Sometimes you get a rejection letter that just makes you want to quit. I usually don’t stress about query letters that get rejected. I spent a lot of time perfecting my most recent query letter and I’ve gotten good response to it. It’s the rejections you get after the agent requested a partial or a full manuscript that sting. Lines like “it just didn’t draw me in” or ” I don’t feel passionate enough about it” or “it’s not compelling enough” can easily lead to a spiral of self doubt.
I recently made the mistake of setting the return address on my SASE to my PO Box, where my business checks come. I only open the letters there right when I am paying bills. Paying bills always makes me depressed and anxious. I just happened to open up a rejection letter right as I am sending all of my money to other people. It hurt more because of the context. It hurt because I put a lot of time and love into the mailing and packaging and printing. I’d upgraded my printer and gotten the brightest paper I could find. I formatted everything perfectly and triple checked it for spelling errors. When I got this one I just wilted. It made me feel like I should just give up writing all together, that I will never make it.
I’ve been successful in my business life and the long process of submitting for publication feels like an archaic, sadistic and punishing process. A few jaded gate keepers are keeping me from my dream and I want to lash out in furious rage. Then again, maybe I’m just not good enough. Maybe what I wrote isn’t that good and the people in my writing group and the Amazon contest are just fucking blind and naive. Maybe my friends are just being nice.
In the end I’ll put all these thoughts out of my mind and get back up and keep punching. It’s the only way.
Sometimes it’s comforting to check out the rejections famous authors received. The little book Rotten Rejections by Andre Bernard is a great way to pick yourself up after a particularly punishing rejection letter. Googling around will lead to no end of famously rude and idiotic rejection letters for famous books. It’s disturbing when you find even published authors getting rejected and blogging about it. I’m finding that some agents don’t even bother with a form rejection anymore now that most agents take the query via email. Apparently I am not the only one to get the big fat nothing in response to my suffering and painstaking query crafting. It used to be they at least lubed up before shoving it in. Now they just rub their dick with sand before giving it to me in the ass. Then again, I’ve never gotten a rejection letter quite as cruel as some of the famous ones out there. No wonder self publishing is taking over the world. Sometimes I think I just like to get hurt, so I go the traditional route.
A few of my favorite famous rejections are below:
Bukowski was rejected so many times that he papered his walls with the little form letters. He got so disillusioned with the publication process that he quit writing for almost a decade, a time that he referred to as a “ten-year drunk”.
Ursula K. Le Guin
One publisher delivered this helpful insight to Ursula for her Hugo and Nebular award winning novel, The Left Hand of Darkness:
“The book is so endlessly complicated by details of reference and information, the interim legends become so much of a nuisance despite their relevance, that the very action of the story seems to become hopelessly bogged down and the book, eventually, unreadable. The whole is so dry and airless, so lacking in pace, that whatever drama and excitement the novel might have had is entirely dissipated by what does seem, a great deal of the time, to be extraneous material. My thanks nonetheless for having thought of us. The manuscript of The Left Hand of Darkness is returned herewith.”
Frank Herbert’s Dune was rejected 20 times before getting published and becoming the bestselling classic it is today.
I think everybody in the world knows that Rowling was rejected by a dozen publishers, including all the big ones. What most people don’t know is that it took the begging of the eight year old daughter of the Bloombsbury CEO to get it published. Imagine if she’d never read it?
“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”
Sometimes I wonder if these are just fakes. I can’t believe anyone would say this. Then again, yes I can.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
I have to admit I never finished Lord of the Flies. Some books you just don’t click with. Apparently this publisher really didn’t click with it when he wrote:
“an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”
You may have heard of Ms. Plath. She wrote a couple of good poems I hear. One helpful publisher had this to say about her talent:
“There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”
Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME, one of my favorite books as a kid, was rejected a mere 26 times by various fucking morons.
THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT was turned down so often, Beatrix Potter self-published it, which I am considering doing because this process is such a bitch.
Another favorite book from my childhood, Jonathan Livingston Seagull sold millions and millions of copies. Of course one lucky publisher thought it had no commercial appeal and let Richard Bach know the following:
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull will never make it as a paperback.”
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
“an irresponsible holiday story”
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita may have the greatest opening in the history of fiction. However one less than enlightened soul though the following:
“… 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.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
“Get rid of all that Indian stuff.”