Realistic Delusions of Grandeur

Alberta, Canada glaciersI’ve written about facing literary rejection before, in part because I’m a prince at receiving them, but since those days of yore several months ago, a new tendency has sneaked into the publishing world: the nonresponse.

Used to be that writers, being commandants of verbal intent and letters, would parse through a rejection letter for any smidgen of meaning. Is it a form rejection? Is there an extra sentence with a pearl of insight from the agent, telling me that memoir is just too competitive right now, or that my voice is great but the book is too niche, or so forth? Is someone congratulating me for transitioning (that was my favorite, by the way)? Does it mean anything if the period at the end of the third sentence falls on the 219th pixel from the left?

No. It does not. Stop staring at the email. It’s time to move on. That was the lesson learned way back in October.

But now, like I say, agents are more prone to not responding at all. The flood of wannabe writers is so overwhelming that it’s swept them away and they’re no longer poised over keyboards with macros in hand. Even the slush pile readers don’t respond. I suspect some people are huddled in their offices, reading tea leaves to predict the final outcome for the industry—perhaps Amazon will own us all by 2015.

We cannot fear the future, friends. We only have today. Or thereabouts. We probably have next Wednesday, I guess.

My point is this—we’re not writing to avoid rejection. Or if we are, we’re going to spend a lot of days feeling off-track, because rejection is everywhere. And if silence is the new form letter rejection, we really can’t get more than two feet away from those who would turn down our projects. So I propose that we writer-types just plug away and presume that we’re working on a perfectly serviceable, wonderful novel or short story or poem, etc. We need to have enough confidence to continue working and waiting for that acceptance letter or phone call.

Realistically, there will be a thick glut of rejections before an editor or agent accepts our work. If we’re interested in actual critique (and I hope we all are), there are peer groups, beta readers, online writer resources like BookCountry, and other ways to work on our craft. We have to be willing to take the small wins and thrive from them—think small weed growing in a desert—until we get representation or a check from a journal, and even then, there will be many more dry days.

I’m not a fan of the open-ended, quiet rejection, personally. My inbox is ready and waiting for whatever comes its way. But in the meantime, I need to keep writing. If I wait for my favorite agent to get back to me I’ll run out of time to tell all of these stories.

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4 Comments on “Realistic Delusions of Grandeur”

  1. June 10, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    I personally think it’s bogus that so many people aren’t responding. I’m sorry, it’s bad business, and I don’t care how much time it takes. In fact, it can’t possibly take more time with email than it used to when everyone asked for a SASE… I almost always got my SASE’s back with rejections… someone had to physically take the envelope, stuff the rejection in it, and walk it to the mail pile. Now, a few clicks, done. To me, it’s as if in my job as a teacher, I decided to only grade the essays I felt like grading. I have very little respect for agents or publishing houses or literary magazines that feel they can get away with a long blank silence with no end. It might be a bit different if people had a somewhat short turnaround… and say something like: “If you don’t hear from us in eight years, consider this a rejection”… but even the places that do that sort of thing, it’s bogus. We have too many submissions, to me, is a copout, and very, very passive agressive. I respect a simple, no nonsense rejection. I have a post about this somewhere on my blog, too. Although I’m sure mine is much more sarcastic than yours. You’re quite grown up about the whole thing. I don’t think I was as nice.

    • evmaroon
      June 10, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

      I find it pretty unprofessional, too, and it confounds expectations for writers, like alerting agents when someone else has asked for a partial or full. If the correspondence is one-way, when am I supposed to presume they’ve let me off the “need to alert” hook? I just presume that if I keep knocking on doors and working on my craft, something good will happen, affirmative quotations from William Churchill notwithstanding.

    • hsofia
      June 11, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      “You’re quite grown up about the whole thing.”

      Isn’t he, though? Oh, Everett, what you claim to lack in grace, you more than make up for in graciousness.

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