Bah! The dreaded rejection letter! How does one handle it? I sent off my first novel to Random House in New York City. New York City was crucial, as that was where all the big books came from, or so I thought back then. I was sure my masterpiece was going to be a best seller and Random House would be mad, crackers, to reject me. Actually in my mindset, I was ten at the time; rejection wasn’t quite a word I fully appreciated. Well, I banged off the novel, single spaced, and I’m pretty sure, formatted only in the manner that a saint of an editor would attempt to read it. There were, I’m sure, massive amounts of typing errors as I often hit the typewriter keys with zeal. I didn’t rewrite. I thought all novelist wrote words of pure genius the first go round. I didn’t send in a cover letter. I didn’t keep a copy. I didn’t tell them a word about myself. And why should I? They would see the utter brilliance of my novel? Wouldn’t they?
I did write a rather strange novel whose plot runs roughly as such: a beautiful blonde actress goes to Hollywood to become a movie star. (What else?) She lies down with men, and they sigh…(be fair now! There was no Internet and there was only two telly stations!)
After loads and loads of sighing, my heroine becomes disheartened with the audition couch and endless sighing directors, but this is what mind boggles me to this day, my fabulous weird ending! My heroine goes to the city park, gets on a swing and swings high up into the blue sky, but when she comes back down, she is dead. Don’t ask me why, or how, I’m amazed that I remember this much.
I waited for what felt like years, watching for the postman, running out to meet him, and every day, he would just shake his head and mutter, ‘Sorry, nothing for you.’
Still, I waited. I was sure Random was taking a second, a third read. Maybe they were even turning it into a movie! That’s what was taking so long! I was going to go to Hollywood! Nothing would dampen my spirits and I told no one about this manuscript.
One day the postman walked up with a pink card in his hand. ‘Is this what you’ve been waiting for?’
I ripped it out of his hands in eagerness and could not believe my eyes.
We thank you for your..blah blah…
I was in a rage! My eyes were red with fury. How could they? A stupid postcard! Not even a letter! I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, send anything to Random House again! They were utter rotters! Well, the pain of that insult eventually faded away and I turned to other pursuits. I didn’t quite learn, it wasn’t all about me– it was about the writing.
Rejection is something we all face as artists. We become so immersed in our created world, be it a novel, a painting, or a performance that we just give ourselves to this art. It becomes hard, if not impossible to separate rejection of the work from the person.
I was a judge for a short story competition, and we had some strict rules, no names on the stories, no personal notes, it must be typed, it must be in black ink, and what was I forced to do? Reject the pencilled stories, the red ink, the blue ink, the handwritten note– this is where you should really pay attention, and even the address of the author. All of these went straight into the rejection bin. They might have been masterpieces, but I did not have the time, nor did the other judges to sort through that. We looked at the ones professionally prepared, and started from there.
Sometimes it is about the presentation. Sometimes it is simply about the market. The place where a manuscript is sent is so crucial for the lists that an agent have might be filled, the publishers might already have ten mysteries of dead men and parrots that talk. How is one to figure out when to cry and when to just get on with it? There is no answer other than just send it out. But that can hurt…
Rejection is no different than sending out your first born to be harshly judged in front of your eyes. A whole army of defence comes rushing up. It’s a horrible feeling, but…and here is the but, one must get on with it. If the rejection is just a form postcard, I take it as, they are too busy, they didn’t read it, but most importantly, it just wasn’t for them. They might have even liked it, but agents and publishers have to and must look at their bottom line and make a wild guess. Will this sell for them? Quite often they are wrong.
Rejection letters with comments, I take very seriously, for someone took the time to read your work, and comment on it. It might hurt to read what is written, but read it you must. Place it aside for some time and then go back to it, for there might be a gem of information that on next go round will be the proverbial magic bullet. Other times, the rejection letter just has to wait to be published in a book of famous rejections!
Some fabulous rejection letters and if you have one, I’d love to hear yours!
And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.
“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK
The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.
Mary Higgins Clark
Journey Back to Love
“We found the heroine as boring as her husband did.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Editor of the San Francisco Examiner.
The Clan of Cave Bear
“We are very impressed with the depth and scope of your research and the quality of your prose. Nevertheless … we don’t think we could distribute enough copies to satisfy you or ourselves.”
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull will never make it as a paperback.”
The War of the Worlds
“An endless nightmare. I do not believe it would “take.”
Lust for Life
“A long, dull novel about an artist.”
“I wish there were an audience for a book of this kind. But there isn’t. It won’t sell.”
“… the book is much too long. There are too many long speeches… I regret to say that the book is unsaleable and unpublishable.”
There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.
J. G. Ballard
The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.
“Your poems are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.”
The Torrents of Spring
“It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.”
“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
“You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby Character.”
So what is the end to all this? Sometimes it really is, not about you. Write, rewrite and write. Every writer has to be willing to submit to a critique of the work by either themselves, or other writers, agents, and the world at large. Art is subjective and there is no getting around that one. We just have to learn to let go of that ten-year-old child and get one with it…
In the meanwhile…Random House if you are reading this, I take back that promise to “never ever, ever, ever, ever, send anything to you ever again, as long as I live!”