by Gloria T. Delamar
Sometimes the best antidote to rejection-dejection is reminding yourself
that there are others who have experienced it . . . writers who went on
to publishing success.
Then there's Mario Pei, whose The Story of Language, was rejected by sixty-three publishers before someone recognized its value. Now considered one of the foremost books on philology, it has been translated into every major language.
Roger Tory Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds, now the birder's bible, was rejected by five publishers.
The brilliance of James Joyce's Dubliners was unrecognized by twenty-two publishers.
Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull flew through some twenty rejections.
Irving Stone's Lust for Life was rejected by sixteen myopic editors.
It's said that Gertrude Stein wrote and kept on submitting poems for twenty-two years before one was accepted.
Among manuscripts that were rejected a number of times are such diverse books as War and Peace, The Good Earth, The Sun Is My Undoing, Watership Down, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Kon-Tiki, The Fountainhead, To Kill a Mockingbird, Remembrance of Things Past, A Confederacy of Dunces and Joy of Cooking.
Emily Dickinson had only seven poems published in her lifetime. Now her collected words fill a fat volume.
The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, by William Appleman Williams, now considered a major revisionist work, was turned down by twenty publishers.
Lest you think that so-called "commercial fiction" is more readily recognized for its sales potential, remember that the blockbuster Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious, was rejected fourteen times. Metalious herself said, "I'm a lousy writer. a helluva lot of people got lousy taste."
However, the legend that Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind was turned down by some thirty-eight editors is simply not true. It was accepted by the first editor to see it. On the other hand, an editor who was offered the opportunity to be the first to serialize GWTW turned it down, saying, "A period novel! About the Civil War! Who needs the Civil War now--who cares?"
These little nuggets of information are offered to help you counteract the rejection-slip blues. Surprisingly, they're an effective placebo.
A fascinating paperback, Rejection, by John White, offers historical
notes about rejections suffered by numerous writers, artists, and other
creative workers. If your rejection is a less-than-complimentary after-
publication review, take heart with examples given in two small volumes,
Reviews and Rotten Reviews II, edited by Bill Henderson. All
three books are consoling reading.
Comments about Rejection
"If every (literary) agent in the end turns you down, you will know you're either not good enough or too good. If you're too good, keep writing, and keep your contacts with the writing community available to you, and evenutally your day will come."
- John Gardner"Do you realize what would happen if Moses were alive today? He'd go up Mount Sinai, come back with the Ten Commandments, and spend the next eight years trying to get published."
- Robert Orben, humoristAvoid Tricks that Invite Rejection
Beginning writers sometimes submit a manuscript with an inserted "trick" to see if the editor actually read it--certain pages upside down--a seed or hair between pages meant to be lost if the manuscript has been opened--pages stuck together, etc. Editors are wise to all these and are invariably put in a negative frame of mind at these amateur ploys. (And sometimes they leave the stunts in place on purpose). It's not a good idea to tick off the potential buyer. Of course, tricks aside, many manuscripts would not be accepted under any circumstances.
One woman wrote to Walter Hines Page: "Sir: You sent back last week
a story of mine. I know that you did not read the story, for as a test
I had pasted together page 18, 19, and 20, and the story came back with
these pages still pasted; and so I know you are a fraud and turn down stories
without reading them." Page answered, "Madame: At breakfest when I open
an egg I don't have to eat the whole egg to discover it is bad."
These Should Cheer You Up--or Will They?
Does "name-recognition matter? You better believe it. If it weren't such a selling point, celebrity biographies and novels, not to mention some dreary celebrity poetry books, would never have seen print. A spotlight on notoriety also can garner lucrative publishing contract; witness the proliferation of books by criminals and bimbos.
Do authors whose books have sold millions get contracts on later sloppily written material? Sure, editors believe that readers will buy the product, regardless. If they find it inferior, what does it matter? The publisher has already banked the money. There's an old adage, "Nothing succeeds like success."
Even well-known and respected writers count not only on the quality of their work, but on name-recognition. Doris Lessing, whose publisher had unfailingly accepted each book she wrote, once submitted a manuscript under a pseudonym (though, who knows why?), only to have it rejected. When she resubmitted it under her own name, they were happy to get it.
In 1969, the well-known writer Jerzy Kosinski published a novel, Steps, which won the National Book Award. In 1975, a freelance writer named Chuck Ross was convinced that unknown writers just didn't have a chance to have a novel accepted. To test his theory, Ross typed out the first twenty-one pages of Steps and sent them out to four publishers, using the pseudonym "Erik Demos." All four rejected the sample. In 1977, Ross typed out the entire book and, again using the name "Erik Demos," sent it to ten publishers and thirteen literary agents. One of the publishers was Random House, which had originally published Steps in 1969. The manuscript was neither recognized nor accepted by any publishers or literary agents, including Random House, which used a form rejection letter. That made twenty-seven rejections for a book that had won an important literary prize!
What can one say?
- © Gloria T. Delamar
Quotes about Rejection
"Writing is the worst paid of all professions. Repeatedly, work is thrown back at the writer. But in all fairness, most beginning writers invite this treatment, not only because their work may not be adequate, but also because they so seldom know where to send it. An agent would not try to sell Rabelais to a Sunday School, yet thousands of manuscripts fly back to their writers like homing pigeons because of this kind of absurd choice. Know what it is you are good at doing. Do that and hone your skills. Know who buys it. It is, after all, your business. If you know it well, and show it by your actions, persistence will be rewarded."
- Edward Weeks"You have to keep writing, keep submitting, and keep praying to the god of whimsy that some editor will respond favorably."
- Peter Benchley, novelist"If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that's read by persons who move their lips when they're reading to themselves."
- Donald Marquis"If you want a place in the sun, you've got to expect a few blisters."
- Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby)"Something of real quality will be recognized somewhere, sooner or later."
- Mimi Jones"There are hundreds of stories about caterpillarish rejection-slip collectors who turn into best-selling butterflies. In the meantime, a sense of humor and, above all else, patience, are qualities it doesn't hurt any aspiring writer to have, while the ability to maintain a certain fatalistic calm is useful, too."
- Michelle Slung, columnist
- © Gloria T. Delamar
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