(Photo borrowed from “Duck of the Day“)
But by this time, I had met a novelist, and he offered to read the first 35 pages of my story for free. He also explained how important those first 35 pages were. He suggested I read the opening 35 pages of my favorite authors to see what they do. So I did. He gave me a few suggestions.
“Begin at your startling point, not your starting point.” I’ve heard him say this so many times, I would say he sounded like a broken record, except no one would understand that metaphor any more. So I reworked my beginning. I took a little of most people’s advice and integrated it into my story.
The next spring, when I sent out the first 35 pages. I got a nice, personal rejection. The note was encouraging, generally, and pointed out a few problems I had made that had put them off. I fixed those and sent it out the next year. I got another personal rejection. As my friend, novelist Ken Rivard, would say, keep on sending it; it’ll get published. His view is that “writing is 99 percent perspiration and one percent inspiration.”
Though he is a friend, I deeply suspected him of being a liar on that last point. I often thought he was giving me some glib advice that didn’t really work. I wondered if he was unwilling to tell me the truth: stop writing and play computer games instead. Though I suspected his advice was fraudulent, I kept sending it out each spring.
The last five or six years I usually got a response where the publisher would ask to see the whole manuscript. I would send them the whole manuscript, and then they’d reject it with a fairly detailed critique. Usually the comments were extremely helpful, and helped me to slowly improve dimensions of my writing each time. Of course, there were always comments that I didn’t understand, or didn’t seem relevant.
The last rejection I got, last spring, was one from a very sharp editor in Ontario. The managing editor read the first 35 pages, and requested the whole manuscript. I sent it off and editor sent me back the first 35 pages marked up with her comments. She rejected the manuscript. Her advice I found hard to take because she wasn’t kind in her delivery. So I couldn’t deal with the comments right up front. I let them sit for several months and then, just before sending it out this Spring, I read them again. Sharp and jagged, her words were, but in them, a wealth of good writing advice. So, I swallowed my pride, and made the changes. Then I began to shop for a place to send my manuscript. Though rude and sometimes uneven, rejections were paving the way for success. These horrible attacks on my person and project were teaching me to write!