Lessons Learned...The Rejection Way - #1

Thursday, December 10, 2009
When I would start a new job back in the beginning of my adulthood and then make a mistake bad enough the boss had to correct me, I feel I learned more vividly how to do that part of the job correct...and it was rare when I made that same mistake again, because I was extra careful not to repeat it.

I think that same thing must be true with manuscript rejections. When I receive a rejection that has personal comments attached, I'm extra aware of trying to avoid doing that same wrong thing in subsequent stories or revisions.

I call it lessons learned--not just the hard way--but the "rejection" way.

And I figured if I can learn to improve from my rejections, I don't see why others can't too. Thus, I decided to write a blog about all the different reasons I've received rejections to help other writers avoid receiving the same rejection letter I did...except that would make one super long post--because there's just so many rejections to chose from. So, I concluded that a series of "Lessons Learned" posts would work better!

Since this is my first lesson learned post, I'll start with the first thing a person can do wrong at the very beginning of their manuscript. I've had my hand slapped twice for this one, so I'm thinking I still need to work on it too.

Info Dumping

Back in the days of Charles Dickens and all those great classics, it was perfectly fine to wax eloquent at the beginning of your novel, describing the world at that time, the weather three months before, and all the harvest seasons before you ever started on the true story.

But times have a'changed.

In this age of immediate gratification--ATMS, eBay, Amazon.com--people don't want to wait around to begin their story. They want to start the beginning of their story at the beginning of the story (does that sound as funny to everyone else as it does to me? Well, it's true regardless.).

Try to avoid writing background information at the very beginning of your story. You're an artist, creating a work of fantasy; I'm confidant you can find a way to ingeniously filter in all the pertinent background information throughout the story and not just dump it all at the very beginning.

IF there is something your reader simply MUST know before they can begin the story, then make that the beginning, but don't tell it in past tense, rather show it in a scene as if it's happening now.

That's something I've done wrong, and received a rejection to prove it. I wanted to explain my character, by giving the reader all the juicy details of their life, before I actually showed them in action. But with the new millennium starting and everything, no editor/agent was interested in wading through the boring stuff to get to the true meat of my tale.

So...beware of dumping too much information at the beginning. And if that idea doesn't appeal, you can think of it this way. Just because you can't say everything you want to on page one, doesn't mean you can't say it later on in the book AFTER you've already got the reader hooked on the story, because that's when they'll really want all the juicy background on their favorite characters.


  1. This point was a hard one for me to grasp in the beginning of my writing stage too. It seemed natural to give all the relevant information first. Wrong!

    Thanks Linda! I'm looking forward to learning alot from this series.

  2. Wonderful advice Linda. I really appreciate this post, because I am GUILTY as charged. And I plan on taking this advice.

    I want to hook the reader and THEN do the background. :) Thank you for rushing to my aid. I needed it. :)

    I hope a lot of writers read this post.

  3. Great post, Linda! Nice to meet another Midwestie!

    Still, I LOVE the old ways and LOVE framed stories--not real backstory but two story threads, a la "Fried Green Tomatoes."

  4. GREAT idea for a blog series, Linda! I'm really looking forward to learning from you.

    I've been SO guilt of this. My current WIP had 3 different beginnings before I finally found the right place.

    It's also nice to see that you obviously learned from these rejections, hence your fabulous successes :)


  5. Thanks for sharing what you've learned, Linda.

    I definitely had an info dumping problem in my writing when I first started. I guess it probably fell under the umbrella heading of telling not showing. But I am learning.

    Now I just need to remember to stay away from info dumping in my query letters :)

  6. Yes, Great idea for a blog series. Info dumping and backstory-as you say- are things of the past. Cheers!

  7. Tamika - I wonder if this is somehting all beginners do? Hmm. Hope so! Just so I can say I'm normal.

    Diane - Thank you!

    Robyn - It's so much fun to come up with a character's backstory. I love creating their history and childhood, figuring out what makes them tick. It's just so difficult not to share that at the beginning of the story. sigh.

    Ptti - Fried Green Tomatoes was excellent. I wouldn't say it had any info dumping either, but the author was able to ingeniously tell backstory by splitting the story between two characters and show them as if they were both happening in the present. Truly a work of art!

    Heater - yep, I've been there before too! I've tried so many beginnings on this one story, I grew burned out and had to sit it aside for, oh, going on two years now!

    Cindy - Telling-not-showing is exactly how one rejection worded it! I lumped it together with the info dumping tip because it was basically the same thing. Thank you for mentioning that.

    Nance - I'm thinking I might've been a wonderful author a hundred years ago!!

  8. Yikes, sorry for all the misspellings... especially your names. Can I blame it on being Friday?!