Friday, December 5, 2008

Rejection Day and Night Spa: Menu of Treatments

For years I’d led the double life, slogging as a cubicle slave by day, writing software for a huge company and devouring the Writer’s Market by night. My colleagues told me I needed to be in the writing world. They saved my emails. Even I could tell I was more gifted in the comments and documentation section than in the coding section.

But the programming job had its perks. The money was steady. And there was always something or someone to look forward to. Tall M wore his shorts so high that he’d never have got them wet in the throes of Katrina. Gold chain and Rolex sporting J – who’d mastered terms like ‘value-add’, ‘prototype’ and ‘revenue factor’ - couldn’t explain a project to himself or his bosses. Brilliant T was paid the highest in our group, yet he bought all his T-shirts at Goodwill. Tight-bottomed, thong-wearing S strutted her hips and sashayed her way rapidly to the top. Silent W worked hard from 9-5 (often behind closed doors) filling out medical insurance forms, paying her bills and catching up on romance novels.

You can see why it was hard to leave my colorful, soulless job. But I knew my heart lay elsewhere. When I jumped at a voluntary retirement package, I had no clue that my new writing career would have to be constructed and nurtured on a quicksand of rejection letters from magazines and newspapers.

The first time I got a rejection in the mail I was apoplectic.

I called my husband - who was in a conference with bosses and customers - howling as if someone had died in the house.

“Sorry to hear that,” he said, in his very-meeting voice. “I can’t talk now.” He wasn’t getting it. Our essay had been rejected.

“Remember how you and I almost died on that plane back for Australia? Woman’s Day says it’s thrilled to know we’re still alive but sorry to inform me that my essay doesn’t fit their needs,” I blubbered, between sniffles.

In response my husband mumbled something that guaranteed he got no conjugal dinner or conjugal anything for days.

Spurned by a publication.

Trashed by a husband.

I banged the phone and wailed like a banshee.

That was then.

Over the last eight years, I’ve amassed a slush-pile (a favorite editorial term for unsolicited pitches and manuscripts from writers) of electronic and hard copy rejections. I have now named a line of spa therapies based on the categories of rejection treatment I continue to receive - and embrace with that certain panache.


The cheapest of them all, the Black Hole is also the most popular.

I send out my fabulous pitch or series of story ideas to a publication that I have studied cover to cover. I have analyzed even the font sizes on the cover. I’ve memorized the layout, the ad pages, the content, the readership, checked and rechecked the editor’s names, read a year’s worth of the magazines, attached the best clips from my portfolio, printed out the perfect cover letter in HP Premium paper, located the stamp with a theme the editor is supposed to adore.

Then I wait.

My Writer’s Market guide gives me an idea of how long to wait. “Responds in 6 weeks.”

So I wait it out. 6 weeks. 6 months. A year.




In the time I’ve waited for a response from a thousand publications, I’ve fossilized by the mailbox. The twin towers have burned. Tsunamis have changed geographies. Wars have been waged. Mr. Trump has lost money and won it back again.

And Moi? I haven’t even begun my apprenticeship yet.


This treatment whacks you in the face exactly once.

I barely press send on my Yahoo! screen. Simultaneously, a response slams into my inbox. Does this editor’s main job description include the following: stare at the screen, refresh the inbox every second, shoot out a pre-written rejection letter, and not waste time on formalities?

The note says: “No, thanks. We’ll pass.”

No warm fuzzy ‘Dear So-n-so’. There’s no time for manners or massage here, see?

Sometimes, there’s a final icy-cold layer:
“Sorry, we’re selective.”


I call this one the black widow therapy. It licks before it pricks. It mates before it kills.

The editor sends me a long email back about the things she loves in my writing. But wait for the fangs. She doesn’t need it right now. ‘Try again later.’

Here are some pearls from my coveted collection.

‘I love your writing style, but it isn't quite right for us.’

‘Your essay was moving and I hope you’ll remember to send us more. But I’m sorry but your essay doesn’t fit our needs.’

(Your needs? What about my needs, huh?)

And here’s the classic automatically generated reply, sent to me after I send reminders over several months: ‘Our inventory is full at the moment so we aren’t taking any more essays at least for a year or two.’


If you’ve ever been on the table for this Brazilian torture, you’ll know what I mean. Bend over backwards. Spread yourself thin. Shear yourself like a lamb in Auckland to make your editor like your work.

You go off and execute on a given set of requirements and turn in the piece. In return, your piece is about to be pockmarked and jaundiced with editorial jabs.You SHALL put up with all the jostling with a smile even as your writing loses all form and shape and any resemblance to you, its creator.

Months later, the editor will roll in the punches. She will wax eloquent before she tweezes you clean.

“There’s good news and bad news,” she’ll drone - after you’ve sent in the story for which you worked a 100 hours and interviewed a dozen people (who are now bombing you with emails about when the story will run).

“Sorry,” she snaps, if you demur at the prospect of having to take home a sorry ‘kill’ (settlement) fee instead of the total amount. “The editor-in-chief canned it because it doesn’t work with the publication's new attitude.”


This one begins with a pat on your back from your editor.
You turn in your work. You get paid. You’re glowing. But not too fast.

Just wait until later into your relationship, when your work isn’t being published for some mysterious reason. Perhaps it was smarter not to be paid. Now your story is locked in contract and is languishing in a bin of unpublished slush. It will likely never see the light of day.

It's exactly like one of those body treatments that's supposed to make you feel better. You're not sure at the end of it as to how you really ought to feel.


In this deluxe line of treatment, you know you are in the best hands from the very first time you get in touch with your editorial therapist. In this relationship you get to discover, again, why you chose to write in the first place.

I've discovered that every time I turn in a story for publication, I lose a part of my soul. But I've also realized that every time my story is published - true to how I envisioned and wrote it – it nourishes my soul.

No comments: