What a bad puppy show can teach you about manuscript rejection

The email went out to all staff the day before Valentine’s Day: Vision Australia was bringing puppies to our workplace.

All staff were invited to book in for a 5 minute cuddle. The marketing collateral featured the exact same picture you see above: a small, white, fluffy puppy. He’d probably fit in your handbag.

Cute!

Everyone needs a puppy cuddle, it seems, because the event was fully booked within ten minutes of the email.

I’d been having a really stressful few weeks –   5.30am starts to record videos for my Memoir Course, which then weren’t uploading to my phone, before I went to my day job, before I came home to do more work on the technical side of my website and getting the course pages up.  I wasn’t sleeping very much or very well, because of all the screen time to fix all these technical issues (on top of my day job – which is in front of three computer screens).

So I needed a puppy. Even if I couldn’t cuddle one, I thought it would calm me just to look at them.

I spotted the large area which had been decorated with heart-shaped balloons for Valentine’s Day….

Not puppies, dogs

The email invite hadn’t specified a location, but when an elderly man appeared with a giant black Labrador wearing a Vision Australia harness I felt a little hopeful. He told me not to pat the dog, which seemed odd. No sooner had he arrived than a frail-looking (also elderly) woman arrived with a giant white Labrador, and the two dogs started to fight.

Both elderly people needed water, information, instructions…. But there was no event organizer to be found. Even worse, the chosen puppy spot was right next to the only section of the building where people can smoke. It stank, and I was worried about those dogs taking in so much passive smoke.

I explained to the dog-handlers where the public toilet facilities were, and shuffled back to my desk, even more anxious than before.

The two older Labradors were the extent of the show.

Even worse, they couldn’t be cuddled.

“I was expecting a bucket of puppies!” my colleague said, outraged after returning from her allocated ‘cuddle time’. She’d contented herself with a scratch of the black labrador’s ear while the elderly man restrained him from biting the other dog.

What on earth does any of this have to do with your manuscript rejection?

I had a number of epiphanies the day of the puppy show. The first was that I’m definitely not ready to launch the Memoir Course, and this was related to my worst ever manuscript rejection.

My most painful rejection

With Love + Other U-Turns, I sent an early draft way too soon to a big name publisher. It was ridiculous. I was so proud of how much work I’d done already, and so proud to have written a book-length work, I thought it was ready.

The publisher actually got in contact to say she liked what she was reading and wanted to meet me, which confirmed my hubris and I thought I had it made!

She was going to fly interstate to meet me.

Manage expectations

I told my sister. I told my mum. I picked out an outfit and spent ages getting ready for this meeting. I was sure I was about to get offered a book deal.  Why else would a publisher (who’d read my book) want to meet me in person?

Instead, she sat me down for an hour and told me everything that was wrong with the manuscript. The reason it was so unbearably painful to hear her feedback was because i was expecting something entirely different: an offer, a YES. Instead i felt like my life had been hacked up verbally because everything she said about the manuscript, I thought she was saying about me.

I was so shocked and upset, I had to take myself to the steps of a nearby cathedral and weep. It took months for me to recover, if i’m honest. When I did, I tentatively opened up my diary to re-read the key thing she said was wrong with my manuscript:

I’d started the story in the wrong spot.

Start with the inciting incident

I see this with many of the manuscripts I critique, too. So much unnecessary information precedes the actual ‘meat’ or point of the story that I know the writer is still ‘feeling their way in’ and it’s just simply not ready to send to a professional such as a publisher whose stock and trade is story.

You must get a focus sentence ready, and use that to assess what you put front, middle and back of your book. You need to re-write it (you may do this more than once. Yes). I’m a huge fan of the 3-Act Structure, and knowing the basics can really help you re-draft your memoir.

You need to edit your manuscript and rewrite it to the utmost best of your knowledge and ability to get it the best possible chance of being accepted. There are no shortcuts – you simply need to do the work.

Books take time – and getting a manuscript ready to submit takes time. You never, ever send out an early draft.

Publishers, editors and agents can be absolutely brutal so you need to have a thick skin, particularly with memoir. It’s your story, so it can feel like they’re criticizing you, not the story! Remember that to them, it’s not personal. Be ready for that. You might like to read this post I wrote about the agony of memoir being worth it.

You also need to give your manuscript the absolute best chance of success because you only get one chance to pitch.

Don’t send off any early draft – even a second or third draft, if it’s your first ever book. There’s a reason a book deal is a rare and special thing – – they take work.

Writing is rewriting and your story needs structure

Just like the puppy show, just like that early draft of Love and Other U-Turns, just like the Memoir Course I’ve decided to delay and restructure, just like your manuscript, it takes time to do things properly and do them well.

Your story needs structure, just like the puppy show needed infrastructure.

We can be so excited that we’ve already done so much work on something, that we think it’s ready to show.

It’s not.

Your manuscript might take another three big re-writes before you can confidently send it to a publisher. Give yourself that extra time.

Read all you can about story structure, and please, please ensure you’ve started the story in the right spot.

 

PS There’s a happy ending to the technical snafu side of this post: I’ve finally automated the sales of my journaling course and my e-book, because I have a shopping cart! This means you don’t need to use Paypal , and most importantly, it’s an automatic download for you.

 

 

 

2019-02-18T07:06:55+00:00

About the Author:

I write, read and teach memoir. I'm a paper cut survivor from way back. I love cats, kindness and coffee.

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