 10Best.com, as well as in print in edible UPCOUNTRY and 1892 Magazine, among others. She also created the popular travel website Travelers Rest Here. Set to release within this decade (hopefully), Always Been Loved is her first book, a deeply personal discovery of God’s out-of-this-world love for us. Celeste also enjoys sharing amazing stories of what happens when we pray, listen for God’s voice, and then obey at StillGodSpeaks.com.

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Welcome, Helena George

Last September, I made the drive to South Carolina full of anticipation. My first writers conference! Dreams swirled in my head. I would meet other writers…talk about books and characters…maybe catch the attention of a publisher…talk about writing and books some more…

I’ll admit, I was nervous. I’d probably say something stupid or spill a drink or get lost. Maybe someone would tell me point-blank that my story ideas were plain trash.

Well, let me be up front and say that I do not regret going. Write2Ignite challenged me to ask myself: Why do I write? What do I want to leave my readers with? Am I prepared to do the work that it takes to get my own writing published?

I learned a lot. I listened a lot. I talked a lot. Everyone I met with had a story. They told me about their own writing journey, their published works, their story ideas. And all our conversations were full of God–what He has done in our lives and in our writing.

I especially loved being told (in a writer’s conference!) to do my absolute best and leave the results to God; to seek Him first and bring all my writing concerns to Him in prayer.  As the popular verse in 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” God has given us these gifts, these stories, and we must do our best to learn the craft and write them well and not for ourselves, but for His glory.

While I haven’t been to other writing conferences, I can still honestly say I would recommend going to Write2Ignite. It’s run well, and the staff and speakers are friendly and encouraging. I rarely was confused about where to go and what was going on, and my whole trip went smoothly. One of the highlights was the mealtimes–getting to sit and talk to other writers and readers while getting unlimited cookies from the cafeteria!

I look forward to returning to Write2Ignite!

Helena George grew up in a house with books in every room, and acquired a taste for reading at an early age. She is currently finishing up her YA fantasy trilogy and blogs under the pen name Julian Daventry at http://juliandaventrymemories.blogspot.com/ When she’s not busy working or crafting stories, Helena fixes pasture fencing, pretends to be a runner, and rides her three horses.