Sometimes when I hear other writers bemoan rejections, I think, Well, at least you’re submitting stuff. It’s a numbers game and you’re one step closer to winning than I am, sitting here reading Go Fug Yourself or whatever it is I do when I’m not submitting.
When I am submitting and I hear writers struggle with particular criticisms (“He wants me to write more like Sloane Crosley, but I don’t even think Sloane Crosley’s that funny”), I think, I would kill for anything besides a form letter. At least they think you’re worth CRAFTING A SINGLE SENTENCE FOR.
Yesterday, when I got the most thoughtful, constructive rejection ever from an agent, I thought, If the nicest agent in the world won’t represent me, who will?
So basically, I’m never satisfied. This would strike me as very American and worth meditating about if it weren’t still rejection. Only in the literary world do people try to conjure gratitude for rejection. We’re so bombarded with (true) information about how the supply vastly outweighs demand that we leave How To Get Published panels feeling like writing a story is the most selfish, audacious thing we could possibly do. And it is, in a way. But, I mean, it’s not like kicking a puppy.
Recently I had a conversation with someone (AK? Nicole?) about how poets and fiction writers are too willing to give it away for free, but the only thing that would change that would be some kind of union, which would never happen. It would be like a union of people who will paint your house neon green—there’s no bargaining power in services no one wants. So we’re a community of sad little scabs.
I was feeling kind of down, and I still sort of am because I’m not sure where to go next with the Malaysia-and-cats novel. Revise? Keep sending to agents? Start to think about small presses? Eat a large helping of tapioca pudding and call my sister? (I think I have my answer.) But I did get a pick-me-up this morning when I got my first feedback ever on the so-called circus novel. Kathy read it, liked it, didn’t think the mermaid parts were too Lisa Frank. She had some good suggestions for improvement too, and instead of feeling overwhelmed, I got excited about getting back into the project.
When you’ve worked on something over a year and haven’t shown it to anyone, it’s exciting (and potentially terrifying but mostly exciting) just to hear someone else say your characters’ names out loud. Ninety-two percent of why I write is for the thrill of hearing people discuss my characters as if they’re real people. Usually that’s in a writing group. If I’m lucky, it’s in a college classroom. Someday, maybe it will be on Oprah. But really, I’d settle for, like, six college classrooms.