• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Life’s Candy and the Sun’s a Ball of Butter

I got a rejection letter last week for a piece I wrote. It trafficked in all the usual words and phrases: unfortunately, alas, not quite right, best of luck. How many thousands of times as an editor and agent have I written the same words to writers seeking publication. Not cynically exactly, but that awful couched language. Not our cup of tea, the penny didn’t drop, not for our list. Go fuck yourself, they seem to say, and fuck your mother while you’re at it. It’s what you do with that information that ultimately matters. Revise, try again, tell yourself at least you had it in you to try. It’s true but feels like weak soup as you take your morning walk, stopping at a statue you’ve seen a million times but never seem to have noticed.

What do you tell yourself?

18 Responses

  1. If you have to torture yourself to keep doing this, don’t. But if it’s torture not to do it, carry on.

  2. After being a non-fiction short form writer (columnist) for so many years almost all I submit gets accepted. If I go to the line, push the boundary and a random piece pops up as unaccepted, I simply move on, Do I play it safe? Hell no.

    Always remember that the box with the tightest lid holds the best gift. Um…what the hell does that mean. Beats me 🙂

    • I reread my comment and to me it sounds cocky. So let me add, though I have also spent decades submitting short and long form fiction not one freakin bite. Broke my heart each time. I stopped breaking my heart years ago.

  3. Rejection is expected. I’m already moving on before I finish reading. I’m always wring something else. Maybe not better. But something.

  4. Keep trying. Make it better.

    Sometimes statues appear out of nowhere. Pigeons notice.

    • Along the line of Carolynnwith2Ns comment to her reply, I realize that my comment sounds a little flippant. At sixty-six I can’t afford to get tied up in emotions over a “rejection”. My turning point was a one-on-one I had with an agent at an Atlanta Writers Club conference. I had researched her before I booked her, but when I read the book I ordered that was written by one of her clients (after I had already booked her-the spots were going fast), I knew she wasn’t going to be a match. While she was complimentary of my writing, clearly my offering was not her “cup of tea”. It was far more traumatic than that–I was past emotionally upset, I was pissed–but after mulling it over for a couple weeks or years, I decided it wasn’t worth the energy it took. Move on. If I had stopped dating after my first, fifth, or even twelfth crappy relationship, I never would have met my husband.

  5. On good days I remember that it can’t be any worse than the rejection received in middle school, which further reminds me that I mastered the rejection thing long ago. So, onward. On bad days it’s more like, man, and I could have majored in ANYTHING.

  6. After the first time I read the rejection (I have had my share) I allow myself to feel down – down mind you, not ‘rejected’ as the term implies. Then I just send my short story, novel, whatever it might be to another submission arena – because I know it’s damn good and eventually I’ll get there!

  7. Feel bad, really bad for a day, maybe 2. I think about the Lolita rejection. I think about all who were rejected and are now famous. I tell myself the difference between a published author and one who isn’t is that they never gave up. Joe Konrath told me that. Look him up. He got a 6 figure deal for a female detective series more than a decade ago. I refuse to give up.

  8. Most established literary journals take less than 1% of fiction or poetry submissions. A literary agent’s likely interest in a novelist’s query might be significantly less. To answer your question, Betsy, when one of my submissions fails, I just tell myself to update my records in Duotrope. I never see a boiler-plate, impersonal rejection as a prompt to revise, just as a routine business decision, like my routine decision not to subscribe to the journal. My prompts to revise come from my own sense of each bit of writing, and I try to delay submitting until I think the work needs no more revision that I am capable of or interested in doing. A question for you, now, Betsy, please: about what percentage of unsolicited query letters for novels do you guess that agents reply to, really hoping to represent the author?

  9. I think it varies widely. At my advanced age and with a full list, I take on between 1-3 clients a year. So the odds are not good. When I was starting out as an agent, I was reaching out to lots of writers and signing them up. I do think you need to put ten years into it before hoping to get published. If anyone can figure out the average age a first time author gets published, I’d love to know what it is, but I’m guessing their thirties after at least a full decade of typing and figuring out the marketplace of agents, publishers, self publishing, lit mags, etc.

  10. Provided I have another possible outlet, I just tell myself, “OK, moving on.” What I find disconcerting is the reply of no reply. I wrote something recently for a publication; when I proposed something else, my editor (who had moved up, to more writing and less editing) referred me to a different editor, who never deigned to answer my emails. I felt like a character in a Chekhov play, who (to alter his words a bit) said, “Maybe I don’t really exist—I only think I do.”

  11. I tell myself every pot’s got a lid and keep going.

  12. The last time this happened, I told myself that publishing is kind of a bummer, even when it succeeds, and I don’t need to put myself through it anymore.

  13. “What do you tell yourself?”

    Whatever lies I need to keep going. Same as it’s always been.

    I tell myself truths, too. To give up would be to make a waste of my life. My life will be over anyway, and will go the way of every life, into the waste bin of time. That this is the life I always imagined I wanted, though I never imagined it would turn out this way.

    That somehow it all matters. That’s a truth and a lie.

    • Hey Tet. You and I have teetered on the edge of whatever awaits us in the dark or the light. Because I’m a little further down the road from my event let me just say, it matters my friend. It all matters. We (all of us) leave footprints every time we touch a key.
      That someone here (you) understands the futility and bliss of the quest matters. My life is not the one I imagined. Footprints made it better. You are an amazing writer my friend and that’s no lie.

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