The Highs and Lows of Getting My Revise & Resubmit Manuscript Rejected
Last time I talked to you all about my novel, I had painstakingly worked through the 2020 holiday season putting the final touches on my R&R request from an agent. At the time, I didn’t know a lot about R&R’s, or “rewrite and resubmit” requests, but after tightening up all the plot points of my novel, I was absolutely certain that I had an agent ready to fucking sign me.
I sent that thing out feeling so high, so excited, so fucking sure of myself.
But hey, that didn’t happen…
Stage 1: The Rejection
So it’s late afternoon and I’m at home with the kids. I’m working with another publisher on edits for a short story, “Woman of the White Cottage”, which had been recently accepted for this anthology. It’s going well. But then I get an email and it’s from the agent. I take a deep breath and open it.
By this point, I had had enough rejections to understand how these emails look. They always start with compliments, but they have a very telling pattern about halfways through. So instead of reading, I kind of skimmed. And then, I found the BUT.
If you’re any decent writer, the BUT is always the worst part. A good rejection always starts with a handful of praise, which you cling to. Those compliments are meant to minimize the sting, but upon reading the compliments, you just wish the pain would come and be over, but you keep reading and reading, and then you get to the reason why you fucking suck and why all your hopes and dreams are fucking stupid and why you wasted your entire life, and then the rejection guts you in the way you’d imagine a chainsaw would rip through your body.
My grasp slipped from my phone as the kids played and screamed. While reading, my head started spinning and I was like, “It’s my worst nightmare coming true.”
It was just me and the kids.
I wasn’t going to cry, or was I?
Could I hold it together until my husband came home?
Could I just shrug it all off?
It was just a rejection. I’d get over it. I’d move on. Fuck the agent.
But then all those months of work came flashing back and I realized that I’d told myself that this would be hard. And my face started burning and I put my phone down and I just started sobbing. Fucking sobbing.
My 6-year-old daughter came up and asked me what was wrong, and I was still spiralling out of control so I told her that I’d just received some “bad news”. She asked what happened again and I asked if she could look after her brother and I ran upstairs.
Not to my room, but my son’s room, because it’s the only upstairs room not connected to the neighbour’s unit. Why did this matter? Because the neighbours didn’t need to hear me come so absolutely unhinged. Problem is, my kids heard this, and even though I told them not to worry, they both came into the room. My 6-year-old daughter was concerned. My 2-year-old son even came and patted my head, his face expressing all kinds of worry.
That shit was too much, man. I hugged them. I needed it. Sometimes when you’re an introverted AF parent, those hugs are all you need. I did also have to somehow explain what was going on to my daughter, and I did the best I could in the simplest terms. She empathized with me and it felt good.
But then my husband came home from work and I fell apart all over again.
Stage 2: The Response
I spoke with a few writer friends, needing vent and express sadness. Later that night, I posted my crying face on Instagram, which felt a bit self-indulgent and as though I was fishing for sympathy, but at the time I also felt raw enough to want to show some of my reaction, as rejection isn’t really the sort of thing that writers often share about the whole writing experience.
One of my friends told me not to drink too much. I said I wouldn’t drink at all, and after having a sad bath and crying a bit more, I put the kids to bed and proceeded to continue working on the edits for “Woman of the White Cottage”. I really tried to focus on the story because I was so proud of it. But then the alcohol kicked in and I threw on some “WAP” by Cardi B. Then I ran out of vodka coolers and I cracked open the rest of the leftover Bailey’s from St. Patrick’s Day, and at some point, the drunk tweets started and I kind of blacked out.
The Next Morning…
I woke up hungover. My daughter had school, but she woke up and found me lying on the floor and knew that it was because of my “situation”.
“Mom, you should rest today,” she said. “You need to rest because you feel like moldy cheese and old cucumbers and that’s what you feel like when you feel like garbage. So you need to rest. I don’t think you even have time to get dressed so just wear that.”
She pointed at my sweatpants. I didn’t plan on getting ready but then I ended up throwing up in the bathroom. She started freaking out. I told her I was okay and then she suggested I call my husband to take her to school instead. Which I’d already planned on doing anyway, so at least we were on the same page.
That catastrophe aside, I slept in for another hour, then got my son up and went about my morning. That evening I had an appointment to get my first Covid shot, so I did eventually put on clothes and get my daughter from school. I didn’t feel like myself, partly because of the lack of makeup and also because I just didn’t feel like I was even in my body. I just floated around all wisp-like until the Covid volunteers told me that the 15 minutes was up and I could go home.
Stage 3: Depression Sinks In
I tried to be excited about the Covid shot, but then while I waited for my husband to pick me up, I decided to open up the agent’s email and read it again.
It definitely wasn’t the wisest choice.
Got home. Ate McDonald’s. Later that night, my arm grew sore from the vaccine. I got tired pretty quickly, though I wasn’t sure if it was due to the vaccine or the depression. I went to bed early and had a nightmare that Marilyn Manson kept on breaking into my house to steal my kids or something. It was weird because I kept kicking him out and then he kept crawling back in up the side of the house and through my childhood bedroom window (because dreams never make sense). I woke up unsettled and a bit sweaty, but still felt absolutely drugged tired and fell asleep.
Thankfully, Marilyn Manson didn’t come back.
My alarm woke me up at 6AM and I still felt tired and empty, but I put on makeup and forced myself to throw an outfit together. I broke the news about the rejection to my parents, who aren’t exactly the best at being “empathetic”. I’m pretty sure they think my writer dreams are never gonna come to fruition. My mom wants me to be a nurse, or a realtor, or a fucking landlord, whatever industry makes money. So the devastation slipped quickly into the subject of my Covid shot. Like immediately after. No talk of the rejection at all.
Anyway, I dropped my daughter off at school and went to work. Of course, I originally planned on calling in sick because I was just so absolutely tired from the vaccine side-effects, and also, depression was sinking in pretty hard.
Either way, it was smart to force myself into some semblance of normalcy. Because what else would I do otherwise? So I played normal, talked about the rejection a bit with some of my coworkers who DO care about my writing career and have nothing but big dreams for me. I also talked about shit that wasn’t my novel and that was even better than having to rehash all the trauma that I was in the middle of experiencing.
Over the coming days, I gave myself a break. I watched Clueless. I listened to every single True Crime and Cocktails podcast episode.
Stage 4: Losing Myself in Other Shit
Much of this part was a blur. It took a couple of weeks for me to shake off the awful feelings of rejection. It didn’t matter what I did because the memorized passages of that email were burned into my skull, and any time I had a free moment of thought, I’d instantly recite a sentence or two.
I feel like this is the part that many authors don’t often talk about, which is what I would call “the part where all your writer bullshit affects the rest of your life”. In this case, for me, it was my family. My husband never understood why I was so moody and upset over everything. I’d try not to blame it on those feelings of shame, on the email that I kept on rereading, hoping for more insight, more clues as to why my book was the worst thing ever written.
“IT’S THE REJECTION!” I’d say over and over, and I’m sure at some point he was just sick of hearing it.
A writer friend offered to have a look at the novel, so I gave him a couple of weeks. He said he enjoyed it and sent back his notes, but it took a few more weeks before I even felt like I could open it because I didn’t want to touch that fucking thing. It was trash and I knew it.
Stage 5: A Distraction
Then I got a request from Cassandra Thompson of Quill & Crow Publishing House to write another piece of gothic short fiction for Ravens & Roses, an anthology of gothic women’s fiction. This request helped a lot. She said so many nice things about my writing, and so I embraced this new genre that I’d just dipped my toes into.
The story I wrote somehow managed to cash in on everything that I enjoyed writing about, plus a little more. It’s set in 1920. It details fashion and feminism and has a troubling male love interest and lots of sex. The story didn’t come naturally at first. I struggled a bit, but it was the right kind of struggle, and by the end, I sent in a story I could be proud of.
Stage 6: Real Life Happens
On Mother’s Day I went to a funeral for my late step-mother-in-law, who passed away suddenly back in December. It was nice to have a proper weekend off work, focused solely on family. We had to drive there and I realized that it had been 9 MONTHS since I’d had a proper road trip anywhere. So, while the occasion was a sombre one, being out of town to both honour and spend time with family I don’t often see was much needed.
Three days later, though, I was notified that I’d been exposed to COVID-19 and had to quarantine. My parents took my daughter to school and I spent all my days at home with my son, who is now at the age where shows about humanoid vehicles can keep him distracted for HOURS. And yes, I let him watch. And no, I have no shame in doing so.
Anyway, with ALL THIS FREE FUCKING TIME ON MY HANDS, I finally opened up my friend’s notes on The View From the Basement. The book wasn’t horrible. Not really. Parts of it read really well. Others felt rough, and they weren’t all the new parts either. At this point, however, I was still seeing all the shit the agent had seen.
Now all the thoughts in the rejection email were my own.
Stage 7: Resident Evil Village Comes Out
I don’t why I came so late to the party, but by the time I’d heard about the tall vampire lady, I was excited for the game’s release because I knew it’d be somewhat like Resident Evil 4, which was the first game I watched my husband play back when we started dating in the mid-00s and I have so many fond memories of spooky nights.
These days, my husband and I have no time to play video games for hours on end, so when talk about Resident Evil Village’s “baby monster” started circulating online, I sought out a playthrough so I could see it for myself.
And damn, what an adrenaline rush.
Then I went and watched a playthrough of Resident Evil 7 and I appreciated the pure gory horror of the game. I needed the horror to charge me up a bit because with that charge came a bit of a realization…
Stage 8: Time to Dissect
I originally wrote The View From the Basement to be a psychological thriller. I wanted so badly for it to be “the next Gone Girl“, except I called it a psychological horror because it just sounded better somehow. Why? Because thrillers are getting a bit stale, honestly. I know the trend is still very much in demand, but basically every recent thriller I’ve dug into has left me disappointed. And, after my recent rejection, I started to actually doubt that mine was going to be the new “exception”.
I never thought I could actually write a horror. I get scared too easily and I don’t like gore. But I love the genre. There’s so much to love. The View From the Basement even references a bunch of horror, mainly The Shining, but there are plenty of other gothic horror tropes in it too. The literary agent who rejected me even said that in her phone call with me.
I so desparetley wanted to be that new book that changed the “domestic thriller” game, but after getting enough “this was so close to being AMAZING but I think it’s missing something” kind of rejections, well…
The View From the Basement is going to be a fucking horror.
Step 9: Time to Start All Over Again
At first, I didn’t think that I’d need to do much work, but after attempting minor surgery on the manuscript, I realized that I was gonna need to do some more extensive gutting. I’m going to ease into my chair at the end of every night and re-devote myself to these characters. I’ve already spent 5 years of my life with them. I can spend a few more.
I also struggled a bit with the idea of ruining what the original meaning of my story was. It was supposed to be about postpartum depression. It was supposed to be about what I learned when I became a mother for the first time.
This horror change is going to alter that meaning to a degree. Coming to terms with that kind of made me realize just how much of myself I’d put into the book, and how much of that pretty harrowing time I WANTED it to be about. But it’s been over six years since I became a parent, I now have more extensive experience with the horrors of being a parent. And I can use those horrors for this book.
What I’ve Learned From Getting My R&R Rejected
There’s little out there about what it’s like to do an R&R. And while I was writing mine, I literally found NOTHING about what it’s like for a writer to do one and then get rejected anyway. So that’s why I’m sharing this story with you.
It’s been the worst experience of my writing journey. But if you want to be a writer you kind of have to accept that this is all par for the course. I know I’m a good writer. Rejection is just a part of the evolution. I’m also impatient as fuck. I just want this book out there, on bookshelves in all the mainstream stores. I want you to be able to buy a copy while buying a bag of chips at the grocery store. I want it fucking NOW, man.
Which is why getting rejected hurt so much. And maybe I’ll never get accepted at all, what with the constant changing trends in literary world. Shifting into horror might be a mistake, but in my gut I feel like it’s going to benefit me. Maybe I won’t get published but I’m not against going small press if things don’t end up going well.
What I do know right now is that I’m close. I’ve had enough full manuscript requests and “this was so close!” rejections that I know I’ve got something right. Some books just take time, and some books just need the right inspiration. Sadly, Resident Evil Village didn’t come out early enough for me to get it before sending the agent my R&R.
Sadly, I was stubborn, rushed things, and wasn’t willing to really do proper surgery on my novel. But I’m going to do it now. That’s just what writing is, I guess.
Turning this baby into a new beast is going to take a bit of time.