October 31, 2014

Rejection letters and other wallpaper

Rejection is an odd adversary in the literary world. Odd because, at times, it can be more friend than foe. A writer can use the motivation that comes from being rejected—that which does not kill us, makes us stronger. Although, I can’t remember who said it, but it’s also been said that not everyone makes it out of that first category. For a writer, the metaphor would apply to surrendering to the death of one’s literary aspirations.

Having published three books, so far, would seem a bona fide literary success, and it truly is. I’m extremely grateful and fortunate to have had my hard work pay off. However, and again, this is where rejection is odd; my first book publishing success came riding in on the coattails of a huge rejection.

I had submitted a novel to an agent for consideration. In my cover letter I happened to mention some other projects I was working on, including a non-fiction book. Well, you guessed it; the agent rejected my novel but was interested in the non-fiction project, which she sold in short time as, Is There a Problem, Officer? A Cop’s Inside Scoop on Avoiding Traffic Tickets. (Globe-Pequot Press, 2007).

To make it even more odd, this was a book based on my first published national magazine article (in American Iron Magazine), which I got a year after submitting a query. The point is, one never knows from where success or for that matter failure will come. The key is to stay true to what you write and keep at it.

Another key to handling rejection is to understand that the agents, editors or publishers rejecting you may have their heads firmly implanted up their posteriors. In other words: They could very well be wrong. There are too many literary luminaries who have received rejection notices for that not to be the case. Of course, sometimes they’re right, but that’s another issue for another day.

There is a great article in the current issue of Poets & Writers by Louise DeSalvo that truly puts the rejection issue into perspective. There are many stories of authors who wallpaper their offices, or, perhaps more appropriately, their bathrooms with rejection notices. According to DeSalvo, Stephen King used to impale rejection letters on a nail in his wall. Aside from some great advice about not considering agents, editors and publishers too authoritative, DeSalvo relates a rejection letter received by no less a literary luminary than F. Scott Fitzgerald after submitting The Great Gatsby. The editor wrote, “You’d have decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”

Keep on writing.


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