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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Clearing Rejections

This week I met a delightful woman who is a fellow writer of the same vintage as I am – i.e., we both worked when writing still paid (for example: HuffPost expects writers to contribute for free) and midlist authors weren’t being dropped by the Big Five publishers as they acquired smaller houses. We were reminiscing about back in the day--gaaah, that makes me feel old!--when we sent print queries via snail mail (don't forget your SASE!) to agents and waited weeks, sometimes months, for a reply.

I was recounting the story of seeking an agent for Blood Exposure, the first of my novels. 

Organized (compulsive?) as I am, I diligently tracked every query with a spreadsheet and saved every response. I used to segregate the responses in categories – Request for Full MS, Request for Partial MS, Rejection, Handwritten (getting a handwritten comment was almost as good as getting a request for a partial), Rejection, Form Letter. Far and away, the thickest file was the latter. If nothing else, I figured my paperwork would stand up to an IRS audit in case they questioned my status as something other than a “hobby” writer. I have all of these in neatly labeled files in my office.

In my previous life in corporate America, I had a boss I admired greatly.  One day, waiting in his office prior to a meeting, I noticed a neat grouping of about seven letters, matted and framed on his wall. Perusing these documents, I was astonished to find that they were all from companies with whom he had interviewed that had subsequently decided to hire another candidate. I was incredulous. Why would you not only keep, but display those rejections?

“It keeps me humble,” he said.

So when I began querying, I told myself that saving all that paperwork ensured my humbleness. Well, I was good and humble fifteen months and nearly one hundred (!) queries later when I found an agent who loved the story and wanted to represent it.

Discussing the subject with my new writer friend pointed up the absurdity of this thinking. In retrospect, I see that the need to prove myself  as “real” was my own insecurity. Far from keeping me humble, holding onto such negativity only substantiated this insecurity.  And, IRS or no,  I don’t need to hold on to anything that simply says “It isn’t right for us.” Which meant it wasn't right at that time...for that agent or publishing house...for that market...but that, deep inside, I translated as “YOU aren’t right for us.” I internalized the rejection by legitimizing it.

So in my ongoing quest to clear out what doesn’t bring me joy in order to make room for what will, why would I keep the negative paperwork of my past?  

Its's outta here. Today.

Oh, and that agent that I finally found? Disappeared without a trace after about two years, having never sold the book. As I never saw any physical proof of his efforts despite my requests for information (e.g., "okay, Putnam said it's not for them. Did they say anything specific? Did the characters not ring true? Any problems with the plot?") I have no idea to this day whether he actually sent the book out at all.

By the time I finished Net Stalker, I'd decided that I'd find another agent who would now have two books to market. Another year of queries, by this time updated to emails with a great tool, QueryTracker, that kept all my records without keeping the actual rejections at hand. The brilliant creators of the site must have known that writers are often far too prone to self-doubt as it is.

In the end, right or wrong, I eventually chose another path, that of self-publishing.

In clearing the files of rejections, I did come across another file I hadn't looked at in a while: my "YAY!" file of emails and notes from readers who have enjoyed and have been touched by my work.
Which certainly meets the criterion of "that which brings you joy." 

That's a keeper.