We’re back with another episode of WRITERS AT WORK. Sandy Asher and I started this informal chat about the nuts and bolts of writing two and a half months ago. This is our third subject. We’ve talked about The Care and Feeding of Ideas and Dealing with Obstacles to Writing. This month we’re focusing on The Reality of Rejection. Remember, if you feel moved to join the conversation, jump right in. If you are interested in writing a longer piece on the subject, get in touch with me to see about being a Featured Author. And at the end of every month, Sandy brings together the total conversation on the subject and posts it on America Writes for Kids. http://usawrites4kids.drury.edu/
This week is Sandy’s turn again. And here she is now.
WRITERS AT WORK
Topic 3: The Reality of Rejection
Response 3: Sandy Asher“ . . . Ignorant editor, stupid economy, out of touch editorial board, backward sales force, malicious promotion director, clueless art director . . .”
David! What a delicious incantation! I think I’ll post it above my computer and chant it out loud – with gusto! – whenever another rejection rolls in. Take that and that and THAT! I just know I’ll feel cleansed, cheered, and most importantly, energized.
Anger has its up side. It tells us our needs are not being met. It provides the adrenaline rush needed to get them met. Earlier I mentioned “revenge” as a response to rejection. Sounds destructive, but guess what? Properly employed, revenge can be quite a healthy and productive response. I figured that out just about the time the steady waves of rejection finally began denting and rusting my faux armor of ignorant self-assurance. (For more about that, see Response 1.) As I tore open more and more dreaded envelopes containing returned manuscripts, I took to sprawling on the sofa for long, sometimes tearful, sulks. My husband and children would wander by, murmuring words of sympathy and encouragement. Sort of.
Me: Whatever made me think I could publish my work? What made me think I could even write? Never again. I give up. I mean it!
Them: How long is it going to last this time? Are you planning to cook dinner or what?
Eventually, even I would grow tired of my own self-pity. That’s when the second tsunami would wash over me: REVENGE!
Me: I will revise this thing until it’s so wonderful the next editor to see it will snap it up – and it will be so successful the rest of them will eat their hearts out that they didn’t grab it when they had the chance.
Them: Okay. So what’s for dinner?
I’m not a vengeful person normally, but I do have an older brother, so I learned early to stop sniveling and fight back. My current household confirmed that sniveling would get me nowhere. But thoughts of literary revenge gave me the energy I needed to stand up and get back to work. And cook dinner, too.
These days, I’m less of a drama queen. No kids at home means a reduced audience anyway. “Self-pity Meets Revenge” is a short one-act instead of a full-length play, and it’s performed mainly inside my head. But that “I’ll show them!” impulse still gets the adrenaline flowing.
Not everyone needs to face rejection. Writing is a good thing. Writing for oneself, one’s family, one’s friends – all valid and worthwhile endeavors. Writing for professional publication is a whole other challenge. As I’ve often told my students, “It’s art when you create it; it’s art when your audience receives it. Everything in between is BUSINESS.” Rejection is an unavoidable part of that business. But no one’s required to go there. If you can be happy doing anything else, do that other thing and write for the joy of it. But if you can’t be happy without sharing your work through professional publication, figure on spending considerable time wending your way through the Big Business Forest that stands between you and your audience. Prepare to meet lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my.
I don’t remember which Hollywood mogul said it, but an agent passed it on: “If I’d known I was getting into this business, I never would’ve gotten into this business.”
Well, I’m in it. If you decide publication is the way you must go, learn to read between the lines of those rejections. The standard form says, “Not for us at this time.” Okay, that’s a “no.” But it does leave open, “Maybe for someone else at some other time.” The handwritten note, even a “Sorry” scribbled at the bottom of a standard form, means “Not for us, but, busy as I am, I still want to let you know you’ve impressed me.” The more extensive personal comment means, “Not for us, but likely for someone else, and I’m hoping we connect with another piece soon.” And if an editor’s comments end with “If you’re willing to revise along these lines, I’d like to see this again,” you’ve got an open door. Walk through it!
Hang onto those personal comments. Editors do not make them lightly. I keep a collection of them and was able to remind an editor of her former kind words when submitting something entirely different to her years later, after she’d moved to another publishing house. She remembered. That’s how much those comments mean to a busy editor taking the time and making the effort to write them!
Oh, and given her new job and my new material, she was able to offer an entirely different response: “Yes.” So, burn no bridges behind you. David’s incantation is strictly for home use only. Repeat as needed, then forge ahead!
Your turn to wrap it up, David.