A month or so ago, a good friend—one who believes in my writing—was in New York and had an opportunity to approach the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG Books), Jonathan Galassi, and present the query letter for my novel, Mr. Neutron. The next day Mr. Galassi emailed me to request the full manuscript. Me—a writer who doesn’t even have an agent.
A million to one shot was instantly reduced to a thousand to one.
I had to keep reminding myself that those odds were still ridiculously high. But come on, who among us wouldn’t entertain notions of breaking through, of finally, after seven years of effort and hundreds of rejections, of being able to tell the world he had a book with a major publishing house; of being able to say that he was not just a writer, but a successful writer. Who wouldn’t imagine screaming it to the people who have encouraged and supported him for so long, to family and friends, to strangers in the mall?
In dreams, sometimes in the movies, the magic phone call comes in the first few days. That did not happen.
There is a strategy to rejection. An art, almost, among agents, editors and publishers. They know how passionately we writers hold onto our dreams. For most of us, dreams are all we have, and these strange visions somehow sustain us through refusals and rebuffs that would make the average person stare in disbelief, as though we are not so much writers as masochists, obsessed with our own failures and begging for more punishment.
Rejection rarely comes quickly either. In cases of requested materials this invites charges of unprofessionalism. How could you reject my manuscript so fast? You barely had time to read it, let alone evaluate it. Instead, the clever literary professional allows the process to linger long enough so that rejection comes first from within the writer, so that he is ready to accept it.
A week, maybe two after the manuscript is submitted, the writer thinks: Okay, so he didn’t call. It’s the holidays, after all, and maybe he’s traveling. And surely he’s incredibly busy. Chances are he gave it to an assistant to read—an assistant who has a stack of manuscripts on her desk that graze the ceiling.
And when the phone call doesn’t come, the writer realizes the odds of acceptance have lengthened. Yes, an assistant, someone whose job it is to reject almost everything. The dream shrinks a little more.
Perhaps the response will be by email. The writer then checks his inbox with one eye closed, knowing that it’s not the way publishers usually say yes. He goes to the mailbox knowing that if there’s an SASE, it’s definitely a No. He barely wants to look through the stack.
While it’s tough enough to remain positive, the hardest part of this exercise for the writer is to endure the possibilities that clutter his head. It’s not knowing and wanting to know. It’s wanting to have it over with and yet not wanting to hear the verdict so that the dream will live one day longer. It’s thinking about it and thinking about not thinking about it.
Eventually, though, the voice of reason—or of negativity if you prefer—begins to overwhelm the dreams. They surely wouldn’t wait this long to accept. What’s one more rejection anyway? The writer tells himself it doesn’t really matter, that the writing will continue. As the days pass, scenarios of rejection outnumber those of success. And when that happens, the writer is ready.
The email comes. The writer opens it and barely reads the words.
He already knows.
The few people he’s told understand that this is how the business works. One of them will buy him a drink and together they’ll curse the gatekeepers. Work goes on, writing indeed goes on. Life, in general, continues as before, and he files the incident away under Opportunities: Unrealized.
Ah, but wouldn’t it have been something?
I’m going to take the rest of December off from this blog to think things through and evaluate where I’m at in my writing. I’ll be back in the New Year and hope to communicate with you then. Thanks so much for reading and participating. Please know how much I appreciate it.