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/

WRITERS AT WORK
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.

David

8 comments on “WRITERS AT WORK, Reality of Rejections (Part 1)

  1. Thank you, Sandy, for sharing your experience and tellling it like it is.

    I too thought that things would sort magically unfold because “everything I wrote was divinely inspired” and the publishers would surely recognize that.

    Thank you for your much-appreciated advice. It will help me take things less personally when publishers tell me my ‘genius material’ does not suit their needs.

    I will keep on writing and researching the market while embracing the thought that each rejection leads me one step closer to acceptance.

    • You’ve quite welcome, Cory. Your plan is the best any of us can do: ” . . . keep on writing and researching.” We learn, we grow, and if we’re patient enough and persistent enough, we succeed. Go for it!

  2. Sandy, now that I know YOU have been rejected, it’ll make my rejections much more palatable.

    So far, I’ve been rejected three times on my recent novel. (I received one handwritten note and two email rejections). One said, “After much consideration, she decided to pass…” And she was a big-time agent. That gave me hope that she even considered it. She gave it MUCH consideration. See how I’m clinging to that word?

    I, too, enjoy reading authors’ success stories after they’ve encountered multiple rejections. It’s nice to be among friends who feel my pain.

    • Hi, Beth —

      Yes, indeed, on the way to publication my work has been rejected, it is currently being rejected, and it will continue to be rejected. That’s just part of the game. And, hey, three rejections? That’s nothing. My first novel was rejected 17 times over a period of 10 years. Then it was published in the US and Great Britain. I hasten to add that a handwritten note is significant! You SHOULD be encouraged. Agents and editors do not have the time to do that lightly. Onward!

  3. Hello Sandy:

    Thank you for sharing your experience of writer’s rejection — sometimes it can be easy for us emerging writers to forget that established kidlit creators have had to and still continue to deal with this down side of the publishing game. One method which helps me to beat getting down about rejection is to know ahead of time where I will submit a poem if it is rejected by the publication where it is currently under consideration. Earlier this year, I received an encouraging rejection. An editor didn’t accept to publish my poem in the then issue of his children’s poetry magazine but he did ask me to send more of my work to be considered for a future issue.

    • Hi, Carol-Ann —

      Absolutely, thinking ahead to the next possibility keeps hope alive and keeps us in the game, even though the game does include rejection. That’s great about the editor wanting to see more of your work. Maybe we need a different name for that kind of communication — not a rejection but an encouragement! I used to have a thick file folder of those kinds of letters. I’d even keep the word or two scribbled at the bottom of a form rejection. I’d reread them whenever I got particularly down about how things were going. It helped!

      I’m glad you enjoyed my comments. Thanks for responding.

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