It was with trepidation that I packaged up my book of personal essays – written this past year, over the course of 8 or 9 months – in a thoughtful book proposal and sent it off to a publisher. I sent it nowhere else, as the crush of novel writing month ensued, and I was simply curious about what would happen to it. The publisher warned me it would take 4 to 6 months to hear anything back. I imagined my proposal landing in the slush pile of other blind submissions and sitting in an editorial assistant’s inbox until springtime. Carolyn and I agreed it would be wise to send it to at least a dozen more publishers and to wait and see. I’ll do that after the holidays, I thought, once I can focus on work again.
On Christmas Eve my SASE arrived unexpectedly in the jumble of Amazon boxes and holiday cards, and I knew immediately what it was. My first rejection. Nothing too special, a faded, undated, unsigned form letter, brief and to the point:
Thank you for your interest in ____ Publications. After carefully considering your proposal, we have decided that we will not pursue publication. We do appreciate you thinking of us and wish you the best of luck in finding the right publisher for your work.
With best wishes,
Not a surprise – who, after all, has their work accepted on the first try? – and not even harsh, but it stung nonetheless. Although I had promised myself that a rejection of one’s book is not an indictment of one’s writing, it still felt like it. Not that they had read my book, I had to remind myself, just the proposal for it. Still, it stirred up some unwelcome feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
The holidays were a nice distraction from writing, but I didn’t want to get down to it anyway. I have a destructive habit of thinking that if my work has been rejected then it’s no longer of value. Maybe it was a waste of time and I should just give up, I considered, feeling sorry for myself. But there was nothing else I wanted to do in place of writing. That was a revelation for me, and it pulled me out of the pity party.
I enforced a regimen of firm inner encouragement to get myself back to the desk. There are insightful edits to make, thanks to my extraordinary beta readers, and there’s a great big publishing world to navigate. There’s my novel to rewrite, and the ideas I have for it keep waking me up in the wee hours of the morning. So one publisher in one city did not want to acquire my first book. Is this really a bad thing?
What I mean is, I must be a writer because I have my first rejection. This is something that could not have been true just 12 short months ago. Nor could we have said we had a blog, or followers, or helpful and witty comments from so many of you. We are all writers, with the bruises and the circle of fellowship to prove it. On to 2014!
Happy New Year, and Happy Writing –
Leah and Carolyn
Writing Exercise: Write a thoughtful and creative rejection of your current book. If an editor read your work, what would s/he find wanting? How can this outsider’s view help you improve it before it gets rejected accepted?