f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: A Rejection Letter

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

A Rejection Letter

Let’s get this straight. I’ve really not been an acquisitions editor all that long. Look at the archives and you get a rough sense of how long I’ve been prowling about with the editor badge pinned to my chest. Mr. Big Shot. So I’m really still learning—pretending I know more than I do and speaking extemporaneously on the rest. In other words I’m still earning my stripes, still figuring things out.

And one of the more surprising aspects of this work is how deeply rejection seeps through the entire industry. I once said that writing is, at the same time, both narcissistic and masochistic and I’m more convinced than ever.

The foremost rejection, of course, is the one staring the writer in the face. I won’t make light of it because I’ve faced it and I know you all face it. It sucks, there’s nothing we can do about it, and so the best thing is to try NOT to take it personally and move on.

And while I take no sick thrill from rejecting people, I admit that being on the other side of the pen has obvious advantages. What I never fully expected, however, was that the rejecting was just starting—and this time it’d be aimed back at me.

The problem is a vision for the book. When a book comes in, rarely is it in pristine, publishable shape. Rather editors need to see the potential in the book and begin convincing others of the better, grander, more saleable book yet to come. We envision edits and character shading. We get ideas for great covers. We see the book, published, in readers’ hands. Except—

An author decides to go with another company. They thank you for your enthusiasm, how much it meant to them. It was nothing you had done. It was them. They just need to go elsewhere. It felt, in other words, an awful lot like getting broken up with by a girl, only without all the returning of music CDs and T-shirts. So you just nod, wish them the best, meekly ask to see a copy of the book when it comes out, and then go back through the manuscript and try to lose yourself in the cold comfort that there were way more problems in the book than you’d noticed at first.

The other possibility is that your own company turns you down. I’ve yet to come up with an analogy for this one. It’s more like a bad family argument. Or the bickering between an old married couple. Past failures come up. Conflicting expectations are worked over for the ninetieth time. Gravy boats get thrown. Standard stuff.

The last rejection is failure on the shelves. Author is on board, company is on board. The book comes out and nothing. A mediocre review here. A chain buy-in there. But for the most part people couldn't care less. This feels most like raging against God, to be honest. Readers are this all-powerful, omniscient being to whom we bring our meager offerings. For reasons that may or may not be comprehensible, a book fails and what can we do but shake our tiny fists? But I’m not asking for pity. It’d be a bit like the cat requesting it of the mouse.

I just thought it was interesting. An industry permeated with rejection. Even here. Most of you won’t get to this point. You’ll stop at the first paragraph or scan through quickly. But I can take it. I’m tough. You can’t wound…(breaks down into crashing sobs.)