Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On rejection, revision, and deciding not to

I've been thinking a lot about rejection recently. In part, this is due to a couple of conversations with my writing critique clients - one who wondered whether they should pull a story from circulation, due to the number of rejections it had received, one who had come to the conclusion that they absolutely could not face another rewrite of the thing they were working on. 

Now, these are both things I have felt in the course of my writing career, so it wasn't so much that I was surprised these other writers felt them too, but I was surprised at when. In both cases, the numbers were small. You could add them together, the rejections and the rewrites, and you would come up with five.

Now, let me be clear that the only thing I felt was surprise. I am not in any way judging those writers, or judging anyone who - at any point in their writing - says no. This is it. I am done with this project, I am done with writing altogether. It can be dispiriting, to realize that you need to revise a project, especially a major revision, one more time. Rejections are always hard, and they accrete. 

I was not one of the people who knew all their lives, or at least relatively early on, that they wanted to be a writer. In fact, it was almost exactly seven years ago that I decided I wanted to see if I could write, and decided I was going to apply to Clarion.

I wrote four short stories. One was too short to use in my portfolio. I picked the best two of the remaining three. I got in.

I sold the first short story I wrote after Clarion. I sold the second one. 

Then for 18 months, I couldn't sell a damn thing, not that I wasn't trying. I was trying so hard that once, I got three rejections in one day.

That was not a particularly good day.

I don't know any writer who hasn't gotten rejections. Even the people who look like they are out of nowhere overnight successes, whose careers look as if they have been kissed by the Muse, and the gods, and Lady Luck, even those people get rejections. The only way to ensure that your work will never be rejected is to stop sending it out.

My friend Monica Byrne, whose stunning debut novel The Girl in the Road, was published earlier this year, once put together what she called an anti-resume. She's very specific about her own rates of success, and rates of rejection. For example, The Girl in the Road - a book that got published in a major deal, a book I expect to see on a number of awards short lists - was rejected 67 times.

I find this oddly comforting. Not because I wish Monica anything less than stunning success and immediate recognition of her brilliance, but because it's proof of how subjective things are. 

When I started sending work out, I had this idea that it was either good or bad. If the story was good, it would get bought. If the story was not good, it would be rejected. This is not how things work. I've had many stories that sold, but were not bought by the first market that I sent them to. Rejection doesn't equal bad. It equals not this place, not this time.

Then there is the topic of rewrites and revisions. For most of us, perfection does not spring directly off of our pen and onto the page. Sometimes the fixes are small - a second draft, a quick polish. Sometimes they are not.

I recently sold my own debut novel, Roses and Rot. I honestly cannot tell you how many revisions it went through, because of the way I worked on it, but I can tell you it went through three major rewrites. One of those rewrites was so major that I took a 65K word draft, and cut 55K of it. No, that is not a typo. And then I started rewriting. It was hard, it was awful, it was so bad that I ran into a friend when I went out to grab coffee one day, and he suggested I looked so feral that he was worried I might bite someone.

I didn't, but I could have.

There is nothing wrong with deciding not to. Deciding that the shitty parts of a writing career outweigh the good ones, and you are putting down your pen. Deciding that a story, a book is irreparably broken, that trying to fix it would be nothing but a miserable slog towards an exercise in futility, and realizing that there are better things that you can do with your time and energy. When I send a story out, I have a list of markets that I am willing to work with. If I get rejections from all of those markets, the story goes in the drawer.

But if you're going to make that decision, make sure you are making it because it's the right thing for you at that time, not because you think that things should be easier, that no one else ever hears the words "I'm sorry, it's not right for us at this time," that no one ever does three or five or seventeen drafts to get things right.

Because we all do.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Critique and mentoring service update

Since I received a number of inquiries last week about whether or not I was going to continue accepting clients for manuscript critique, it seemed like a good idea to go ahead and do a formal update, and then leave it here where everyone can see it.

I will remain open to new clients through the end of 2014. So if you want to work with me now is your chance. I work with short and novel-length fiction, all genres, all levels of writerly experience. Yes, that means I will even work with you on your NaNo novel. Because I am planning on cutting back, I am going to take as many clients as I can from now until the end of this year. So if you are interested or have any questions, please contact me at

However, once we hit 2015, I will be significantly cutting back on the clients that I will accept, and I may well close down completely, at least for that year. You are certainly free to get in touch, but please be aware in advance that the answer will almost certainly be "I'm sorry, I'm closed." So, as I said above, if you think you want to work with me, your best bet is to contact me now.

NB: If you are a current client, and working with me on a project that will not complete until sometime in 2015, do not worry. I will work with you on our current schedule until the project is finished. If you are not sure whether this applies to you, please contact me - I am not trying to give anyone a panic attack.

But! The very smart and talented writer, Nova Ren Suma, has recently announced that she will begin accepting clients for manuscript critique, beginning around 15 January, 2015. Nova's books are amazing - Imaginary Girls is one of my favorites, and the forthcoming The Walls Around Us is going to blow people away. She has also taught at a number of writers' workshops. Nova is mainly looking to work with YA, Middle Grade, or Adult fiction that might cross over to YA. Speculative elements are fine, but perhaps not high fantasy or hard SF. The link to her website is here, and specific details on her critique offerings will be up soon.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Book deal!

I am so very happy to be able to share the excellent news that I have sold my debut novel, Roses and Rot, in a two-book deal to Joe Monti at Saga Press.

Here is the announcement:

For Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s science fiction/fantasy imprint, Joe Monti signed Kat Howard to a two-book, world rights deal. Brianne Johnson at Writers House represented Howard, whom Saga described as a protégé of bestselling author Neil Gaiman. The first book in the deal, Roses and Rot, is Howard’s debut novel—she’s published a number of short stories—and, the publisher said, recalls Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. The novel follows a woman who, after being given the chance to attend a prestigious artists’ retreat with her sister, “is faced with the struggle of what to sacrifice for success and family in order to escape her past.”

It's a book with two sisters at its heart, and I wrote it for my own sister, and I just really could not be happier about this. I am so grateful to my fabulous agent, Brianne Johnson, to Joe, to Maria Dahvana Headley and Megan Kurashige, who read Roses and Rot when it was the absolute worst hot mess of a draft and helped me make it good, and of course to Neil for his support as well.

I can't wait for all of you to read it.