Saturday, December 13, 2008

Trawling for Rejections

There comes a time, after the hours of mind bending writing sessions and the gauntlet of critiquing, that a writer can no longer put off the inevitable. It is time to submit. Theoretically, it could be avoided. I imagine there are authors out there with stacks of manuscripts stuffed into some dark drawer, or piling beautifully on a shelf to be admired, revered. Look what I’ve done. I’ve have built a shrine of sorts to my finished works…well, maybe a mental shrine. Finishing anything is new to me, and I love it.
Imagine how shocked I was to discover that the impossible task of finishing was only the very smallest first step. Sigh.

Enter: the process--queries, proposals, outlines (gack!) and the best little morsel of all, the rejection. Bring it on…not.

Suppose for our purpose that the author (that would be me) has researched this process until her eyes cross. Suppose she’s mastered the query letter, which deserves an entire post at least of its own. Suppose she has brilliantly identified the perfect markets for her opus. Okay, it’s a stretch, but even pretending as much, the true challenge has yet to come. Is she ready? She’s heard the stories. She’s savvy enough to lurk on several authors groups. She knows about rejection, yet still her knees tremble. Where did she stash that ego?

She digs it out, brushes it off, gives it a good polish in preparation. Her dues must be paid; the rejections will come. Yet, her ego whispers, maybe she can dodge them. Maybe, her brilliance will overpower the system. Maybe she is about to be showered in praise, acceptance, validation, and possibly money. Stories of amazing successes vie with the tales of grueling beginnings. She lists the names of bestsellers and the number of rejections they amassed before being picked up. The ego cringes. “Get on with it,” it tells her. Get on with it. Good advice.

Get it over with. The first rejection comes in. It stings. The ego shudders and threatens to buckle completely. She shores it up, eats chocolate, considers dentistry. The second comes—not as bad. A little twinge, and the ego recovers. She expects the fifth one, bats it away and searches her lists of untried agents. She sets her shoulders, grits her teeth and snarls, “Bring it.”

A strange madness descends. She collects rejections like merit badges, re-reads them, pastes them in places of honor. She considers herself a rejection connoisseur and creates a system to rate them by usefulness. She keeps submitting, keeps writing. “Embrace the horror.” Okay, there’s some truth to her insanity. Rejections are useful, and not just to test the durability of the writer’s resolve. I should say some are useful. Some just suck. Either way, they keep coming so hop on board and let’s have a good look at ‘em!

Submission reminds me of fishing. You drag your bait through a dark lake, that is supposedly full of fish you can’t see, and wait, and wait. You might get a nibble, and some day you might catch the big one, but a lot of the time you’re just trawling for information. Where the hell are those fish?

No response: You reel in an empty line. Bait gone, lure gone—no fish. Not only do you not know how your piece was received, you can’t be sure it was received. On top of this you have a whole new problem. Do I re-query? How long do I wait? Do I cut and run?

The Form Letter: Was that a nibble or a snag? Your hook comes up bare. I hate form letters. Get ready for this--they’re more common than rocks. The form letter is useless. It tells you nothing. Does the work suck? Maybe it’s fabulous but doesn’t fit this particular market. Maybe it came close, maybe, maybe. A necessary evil in a world of desks swamped with submissions, the Form Letter will come, and it sucks.

ANY information: A solid nibble. At least the worm is still moving. This one begins, thank you for submitting yadda yadda we won’t be extending an offer etc. BUT-- wait a minute. There are some personal comments sandwiched into this near-form letter. The work was well received but didn’t fit our format??? The piece started out solid but became repetitive?? Now we’re into territory that we can use. Sift through this one for bits of golden advice and give yourself a pat on the back for getting someone’s attention.

A few suggestions: That felt like a bite! Okay, it’s still a rejection, but they read it. They liked it. There’s a compliment or two and the real bonus: specific suggestions. Oh happy day.

Encouragement: You hooked it. You reeled it in. You saw the flashy bastard as he sauntered by the boat and spat out your hook. This is the best rejection yet. It goes something like this: We read the work and we’re interested in X, Y or Z. However, we think it needs more polishing, more editing, some kind of work. If you choose to rework it, please feel free to re-submit to us. Maybe it’s false hope, but get one of these and you’re nearly ready to crack the champagne.

Are you close? Is the next step an acceptance? Damned if I know. I like fishing, but I can’t stand the taste of fish. At this point, I could sure get used to the taste of an acceptance letter. Bring it on.

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