Guest Post: David B. Coe, Rejections and The Aspiring Writer


David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of nineteen fantasy novels. He taught “Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot” for Odyssey Online in 2016.

As David B. Coe, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first two volumes, Spell Blind and His Father’s Eyes, are out from Baen Books. The third book in the series, Shadow’s Blade, will be released on May 3, 2016.

Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and, the newest volume, Dead Man’s Reach.

He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera. Visit David at the following sites:

Let’s start with the obvious: Rejections suck.

David Coe Spellblind

They hurt. They discourage. They dent our psyches, diminish our confidence, sap our will to keep working. They suck. I have been rejected tons of times. Twenty years and nineteen books into my career, I still get rejections.

Spell Blind, the first book of my contemporary urban fantasy series — the series Baen Books is publishing right now — was rejected sixteen times before it was finally picked up and published. It has since gotten very nice reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and others.

Now in the case of Spell Blind, there were so many rejections, spanning such a long time, that I finally went back to the manuscript, tore it apart (figuratively) rewrote it, tore it down again, rewrote it again, tore it down and built it again a third time, and then polished it until it shone. In the end, I wound up with a new plot and a new magic system. But the part of the book I believed in — the part that kept me working, the part I loved and would not give up on — was the characters and their interplay. And that remained largely the same.

A couple of things to remember.  Rejections are part of the business. I’m a sports fan, and so I think about it this way: Baseball teams play 162 games a year. Even the best teams are going to lose 60-70 of those. That doesn’t mean they’re failing; it means they’re not perfect. And none of us is perfect. That’s the first thing.

Second, without in any way downplaying the difficulty of those first rejections, part of writing is developing a thick skin. Two, or five, or even seven rejections on a short story is not very many at all. The same holds for novels. I know successful writers who, early in their careers, had dozens of agenting queries lead nowhere. There are lots of venues for short fiction submissions, lots of publishers, lots of agents; every rejection hurts, but sometimes it takes quite a few before a story or novel finds a home, or before a writer finds a suitable agent.

Third, and most important, rejection is not a judgment. It isn’t a judgment on you or your ability. It’s not even a judgment on your story, at least not really. Rather, it is a point in a negotiation. Any single rejection means that one particular editor on one particular day looking to fill one particular issue or anthology, did not choose to buy your story. It could be that he or she just bought another story that is similar enough in tone or theme or set-up to yours that he/she can’t buy both. It could be that he or she isn’t into your particular sub-genre, at least not at this time. It could be as simple and random as he or she just had a fight with his or her girlfriend Mary, and your story’s lead character is named Marie, and that’s enough to push his/her buttons today. Seriously, it can be that absurd. Or it could be that this one person didn’t like your story. That happens sometimes. It doesn’t mean the next editor won’t.

The key is not to overreact. I know this is much easier to say than it is to do. I still react badly to rejections. We all do. And that’s okay. It’s all right to grieve a little. Give yourself a day to rant and rage and shed a tear or two. Drink a glass of wine. Work on something else. Or don’t work at all. Take the rest of the day off. Often we need to process the impact of that rejection.  (Did I mention that rejections suck?)

But then, you have to send out the story or manuscript or query again. Test a few more venues. If after another four or five you’re still getting rejected, that still doesn’t mean the story or query is bad, but it may mean there’s something in there that’s rubbing readers the wrong way. Take it back to your beta readers and see if they can spot the problem.

David Coe Shadow's Blade

Just don’t give up. Don’t allow momentary disappointment and anger to turn into debilitating despair. The very worst thing that happens is, after many, many more rejections, you finally decide that this story isn’t going to sell and you move on to the next one. That still doesn’t mean that you’re a failure as a writer.

It’s part of the business.

But yeah, rejections really do suck.


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