Friday, July 22, 2016


It's bound to happen.  In fact, if it doesn't happen, you're not trying hard enough.  I'm not talking about the eventual publishing contract that comes with a suitcase full of money and promises of questionable moral fiber. I'm talking about that little thing that comes before. The little thing that can destroy your self esteem, cripple your ego, and make you wonder if this "writing" thing is ever going to happen:  Rejection. And, like it or not, it's just a part of life for whatever kind of writing you do.  So today, we're going to talk about rejection, how to deal with it, and what it means to your career.

Pictured:  Your dreams...
It has been theorized that a writer must get about a thousand (feel free to add a few zeroes to that number) rejections before ever getting an acceptance. And, unless you're insanely lucky, it holds true. The process goes something like this:  Write the novel, be certain of its ability to make you rich and famous, send it out, wait three months (or more), then get back the rejection and watch your certainty slip just a bit. Lather, rinse, repeat. When the rejection comes in, you read it, then you go through every stage of grief possible. 
  • Denial - No, they couldn't possibly have rejected this!  It must've been mistaken for someone else's piece!
  • Anger - Obviously, it was just too intelligent for those bastards at the publishing company! How dare they reject me? When it gets published, I'll buy this publisher and fire him!
  • Bargaining - Okay... But how could I change it to make it better and make you love it?
  • Depression - Maybe I'm just not good enough. What if I've been fooling myself all this time and I'm actually that guy that all my writer-friends make fun for deluding himself?
  • Acceptance - Yeah... they rejected it. That's their right. It wasn't right for that house, so maybe I'll try sending it to another house.
Again, lather, rinse repeat.

Guess what... You're not alone. So far, I've had thirteen books published. That sounds like a lot, but really, it's been mostly through micro presses and smaller presses. But before that, i got my share of rejections. And I saved them all. 
Pictured: rejection pile
Of them all, I've gotten some really nice letters, some pretty nasty letters, and even a few about which I was certain the sender got me confused with someone else.  My favorite rejection to date was on a torn scrap of paper one inch wide with the word "nope" scrawled on it. Yes, someone actually spent postage to mail me that. Thirteen books later, I still get rejected. 

So how do I deal with it, Uncle Scott?
The short answers are "The best you can" and "With grace." It's easier to talk about what not to do than what to do.  For starters, you don't quit. If you quit, you won't get the acceptance that you're after. You keep writing, keep improving, and keep trying to write that novel that will put your name on the shelves of bookstores. Second, you don't log onto social media and pitch a wall-eyed screaming crying fit. Oh sure, you can pitch a fit, but not where anyone can see you. It's okay to be hurt or angry, but what isn't okay is taking it out on anyone.  If you go throwing a fit, believe me, someone's going to catch wind of it, and it will get back to your agent and/or the publisher. 
But here's the thing... Read the rejections and see if you can get something out them. Take, for example, the latest rejection I got for my new manuscript, Ungeheur:
Thanks for sending UNGEHEUR by Scott A. Johnson. I’ve had a chance to read it, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass. I thought the writing was sharp, and I liked the mounting suspense, but I felt the plot was too standard, and I didn’t think it did anything different with the genre. I also would have liked more backstory on the creatures to elevate them beyond simple monsters. 
This, sent by my agent. So what can we glean from this?  First, this editor thinks my writing is sharp. That's a positive. The editor also liked the mounting suspense. Another positive!  Okay, so there were a few negatives, but this is constructive criticism, and it'll do nothing but make me better if I follow the advice and try to get something published with the same editor, but if I focus on the positives, I actually feel pretty damned good about this rejection.
Of course, a lot of rejections that people receive are form letters. Most agents get personalized responses. But when you do get a personalized response, first, focus on the fact that it's personalized. That means that the rejector took the time to write something out. That's a positive. Then pour through it to see if there are any positive notes that you can use. And, whatever you do, don't quit writing. Keep going, and learn from every rejection.  Hone your craft. 

But Uncle Scott, what does rejection mean to my career?
Honestly?  Not a damned thing. I mean, it means you're trying, but other than that, nothing. Want to feel good about your writing?  Take a look at this list of folks who were rejected numerous times:
  • Agatha Christie
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Louis L'Amour
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Zane Grey
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Judy Blume
  • Vladimir Nabokov
  • Beatrix Potter
  • Peter Benchley
  • L. Frank Baum
  • Madeleine L'Engle
  • H.G. Wells
  • Herman Melville
  • Stephen King
  • Frank Herbert
  • John Grisham
  • Norman Mailer
  • Mary Higgins Clark
  • Jack Kerouac
  • George Orwell
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Mario Puzo
  • Ursula K. LeGuin
  • William Faulkner
  • Jack London
  • Isaac Asimov
The list goes on and on. You've been rejected?  You're in good company. Look, writers number in the millions.  And there just aren't that many open slots for a new book at any given time. So the absolute best thing you can do is look at the rejection for what it is, and just get over it.  Move on.  Send that manuscript back out, get back on your horse, and start writing the next book. 
Get back to it, monkey!

Until next time...


Monday, July 18, 2016

Worldbuilding: Who is particularly bad at it?

I go on and on about world building. It's kind of annoying, really, and I know it, but if a world isn't properly constructed, I get yanked out of the story. I know I should just sit back and enjoy the show/book/movie/whatever, but I just can't.  See, that's one of the drawbacks to being a writer. Not only are you hyper-cricical of your own work, you notice when others aren't doing their job. Which brings me to one of my favorite television series:  Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now, before anyone goes powering phasers to "obliterate" and launching photon torpedoes, let me restate:  I LOVE ST:TNG. I feel Lt. Commander Data is one of the greatest characters ever written, and I'm not just saying that because my wife loves the guy. However, as a writer, there are lots of things about the show that makes me cringe, and it all comes down to proper world building.  So, crew of the Enterprise, I've judged you to be guilty of poor world building. You will confine yourselves to quarters until evidence has been given.

My prisoners...
Ignoring for a moment the whole Deus Ex Machina that is the "Universal Translator" (a gizmo that can translate any language into English for whomever might be listening....) there is still much for which the crew needs to answer.  For example:  With a universe as vast as the one they traverse, how, exactly, does one just arbitrarily use "ENGLISH" as the default? I mean, come on... There are literarily a billion stars out there, and millions of species each with their own languages. But even if there weren't, there are also more languages than just "ENGLISH"on Earth, so who picked it?  And why? Why not French? Or Russian? Or Spanish for that matter?

Donald Trump's America...
Here are a few other things that take me out of the moment when enjoying ST:TNG:
  • Sound doesn't travel in space... So why does the Enterprise (and other ships) whoosh along? How do we hear the phasers fire? 
  • Why do other alien species, with whom the Federation has had no previous contact, refer to their planets as Planet-name-NUMBER? How would they know what we call it? If they've never been off planet or their world is primitive, how would they know how many others of their planet be? It makes no sense to call this world "Earth 6" because if we did, we'd have to worry about what happened to Earth's 1-5. 
  • Ever notice how in almost every episode, someone has to make some sort of non-standard modifications to the warp-coils/engine/computer/dish array or one of a thousand other little issues on the ship?  Is any of it standard configured anymore? It's a miracle the Enterprise still flies with all the psychopathic rigging that Geordi LaForge has done on her. 
  • Okay, I'll go with the Holodeck and the Replicators, but why not, y'know, actually use them to their full potential? Whenever someone says "if only we had..." on this show, I roll my eyes. Why don't you just describe it to the all-powerful Computer (Long may Majel Baret reign, first lady of nerds) and make one? 
  • And, for that matter, with all the insanity that has come from having a Holodeck onboard, wouldn't a competent captain taken the damned thing offline by now? 
  • In space, everything moves in three dimensions, and there's no gravity... So why are all the other ships we see right-side-up? How does all the tech manage to match up? Why have we not yet met up with another "Federation of Planets"-style group? 
  • What are the odds that EVERY species that the Enterprise comes in contact with are bipedal with two eyes up front and compatible anatomy (I'm looking at you, RIKER)?
Pictured:  Kirk's Girlfriend
There are dozens of other examples as to why the world building in ST:TNG could've used some tweaking. From how certain races who were portrayed as very simian in nature ever got to the technological state where space travel was possible, to the way the captain repeated slaps around the Prime Directive, it's infuriating. 

So how does this apply to your writing? World-building, simply put, means you must first ask why. Why is her skin green? Why is the Holodeck left online? Why is the planet called Melos 4 BY ITS OWN INHABITANTS? And if you can't answer the question of "why," you've got some more thinking to do. 

Crew of the Enterprise, evidence has been presented... How do you plead?
Thought so.
As I suspected.  Guilty as charged. Look, I love ST:TNG. I love it for the positive message it tries to send, and because it's brain candy.  But, as a writer, there are things it does that I just can't abide, and poor world building is one of them. So don't hate ST:TNG, but learn from it. Ask the simple question with every point of your world:  Why? Your writing will be better for it.

Until next time...