So, as I may have mentioned, I am presently querying for a new novel, The Next Progression. I have sent out a total of 14 queries, 2 by email and 12 by post. I am fully expecting to get back 14 rejections, because that’s just the way things go.
As of yesterday, I have currently received 2 rejections, both vastly different variations of the same thing. I think these two failed letters manage to hit both ends of the form-rejection spectrum.
I am no stranger to rejection letters, in my attempts to sell Author of the Gust, I queried no fewer than 25 agents and publishers, and got back 25 no’s. While I’m relatively confident that all the rejections were because I had already self-published the piece, but it did provide me with a generous sampling of form rejections.
Every rejection you receive will basically be some variation of “we do not feel we are the right agency/publisher” with a few instances of “we are too busy to take new clients at this time”. Or, if you’re lucky, the double whammy of “we’re too busy AND we’re the wrong agency”.
Usually if will just be a form letter, but last week I got probably the laziest, cheapest rejection ever: the agent just has a stamp. Now, it is a form rejection letter on a stamp basically saying “we don’t think we’re the right agency”, but its still no better than a big red REJECTED stamp. A stamp on my query, shoved in my SASE, and sent back to me.
Yesterday I got the second rejection. This time, it was printed on high-quality paper stock, on nice company letterhead(in color), and signed in actual pen. It was still a form rejection letter saying the agent was the wrong agent and they were too busy, but still, it was the Cadillac of form rejection letters!
As the weeks pass, I expect to be getting even more rejections, and it will be interesting to see where they fall on the spectrum. I think I’ll make a nice graph to share with you all.
Now, there is an attitude among the dreamers and can’t do’s that inhabit the internet writing forums(I won’t name the specific writing forum here), who have developed a very interesting way of shielding themselves from rejection. Most simply never try to publish anything while walking around extolling all sorts of advice, but a lot of them have taken the opinion that “good writers can automatically write good query letters, so if you can’t write a good query letter, you must be a bad writer”. If anyone who just read that statement was suddenly overcome with the desire to ram your fist through the wall, congratulations, you’re smarter than most of the people on that forum.
Creative writing and business writing are two completely different disciplines. Obviously. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, since anyone smart enough to use a computer can probably tell the difference. People go to school for years to learn how to write for business, and they aren’t English majors.
Saying that being good at one equates to skill in the other is like assuming that a portrait artist will automatically be good at painting houses. While both disciplines can be defined as “painting”, they use completely different tools and require a completely different body of knowledge and skill-set. While it wouldn’t be a challenge to learn both, being a house painter doesn’t automatically make you a good portrait artist, and being a good portrait artist doesn’t mean you know how to mix house paint.
In the same way, creative writing and business writing are not the same. Business is not a story. You could be good at both, but they are completely different skills. I happen to be abysmally bad at business writing, I can’t write a good query to save my own life. I’m also a fantastic novelist, just ask my screaming fangirls. I can inspire the level of fandom that publishers want, but I can’t express it in my business letter.
I will leave you today with an excerpt from The Next Progression, and you can decide whether or not you think it should have been rejected:
Jason hung from the ledge, gripping the stone with all his might, searching for footholds. He had gotten so used to seeing in the dim blues and greens, that when the orange torchlight became visible above him, it took a moment to register what it was.
And then Sig’s tattooed face became visible.
“Sig!” Jason squeaked. “You’re alive!”
“Yeah, well, I’m kinda too good to die,” Sig replied with a slight grin. He knelt down on the rock and started leaning over the ledge.
“Boy, am I glad to see you,” Jason huffed. “Come on, help me up!”
Instead of grabbing Jason’s arm, Sig reached past it and took hold of the hilt of Divine Will, pulling it slowly out of the sheath and back up to the ledge with him.
“Hey!” Jason snapped. “That’s my sword, you little piss-ant!”
Sig stood up to his full height and examined the weapon.
“Do you have any idea,” he asked. “How much a pure orichalcum sword is worth?”
“A crap-ton, now help me up!” Jason barked.
“I mean, seriously,” Sig continued. “I’m not even going to be able to find a buyer for this thing! I’m going to have to smash it up and sell it piece by piece! I’ll be rich!”
“I’m hanging from a ledge, and you’re robbing me?” Jason finally asked.
“Pretty much,” Sig admitted. “That’s why I wanted to follow you down here. The Society’s got loads of awesome treasure; if I make it out of here alive I’ll be set for life.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Jason asked. “You came down here to steal?!”
“Well it ain’t exactly like my drunken dead-beat dad, or my whore mom left me much of an inheritance,” Sig spat. “I grew up in an orphanage, get it? I don’t got no loyalty to no one.”
“So you’re just going to steal from the Society of Assassins,” Jason growled.
“It’s a lot safer than stealing from dragons!” Sig shouted, his voice echoing around the expansive chamber. “Look, when I was eight, that jerk who ran the orphanage sold me to a coal miner. I spent all day deep underground, pulling sleds of coal through foot-and-a-half-high tunnels. I thought I was free when a cave-in killed the guy, but the mine owner figured he owned me, too, so he sold me to one of his customers—that guy was the rune-crafter. I learned some magic from him, then he tried to send me into a dragon eerie to steal their gold! I got out of there alive, and ran away! I’ve been alone ever since.”
“Look, help me out of here?” Jason pleaded.
“Sorry,” Sig apologized. “Thanks for the sword, chief.”
Sig turned to walk away when something struck him, and with a scream he toppled over the ledge. Jason let go with one hand and managed to catch him by the arm, but lost most of his tenuous hold.
With sweating palms, Sig gripped Jason’s wrist as tight as he could, while his bag of loot, along with Divine Will, fell hundreds of feet into the still lake bellow.
Straining with all his might, Jason pulled Sig up until he could grab on to his shoulders, and then regained his grip on the ledge. With a loud bark of fury, he heaved them both up and finally pulled himself back onto the stone walkway.
Only to come face to face with a dragon.
* * *
Instinctively, Jason moved between Sig and the dragon. It was black and gray with a few silver scales here and there. It had a huge body and a short, thick neck, its tail was long and dragged on the floor behind it, and its wings seemed stubby and disproportionate. Jason assumed this all meant it was a Black Earth Dragon, though without Aden to render an opinion, all bets were off. It looked at him, flared it’s nostrils a few times, then continued on across the bridge and down the passage.
“Huh,” Jason pursed his lips. “Well, that was weird.”
“Weird?!” Sig snapped. “How come it didn’t tear us apart?!”
“Because I’m… sort of… technically a member of Demi Flight,” Jason admitted. “Denna’s my mate; her father is one of Demi’s chieftains. The dragons will leave me alone, I guess.”
“Well, I’m stickin’ with you, then,” Sig coughed.
Jason flipped around and grabbed a big handful of Sig’s shirt, pushing him backwards towards the edge.
“You stole my sword, you little punk!” he snarled. “And now you want me to help you get out of here?!”
“Hey man, it’s cool,” Sig pleaded.
“You were gonna leave me to die!” Jason snarled.
“I figured you’d be able to get out of that scrape on your own!” Sig shot back. “And hey, guess what? You were fine!”
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t throw you over this edge right now?!” Jason howled.
“How ‘bout cuz you never killed a man?” Sig suggested coldly.
Jason’s grip slowly relaxed, and he took a step back from the ledge, pulling Sig with him.
“Ok, fine,” Jason growled. “Now how about a reason why I should let you follow me around instead of tying you up somewhere for the guards to find?”
“Oh, I got a good answer to that,” Sig grinned. “It was gonna be my number two in case the whole ‘you never killed nobody’ bit didn’t work. See, I know where your sword is.”
“So do I,” Jason gestured. “It’s down in that stupid lake thanks to YOU!”
“No, I mean your other sword,” Sig said. “The one you came here to get, along with that chick you mentioned.”
“Excalibur?” Jason breathed. “And Denna?”
“Yeah,” Sig nodded. “They’re in some big rock-cut gallery on this level. I saw ‘em from higher up, and was trying to get down here to steal ‘em when I ran into you. I don’t know what Excalibur’s made from, so I figured that orichalcum blade’d be worth more.”
“You wanted to steal my sword, but you weren’t sure it would be worth enough, so you tried to steal my other sword instead,” Jason sighed.
“When the opportunity arose,” Sig shrugged. “Look, I’m a thief, ok? You want me to admit it? I steal stuff.”
“You certainly chose a dangerous mark, this time,” Jason gestured. “The Society of Assassins may have great treasures and hidden riches, but they also, you know, kill people, a lot.”
“It’s the only life I know,” Sig shrugged. “I don’t know enough about rune-crafting to make a living at it, and magic doesn’t pay nearly as well as you’d think. The only other thing I’ve done in my life was yank coal sleds around, and I’ll starve to death before I do that again.”
“Coal mining, or trying to steal from a large organization of ruthless killers,” Jason weighed. “One can definitely see why you’d choose the latter.”
“You got any idea what a single ounce of mithril is worth?” Sig asked. “I walk outta here with a bag of low-grade loot, the kinda stuff they just got laying around, and I’d be set for life. I’d never have to steal again. I could go settle down somewhere—”
“Nowhere is out of the Society’s reach,” Jason cautioned. “You’d get to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder.”
“Still better ‘n hurryin’ coal,” Sig growled.
“Look, follow me,” Jason said.
“And get outta here?” Sig replied. “Yeah, sure, that was already my plan, remember? You can get me past the dragons!”
“No, I mean follow me,” Jason repeated. “Follow me, and become a Slayer Dragon.”
Sig took a step away, then edged a bit closer when he remembered where he was.
“Why?” he asked.
Jason stared at him.
“So you can be more than a thief,” he said simply. “Follow me, become a Slayer Dragon, and you won’t ever have to steal to survive.”
“Lofty promise,” Sig warned. “I mean, so far you ain’t got much goin for ya, Mr. Pendragon. You don’t even have a sword.”
The fact that he had less than Uther at this point was somewhat worrisome, but Jason set his jaw with grim resolve. He was deep underground, in the heart of the enemy’s lair, unarmed, and seemingly unable to convince even this young rogue to believe in his cause. Even Uther had a magic sword and a small army when he started, Jason had nothing.
Except for an ideal.
And one-sixteenth dragon blood flowing through his veins.
“Follow me,” Jason said once more.
Sig took a deep breath and nodded.
“You do realize,” he commented. “That ‘Slayer Dragon’ is like the dumbest name for a mystical order ever, right?”