In June 2018, Author Kelly Simmons gave a talk on characterization at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. She listed the traits that a sympathetic character should have: desire, spunk, resilience, foolishness, disbelief, and wounds. That last stuck with me in particular as I worked on my material.
Fast forward six months later, I went through the Night to Dawn submission pile and read someone’s first chapter. His letter reported that he had already gotten rave reviews. However, I couldn’t get beyond the first page. The protag started off by declaring an urge to kill his teammate, who happened to be a class clown, maybe overly talkative, but basically harmless. I got the image of the protag as a bully straightaway, and I said so to the author in no uncertain terms. The author asked why, and I could tell from his letter he was hurt.
Damn, girl! I scolded myself. You’re a balloon lady. Balloon people are sweet, not mean.
Then I realized what had gotten into me. When I was in grade and high school, I was that class clown – and I’d gotten bullied in school. Junior college wasn’t much better. Those memories came to mind as I read, and that’s why I had to stop reading. So in my second response, I encouraged the author to keep submitting. I owned up to having been bullied in school, explaining that this may have biased my opinion, and assured him that another editor may have a different take on his work.
The takeaway? When workshop leaders tell writers to quit taking rejection personally, they’ve got it right. It would help, though, to explain why so here goes. Editors (and agents, for that matter) will arrive at the submission party with wounds of their own, just like your characters. Someone who’s been abused as a child may not appreciate a tale told from the abuser’s point of view. Alas, this type of information isn’t something you’ll find on AgentQuery Connect or the company website. Occasionally, if you’re going to a workshop run by said editor or agent, he or she may admit to a wound or two. Otherwise, if you’re submitting cold, all you can do is send and hope for the best, but have other publishers/agents in mind as well.
I will be giving a $10 Amazon gift card to a random commenter.