WRITERS AT WORK, Reality of Rejections (Part 1)

REMINDER: Don’t forget about our new challenge, the Woza Woza Poem, which will grow each day throughout the month as we add a new line contributed by readers. I started yesterday with this line:

Today I saw something I’ve never seen before.

Cory Corrado has given us a potential second line:
A sea of cinnamon swirls surfing the forest floor.

We have the rest of today to accept other possible second lines so get busy. I said that this first poem can be free verse but free verse is also free to rhyme now and then when needed. Your suggested lines do not have to rhyme. Tomorrow we’ll need a third line to see where this begins to take us.

Welcome to WRITERS AT WORK, the ongoing conversation I’m having with Sandy Asher about the nuts and bolts of being a writer. As we begin a new month, we open the floor for our third topic. This month the subject is, The Reality of Rejection. What hurts more than rejection? And what do writers share in common? Rejection. It’s Sandy’s turn to lead off, so here we go. Don’t forget to chime in any time with your own thoughts and experiences on this painful but necessary topic. For anyone interested in writing a long enough piece to qualify as a Guest Author on my blog, let me know. At the end of each month Sandy takes the complete conversation on the current subject and posts it on America Writes for Kids so that’s a good place to see everything in one document. That link is http://usawrites4kids.drury.edu/

Topic 3: The Reality of Rejection
Response 1: Sandy
November 2, 2010

Rejection. Huge sigh. The very word picks at the scabs of ancient schoolyard wounds. The myth, the hope, the dream is that literary – and perhaps even personal — rejection will end once we’ve “got our foot in the door.” That may be true if the foot belongs to J.K. Rowling, but it’s not true for most of the rest of us. I’ve had my foot in the publishing door for well over 40 years now. Rejection continues to graze nearby, raising its beastly head from time to time to charge my way.

If it’s okay with you, David, I’d like to talk about dealing with rejection BEFORE it happens in this first part of our chat and dealing with it AFTER it happens when I chime in later.

My favorite pastime during the first 10 or 15 years of my writing career was reading other authors’ comments in writers’ magazines about the numerous times their work had been rejected before it finally got published –10, 15, 20, 25. After a while, I didn’t need those reports anymore, because I had my own war stories to tell, but I believed in the happy ending: Those folks did, eventually, get published. I clung to that happy ending with all my might. I was willing to battle my way through any forest of tangled and thorny vines to get to it. What I wasn’t willing to do, at first, was acknowledge that our field has rules and that I need to play by those rules if I hoped to get anywhere.

There were no marketing skills taught in my college creative writing classes. I happened to see a copy of THE WRITER on a news stand one day, bought it, and submitted a poem I’d written in class to a tiny literary journal I found listed inside. I sent the poem off without requesting a sample copy of the journal to study first, and without enclosing a self-addressed, stamped envelope for its very possible return.

A few weeks later, I received a postcard telling me the poem had been accepted for publication. A dream come true, and possibly the worst thing that could have happened to me at that stage in my development. I thought, “Oh, this is easy! All I have to do is write stuff down, mail it off, and they’ll print it up and send back money.” (Well, okay, not money — but two contributor’s copies and that’s a start!)

So I sent out all the poems, stories, plays, and articles I could think up, as fast as I could get them down on paper. Never mind rewriting — I was clearly a genius. Never mind studying the markets. If publications had rules, and THE WRITER hinted that they indeed might, they’d break them for me because everything I wrote was divinely inspired.

About ten years into this vigorous, and arrogant, attack, I had indeed published quite a few pieces, but when I finally paused to take account, I realized that for every 50 envelopes stuffed with brilliance I was sending out, 49 stories, poems, plays, and articles were coming back rejected, and ONE was getting accepted for publication. Chimpanzees typing randomly could probably have done as well.

The moral of this story reflects ten years of trial and error on my part. May it spare you much effort and time: Study the market. When editors state their requirements in a market guide or in contest rules or at conferences — believe them. I can’t promise that will stop rejection in its tracks, but it’ll definitely slow the beast down.

Sandy, lots to think about in your lead response. I’ll consider my own feelings on the subject and post them next Tuesday, November 9. See you then.