December 22, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Let me take you back to the olden days, back in the early 1980s. Personal computers were around back then, but they were quite expensive and few people had one. The internet? Barely even thought of, let alone used.

The following occurred more times than I care to count:

I carefully typed my manuscript (as error-free as possible) on my trusty Sears electric typewriter. I then placed my book in a stationery box along with a cover letter, title page, synopsis, and an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope).  With a rubber band around the box to be sure it held together for the transit to NYC, it went into the toughest padded envelope available . Included with the box was another large, padded envelope, addressed to me, with enough postage attached for return if the book was rejected.  Then I hauled my precious burden to the post office, had it weighed, paid what felt like a year’s salary in postage, blessed the package with good vibes, prayers, and hopes, then sent it on its way. After about six weeks, I would literally stand at the front window about 10 a.m. every day, waiting and watching for the mailman.

Step into the 21st century. I am basically doing the same thing, sans the packaging, the expensive postage, and trip to the post office. I’m anticipating affirmation (or rejection–but we won’t think about that) so I check my email a hundred times a day. What I’d really love is a phone call, but happened to me only once, when I sold my first book. The editor actually called me at 9 o’clock one night to tell me she loved my book, wanted to publish it, and asked if I had anything else to send her. Boy howdy, that was a sleepless night, I tell ya!

At any rate, the jumpy feeling in my gut, the shivers of anticipation, the uneasy dread … those feelings haven’t changed. It’s been a long time since my work has been rejected. If this new series I’ve created is turned down, I have a feeling I will suffer disappointment just as keenly as I did years ago, watching as the mailman brought that battered returned manuscript to my door.

Send some good vibes my way, will you?

Rejection Isn’t Fatal

When I first began writing, rejection of my work surprised me. I was so full of myself that I thought those golden words were perfect.

That first rejection was a pink slip of paper smaller than a postcard. On it were printed a few reasons why the editors turned down the writer’s work. My checkmark bloomed on the box next to the ever-popular “Doesn’t suit our needs.”

Looking back, I’m not surprised it came back to me. The story was dull and silly. I misspelled the editor’s name. I enclosed a few poems along with that story. To add insult to injury, I also told her if she didn’t want anything I’d sent, please pass it on to another editor who might. Arrogant little cuss, wasn’t I? I was also young and inexperienced.

A few years later, when I began writing with serious intent, those rejections letters continued to stun and to sting. Why didn’t those editors tell me the reason they returned my work? Finally, I sought out a writers group. (There was no such thing as online support groups back then.) I listened and learned. Soon, my rejection letters became actual correspondence and not just impersonal forms. They pointed out the flaws in my work. I noticed something important: Every editor and agent mentioned the same type of flaws no matter what I sent to them.

It was time to take a fresh look at how I executed my stories. So I studied writers whose work I loved; I dissected why a particular character or a certain turn of phrase appealed to me, and why others left me cold. I learned how to overcome my weaknesses and turn them into some of the strongest parts of my stories.

One day I took an SASE from the mailbox. I opened it, pulled the letter up long enough to see it was a short story rejection, shoved it back into the envelope and returned to the house. I was going to throw the stupid thing away, then stopped. I keep my rejection letters. They are proof that I’m working. I took that letter completely out of the envelope so I could file it. There, at the bottom, an editor had added this handwritten note, “If you’ll change the age of your character, I think we have a sale here.” Sometimes it happens that way. Be sure you take a good, close look at all your rejection slips. You might be missing something. You might be missing more than you realize.

When I finally stopped throwing myself face-first onto the bed and squalling my eyes out, when I ceased ranting about being misunderstood, when I quit sulking because those stupid blind people in New York City didn’t know their head from a hole in the ground . . . when I finally opened my eyes and my mind and, yes, my heart to listen, I learned. Rejection was the best teacher of all. If my first story had been accepted, I might have gone through life writing silly, insipid little stories for drab little publications and never learned the art of being present in the scene and tapping deep into the psyche of my characters.

Embrace rejection when it comes. Realize acceptance will happen . . . when you are ready.