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Posts tagged ‘rejection’

Brittany: In Defense of the Novelist

Recently, on my personal blog, I wrote about my latest rejection from the world of publishing. After asking to see my full manuscript, it was rejected one hour and seven minutes after I submitted it. That stings and I’m grumpy about it. But probably not for the reasons you’d expect.

I’m not one of those writers who thinks everything I write is genius. I don’t shun editing, or even re-writing, when it’s warranted. I like to hear criticisms of my writing (though obviously accolades are more welcome) because I do see writing as a process, and something you are always learning and growing from. So when I submitted my manuscript to this publishing company, I didn’t expect them to trip over themselves in their zeal to offer me a contract. I’m a realist.

But at the same time, I didn’t expect to be rejected so summarily, or so soon. The email I received said that while the “best editor” at the house loved my concept, she just couldn’t deal with the long laundry list of rooms in the house and their flaws and that I should re-work my book with an eye toward keeping my readers’ interest. Ouch. It’s obvious to me that the editor stopped reading at somewhere in chapter 1, at which point she suggested to the publisher, who then suggested to me, that after I reworked my book, I should re-submit it to them.

I got online and whined about my bad luck on Facebook. My friends were split into two camps. There were the ones who said, “Excellent! They’re still interested in your work! Re-write it and re-submit it to them!” And there were the ones who said, “Send it to someone else. If this publisher can’t be bothered to actually read the entire manuscript, they’re big fat, giant poopie heads and don’t deserve to publish your book anyway.”

I can appreciate their reactions, and I agree with them both. But at the same time, I feel very sad. I feel sad for me, the writer, whose three-year work-in-progress isn’t getting published. I feel sad for readers, whose literary choices are controlled by publishers who expect every story to play like an episode of 24. I feel sad for publishers, who are so time and cash-strapped, they don’t have the time to read a novel and examine it through a wider lens. It seems like more and more, novels are going the way of news, where everything must be reduced to a sound bite. What happened to the novels of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, where a reader could get lost in the lengthy descriptions of another world? What happened to our collective attention spans that we can no longer absorb large amounts of information without singing, dancing, and catchy slogans? I remember from my experiences as a teacher that there was an enormous push to make learning fun and entertaining. That’s all fine and good when it’s appropriate, but sometimes, you have to know the basics before you can make the learning fun. People seem to forget that.

I devoted six double-spaced pages of my novel to a description of Alex and Will’s tri-level. It is the central conflict of the book, the “home” in Home Improvement, the place where the vast majority of the action in the book happens, the physical manifestation of all that is going wrong between my main characters. My reader has to see it, has to be overwhelmed with the “laundry list of problems,” has to experience the house the way Alex experiences it. They have to understand why buying this house seemed like a good idea at the time. They have to understand that this is the moment of no return.

Evelyn pulled into the driveway of a large brick tri-level with gray siding and cheerful yellow shutters. It sat on an oversized corner lot where several mature oaks and maples dotted the yard. We got out of the car and wandered up the daisy-lined sidewalk to the front door. Evelyn unlocked it and we stepped inside.

From the outside, I expected warm country décor, much like what we’d seen in other houses. But the entryway walls were chalk white, and instead of bandanna-clad cows, the only decoration was a large square of geometric-patterned carpet and a light fixture made of neon squiggles.

“The owners go for those modern touches,” Evelyn observed.

If a twenty-year-old light fixture was her idea of a modern touch, I couldn’t wait to see what else she considered current décor.

“Let’s start on the first level,” Evelyn said, and led us from the entryway, down a short flight of stairs to the family room.

The first level was mostly below ground, except for two small windows that were level with the Indian Hawthorne growing in front of the house. A cookie-scented candle sat burning on the family room fireplace mantle and filled the room with the irresistible scent of baking cookies. The-butter-and-vanilla-scented room was enormous, and looked extra inviting with its large brick fireplace on the far wall. Those were the room’s good points. Unfortunately, the room was crowded with mismatched furniture, and the wood-paneled walls were covered all over in little strokes of aqua and pink paint. After a few seconds, my vision began to blur.

I wandered through a doorway to my left and into the den. A homemade desk took up most of the room and black splotches circled the ceiling. “Is that mold up there?” I asked.

Evelyn squinted at the walls while Will examined the nearest patch. “It’s just paint,” he said after poking it.

Who in their right mind thought faux-mold was a good idea?

I asked the same question when we opened the door to the laundry room. Every surface was covered in pink sponge marks, including the pipes. As I stared at the paint job, Evelyn came up behind me and said, “This sponge-painting is all the rage right now. We just did it in our dining room. It turned out really nice.”

I had my doubts.

I won’t be re-submitting my work to this particular house. And I won’t be re-working anything with so little critique to go on. Again, I’m not averse to re-working my novel, but I have to feel like the changes I make are purposeful. I had purposeful reasons for writing the scene as I did, and I need to find an editor who, at the very least, understands my intent and can support my vision. That’s all I’m really asking for. I think that’s all any novelist can ask for.

The whole publishing experience feels a lot like that poem The Blind Men and the Elephant. Everyone “sees” something differently, and everyone is wrong. I know I still have a lot to learn. The first order of business is hiring a professional editor… someone who is looking at my book for its strengths, rather than its weaknesses. Then we’ll see where I go from there.

Mary: Rejection as a lifestyle

I’ve had my fair share of rejection in my life. I used to traipse around the Boston area, auditioning here and there for parts. Probably, I was a little out of my league. In fact, in the words of the Magic Eight Ball, it is decidedly so. Fresh out of college, quite “green,” no experience in the professional theatre (as an actress), and with many stars, and a stray eyelash or two, in my eyes, I picked my audition pieces with the aplomb and insight of a politician dealing crack.

Still, I hoped for the best, and bravely strode to the doors of one such audition, piece in hand (or in my head, actually). It was Emily’s last monologue in Our Town, a role I did not ever play, and although I did play Mrs. Webb in my high school production, that mere fact does not mean that I was capable of producing an efficient rendering of the scene. In retrospect, let’s just say I was a little ill-prepared.

But it was a serious monologue, and I produced it poignantly, I imagined, PAR cans in my face, to the faceless souls out there watching. I finished. They said, “Thank you.” I turned and pushed open the double doors, and as they swung closed behind me, I heard them burst into laughter.

Yes. Laughter.

Oooh, that killed me. I think that might have been the proverbial straw, although I should have brushed myself off and kept going. But I think, at that moment, I somehow felt that I just didn’t have it in me. I couldn’t do it anymore. It felt personal.

Of course, being a writer, one faces rejection all the time. Every day. It is an aspect of the writing life that is reliable, like an old coat, like that pair of “go-to” jeans. Some people even sort of thrive on it. Or at least, make it into a joke.

My old college professor, and mentor, of sorts, told us he used to wallpaper his room with all the rejection letters he received. They almost became sort of badges of honor for him. All those rejections. All those submissions.

I’m not sure why I don’t submit more. I have many articles and essays that, if only fleshed out and worked up, might amount to something. It’s always the last thing on my to-do list, the editing and researching and sending out of material. I sometimes wonder if maybe I have a fear of rejection. Or fear of success, which is even more puzzling. Maybe I have a fear of rejectful succession. I think that’s probably the case.

Pseudo-self-analysis aside, I think sometimes rejection is our greatest friend, as writers. It can really give us a fresh look to our writing — it can give us Perspective and Objectivism. It can also give us a major migraine, but that can easily be solved by a good sound nap and the formulation of a long heated letter stating why said rejecter is talking out of his or her ass. (Shredded right afterwards, of course).

I do think rejection can be constructive, especially if the criticism is given that way. I am reminded of a graduate writing class I took, where one of my fellow students declared, “I don’t like your story, and I don’t know why.” (Believe me, HE got an very heated, unsent letter later on that evening). Some criticism is not helpful, nor is it necessary. I mean, what am I supposed to do with that?

I don’t expect much in the way of personal feedback from magazines, journals, publishers, etc., who have rejected me. I mean, these hard-working people have their share of relentless reading to do – much of it crap, in all likelihood. So I don’t expect a small novelette in response, for goodness sake.

Still, it is difficult not to take it personally, at times. Writers — and all artists, I think — must have the ability to shake off negativity, and keep heads up and egos in place. At times, writers must appear to have monstrous, in-your-face, stocking-up-at-the-all-you-can-eat-counter-and-then-going-for-seconds types of egos, that continually need to be fed; that need the affirmation, the nod, the, “Yes, you’re doing great! Yes, you are GOING places!” In actuality, I think writers are some of the most insecure people around, needing the boost that comes with encouragement and positive feedback.

I’m not sure I’m insecure. I might be so insecure that I am secure in it. Or that I just don’t see it, because I’m so deluded. Hopefully it’s neither one, and I happen to be someone who is developing a secure sense of self (but if delusion is the case, than how would I know)? I’ll tell you, no matter what state of self-possession I might be in, I surely need to get back to it, and start sending stuff out again.

I’m adding in here a letter I found in an old box of my childhood writings, which I must have received when I was eight years old. It appears that I had sent in a poem to the publishing company Ramapo House, and they were kind enough to send me a rejection letter back, which my parents astutely kept. It’s my first one. * sniff *

Dear Mary:

Thank you very much for your wonderful poem. We have hung it up in my office and everyone who visits my office will read it.

You are a very good poetess. You should save a copy of all your poems and perhaps someday a publisher will print them in a book with your name under them. When I see lovely poems like this I am sorry that our company only publishes textbooks for schools!

Thank you again.

Thanks, Ramapo. Maybe someday a publisher WILL print them in a book. With my name under them, and everything. I can only hope.

Miranda: Another perspective on rejection

Those of you who receive the Glimmer Train newsletter may have seen this already, but for everyone else, here’s a reassuring take on rejection from Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward among other novels. An excerpt from her article:

It might sound like dwelling on the negative if I say I received 122 short story rejections before my first acceptance. But, for writers just starting out, it’s important to hear. If you know I was rejected more than a thousand times while placing 50 stories, it might be hard for you to justify giving up after five printed slips….Just about every one of my rejected stories has gone on to be published. Without further revision. Some were rejected a handful of times. Others garnered over 50 rejections before finding a home.

Hyde offers several reassuring reasons for why submissions may be rejected. Her full article (it’s short) is online at Glimmer Train.

What’s your own personal quota on submitting before you “shelve” a piece? Five, ten, twenty–no limit? Personally, if a short story I wrote isn’t accepted or doesn’t place in a contest, I look at it again, revise, and send it on out. I like the feeling of having stories in the queue somewhere–sure, the chances of publication or winning are usually small, but it’s a numbers game. You certainly can’t sell or win if you’re not submitting. If you believe in what you wrote, keep it out there.

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