Friday, 14 September 2012

A Fresh Look at Rejection Letters

They say to write about what you know. Well, I know publishers' rejection letters. I'm thoroughly acquainted with them, having received every conceivable kind over the past twenty years.

There are the apologetic ones that fairly sob in your hand: "We tried and tried and just couldn't fit your manuscript into our publishing schedule this year and we're sorry and we don't want you to take it as any indication at all of the quality of your writing or to get discouraged and if we could possibly change the course of the world we would and please don't hate us!" I don't get many of these.

I heard of one from a Japanese company that said approximately, "Your writing is so wonderful that we couldn't possibly do it justice, and if we accepted it we'd never be able to match that sort of quality again and our business would be in ruins."

There are the polite ones that seem fairly sincere: "We're sorry we can't use your submission but we encourage you to keep looking for an appropriate publisher." The ones that make you shrug and try again. Most fall into this category.

There are the ones that rip your heart out: "The last editor really loved your stuff and wanted to publish it, but the day before your contract would have been sent, he went to work for another company (no telling where, of course) and the new editor is too busy cleaning out the old editor's desk and can't be bothered."

Then there are the stiffly indifferent ones, usually photocopied onto blank paper instead of letterhead: "Sorry, this doesn't fit our needs." The ones that make you want to scream "What about MY needs?" The ones that make you wonder if they even opened your submission envelope.

And then there are the no-answers-at-all, which is a heck of a way to run a business, if you ask me.

And best of all, twice I got rejection letters from publishers that weren't even mine. Someone else's rejections were sent to me. As if my own weren't enough.

At first the letters devastated me, then amused me, and now they just bore me. Someone needs to come up with a new way of rejecting me. Singing telegrams, perhaps, or maybe wrapping my manuscript around a brick and throwing it through my front window. I'm to the point now where I anticipate being rejected. I add a little note at the bottom of the query letter: "If this does not meet your needs, please recycle it rather than return it." It's my little contribution to the environment.

I have collected rejection letters from publishers big and small, American, Canadian, European, Australian. I organize them in a scrapbook according to politeness of tone and colour of paper (interspersed with those choice, heartwarming little news articles about first-time authors who started off as casual bloggers, were approached by Penguin to write a novel, and signed a blockbuster movie deal after their first book came out). I've decided to make a game of it, to see how many I can collect in all. It makes me look forward to the rejections instead of being destroyed by them. Maybe we could take up trading rejections on eBay. "I'll trade you two Hodder & Stoughtons for a Random House."

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