Nine Hearts Worth of Rejections

20 January 2003

I just got my four hundredth rejection.

I think if the timing had been different, that would be a little depressing. Maybe more than a little. But I'm pretty happy with how things have been going for me in the last few months, so I can look at 400 rejection letters comfortably and say, you know what this means? This means I am trying hard enough. I am writing enough stories and editing enough stories and submitting enough stories. I'm not hiding behind fear or cynicism. I'm putting myself and my stories out there. I'm taking the risks I need to take to get where I want to go. It's very hard for me to feel like I'm doing enough -- I'm good with "too much," just not so great with "enough." But right now, yeah, I think I've been doing enough.

That makes it sound kind of like 400 rejections is a triumph. I think it is.

It also makes me feel like I have room to talk. When people talk about how hard the publishing business is -- I have four hundred rejections. I didn't just show up and fill out my bibliography painlessly. I didn't bestow gems on grateful editors -- "here, darling, have a story. A check for me? Why, thank you!" I have been doing it the same way everybody else has, that is, with lots and lots of rejections.

So when Columbine has a couple of entries about how publishing sucks, I kind of do feel like I have the room to write back. When, for example, he says that it helps him avoid heartbreak to assume that editors and publishers are in the business of trying as hard as possible not to publish his books, and my response is, oh, yeah, you sound like you're doing great that way, I don't feel like I have to back off and say, "Oh, I just don't know what it's like to deal with my work being rejected." I do know what it's like. And, frankly, I don't think anyone's peace of mind is helped one little bit by believing that the entire publishing industry is out to reject him. This, to me, is the difference between believing that anyone you pass on the street could be hostile and believing that everyone you pass on the street is just biding their time before they shoot you, preferably a gut wound so that you'll die slowly and painfully.

I don't think Columbine should go skipping around thinking, "Tra la la, the editors are waiting breathlessly for this very manuscript and are even now conferring with the accounting department to see how many millions they can afford to advance me." But assuming that they're all obsessed with a particular kind of fast-paced beginning -- how would the slow-paced books he's enjoyed get published in the first place, if that was true? -- and that they're all actively hostile just seems like a bad idea.

I also don't think that someone who gives a book fifty pages before he'll quit is the ultimate hard-sell, and I don't think that it's particularly consistent to be reluctant to complete a long work on spec and yet also reluctant to submit on the three-chapters-and-an-outline policy. And it would be disingenuous to say, hey, what do I know about all this? Because -- 400 rejections, folks. I know.

Heartbreaking is not having your book rejected. You get a hug and get on with it after that. That's disappointing. Sometimes maddening or sorrowing. Not heartbreaking. What's heartbreaking is giving up on your book, or on the career you dreamed of, in the first place, before the former is even finished or the latter even started.

I'm not just talking to Columbine here, or I could have put it in an e-mail.

I want to be able to tell people someday that the difference between me and other young writers who wanted careers is that I am a brilliant star, and my natural brilliance shone through, yea, in glorious abundance. But I have the feeling that instead I will be telling them that I am pig-stubborn and willing to continually risk rejection of things that are vitally important to me, and that's what made the difference.

I suppose I can live with that if I have to.

It occurs to me that I may have forgotten to give an internet service update: our DSL is supposed to last until the 31st, and our cable modem is supposed to be installed on Thursday, so we should have uninterrupted service. Mark already has our new mail forwarding set up, so that should work just fine, too. It'll further confuse this confusing week, though, because Mark will be home for the cable installation.

Sometimes I forget how much Mark is our local clock and calendar. Much of my schedule is determined in terms of whether or not he's home, and if not, how soon he will be. Weekends differ from weekdays largely in that Mark is home all day. Thursdays, he's gone until late; Fridays, he sometimes gets home early. Timprov and I don't have much reason to have a good sense of time. The things we do just keep needing to be done. I write every day, cook every day, wash dishes every day, write some more every day...the few things that are time-sensitive are usually date-sensitive rather than day-sensitive.

Anyway, I dropped Mark off at the airport and had a relatively painless 101 and San Mateo Bridge experience. I hate 101. I don't know why. It's no worse than 880. But I really, truly do hate it. Most of the stuff in the Bay Area that makes me cranky isn't inherently bad stuff, and I know that -- it's just not my stuff. But I believe in the badness of 101. Bad.

It's pretty foggy on the Bay this morning, so I'm hoping Mark can get out at his expected time. Institution2, we decided in the car, is officially yon. We weren't entirely sure which places were thither and which were yon, in general, but Institution2 is yon for sure. It might be a nice yon, though. We'll find out, I guess.

Happy Martin Luther King Junior Day. Drat. I think that means no mail. I'm like Cookie Monster with the mail. I guess that would make me Mail Monster. I can see why they didn't have Mail Monster on Sesame Street, because it's kind of lame. I won't add it to my list of superhero names.

Well, so. Yesterday I started Jesse Byock's Viking Age Iceland and am enjoying it greatly. All of my complaints about previous Viking/Icelandic type books are remedied in the Byock. I will definitely and for sure be buying his other one, Medieval Iceland, even if the Medieval era was less interesting, as far as I know now. Oh, and Amazon tells me he also did Feud in the Icelandic Saga. I have a feeling I'll be needing that later as well. And enjoying it. I love this feeling of lots of books ahead of me.

I also read Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic: Daja's Book, which was fun, if poorly named. The British editions have real titles. Ah well. Anyway, today it's back to DBM and the Byock and just getting one thing done at a time around here. My "to do" list is almost all big projects, very few small tasks, but that's all right.

And I do have to figure out what to do to celebrate 400 rejections. Because, damn. That's worth noticing.

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