On Rejection: Keep Looking for the Right Address

stack-letters
photo credit: pixabay

I’m querying agents. This involves carefully crafting letters tailored to each individual agent on my list, which means researching what kind of work and which authors each one represents. My plan was to send out sixty queries before I let myself get too discouraged. I’m not sure why sixty. Somehow that number presented itself. Five dozen. I’m not even close to that yet, so it’s definitely too soon to despair. But the rejections have started to trickle in. They’re not rolling in—merely trickling. But the water is very cold.

I was feeling low last week. It was probably some holiday blues. Also I was immersed in researching Auschwitz for a study guide for The Passenger for the Lyric Opera. Also I had a behemoth of a migraine—which may have been in part a result of researching Auschwitz. And in the midst of all of that I got a very nice rejection from a fancy New York agent. My friend Lindsay pointed out that I should look on the bright side, which was that this agent used some lovely, glowing words to describe my manuscript—but I mostly felt bad that she said it wasn’t for her.

So Lindsay sent me a pep talk in the form of a link to a list of big time writers who got rejected before making it big, which of course led to further investigation on my part.

It seems Gertrude Stein submitted poems for over twenty years before one got published.

photo credit: Wikipedia
photo credit: Wikipedia

Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching by the editor of The Atlantic who had to eat his words when she ended up outselling Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Henry James.

Rudyard Kipling received this note from The San Francisco Examiner in 1889: “I am sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just do not know how to use the English language.”

photo credit: Friends of the San Francisco Public Library on flickr
photo credit: Friends of the San Francisco Public Library on flickr

F. Scott Fitzgerald was advised by a shortsighted publisher, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers. It went on to win the Newbery Medal.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was famously rejected a dozen times.

photo credit: Laura on flickr
photo credit: Laura on flickr

One publisher recommended that Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (probably my favorite novel when I was twenty-two) be “buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

Not that I’m as brilliant as any of these authors, but it helps to think others have survived this particular roller-coaster.

In the words of Sylvia Plath, “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”

And Barbara Kingsolver:

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”

Just keep looking.

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Everything Is Medicine

So, the nice literary agent in New York who continues to be very encouraging about The Saltwater Twin recommends that I stop working on it for a while and focus on submitting work for publication. She thinks two or three more publications under my belt will put us in a better position to sell the manuscript when that time comes. Consequently, while I haven’t stopped writing altogether, I’ve begun to devote half my time to researching literary magazines and websites, polishing excerpts of chapters and sending them out via email and manila envelopes…and the rejections have begun to trickle in.

I’ll be honest. I enjoy praise. I like As. It’s pleasant to have people tell me I’m wonderful, especially at something I’ve worked hard at. It feels good. But, despite the fact that praise is more fun, rejection is part of any artistic practice (not to mention part of life), and it’s helpful to learn how to take it in stride. There are thousands of blogs and websites and articles that offer advice on how to deal with getting rejected by love interests and job interests and even a whole bunch of sites talking specifically about how to deal with rejection as a writer. I like the advice of an irreverent fellow called Chuck Wendig who blogs at terribleminds:

“Every book, movie, or story you love? It’s been rejected. Probably not once. But dozens, maybe even hundreds of times. It’s part of the writer’s career tapestry, part of our blood and genetic memory. Rejection is part of who we are as creative beings. Might as well commiserate.”

So how do you deal with it? How do you keep from getting the wind knocked out of you every time? Mr. Wendig goes on to advise,

“Step to it. Suck it up. Lean into the punch. We all get knocked down. This is your chance to get back up again with your rolled-up manuscript in your hand and start swinging like a ninja…You need to see rejection as bad-ass Viking Warrior battle scars, as a roadmap of pain that makes you stronger, faster, smarter, and stranger. Rejections are proof of your efforts. Be proud to have ‘em.”

I think about learning to ride a bike. How many times I fell off, the weeks I spent with chronically bloodied knees. But I kept getting back on.

This past Saturday I went to a very interesting event called a gong bath. Maybe I’ll tell you more about that sometime. One of my favorite things – actually probably my favorite thing – about the evening happened during the introduction when the leader said, “Everything is medicine.” I like that thought. I love that thought. Everything is medicine. I am medicine. Penne with tomato cream is medicine. Rejection is medicine, too. It’s a tonic for toughening up, being persistent, weaning yourself off a need for extrinsic praise, finding satisfaction in doing the work as best you can. Getting back on the bike. Wobbling down the street until the whole balancing and pedaling and steering act is second nature. Until it feels like flying.