WRITERS AT WORK, Reality of Rejection, Part 2

Greetings everyone,

Welcome to another Tuesday session of WRITERS AT WORK. Our current (and third topic) is dealing with rejection. Sandy Asher led off last week with the initial response. Here’s mine. Don’t forget, we welcome your comments and additions. Longer pieces may qualify for Guest Author spots. At the end of each month Sandy posts the entire conversation on our America Writes for Kids blog site.

Topic 3: The Reality of Rejection
Response 2: David
November 9, 2010

Sandy, I enjoyed your remarks, all the more because they sound so déjà vu-ish. I hope that someone reading this has a better story to tell than yours or mine, but early, easy success, as far as I know, is rarer than a joke book from Kirkus.

My quest for publication began as a college science major. I took a creative writing class and the professor told me I had a knack for writing. Being unfamiliar with the market (Oops, was there a class in that?), I dreamed of instant recognition, which would save a lot of time and work. My voice was so singular, so remarkable, so undiscovered that somewhere an insightful editor was going to read my story, slap his forehead, and gasp incredulously. Okay, that last part was over the top. But I’ve always wanted to write, “gasp incredulously,” and not be engaged in purple prose. Whatever, it didn’t happen.

In my hot pursuit of that head-slapping editor, I read that writers keep more than one story in circulation. Also, writers keep lists of places to send each story, on the remote chance that it comes back with its tale dragging, before rigor mortis of resolve sets in.

I followed both pieces of advice. I devoured Writers’ Market; made lists of “friendly” publishers; copied names of editors and mailing addresses; laid in a supply of 9×12 envelopes, address labels, and reassuring rolls of stamps; maintained detailed records of each story’s history of submissions and rejections; and churned out new stories with an impending sense of destiny. I took pride in having at least a dozen stories out at all times.

During the next half dozen years I averaged ten submissions per year. I averaged ten rejections. Net gain: zero. This was not the best time of my life. But it was the most necessary. Now, after dozens of books on my belt, I can laugh and say, “Ha-ha-ha, no more rejections for me!”

But, of course, that would not be true. Rejection is always with us. As Sandy points out, it’s not unusual to get turned down. There can be lots of reasons: Ignorant editor, the stupid economy, out of touch editorial board, backward sales force, malicious promotion director, clueless art director . . . Okay, sometimes maybe the story is a teeniest weeniest bit shy of the mark. These are obstacles we live with. Emerging writers may feel rejection a bit more personally than beat up old pros. At some point a writer becomes more philosophical about rejections. He or she learns to roll with them to a certain extent. They still smart and frustrate and aggravate. But editors, some claim, don’t really hate us. They work for companies that hope to show the stockholders a profit at the end of the year. How mundane.

Here’s my advice to emerging writers. Frame your first rejection letter. Choose a nice frame and hang it where you can see it every day. It may only be an impersonal printed slip but it’s still important enough to keep. The first rejection is your ticket into the fraternity of eternally optimistic folks who make up stories, write nonfiction, or pour out their hearts in poems. There is no sin in being rejected. The only sin is in quitting because the big boys kicked sand in your face.

Sandy, back to you.