I have a very special guest today, the wonderful Joylene Nowell Butler, author of Dead Witness. Not only is Joylene an indefatiguable blogger and generous friend to published and unpublished writers alike, she is a talented writer with one book published and a second on its way next year. I am thrilled that she consented to be a guest here today! Joylene says:

Have you ever wondered why you put so much time and effort into writing that story — only to receive enough rejections to wallpaper a small room?

Some writers say they write because that’s who they are. Some say it’s not a choice but a destiny. Others say it’s for the simple joy of writing a good book. I say it’s all three.

But how do you know if you’ve written a good book?

I had a conversation at my first signing that went something like this…

He picked up a copy of my book, looked it over, then set it down. “Nice cover. Dead Witness, eh? What’s it about?”

“It’s the story of a Canadian woman kidnapped by the FBI. They fake her death, make her family believe she’s dead, and convince her that if she doesn’t stay dead, the killer will go after her children.”

 “Sounds interesting.”

“It is. But what makes this story different is Valerie finds the courage to defy the FBI and go after the killer herself.”

“Sounds a bit daffy.”

“Not at all. She’s willing to risk her life to save her daughters.”

“She still sounds crazy. How much is the book?”

“Twenty dollars.”

“That’s expensive for a novel.”

“That depends on what a few night’s entertainment is worth to you.”

He shrugged and bought a copy.

The next morning he emailed to say, “Joylene, I stayed up all night reading your book. I could not put it down. Thank you for writing such a good story. Yes, it was worth every penny.”

I’ve received many responses like this since publishing Dead Witness in July 2008, but that first one – well, it was my first. Yes, I wrote Dead Witness because it was a story inside of me fighting to get out. And yes, I write because that’s who I am; I can’t imagine not writing.

Marketers tell you that you must believe in your work to be successful. But until I heard from my readers, for years (24 to be exact), I never truly believed in my ability. Those responses were a validation. If they loved my book, then it must be good. They weren’t family and friends; they had nothing to gain by lying.

One day I received a bad review, and something very special happened. Instead of becoming an emotional cripple and folding like an accordion, I realized that everyone is entitled to an opinion. I know Dead Witness is a good book, and I know I can’t please everyone.

If you’re a writer, then write. Learn your craft. Know that if you doubt your ability, time and effort will diminish that doubt. One day you’ll be overwhelmed with the most powerful and beautiful feeling ever: My book is worth every penny.  

* * *

Joylene Nowell Butler was born in Manitoba and raised in British Columbia, Canada. She attended Douglas College and Simon Fraser University. In 1992, she and her husband retired to a community in central BC called Cluculz Lake. There, Joylene wrote 4 other books and is currently working on her sixth. Her novel Broken But Not Dead will be released in 2011 by Theytus Books.

See also: Dead Witness Excerpt by Joylene Nowell Butler
                Pat Bertram Introduces Valerie McCormick, Hero of Dead Witness by Joylene Nowell Butler

On Writing “Shadows”

My guest today is Joan De La Haye, author of Shadows and co-founder of Rebel e Publishers. Joan writes:

I started writing Shadows a few years ago. I was in the middle of editing and finishing off another book, which is now collecting dust in the back of a drawer, when the idea for Shadows hit me. In fact it did hit me, in the middle of the night, in the guise of a very freaky nightmare.

I decided that since it frightened me, it probably would also frighten others. I couldn’t go back to sleep so poured a glass of wine, switched on my old computer and started writing a story that seemed to come from somewhere else. It was one of those rare moments when the muse strikes and there’s just no arguing with her or in this case him. The story just flowed out of my fingers and onto the keyboard.

I spent a year working on the first draft. This time I took Stephen King’s advice and wrote with the door tightly shut. I’d made the mistake with my previous book, the one that’s collecting dust, and allowed too many people to influence it. As a result it ended up not being my book.

The first draft was only Sarah’s story and written from her perspective. It ended up being way too short, so I added Kevin’s story and tied them together. They fitted together seamlessly, but there was still something missing from the story. I couldn’t figure out what it was until I sent it off to a local publisher. The submissions editor loved it, but said that it was too short and she then suggested that I added some additional scenes.

The additions she suggested were all great and incredibly helpful, but she also got me thinking about another side. One I hadn’t even thought about. Carol’s story was written in a matter of days. I couldn’t focus on anything else until her story was written. Shadows became the interwoven story of three very flawed individuals struggling with their own demons.

I re-submitted it to the local publisher, who then unfortunately didn’t like the extra scenes that they’d requested. It wasn’t what they’d wanted. It took a year from my original submission to the day the publisher passed on Shadows.

Needless to say I was devastated. I’ve never been very good in handling rejection. What I did to get over the rejection can be found on Pat’s other blog: Book Marketing Floozy.

See also: Pat Bertram Introduces Jack, the Torment Demon from Shadows by Joan De La Haye

What If People Like My Books?

An odd thought struck me this morning: what if people actually like my books? Over the past few years, I’ve racked up hundreds of rejections. I told myself the agents and editors were only rejecting my query letters, because what else could they be rejecting? None of those I sent letters to had ever heard of me, so they could not be rejecting me personally. Nor did most request any part of a manuscript, so they could not be rejecting my novels. But others did request parts of the manuscripts, and found them wanting. Some did not like my characters, my setting, my matter-of-fact style, my inability to sweep them away. Some did not like that the books could not be easily slotted into a genre. The rest simply said the books did not fit with their list. I had a great attitude through all those rejections, and I didn’t think they affected me, but they must have, because I’ve been steeling myself against weak sales and less-than-stellar reviews.

Ever since More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire were accepted by Second Wind Publishing, I’ve been so focused on figuring out how to sell my books (I even started a new blog, Book Marketing Floozy, to share what I learned and will continue to learn) that it never occurred to me people might read my books. Of course, one-fourth to one-half of all purchased books are never read, so perhaps those who buy won’t read, but what if they do?

Now that my publication date is nearing (actually, it’s not a date, more like a time — end of November), and my novels are about to be made available, I’m getting nervous. Only one person (a free lance editor I met in a writing group) read all four of my manuscripts, and she absolutely loved them. And an author I met through my blog read one of my manuscripts, and she thought it was brilliant. Although many people have read excerpts of my novels, no one else has ever read one all the way through. Soon my novels will be published.

And what if people like them?

You’ve Written “The End.” Now What?

Sherilyn Winrose, author of Safe Harbor, talks about her novel:

It’s been written, you’ve come to the conculsion of your story. Joy, Elation! Congratulations you’ve finished a full length novel. Many dream, many aspire, and you’ve completed the goal: to write “The End.”

When I was writing my first manuscript (ms) I had my best friend (the one person in the world who would tell me if it was crap) beta reading as I went. In as much I did clean up editing along the way. Little did I know how far from the finish line I was; probably a good thing in retrospect.

I bought books on how to query and be published. Very quickly I discovered I was a guppy swimming with sharks. One needs an agent to find a publisher. Agents like to take on authors who have an interested publisher. Huh? I need an agent to get a publisher, and to get an agent I need a publisher?

Confused, I set about sending queries and writing my next book.

What I didn’t know?

I had a first draft, not a finished piece. Reject letters came in and I kept writing.

Fast forward to a contest. I got out my ms and started to read in hopes of polishing it into a winning submission. Gasp! I wrote that? It’s littered with infomation dumps, saidisms, head hopping.. good gracious no wonder all I got were reject letters.

Time for the first real rewrite/edit. Good news? I still love my characters and the stories I’ve written. Bad news? As I learn and grow as a writer I find myself back in the orginal mss looking to clean them up.

The journey from “The End” to Published is a long road.  I made it, and stand as a testiment that hard work and perseverance does indeed pay off.

Sherilyn’s debut novel, Safe Harbor, is available through Second Wind Publishing.

More Rejections

I’ve been sending out queries lately, so I’ve been getting rejections. I think I would be more accepting of the situation if there was a consensus as to why agents and editors are turning down my work. One rejection letter said that my writing was good and the premise intriguing but the book leaned too far toward science fiction to be a good fit. Another letter I received the same day for the same novel said that she was immediately impressed but that there weren’t enough science fiction elements for their list.

Oddly enough, I never considered the book to be science fiction at all — I thought it was more of a thriller, except that it’s not thrilling enough to be classified as a thriller. And if not a thriller, then a mystery, though it doesn’t quite fit into the mystery/suspense category, either.

I can’t imagine what reasons they will give for rejecting my work in progress, assuming I ever get the book finished. (For some reason I can’t write during the summer, so it’s really a work in stagnation.) But the book defies any sort of classification. Well, there’s no point in worrying about that now. I have four completed novels that are racking up the rejections, and that’s about all I can handle for now.

As I was writing this, I received another rejection in the mail. Lucky me! This one said “The concept of the novel is intriguing and the ominous and tense tone of the writing reflects the mood of the protagonist fairly well. Unfortunately, due to the confusing nature of the plot, it’s not right for our current list.” Confusing? I thought that was the point — keep the reader confused until the end when all is made clear and they become unconfused.

I’m used to rejection, of course. It’s all part of the submission process. But oh, how marvelous if just once in my life I had to get used to acceptance!

The Road to Rejection is Paved with Bad Beginnings

The metaphor in the title of this article might be a cliché, but it is true. The number one reason for agents and editors to reject a manuscript is a poor beginning for the simple reason that if the beginning is bad, they read no further.

So what is a good beginning? I can tell you that it must be interesting; it must hook the reader; it should introduce the main character and the basic conflict; it must pertain to the story and not be tacked on simply to attract attention; it should not contain any adverbs; it should not contain any backstory; and it should be well written without being unintentionally funny, such as a character who thinks to himself — who else would he think to? But I can’t tell you how to write a good beginning, and after reading Hooked by Les Edgerton, I am even less equipped to tell you than before I read it. The problem is that I was not moved by even one of the first lines or first paragraphs that he held up as stellar examples of good beginnings. In fact, as constant a reader as I am, I was so unimpressed by every single one of them that I did not add any of the novels to my reading list. This does not mean I think they were bad beginnings, only that they didn’t move me.

Since I can’t tell you how to write a good beginning, I will tell you some of Edgerton’s red flags that keep agents and editors from reading further:

Opening with a dream. Understandable why they would hate that beginning; I do, and I’m sure you do too. Talk about a cliché! The only thing worse is having your character wake up at the end of the book and discovering the entire story was a dream. Makes me feel cheated.

A character waking up to an alarm clock or a radio announcement of a major event. This tells the agent or editor that your book will be filled with tedious details. If your book is filled with the tedious details of day-to-day living, it would be a good idea to get rid of them. If it isn’t filled with such details, it would be a good idea to write an opening that better reflects your writing.

Too little dialogue. If there is no dialogue on the first page, editors and agents will generally pass because it is a sign of densely written prose, which no longer sells well.

Opening with dialogue. The only time this is acceptable is if the speakers are immediately identified. If we don’t know who the people are, why would anyone care what they are saying? I know I don’t. This goes double for rumination. Nothing is more boring than a character who sits around “thinking to himself.”

Other than that, you will have to find your own way to a good beginning, as will I, and hope that whatever beginning we write will be so great it cannot be ignored.


Mafia Cat Rejects Hilter. Hitler Breaks Off German-Italian Alliance. War Ends.

I once read that certain topics were guaranteed attention getters. The only four from that list I remember are Hitler, the Mafia, war, and cats, to which I would add rejection. My post “A Rejection So Pleasant It Was Almost an Acceptance” attracted more attention than the last four combined. The title of this post is a 12-word short story based on those five attention getters (it got you here, didn’t it?) but the one I will be focusing on is rejection.

Rejection is hard to deal with because we feel so . . . rejected. Writers aspiring to be published, however, need to learn how to deal with it. There are hundreds of thousands of books written each year by unpublished novelists, and only a couple of hundred will be accepted by major publishers. Rejection, then, is part of the game.

A fellow writer pointed out that my great rejection letter scored high on the etiquette scale, but it was very likely a form letter. He could be right. I once got a rejection letter from an agent that was printed out on a computer and addressed to me personally. The letter spoke of my writing ability, mentioned the name of my book and how they had considered taking it on but had to pass because the subject matter was not quite right for their agency. Pleased with the personal touch and believing I was close to finding representation, I checked to see which of my novels would be a better fit, shot off another query, and received the same basic rejection letter in return. Definitely a case of a form letter that scored high on the etiquette scale.

If it is possible to write rejection letters that make the recipient feel good, why do agents and editors send letters that are cold, almost cruel? Because, despite what they say, they do not want to be queried. They get thousands of queries a year, and each of those queries mean unpaid work.

My advice? Briefly glance at any letter you receive to make sure it is a rejection, then shred it. Get it out of your sight. Send out more queries; to a certain extent, the more you are rejected, the more you become inured to it. Also, learn to see rejection letters for what they are: an attempt at keeping you from bothering that agent or editor again.

And hope that one day you will become so well known that those agents will seek you out, and then you can send them rejection letters.

A Rejection So Pleasant It Was Almost an Acceptance

 Yesterday I received two encouraging emails. The first was a rejection letter from an agent:

“Thank you for allowing us to review your manuscript for Light Bringer. Your writing is very impressive and, on a personal level, I enjoyed the story immensely. Unfortunately, at this time, we are not prepared to offer a contract for representation.

“I know it is disappointing to receive a rejection, but this is certainly not meant to suggest that your work is without merit. Rather, given the small size of our agency and the fluctuating nature of the market, our literary needs change periodically and sometimes we must pass on good writing simply because it doesn’t match those needs.

“Given the quality of your work, it really is just a matter of time and persistence before you find the right agent or publisher.”

The second email was a notice from Amazon regarding my novel Daughter Am I:

“Thank you for participating in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. We received thousands of submissions and were impressed by the incredible talent and creativity seen in the entries. We are happy to inform you that you have been selected as a semi-finalist.

“You can find your entry on via the following link:

“Now that you’re a semi-finalist, feel free to encourage friends and family to review yours and others’ entries.”

It sounds as if I had a good day, which I did, but at the end of it, I am still unpublished. Persistence is something I can do, but I could also use some help. If you get a chance, will you check out my ABNA entry? You can download it by clicking on the above link.

In Publishing, as in Life, Timing is Everything

 Performing artists like actors and comedians know that timing is everything. Without the right pause, the right word, the right gesture, the piece falls apart.

Life too is all about timing. Turn a corner and bump into a stranger who will become your mate. Run back into the house to answer the phone before you leave for work and later discover you missed being in an accident by those few minutes. Invest in a friend’s start-up business as a favor and end up being a millionaire.

Getting published is all about timing, too. You’ve written and rewritten your masterpiece, but you can find no takers. At best, you’re inundated with form rejection letters; at worst, you’re ignored. It’s entirely possible you are correct and your masterpiece is the bestseller-waiting-to-happen that you know it is. So how come you can’t get published?

Timing. As in the performing arts and the art of life, timing is everything, but unlike the performing arts, you cannot stand before a mirror and practice until you master your timing. All you can do is keep sending out your manuscript in the hopes that one day it will be on the right desk at the right time. Because one thing is certain, your desk is not the right one.

So how do you cope with all that rejection? Don’t think of it as rejection. Think of it as practicing your timing. Practice may not make perfect, but it does give you a chance.

After all, Gone with the Wind was published after being rejected thirty-two times.