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Rave Rejections
by J.R. Lankford

Fed up with rejections? So was I. Afraid to self-publish? Me too. Especially since I'd quit electrical engineering six years earlier to turn myself into a novelist.

The last thing I expected was to be writing about rejections and self-publishing after so much time. I hadn't fooled around, you see. I'd done what serious new authors do: studied fiction technique, written a novel, written another, revised, queried literary agents.

I did expect what happened last November. I got a call from an agent in New York. Could she read the entire manuscript of my mystery/thriller, "The Crowning Circle?"

"Absolutely," I said. Then I hung up and shouted for joy.

My husband scrambled from the house to buy more printer paper while I ran a final spellcheck. We got the manuscript on the last FedEx pickup. Two months later, I was an agented author. Within the week, a Hollywood agent had read and liked my novel. He stood ready to handle an expected stampede. Submission day arrived. The manuscript went out. I waited. Then, from all over New York, came letters like the following:

"I must let you know off the bat that I fell head over heels with Ms. Lankford's story. This plot is simply marvelous, replete with interesting characters and fascinating morsels from the world of computer engineering. However...."

"I found her characters to be original and rich in their uniqueness. And the plot and its eventual resolution are intriguing. However...."

"Her writing is ripe for thrillers...an impressive debut...good ear for dialog...well plotted...a community of characters who involve the reader...vivid scenes...wonderful writer.... However...."

Nineteen of them in all.

No two letters gave the same reason, and they often contradicted each other.

When I quit my job, I hadn't minded starting over. Inspired by the likes of Colette, Balzac and Dickens, I'd wanted to write since I was 11. It was scary, but it was also my dream. I founded two online workshops for aspiring writers like me: WriteLab and NovelDoc. In the latter, I spent a year polishing a draft of "The Crowning Circle"--not my first novel, but my third.

I would have feared I was a lousy writer if it wasn't for those rave rejections. Maybe something else was wrong. Everywhere we hear that fiction is in trouble. The MTV generation doesn't read, they say. Even baby boomers are busy surfing the Net. Reading's down. Publishing has suffered merger mania. Editors have been fired. In such a climate, perhaps no one's taking risks.

I checked. In 1996, 72 first novels came out in publishing's all-important fall season. In 1999, there were only 54, a drop of 25 percent--and most aren't from the big publishers, but smaller presses. This according to back issues of Publishers Weekly. Sounds bad.

Maybe quitting my job wasn't such a good idea.

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