You recently beat me and others out for the Junette Woller Award from the San Antonio Writers Guild for the most writing rejections in the year. Congratulations!
I beat the runner-up by one submission, averaging just under two and a half per month.
Why do you think it’s important to celebrate your rejections?
I’m not so sure it’s celebrating being rejected—after all, I wouldn’t want to put this credential on my resume—as about making a public statement that as a professional writer I’m submitting my work.
How did this award start?
Junette "Judy" Woller wasn’t looking to embarrass anyone with this award, but she firmly believed that to become published, one had to submit—and keep submitting. She started this award in 1991 to encourage writers--whether they wrote fiction, nonfiction, or poetry--to get their work out there. In addition to the encouragement, the award was to help off-set the expense of postage. As I said, it wasn’t so much to celebrate one's rejections as to celebrate the tenacity and courage of writers to put their work into the hands of other professionals where it would have a chance to reach an audience, rather than remaining hidden in a drawer somewhere.
I think Judy also wanted to celebrate authors who didn't retreat from writing when rejections did come. Everyone who has ever won the "Judy Award”, as the San Antonio Writers Guild affectionately calls it, has gone on to be published.
What types of works did you send out that elicited these rejections?
Since my publisher has the right of first refusal on my next novel, I could only send out poetry and short stories. I’ve had poetry rejected from one magazine and accepted by another. The same with short stories. In fact, I’ve had short stories rejected by some publishers and receive awards from others. Which hopefully, gives your readers encouragement not to accept a rejection as a final statement about their work.
What is one of the best rejections you ever received?
Interesting, thinking about rejections as “the best” or “the worst”. One standout rejection was for my short story, “Charged Connections”. The editor commented in positive, thoughtful ways on specific aspects of the story and character development. He stated that although he couldn't use that particular story in his magazine, he wanted me to send him something else.
Another memorable rejection was for my novel, TWISTED. An agent who represented adult fiction complemented the writing and the story’s unique concept, but thought because the protagonist was a teenager, the novel was more suitable for a young adult audience. He asked me if he could sent it to a colleague who represented YA, which he did. The YA agent also liked the writing and the story, but felt the subject matter was better suited for adults. Which supports the value of the Judy Award. Writers must continue to submit if their work is rejected because this is such a subjective business and readers/agents/editors have different points of view and different tastes.
By the way, the publishing house who acquired my novel categorized TWISTED as a psychological suspense suited for both adult and YA readers.
Have you ever wanted to stop writing after getting a rejection?
Rejections can be discouraging, and I've seen excellent writers stop after receiving a few, but I also know that some of the greats received numerous rejections before being recognized. Alex Haley received 200 for Roots, which went on to become a TV miniseries and receive a Pulitzer Prize special citation. James Patterson’s first novel won an Edgar after 31 publishers rejected it. His books now sell in the millions. Kathryn Stockett received 60 rejections for The Help. I entered this profession with the attitude that I didn’t become accomplished in my first career overnight and I would need to give myself time to become an accomplished author. I view rejections as part of the learning experience.
Your first career was as a psychotherapist, what made you want to write fiction?
I loved working with my clients and helping them make a difference in their lives. And my clients certainly gave me a deeper understanding of conflicts of the psyche, but the seed that had been planted in my youth—that urge to write fiction—pushed it way into my consciousness. And I could no longer ignore it.
How long have you been writing your short stories and plays?
I’ve dabbled with writing all my life off and on, but didn’t take the career seriously until 2000—when I decided I wanted to write a novel. In 2007 I left my clinical practice to write full time.
How many short stories do you think you’ve written?
I must have a dozen or so completed short stories. More in various stages of development. I’ve been fortunate to have at least one story published in each volume of The Short Story America Anthology. The editor of that anthology nominated “It Was Said” for the Pushcart Prize, but I have other award-winning stories which remain unpublished. I may publish a collection of them myself.
I’ve had three plays produced professionally. I’ve got another play in my computer, one that calls to me often, but I’m just not ready to tackle the demands it requires. When I do, I’ll have to fasten my seatbelt and hang on for the ride.
You’ve now released your first novel. How long did it take you to write that book? How many rewrites did you do on it?
My critique partner says it only took me two years to write this novel, it felt like four years to me. I can't begin to tell you how many rewrites I made. I tend towards perfectionism, so once the big structural work has been nailed down, I get into the nitty-gritty making sure I say exactly what I mean. I could spend weeks working on one sentence, because although each word has to be the perfect fit, so does the rhythm of the sentences. If a word is changed, that could call for changes in the whole paragraph. It's a good thing the book was published or I might still be tweaking it.
How did you go through the process of finding a publisher? How many sources did you pitch? Did you pitch any agents?
My first approach was to query agents, but as you've heard in my tale of best rejections, TWISTED is a hard story to categorize, blending literary and commercial styles and accessible to a cross-section of readers. It helps if agents can easily place your book into a marketing niche. So while agent responses were encouraging, I didn't find THE agent for the novel, and at that point in my writing career, I still wanted to go the traditional route. I had heard about Belle Bridge Books and their willingness to publish fiction that fell outside the norm. I submitted the entire manuscript and received a note from the acquisition editor within two weeks.
How do you write? Did you do an outline first? Did you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
My process has changed over the years. I've moved from just needing to know a character and where I want him or her to be at the end of the novel and then writing them to that point (although I have had some characters rebel) to now wanting to know more about the turning points for the story and the key scenes in advance. I still don't outline in the traditional way, but I like to know my character's flaws, backstory, and internal and external goals before I start. I always discover more about my characters as I write about them. It's as if the more time I spend with them in action, the more they trust me to reveal themselves.
How much does social media play in your promotion of your books?
I’ve heard over and over about the need for a strong social media presence and I do have a Facebook page, a twitter name and a website, but I just dabble in social media. It hasn’t been a preferred way of interacting for me. My publisher would prefer I spend my efforts writing the next novel, and the next, rather than promote what’s already published. but I do think that in today’s market, promoting via social media is important.
I am on the social media committee for “The Thrill Begins”, a blogspot for debut authors of the International Thriller Writers organization. But there I’m promoting other authors, not myself. I’ve recently be invited to write a monthly blog for “The Stiletto Gang”, a group of female mystery authors. For me, relationships have more to do with the personal, one-on-one connections I develop with colleagues and readers. Ask me this same question in another year, Chris, perhaps I’ll be more settled in a social media routine. I certainly admire those writers who can maintain an active social media presence and still create compelling, powerful books.
What suggestions do you have for enhancing a writer’s social media platform?
Find your strength regarding social media and start with that venue. Expand out from there as you can.
What type of publicity do you do to promote your book?
I’ve done presentations for writer and non-writer organizations, book club talks, and book give-aways for other authors. What has worked best for you in generating sales? Amazon promoted TWISTED as a Deal of the Month and that helped. Many readers won’t pay a standard book price to read a new author. They don’t want to take the chance, so being selected by Amazon boosted sales. Book clubs are nice because all the members purchase the book in advance. And on a personal level, once the members finish reading TWISTED, I don’t have to censor my discussion of the story. That makes if fun for me, and the readers enjoy being privy to the behind-the-scenes scoop.
What do you know now about writing/publishing that you wished you had known sooner?
I wish I had known what a struggle it would be to place writing as a priority without sacrificing the needs of family. I think I spent years feeling guilty when I said no to family in order to write and resentful when I said no to writing in order to satisfy the needs of family. As a writer, I have to write. I mean, I have to. It’s something inside me I must do or I’m miserable, grumpy, and plain not happy. But as a mother/wife/grandmother/daughter/sister/friend, I want to be there for those I love and care about. What I know now is that there can be a balance. I wished I had figured out how to achieve it sooner, but then, what’s a story without a struggle? And what’s life, if not an amazing story?
If you want to be a professional writer, act like one. That means doing those things that professional writers do: write regularly, network with fellow writers, learn both the craft and the business side of writing, and don't give up. Which brings us full circle to the Judy Award.
That's all for today's interview. Hope you've enjoyed it and are encouraged to keep writing. If you would like to learn more about Majorie and her writing, here are some links to get you there...