Private Rejections

Why are winter sunsets so much more dramatic? Must have to do with layers of air and lots of moisture.

The fabulous and funny Tawna Fenske has a post up today about stretching her, um, horizons by reading Petals and Thorns. I’m so pleased she enjoyed the story. Quite a few people now have read Petals and Thorns as their first real foray into erotica. I feel like the wild friend who convinces everyone to do tequila shots and enter the wet t-shirt contest.

I can live with that.

Yesterday another writing friend told me that, when her first book was published, her own mother gave it three stars on Amazon. That’s three out of five, for those not glued to Amazon stats. My friend said her mother had wanted to be a writer when she was younger, but gave up. She suspected jealousy was at work and she’s likely right.

Still, it gives lie to the idea that we can run around shouting that our mother loved the book so it must be a best-seller.

Rejection is part of a writer’s life as much as sitting down and assembling words. It’s the nature of the business, from newbie to best-seller. Joyce Carol Oates even mentioned this in her incredibly moving essay Personal History, published in the December 13 issue of the New Yorker. (Here’s the link to the online edition, but you have to subscribe or purchase the issue to read it, which is well-worth it, I think.) The essay describes her husband’s death after nearly 46 years of marriage. This bit was an aside, just a descriptor of their relationship, but it struck me:

In our marriage, it was our practice not to share anything that was upsetting, demoralizing, or tedious, unless it was unavoidable. Because so much in a writer’s life can be distressing – negative reviews; rejections; difficulties with editors, publishers, book designers; disappointment with one’s own work, on a daily or hourly basis – it seemed to me a good idea to shield Ray from this side of my life as much as I could. For what is the purpose of sharing your misery with another person, except to make that person miserable, too?

She goes on to explore the ways she needed him as a wife, not as a writer. I remembered this when my friend told me about her mother giving her three stars. The people in our lives don’t always understand the pain of rejection – even the moderate pain of a meh review from someone who should be blindly enthusiastic.

I’ve stopped talking about my rejections and set-backs with anyone but my close writing friends. To them, I can say “100 pages!” or “full request!” and they know my excitement. I can tell them I got a pass and they ask if it was a good one, a bad one or stock. They know how to console me and kick me to keep going.

People not involved in this arcane world, much as they might sympathize, can’t really get into how it all works. And I’ve come to think they shouldn’t have to. They come back to us with suggestions like maybe we should write another book or, hey! self-publish. They reassure us that getting published is really hard and maybe not for us. One friend’s husband suggested that she should add in more about what people are wearing and make it sexy.

We know they mean well. We do. We love them for it even as we’re choking back the explanations about the many ramifications of self-publishing or which genres discuss fashion and which don’t.

It’s just better not to go there in the first place because the thing that is fundamentally difficult to explain is that rejection is part of our Opportunity Cost.

You didn’t know I knew fancy economics terms, did you?

Okay, it’s a fake-out. This the only one I know, besides supply & demand, and I just learned it yesterday. A writer was talking about how she was multi-published and didn’t want to brag, but had received very few rejections. A glance at her pub list shows her work is with e-presses, and not the top tier. I’m not saying they’re not selective. All reputable e-presses have a selection process. I’m saying they’re not as selective as the Big Six. They’re not a selective as 99% of the agents out there. When you’re going for bigger stakes, the opportunity cost is higher. That means you get more than a few rejections.

It might mean you get a trainload of rejections.

That’s the part I find hard to explain. I have a healthy helping of ego and I want the brass ring. I’m willing to keep tossing my work into the ring with NYC’s hungriest lions, even if it means watching them slice it into shivering bits. I’m willing to pay that price.

The people who love me can’t stand to watch the show. I don’t blame them a bit.

And that’s okay. I can keep the misery to myself. It’ll make sharing the triumphs even better.

14 Replies to “Private Rejections”

  1. Excellent points all around! It's tough to have non-writers relate to the crazy ups and downs of this business without a twelve-hour lecture explaining how publishing works. It's sometimes best to just smile and nod and say, "things are going well."


  2. Ha! I find myself saying that *all* the time, Tawna. And yes, you'd know. How do you explain how a publisher cancels a line and your upcoming book isn't? Whereas the writers just nod, sigh and hand you a glass of wine.

  3. Great points, Jeffe. Thta's one thing I've noticed when trying to share my excitement about writing with some members of my family. Sometimes I think they believe books just m agically appear on the bookshelves and writers don't have much to worry about. I'm educating them, but it isn't quite the same as living it.

    Rejections are part of the writing process. I think they're a necessary evil because if we didn't have those negative comments to overcome, why would we bother improving our craft?

  4. I loathe the thought that I have to edit which parts of my life I share with the people I love. Hate it. But it is a fact.

  5. Boy, does this post strike a chord with me. Very well expressed.

    And, good lord. What has the world come to if you can't expect 5 stars from your own mother, for Pete's sake? Harumph.

  6. Yep. There is a great deal of self-censorship that goes on when you're a writer, talking about your trade with non-writers. There are a lot of people who really believe that once a person types "THE END" at the bottom of a manuscript, that a book on a shelf is inevitable. You write a book, and OF COURSE it becomes published.

    And one doesn't want to necessarily be the bearer of negativity to people who are just beginning on the writer's path. I want to be encouraging, not depress them with Tales from the Publishing Crypt.

    But I think that there's a lot of self-censorship that we do in most relationships. Whether it's a work relationship, family, or anyone but the close tribe. There are very few people in the world that I feel that I can let it all hang out to. Maybe just one or two that I can show my bruises to and bitch and still be loved by afterward.

  7. Good point, Danica! But then, *we* understand that part.

    Marcella – I so hear you.

    Thanks, Linda. Picking and choosing how much pain to share is always difficult. And yes, mothers should *always* give five stars!

    Those are great points, Laura. We keep saying "things are going great!" to the new writers, too. Later we can commiserate. In small intimate groups.

  8. This is a wonderful post, Jeffe! I've been on Twitter for about a year now and it's where/how I finally found writer friends – people who understand why I can't just "wing it," who really get why writing a query is so effing hard, and cry with me when the next rejection hits the inbox.

    They're also the ones who cheer when the good news comes because only they can understand the countless hours and tears that led to that good news.

    My family is supportive but only to a degree. You all are my writing support system.

  9. This is why I adore all my friends online! They (yourself included) just get it.

    My family and friends are supportive, but, save a few, they don't understand…

    No wonder writers of old were drunk outcasts–they didn't have Twitter!!! Now we all just get drunk together… well, virtually…. ;o)

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