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Writers: Why your worst ideas ever might be your best

Andy Warhol: Campbell's Soup Cans (MoMA - New ...

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Three words: Andy Warhol. Soup.

Warhol made his name by making art out of the everyday. Campbell’s soup cans became transcendent when we saw them again through Warhol’s eyes. But don’t you think he encountered a lot of resistance along the way? Lots of people have.

When you look at creative endeavours, it can be very difficult to tell a good idea from a terrible one. In fact, some of the best ideas, appear to be the worst ideas ever at first glance. 

Ghandi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Publishing. Film. Art. It can all be like that.

Books have been written about rejection (and a lot of them were probably rejected quite a bit before finally getting published.) They are pretty funny when you look back on them now. Keats was told he couldn’t use language. The first guy who looked at Everybody Comes to Rick’s wrote that he gave the writer ten pages to grab him and he didn’t. Everybody Comes to Rick’s became Casablanca. Neil Gaiman‘s The Graveyard Book is a more recent example. It’s a great book about a baby whose family is murdered. The baby wanders down to the local boneyard to be raised by the ghosties there.

Yeah, I know! And yet. And yet.

Feel bad about getting rejected? Remember this: “Norton, this idea of yours is so crazy, it might just work!”

Great ideas often come in disguise. From the outside, they look just terrible. when you finally succeed (or go indie and make it happen on your own sans gatekeepers) you can wipe your tears away with a fifty.  (Okay, a five-spot. You’re a writer, after all.)

Filed under: publishing, Rant, Rejection, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

#Funny VIDEO: Wannabe author meets published author

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Writers: Rejection does not build character

manuscript by Saint Andrzej Bobola, Polish Jes...

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Some say rejection is part of “paying your dues” in the writing business. That’s over-analysis. Rejection is just someone saying no. When your query is rejected, do not read too much into it. 

Rejection is not useful on its own. It doesn’t thicken your skin for when you become a “real” writer. After you are published, you will get angry with critical reviews just as you are angry with rejections now. And why not? Your book is your child and an extension of you. If you are bent toward getting pissed off, you still will be. Rejection is not part of your training. Writing is your training. Learning your craft is a different proposition from receiving a form rejection slip. 

Rejection can be useful if you get specific feedback on why your story was rejected. Standard reply forms that say “not for us” tell you nothing except you must resubmit elsewhere. A manuscript evaluation (whether done by an editor you pay–ahem, like me) or by the people you submit to, can be useful. However, even then, it may be a question of taste in some regard. Agents and editors do sometimes take the time to tell you what they found wrong with a near miss. (Even if you disagree with their feedback, send a thank you note.) 

Understand this:

1. An agent or editor may give you a critique, but after you “fix” it, they are under no obligation to accept the manuscript. Many writers report great frustration over doing what they were told (perhaps even compromising their vision for the faint hope of publication) and still find themselves on the wrong side of the gate. No with details is still no. Doing everything you are told without running it through the filter of your own sensibility is no guarantee you’re on the right track. It also leaves you spineless and soulless. 

2. Publishers, editors and agents are extremely busy people. (Sometimes they wear that like a badge that they feel makes them special. However, I don’t know anybody who is at all cool who isn’t extremely busy, do you?) The point is, no one owes you a critique unless you paid them for said critique (ahem–like me.) Agents and editors typically say yes or no (mostly no.) They aren’t in the business of teaching you the craft. If they do send you a personal rejection and not a form rejection, it does mean you’re making progress. Handwritten notes of encouragement can make your day even though it’s a rejection doused with a little sweet perfume. 

3. If you send out a bunch of manuscripts and you receive no personal rejections, it means you have to tweak your manuscript or revisit your target selection process or both. Only you can decide how many rejections you suffer before you undertake further revision. Some say don’t tweak after you’re dome with revisions because by the time you’re finsally finsihed with revisions, you should be a little sick of it and ready to send your baby off to college. Fresh enthusiasm is what the new baby is for. Even as you edit the last book, your fickle nature should be pulling you toward the next book’s greatness.  

4. The rejection might not be about you. There are many variables that go into editorial decisions. Maybe the subject matter or execution is too foreign to the publisher or too much like one of the books they already have which failed. Maybe the editor loved it but it got shot down for budgetary reasons. Don’t get hung up on each rejection. Resubmit and move on to people who get you as quickly as possible. 

5. Don’t worry about rejection. It will occur. Expect it. It’s more important to do the writing and trust that good things are coming. Optimists are the only ones who succeed in this business. Pessimists, realists and the meek have the good sense not to try. They never succeed at much, but they’re cozy. Writers aren’t cozy with their place in the world. If they were, they wouldn’t be writers. 

6. Once you are published, you’ll realize the journey was more important than the destination. It’s the writing that matters, which is good because you’ll spend much more time writing than you will receiving prizes and getting drunk on fancy publicity junkets.  


When I was a kid, seeing my name in the paper was a big deal. By the time I was seventeen I had a regular byline in my local newspaper. By the time I was twenty, there was still a small thrill to see my byline on the front page of a provincial and city newspaper. My back page column in a magazine tickles. Recognition is still cool, but it’s not the same thrill and if a byline is all you write for, that’s not enough gas for the trip.  

The thrill is in the writing. The fun was finding just the right turn of phrase. It was always really about the writing. It always should be. 

Filed under: agents, Editors, manuscript evaluation, Rant, Rejection, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

Agents and (Non)Acquiring Editors: A Word on Gatekeeper’s Remorse (Some don’t have any!)

J. K. Rowling, after receiving an honorary deg...

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When a book is a great success, the rumors eventually emerge. JK Rowling was rejected six times. Meyer of Twilight fame? Fifteen times. All authors have stories of deals that almost went through. Many tell stories of cruel writing groups, insensitive english professors or critics that were hypercritical. When one writer triumphs and rises above these obstacles, all us of share a little of that. In German, it’s called Schadenfreude. In English it’s called “Nyaa-nyaa, nya-nya-naaaaaah!”       

Editors who reject books that go on to great success interest me. First question: Do they still have their jobs? Answer: Yes, of course they do.       

In Hollywood, you fail up. (Getting any movie made is such an accomplishment, you can have a string of failures and be a working director like M. Night Shyamalan.) If the rumoured stats are trues (85%-95% of books not earning their advances) publishing surely has the  highest tolerance for failure of any industry. There is no product research. “Product research is the first print run,” as they say. (Due to technology and Seth Godin forces, that’s changing. That’s another post.)       

Agents who pass up gold and editors who turn their noses up at diamonds answer predictably: “It’s a subjective business.” Yes. It is.    

Second Question: “But if these people are the experts who are supposed to know better, why do so many of their books tank?” Should we put so much stock in the opinion of people who are so often wrong? Dick Cheney doesn’t get to make credible predictions on foreign policy anymore. Why are we held in such thrall by agents and editors who have similar track records?      

The other common reply is, “I can’t represent it if I don’t love it.”       

I call bullshit. I’ve slogged through the slush pile. I worked as a sales rep for several publishing companies. I represented, and sold,  many books I never even got to read. (There were too many–especially when I worked at Cannon Books which listed hundreds and hundreds of books each year.) I even sold some books I actively loathed.       

The key question is not, “Do I love it?”        

The key questions are, “Can I sell it? Will lots of other people love it?”       

The idea that you can’t represent something unless you “love” it can set a ridiculously high bar for manuscript acceptance. You’ve read lots of books you liked and were glad to have read. How many were so good you really “loved” them? No wonder it’s so hard to get an agent if love is the accepted standard. (Love is not a standard criterion in business practice. You may think art is exempt from standard business practice. That’s one of the reasons this industry is in so much trouble. Artists worry their art is compromised, but without the business side? No art.)      

CORE ISSUE:       

Writers, particularly those yet-to-be published, are expected to have a thick skin.      

That is useful, though any really successful author will tell you the harsh critics hurt just as much as ever. They feel the pain, but aren’t supposed to complain.     

Some editors and agents     


act as if their mistakes aren’t mistakes.      

Therefore, their mistakes will be repeated.     

When ego gets in a writer’s way, he or she can’t learn and improve. That same principle should apply to gatekeepers. However, when gatekeepers make mistakes, some seem to say, “Not my fault. That’s just the way it is. I didn’t love it enough.” I say, “The new economy is making million-dollar companies, often out of billion-dollar companies. The coffee’s brewing and it’s a quarter past Massive Industry Fail. Wake up! And open up!”      

When you see an agent blog wherein the agent rips new queries, keep in mind that of all the many queries they analyse, they may accept only a handful (some perhaps two a year…or less.) Also, don’t work with snarky people because mean people suck and eventually they’ll be mean to you.     

This post was critical, not snarky. If I were snarky, I would have named names.      

Filed under: agents, Editors, manuscript evaluation, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Writers, , , , , , , , , , ,

Publishing: this is how hard it is

Les Edgerton’s latest post gives you a glimpse of how common query rejection is in the real world. And it’s not necessarily you. It’s them. Write it. Submit. Resubmit until it’s accepted. Don’t drive yourself nuts worrying about things you can’t control.

Filed under: agents, publishing, Rejection, ,

Writers Get Rejected. Deal.

Courtesy of one of my favorite haunts, Literary Rejections on Display, Writer Rejected shows that even Edgar Rice Burroughs got rejected. Tarzan was huge in the end, but in 1913, it was just another unknown writer’s tiny idea. Somebody eventually shared the author’s vision.

Don’t feel bad about your latest book or short story rejection. Instead, resubmit immediately and keep going.

Filed under: Rejection, Unintentionally hilarious, Writers,

Why is your short story getting rejected?

This sweet post explains why over at The Why of Fiction. It is a most excellent post which should spur you to action…rather than reaching for the orange juice and vodka.

Filed under: Rejection, ,

The ABCs of Content Provision with XYZ

The SET UP: Three executives at a conference table.

The ACTORS: X, a young man and  Y, a middle-aged woman (both in sharp power suits)  sit on either side of Z, an older man in hideous golf attire, all day-glow plaid.

Z listens as X and Y discuss a new advertising campaign.

X: Let’s get the old business out of the way first. The copywriter from the last push is still calling about getting paid for those brochures.

Y: Keep stalling.

X: He threatened to firebomb the building.

Y: Where’s he live?

X: The west coast.

Y: At his rate he can’t afford to travel. He won’t bomb the building.

X: He sounded pretty…motivated.

Z (piping up for the first time): Tell senior staff to bring a sweater just in case. I’ve got a tee time to make. Can we hurry this along?

Y: Only senior staff, sir?

Z: No need to get the minions excited. If that kook does show up it’ll probably be a single molotov cocktail. How much can that do? I don’t know anyone  who works below the 28th floor so let’s keep our eyes on the big picture, okay? (He taps his watch.)

X: Right. New business. I’ve been thinking about the new ad campaign–

Y (self-assured and interrupting breezily): What’s the webmaster saying?

X: What he always says. “More white space.”

Y: I don’t speak HTML but from what you’ve told me, that’s all he ever says.

X: Then he must be right.

Y: Yes. Nobody can be that arrogant all the time and ever be wrong.

X: We’ve gone over this. He won an award from Wired for his designs.

Y: I know. I know. It was a brown black smudge with six-point type in yellow. To read the content you’d need a microscope.

X: The article must have been about microscopes.

Y: Ah. Now I get it. That makes sense.

X: Well, I’m just guessing. Maybe not. Maybe it’s a comment on our superficiality in a post-literate society.

Z and Y look at each other blankly.

Y (to Z): I did warn you about hiring a goddamn English major, sir. How’s the ad campaign costing out, Professor?

X: We have several applications. I put it out for a bid on the web.

Y (glancing at Z): And? And?

X: Uh, well, this one from Angola looked promising but he wants to be paid with a goat.

Y: I told you, this is just content. We don’t have to pay a whole goat’s worth.

X: Do you think we can get it done for a couple of chickens?

Y (to Z): That’s the problem with these young guys. They want to spray money everywhere like that fixes the problem. I tell them all, do more with less. It makes them creative.

X (jumping in defensively): I’ve got a guy from Idaho who’ll do it for a single kind word from another human being.

Z grins and throws a knowing wink at Y.

Y (shaking her head and pleased to be destroying X with a condescending smile): We don’t do that.

X: Oh.

Z: I’d be on the tee right now if you just went with the lowest bid.

Y: Yes. Exactly. You’re exactly right, sir. What about it, X?

X (putting the sheaf of applications down, steeling himself): That’s just it, sir. I have a revolutionary proposal that will save the company–

Y: Oh, lordy! Sir, I had no idea he was going to waste your valuable golf work time.

X: I was talking.

Y: You haven’t discussed anything about this with me so it’s inappropriate–

X: I didn’t discuss it with you because I wasn’t interested in having you take credit for my ideas again.

Z’s mouth drops open. He looks back and forth between the two as Y stands up, furious.

Y: Pack up your personal things from your desk. Bruno will see you out.

X (talking just to Z now): Sir, it was me who came up with the idea for third world galley slaves to row your yacht.

Y: Sir! This is outrageous!

X: …and you can hear me out or I can take my brilliant idea for an ad campaign over to the competition and be in a VP suite by this afternoon.

Y is still standing, trembling with murderous rage. Z stares in X’s eyes for a full minute and X does not waiver. Finally, Z nods for Y to take a seat and turns back to X.

Z: Ballsy move, son.

X: Thanks, Dad.

Z: Not here. Go ahead. Let’s hear it. It better be good. And quick.

X: Well, I was thinking.

Y (rolling her eyes): Oh, God!

Z silences her with a look.

X: I was at this party and somebody was telling me about an old hamburger campaign that was really successful. I don’t know which one. It was long before I was born but (sweating but pressing forward, his eyes boring into Z’s) the point is, it was an old lady just saying “Where’s the beef?” The thing was, the line was improvised.

Z: So you’re saying improvise the content, not pay some schmoe a chicken to write it?

Y (reaching for a phone): Shall I call Bruno to escort him out, sir?

X: I’m not finished.

Z (putting out a hand to restrain Y from the phone): What else you got?

X: The problem is that whenever anyone speaks the content on TV the damn actors union insists the people talking get paid. But, if they don’t talk, they don’t get paid!

Y: What are you suggesting? We get the deaf to market our products with sign language? Some civil rights group would still insist we pay them. You can’t screw with the handicapped in this country. You have to outsource to Korea and China for that. (Beat) Idiot!

X: Oh yeah? Well, you didn’t think of this. I figured out who has less self-esteem and less power than writers and actors.

Z: What species is that?

X (triumphantly): Mimes! We get improvising mimes to do their performance art thing to get our message out. They’ll do anything and get paid nothing.

Y: Do you really think putting out TV commercials with mimes can communicate the intricacies we need consumers of complicated financial services products to swallow?

X (sitting back, self-satisfied and throwing it in Y’s face): Big picture, big picture, big picture! You’ve missed the big picture. We’ll get them to do radio commercials, too.

Z sits back, obviously stunned. Then, to Y: Call Bruno. Somebody needs to clear out a desk around here.

Y (snatching up the phone receiver): Finally!

Z: Clear out your desk, Y. I want my new VP here to have that corner office of yours.

(To X) You’ll love it. It’s got a view of the city, you can watch the wage apes all day and it’s got the only windows in the whole tower–besides mine–where you can toss out water balloons on the hapless throngs below.

X (brightly): Or acid balloons!

Z (delighted) : You are on a roll, boy!

Y (ashen) improvises a gutteral vowel sound for which she will not be paid.

Z: Don’t worry. I’m not sending you to the curb, Y. You’ve given me too many long years of loyal service not to keep you under my thumb to ensure your continued indentured misery. (He utters a terrifying baby-eater’s maniacal laugh.)

A single bitter tear makes its way down Y’s cheek.

Y: But sir–

Z (getting up): I’m sure we can find you something on the first floor by a window. You can keep a look out for angry writers with bombs.

Y: S-s-sir!

Z: Come with me, m’boy. It’s time I taught you the sweet science of the putter. Tomorrow you can drive downtown and start rounding up mimes. Stack ’em in the back of a truck and we’ll put some lipstick on the ol’ advertising pig, eh?

X: Thanks, Da–um, sir.


Filed under: Rejection, , ,

This just in: Literary Journal rejects writer AFTER 6 YEARS!

Dude sends “Pretentious Literary Journal” a submission. Six years later he receives their reply. Read and enjoy at Jason Sanford’s blog. Hero of the Afternoon Award to Mr. Sanford for his cutting autopsy of said journal. I only wish he had named names.

*Found through the great Writer Rejected at Literary Rejections on Display.

Filed under: publishing, Rant, Unintentionally hilarious, ,

From YouTube through Literary Rejections on Display

Filed under: Rant, Rejection, ,


Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

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An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

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Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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