OPINION

A Writer's Notebook: I'm Just Getting Started

August 25, 2006
Richard Marcus
Dear Richard Thank you for submitting the sample chapters of your novel The Paths Life Takes. I apologize for the lengthy response time but because we accept unagented submissions by email we are inundated and I do read them all. I'm sorry to tell you that we don't feel we can add your novel to our list. We can only accept a small fraction of the works that come to us and we must be completely committed to any work we take on. Your writing is extremely good and I'm confident that you will find the right home for this work if you persevere. With all best wishes for your writing endeavours, James McKinnon

Well there it is my first rejection letter. It was delivered straight to my inbox yesterday with all the suspense that accompanies the arrival of a piece of Spam. There's just something so unsatisfying about opening a letter like this by email. You want to be able to hold onto things like this with fingers trembling in anticipation as you work up the courage to first rip open the envelope and then unfold the letter.

Just pointing and clicking took all of the drama out of the moment. These are supposed to be important way stations in your career as a writer; rejection letters piling one on top of the other until you're almost ready to give up when at the last moment you receive the long hoped for letter of acceptance. It's just hard to build up anything akin to that sort of importance when the letter comes electronically.

First of all it doesn't have any identification that it is from a publisher. There's just a name in the address line. It took me a couple of seconds to even remember who James McKinnon was, let along that he held a little piece of my soul in his computer. It would have been far nicer to receive it in some nice envelope with the publisher's crest or name embossed on the back. Then I could have some good anxious moments to spend before even opening it.

Letterhead would have been nice too. You know some fancy looking logo along the top of the paper with a heraldic type quote in Latin that looks literary even if it means something stupid like "Keep your nibs clean" I bet that would look pretty impressive in Latin. At the very least it would have been nice to have a return address across the top that proves this person was really from the publisher all along.

I only have his word for it that he is an editor at the house. What if he's the janitor and been breaking into their computer systems periodically and stealing files? How do I know he's not just going to use my idea to write his own book along the same lines? (Well probably because I did receive another email under separate cover from one the publishers assuring me that James was indeed on their staff, and his first letter did come from the publisher's address and contained identification marks) But still, you never know.

Well I guess you do, because who else is going to write as polite a "go away" letter as that if not a publishing professional. Talk about your Dear John letters; they never want to hear from me again do they? "I'm confident you will find the right home for this work if you persevere" really means "We don't like your kind so don't darken our door again and peddle your wares elsewhere"

To be honest though it's a nice change to even hear anything back from somebody at all. I've sent articles off to magazines months ago and not heard a thing back from them. I'm still waiting to hear anything at all back from the publisher in India that I had sent off a chapter and a query letter to somewhere back in February.

Of course that's nothing compared to what it was like when I was acting. You never heard back from anybody except if you got the part. It could be down to you and one other person for a role in a film or a play and you'd only find out you weren't cast when the play opened or the film was in the theatres.

Supposedly having an agent made a difference but I never noticed. I've had casting directors rave over me and say I was perfect for the part, never hear anything back from them and then when I'd see the actor that had ended up being cast in the role he was as opposite from me as possible without being another species.

So all in all as rejections go this wasn't so bad, in fact it doesn't even feel like a rejection in some ways. I didn't have much hope of this publisher signing me to a book contract. I'm a new author with no real publishing record, and they are a new publisher. They are going to want to play it somewhat safe in regards to who they take on as a client I would think.

Aside from the fact that I wasn't previously published another strike against me was the fact that my book's genre is so nebulous. There is nowhere near enough magic or other fantastical elements for it to be considered fantasy, but neither can it be considered straight historical fiction. I didn't have any sex or nude scenes either, mainly for the reason that only two characters fit that bill and it wasn't culturally appropriate for them or their situation.

The subject matter itself might have been problematic: how well is a book dealing with events based on the re conquest of Spain where the Muslims, Jews, and Gypsies who live in the territories are painted as victims of Christian aggression going to go over on the mass market these days? The words lead and balloon may have been floating through their brains, as well as large zeros in terms of sales in the all-important American market.

The only reason I even held out an iota of hope for this company taking a flyer on the book was the fact that they had requested more chapters. I had sent them the usual first chapter plus query letter and was preparing to wait a few months before I heard anything back from them. So when Jamie the janitor (or maybe editor as he claimed) wrote back a week later asking for chapters two, three, and penultimate, I had a brief vision of one of those fluky first shot hitting the bulls eye type experiences that only happen to other people.

I had images of my pages being passed around from editor to editor, being discussed in publishing meetings, and eventually my editor (I was thinking of him as my editor in those fantasy moments) taking them to the publisher and arguing the case for printing my book. Thankfully I know some saner heads who were able to bring me down to earth by telling stories of publishers asking for the whole manuscript and then never getting back to them. Or others discussing potential edits and revisions, and afterwards express amazement that the author had gone to all that trouble when they weren't interested in the work.

So what do I do now? Why keep writing of course, and start sending out more letters and chapters. I still believe my work is far superior to a good chunk of what's on the shelves these days, and that I've got a good story to tell. A friend of mine is going to help me with getting my foot in a couple of doors he can open, but it's still up to me to wow them with my work.

I'll take another look at the early chapters and see if I can polish them up even more, I haven't looked at them since April so I might catch something that I missed the first time. Aside from that, I've got book two still to write, other projects I'm working on, and a blog to maintain. I'm not about to let a little thing like a rejection letter stop me now. I've only just started.

Richard Marcus is a long - haired Canadian iconoclast who writes reviews and opines on the world as he sees it at Leap In The Dark and Blogcritics
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A Writer's Notebook: I'm Just Getting Started

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Author: Richard Marcus

 

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#1
GG
August 25, 2006
05:19 PM

Thank you for sharing your experience with publishers. Looks like it takes a lot of time and energy to get a book published. Good luck!
gg

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