My guest today is debut novelist Abby Fabiaschi, author of I Liked My Life. A former tech executive who left to pursue a career in writing, Abby is also a human rights advocate on the board for Her Future Coalition, an international nonprofit organization with a unique prosperity model that uplifts victims from human trafficking and extreme abuse. Library Journal, in a starred review, had this to say about I Liked My Life: “Simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, this hard-to-put-down, engrossing debut will have readers wondering until the very end. It examines life and death, despair and faith, parenthood and marriage, the choices we make, and, most of all, love.” Add it to your TBR, and enjoy her post! — Meg
It’s Not Rejection; It’s Feedback.
I started my high tech career as an inside sales representative. There’s nothing glamorous or sexy about dialing for dollars. It doesn’t even pay well. But I knew two years of doing that crummy job exceptionally well was the most efficient path to becoming an account executive, which was a lucrative post that offered a much more desirous lifestyle.
In 2003, the most ominous stat for a cold caller was this: 92% of the time, no one answers the phone. So for every hundred calls, I’d talk to 8 people. Over the course of a month, through trial and error, I learned that 450 outbound calls was the ideal amount.
With that number of dials, I spoke with about 36 people a day. Five percent of the time I got an appointment, which was average. Twenty percent of the time I uncovered it was the wrong contact. The remaining three-fourths of the people I spoke with “rejected” me. Or at least that’s how my boss at the time looked at it. I came to see it differently. If I asked good questions and took copious notes with the 27 people not yet ready to make an appointment, my messaging would be much sharper the next time we spoke.
By personalizing follow up, my success rate was substantially higher. “It’s not rejection,” I explained to colleagues when they asked how I was doing it. “It’s feedback.” Switching that perception is how I became exceptional at a job no one wants.
It was 2007 when I first set out to understand the query process with a manuscript much lighter than what I write now. I looked online for advice, but found mostly angry blogs and chat groups convinced no one read the slush pile. It was all very what’s the point in trying if your mom isn’t Judy Blume?
Agents don’t make money until they’ve made you money, so I knew I was essentially a charity case. Leveraging what I had learned about the value of personalized messaging, I got to work. (The numbers I’m sharing here are rough; this was a decade, two kids, and a high tech career ago.) I sent out about 20-30 queries and, sprinkled over three months, got requests for chapters from half. They all ultimately passed, but the benefit of a rejection from an agent who initially requested chapters is that they usually take the time to explain why. The insight I gleaned strengthened my manuscript, and with my second round of queries I secured an agent.
From here my publishing backstory gets complicated, but I’ll share a truncated version: By the time the manuscript was pitched to editors it was 2008 and the industry was hurting because homeowners were hurting. My project was chick-litty and that genre was oversaturated. Blah, blah, blah; it never sold. I went back to selling network equipment where I continued to practice the art of turning rejection into feedback right up the corporate ladder.
Fast forward five years: during nights and on weekends I wrote another manuscript, this time upmarket, and sent it to my agent. She gently conveyed she was passing and not open to reading a revision. In other words, I was rejected by my own agent. I hadn’t even known that was thing I should be worried about. It left me devastated, but determined. I took her rejection as feedback and completed a major edit before querying 10 new agents. I received requests for full manuscripts from 6 of them. This time around I got a say in who I selected.
When my new agent suggested we submit to a few editors she didn’t think were ultimately the right match to collect constructive criticism before an additional revision, I had to laugh. Rejection as a form of feedback had followed me my entire professional career.
And guess what? The novel that led to my first agent firing me, and that was rejected by that initial round of editors, ended up in an auction with four major houses where I got a two-book hardcover deal with St. Martin’s Press.
Absorbing rejection in its most toxic form will make you sick. It might even kill your dreams entirely. Interpreting rejection as feedback brings you closer to your goal. When Agent #1 passed on my second manuscript, it could have been the end, but instead it was the beginning. – Abby