Hey, folks, meet accomplished fantasy and sci-fi author Chris A. Jackson, who has graciously agreed to bare his soul for another Ranks of the Rejected. I met Chris at Gen Con in 2013 when I was wandering author’s alley looking for writers for the then new Skull Island eXpeditions fiction imprint for Privateer Press. I was looking for a writer who could do believable nautical stuff because I had pirate project in mind. Chris was displaying his most recent book, a book called, wouldn’t you know it, Pirate’s Honor. We got to talking, and it turned out that not only did this guy write pirate novels, he was also a goddamn sailor to boot, who lived on a boat most of the year. Talk about a perfect match. Anyway, I commissioned Chris to write the pirate book I had in mind, Blood & Iron, and the rest is, as they say, history. I’ve had the extreme fortune of working with Chris on a number of fiction of projects from the editorial side, and he’s as professional as it gets, super talented, and can pick up a new IP in weeks and look like he’s been writing for it years.
Now that we’ve got the introduction out of the way, the important question is: What’s his Rejectomancer level?! Here, too, Chris excels, and he has attained a lofty 18th level as a Rejectomancer. Chris’ unfathomable powers include Comprehend IP and Nevin’s Nautical Knowhow.
Here’s a little more about Chris:
Long, long ago, Chris A. Jackson fell in love with the sea. It tried to kill him, as women sometimes do, and he still loved her. He went to school with dreams of becoming a marine biologist and sailing the seas doing cool science. He read a lot of SF and Fantasy, played a lot of RPG’s, and when he finished school, he realized that marine biologists didn’t really sail the seas doing cool science; they sat in offices writing grants. They also didn’t make a lot of money. Next best thing, he married a marine biologist, who also happened to like Fantasy and RPG’s, and spent twenty years in a career, writing a little, sailing a little, and playing RPG’s a lot. He self-published some novels (back when self-publishing was the death knell for any writer’s career), went to a lot of conventions, and made a lot of friends and connections. He made his first professional sale to a small press. The Scimitar Seas series paying quite a few bills), and has three new novels coming out soon. Life is pretty good.
1) What do you remember about your first rejection letter?
I remember that it was tacked to about forty pounds of 25% cotton bond paper that had been mailed to a publisher with return postage (those were the days when hard copy was the only way to submit a manuscript). The letter was polite, brief, and succinct: No, thank you. I remember feeling crushed because it was my first real novel-length work, and I didn’t have any other publisher in mind. It was kind of a one-trick pony, or so I thought. What it taught me: I could write a book (and looking back it was waaay too long, kind of clunky, and targeted poorly), and get rejected, and still continue writing.
2) In your opinion, what can writers learn from rejection letters? What have you learned?
That depends greatly on the rejection letter, actually. The informative ones can teach you a lot about what is lacking or problematic in your writing, if you read them and pay attention. More often than not, it’s just “No, thank you.” Kind of like asking the wrong girl (or boy) to dance. You realize it’s not gonna happen and don’t let it crush you. That’s what simple “No” answers teach you. You have to grow a thick skin. The rejection letters that give you a little feedback are like a breath of air. They give you hope. They are the girl that dances with you but never looks at you, then just walks away afterward. Hey, you got a dance, right? She didn’t just say, “No, thank you.” I must be making progress! The second thing you learn is perseverance. Asking that second girl to dance, and the third, and the fourth. Trust an old wall-flower; if you don’t ask, you’ll never get a dance.
3) Got a favorite rejection? Memorable, funny, mean, just straight-up weird?
Okay, not my “favorite” really, but the one that really sticks in my mind, and honestly, hurt worse than any conventional rejection letter I’ve ever received. I had the opportunity to attend a well-respected writer’s workshop a while ago and spend quite a lot of face-to-face time with some really awesome writers and editors. I learned a lot, had a great time, and got to show some people what I could do. Cool. I also had the chance to pitch, in person, to an editor. Very cool. So I pitched. I pitched two separate works. The editor looked honestly intrigued and asked me to send him the manuscripts via e-mail. I did. I waited a respectable amount of time (three months) and sent a polite reminder that I had sent the manuscripts at his request. I got no answer. I waited a respectable time again and sent another polite reminder. No answer. Not a word. I continued this for some time, not really knowing what to think. I didn’t ever get an answer of any kind, not even a one word reply email or a notice that my manuscript wasn’t fit to line the cage of a rabid mongoose. I got absolutely nothing. By that stage of my writing career, I could take rejection. I could take being called a fool in public by a New York Times best-selling author (no kidding, that happened), but I found out that I had a very hard time accepting…nothing.
So, if you are an editor, please have the decency to take twenty seconds and say, “No, thank you,” to that manuscript you asked for but didn’t like. It is a kinder death than the death of silence.
4) What’s the toughest part of rejection for you? Pro tips for dealing with it?
The toughest part of rejection, for me, was learning to deal with it. If you have any hint of depression or self-loathing in your makeup, and most writers do, having someone else tell you that your work, your blood sweat and tears, are not good enough is a sure-fire way to put you into a spiral down the toilet. How do you deal with it? You crawl the hell out of the goddamn toilet, dry yourself off, walk over to the computer and start writing again. That is, in my experience, the only solution to rejection. Move on. Never throw anything away. Send it out again to some different publisher. Target your publisher differently. And while it’s out there, write the next book, story, article, or even fan-fic. Write.
Oh, and if I really get depressed, I read my favorite novels. I keep really old, dog-eared paperbacks I have read dozens of times for exactly that purpose. Books are better than drugs and cheaper than alcohol.
5) Tell us about your latest acceptance letter.
My latest acceptance letter wasn’t really a letter. I’d like to explain something: I haven’t sent out a cold pitch in more than two years. Why? I’ve been too freaking busy. My last real acceptance letter came as a complete shock because I hadn’t even sent a manuscript yet! I had sent a short story for web fiction (paid web fiction, mind you) and got the lucky break of hitting a market with exactly what the editor wanted, exactly when the editor needed it. An author dropped out of his schedule, so he asked me if I could hand him a 100K-word novel in five months. I screamed “YES” so loud that our neighbors must have thought I was having a religious experience. I have, since then, sent out quite a few pitches to agents, and I still have not gotten a positive response from one that I would want to represent me. Those don’t hurt much anymore. Not when I have editors coming to me at conventions asking me to write for them. That, above all other things, made me feel like I had arrived on the scene. It gave me the confidence to cold e-mail or message other editors, and I have gotten some of the best feedback I’ve ever received. I’ve even had to turn down offers that I would have jumped at only a few years ago. Makes you feel good to have too much work.
One more thing I’d like to mention: I have approached the publishing thing totally sideways. Every advancement I’ve had in my career, every single one, has been from a connection I’ve made at a convention with a writer, editor, publisher, or fan. (Yes, fans can get you work!) Those connections were the foot in the door, the next rung on the ladder that put me up there and gave me the confidence and the experience to take the next step. So put yourself out there. Take a chance. Ask the prettiest girl (or guy) at the party to dance. If you get shot down, no big deal. There are plenty more fish in the sea.
6) Okay, plug away. Tells us about your latest project or book and why we should run out and buy it.
I just released the next in my successful self-published Weapon of Flesh series. Weapon of Fear is the first book in the second trilogy. I have quite a few fans who’ve been waiting for this one, so now it’s out for DragonCon, and I’m psyched!I also have the number-two slot in the new Ed Greenwood Group sessorium (because it’s much more than just novels) publishing debut. Ed has created a conglomeration of fifteen worlds, dozens of writers, musicians, artists, chefs, artisans, and industry professionals to kick off this project. The first story in the contemporary fantasy world of Hellmaw will be release on Halloween by Ed himself and will be titled “Your World is Doomed.” I will have the next release in November, with Dragon Dreams, a novel based in modern-day Boston, with demons, and…dragons.I will also have my third Pathfinder Tales novel with Paizo Publishing coming out in January or February; it’s the fourth novel in Paizo’s new partnership with Tor. Pirate’s Prophecy is available for pre-order already here.
I also have short fiction coming out from Privateer Press, in the Iron Kingdoms world, a short story, “Sweating Bullets,” in the newly released Shadowrun anthology World of Shadows, and a story, “First Command,” in the much anticipated Women in Practical Armor anthology, edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood.
And much more on the horizon! Drop by www.jaxbooks.com for updates and sign up for our mailing list!