Rejection Dejection?


This was my horoscope this morning:

The power of your positive thoughts can save you from a difficult situation today, yet it still might be hard to hold on to your dream.”

I knew right away, without a doubt, what it was referring to. Sure enough, I opened my email to find two new rejection letters, including one from the agent I’ve been dying to win over for the past two years.

To be honest, though, this wasn’t as painful as I was expecting it to be. Maybe it’s because this is the second book I’m querying for (the first one had no success) and I’m just getting used to rejection. Maybe it’s because I have faith still that Ciphers is good enough to catch someone’s interest. Or maybe it’s all those articles I’ve been reading online that insist that a dozen rejections are better than a dozen luke-warm agents expressing interest — because the only agent that should matter is the one who loves my novel as much as I do. Anyone else is a waste of time and, essentially, not right for me.

So what does that mean if no agent winds up expressing interest in my novel?

Two years ago, after one too many rejections for my first novel, Lavender, I gave up the ghost. Even to me, the plot of that first completed work was wishy-washy, almost every detail cliché, and the only reason I hadn’t shelved it yet was that I’d spent eight years on the cursed thing and couldn’t bear to let all that hard work go to waste. There was no way this wouldn’t be seen through in the query letter, but I had to at least try, right?

But because I already had those doubts, I stopped after only a handful of queries.

This time, I know my novel is publishable. I have a strong plot, good characters, and a fresh concept. My betas, all honest, constructive readers, tell me they enjoyed reading it. And okay, the manuscript can still use a little work. But there’s always something that can be better, and honestly if an editor said “let’s publish this just as it is” then I’d only be mildly embarrassed rather than mortified. (And considering one of my best friends once referred to my editing process as “sterilization,” this is no small detail.)

That’s why this time I’m not going to quit. If I query every single agent who represents YA fantasy and get nothing but rejections, I’ll move on to editors. If all the editors reject me, I’ll find another route. Self-publishing, in my opinion, should only ever be a last resort; but I don’t think it’s completely off the table, either.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, writers should believe in their writing. If you can’t, then scrap it; but if you can, then don’t give up. As long as there’s someone out there who can enjoy it, it’s your duty as an author to share it with them one way or another. Yes, I realize this is defending stories like Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray in a roundabout way — and for the record I still think both series are crap and would never want my name associated with them in any way — but guess what? People enjoy them. This is a sad but undeniable truth. And both series are published, and both authors are now making more money than I’ve ever seen in my life.

Some bittersweet food for thought.

Moral of the story: Never give up!

Query Time!


(alternatively titled “Synopses Suck”)

With the second draft of Ciphers complete and safe (probably) in the hands of my five wonderful beta readers, I decided to pass the week with a focus on agents, query letters, and finally writing that dreaded synopsis.

You know how there are some tasks you forget to do in a kind-of-accidentally-on-purpose way?

Not all agents require a synopsis. For the initial contact, some want only a one-page query letter. Some ask for the first few pages of the novel along with that. But that doesn’t mean synopses can just be slapped together for those agents who do want one. In fact, if novelists had their own version of Dante’s Hell, one of the rings would surely have synopsis-writing as the punishment.

Okay, May. This won’t be so hard. At least, not as hard as with Lavender. Ciphers is only half the length, and of much higher quality…

Some synopsis-wanting agents will be specific about how many pages it should be, usually one or two. But if not you’ll just have to go by the general rule of thumb, as told to you by… Google?

Synopsis-writing Rule #1: There is no rule about length.

So what Google tells us is that you are squashing an elephant into a sardine can in the most artful way possible. Some authorities say one or two pages for the whole novel; some say one or two pages for every hundred novel pages. The other option is to trust that what holds true for some agents will hold true for others. From my agency webpage searches, synopses of “no more than two pages” seem to be preferred, when there is a preference stated. The danger in this is that every agent is different.

So, in the end, you might as well close your eyes and throw a dart. Personally, I wanted to stick with the two page limit and just hope it didn’t drive me mad. That will work fine for most agents, including several who specified two pages… Not so much for that one agent demanding a single page. Which means that regardless, I’m writing at least two variations of a synopsis.

As we say in Korea… 헐.

Once you’ve set your limit, it’s time to decide what to include. With a 200-page novel, there’ll only be room for the really important stuff — the plot skeleton, picked clean of any literary flourishes, details, and character depth. A cold outline serving no other purpose than to tell the agent/editor what happens, whether it’s interesting, and whether your plot carries through. Right?

“Maybe reading it this way will make it less boring.”

Synopsis-writing Rule #2: Your synopsis must convey plot, voice, and character development.

When I finished my first novel and learned of the wretched existence of the synopsis, I found a lot of advice on the web that told me to forget about everything except for the hard facts. “Explain what happens, caps lock each character’s name the first time you use it, and for god’s sake don’t finish with a teaser.”

Yes, explain what happens. Yes, spoil the ending. Erm, I don’t think anyone wants to see characters’ names in caps lock anymore. But make sure you have this perspective: agents and editors only have so much time to allot each submission. Therefore they have to limit what they see, and make a snap decision based on that little sample. You can have an engaging query letter and a sample of pages that scream with potential, but if the essence of your writing doesn’t carry through in your synopsis, whoever’s reading can and will forget about everything else that makes your submission great.

Imagine Terry Pratchett writing a synopsis that reads like a Tolstoy. The agent would probably think, “okay, this is the usual epic fantasy; but what’s with all these inappropriate place and character names?”

Ciphers is written from two main 3rd-person points of view: Siph’s and Bridget’s. Our hero is cynical, short-tempered, and articulate, while Brid is uncertain, stubborn, and loves lingo. Oh holy Hell how am I supposed to convey that in only a page or two? It would be nice if I could just state it; but then the synopsis would remain dry and lacking any real voice.

What the Internet would have me write: “Siph is a short-tempered cynic. Bridget is a tomboy. Siph resents having to observe Bridget.”

What will actually impress agents: “Siph is glad to finally be allowed outside headquarters; not so glad to be stuck with the idiotic Gard for his partner, or to be baby-sitting a tomboy with a skateboard.”

Much better… but look at how long it is!

This is where you fall into the Pit of Synopsis Despair only to land on the Giant Hamster Wheel of Cyclical Editing. Take your dry, voiceless words and pretty them up. Then it’s time to hack them down again to meet your page limit. By the time you’ve removed all the “unnecessary” words, it’s a skeleton again.

And you keep on dressing up and cutting down, over and over, for that little sliver of a chance that before you go mad you might look up from your work and find yourself with something presentable…

And that is why synopses suck.

Suneung: The Korean Student’s Nightmare


I’m updating twice today because I didn’t feel I should mix Suneung with more pleasant things (like writing synopses).

Today is 수능, the day Korean students spend their entire high school lives dreading.

If you’re a fan of Japanese culture, as I was long before I ever thought of stepping foot into the Land of the Morning Calm, you might know that instead of looking at transcripts, Japanese colleges look at test scores. The same is true in Korea as well, to the extent that on the day of College Entrance Exams, the entire nation goes all-out to cheer on the poor high school seniors who have to take them.

This, but outside every high school in the country.

Imagine if colleges in the States threw out all the other parts of your application and looked solely at your SAT scores. “That’s fine,” some of you might think, “I did pretty well on the SATs.”

Now imagine that instead of looking at your score, what they’re actually looking at is your percentile — your rank out of every single person who took that test.

So you want to go to Seoul University (or Harvard) and you got a 1500/1600. By most standards, that’s amazing! But the problem is that you live in a country full of students who believe that test scores are everything, so there’s a good few hundred who scored higher than you. They fill up the entry slots for the country’s most prestigious university.

And you’re bumped right off the list.

So it’s not just about taking home a high score; it’s literally about being better than everyone else. This is why I don’t teach the seniors at my school: the younger grades already stay on campus until 10pm and then study at home until 2am. My seniors do all this AND prepare for Suneung.

And I just get the day off…

헐.

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