Thursday, July 21, 2011

Try, try again

This week the UW got her very first, official rejection letter for a piece she wrote.  And she knew this day would come, and everyone goes through it, and this is part of the business of trying to be a writer.  That said, it still stings.

Thanks to her recent paramour, the personal essay, she managed to fall into the pandering trap.  Having read a lot of publications she enjoyed, she tried to craft something that would fit perfectly to what they publish - in essence art by imitation in hopes of a short cut.  It failed.  And with some perspective she can say rightfully so.  Her piece wasn't great.  It wasn't worse than what's being currently published, but that's another matter.  She tried to cheat her way into getting out there, instead of writing something authentic and genuine and in her own voice.  She was that girl who decides to like everything her date does in hopes he will pick her to go steady.  This was an important lesson to learn first hand.

That said, you still just want to think what you write is good enough.  And you wrote it, so it's very hard not to take it personally.  A writer friend said, after he finished his Grad program, it was difficult to walk into a bookstore.  Because you have labored over a genius novel that you can't get any takers on and there in front of you is shelves upon shelves of sub par work that is being gobbled up by the masses.  It feels like that a lot.

In order to withstand the onslaught of rejections that still lay in front of her, the UW has had the realization that to stick with a piece and continually submit it, you truly have to believe it's good.  In hindsight, the piece in question was not (and has since been served up a brief, literary death at hands of the UW's filing system).  She has one short story that she does believe in, and has submitted several times and is sure she will do so several more.  Now she just needs to write more of those.

But in addition to laziness, the UW has a SERIOUS problem defaulting to giving up.  About all things.  She is, although you aren't supposed to be, kind of a quitter.  Being a 30 year old grown ass woman without a driver's license is proof.  If she fails at something, she is very lousy at getting back on the horse.

In the spirit of saddling up again, she put together a list of things that got passed over initially that went on to success.  Hopefully it helps you swing yourself back onto the steed as well.

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell  was rejected by a letter saying ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov got the brush off saying ‘... overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy.  It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’
  • Stephen King actually threw an early draft of Carrie in the trash after becoming discouraged with his progress writing about a teenage girl with psychic powers. His wife retrieved the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it.  
  • Just as The Help’s main protagonist found the publishing world difficult to navigate, so did the book’s real life author, Kathryn Stockett.  The number one selling book wasn’t an instant success. In fact “The Help” received an astonishing 60 rejections.  As Kathryn wrote:
"In the end, I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books."
  •  Ayn Rand has sold over 6.5 million copies of The Fountainhead. But before that happened it was rejected twelve times.
  • Madeline L'Engle completed the book A Wrinkle in Time by 1960, but more than two dozen publishers rejected the story before Farrar, Straus and Giroux finally published it in 1962.
  • When they completed the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book, it was turned down by thirty-three publishers in New York and another ninety at the American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, California, before Health Communications, Inc., finally agreed to publish it. The major New York publishers said, "It is too nicey-nice" and "Nobody wants to read a book of short little stories." Since that time more than 8 million copies of the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book have been sold. The series, which has grown to thirty-two titles, in thirty-one languages, has sold more than 53 million copies.  
  • Although The Giving Tree, was published in 1964, people said no before they said yes.  An editor by the name of William Cole sent Shel Silverstein a rejection letter, stating that it would never sell because it fell between the interests of children and adults.
  • John Grisham's first novel A Time to Kill was rejected by a dozen publishers and over 15 agents before breaking into print and launching Mr. Grisham's best-selling career   
  • J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all which rejected the wizard boy. But then, upon the enthusiastic response of the CEO’s young daughter, a small London publisher named Bloomsbury, decided to print the book.
  • Dr. Seuss' first book, And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street was rejected 27 times before he finally got a yes.  One of his most famous rejection letter excerpts read, “This is too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” 
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, considered to be one of the best American writers, wrote The Great Gatsby in 1922. While the book is now ranked #2 in Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, he once received a rejection letter that read: "You'd have a decent book if you'd get rid of that Gatsby character."  


Jennifer O. said...

Thanks for sharing this with us.

I know I've had a tough time sending my submissions after being rejected so many times.

I have only one piece out right now and am dreading the rejection form letter.

But I have two choices: I can either not write and regret it at the close of my life, wondering what would have happened if I'd just "stuck" to it, or I can work every day, regardless of the outcome and see what happens.

Perri said...

Thanks so much for the pep talk (or pep bullet list anyway) I am also in the process of getting back on the horse and it was helpful to remember.

Great blog!

Annie Boreson said...

Rejection letters suck. I had a few of them framed for awhile, but then I realized I was giving the rebuff too much spotlight. One guy actually took the first page of my story and filled it with corrections. At the very end the pen just sort of trailed off the page as if the whole experience of reading my work had caused a seizure or something. I can laugh now, but wasn't finding the big giggles back then. Hang in there! Your writing is beautiful and I adore your posts.

Annie Boreson said...

Meg, I don't know how to get in touch with you other than here. I just gave you an award. Check out

writingfeemail said...

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