This post may be six months too late. On the other hand, as I say on my author page on Facebook, inspiration can only be followed, not forced. And while the conversation I am about to relate may have taken place half a year ago, rejecting rejection is a timeless message. What Ben Jonson said of Shakespeare (“not of an age, but for all time”), some contemporary sage will say of this post.
Before you ask, yes, I am tickled that the title is alliterative. But I’d have been tickled pink had the title been “Rejecting Reader Rejection.” No one made me omit “reader.” I did so of my own accord, with Brutus and the Forum Scene in mind: not that I loved alliteration less, but that I loved authenticity more.
I omitted “reader” for authenticity because this post is not about you, dear reader, much as I love you. Mark Zuckerberg having given like a new meaning in social media, I cannot say I like you, but I do love you. That’s why I call you dear, an endearment I will never use of the creature this post is about. That, dear reader, is a species I neither love nor like, in social media or out of it. Truth be told, I feel so little for them that I don’t even bother to detest them. But for the fact that they are critical to rejecting rejection, I would ignore them altogether.
To tell you about the creature I neither love, like, nor detest, I’ll have to tell you about someone who falls in the same species as myself in that he is a local author: Mark Ozeroff. We first met at the Eastvale local author fair on January 11, and we met again at a similar event in Perris last Saturday, July 19.
At Eastvale we chatted about writerly things such as the agonies of first drafts and the ecstasies of writing by hand. We also spoke about our late dads (but mum’s the word). At Perris Mark told me about his mom (mum’s still the word), and I brought up a subject that could be classified under the subversive category “Planning a Blitz.” I was planning the blitz and needed Mark to supply the ammo. He has written a book (Days of Smoke) set during World War II and knows a thing or two about the Blitz. More significantly, a friend of his had supplied some pretty potent ammo back in January. It came in the form of a question posted beneath this photo on my author page on Facebook.
“Mark, I love those starfish thingies above you. Are you now making art out of rejection letters instead of using them for wall paper?”
The questioner was a naval officer, judging by the lovely battleship in his cover photo, and his genial good looks belied the explosive nature of his question. The detonation took the form of comments.
Mark Ozeroff: Yes, Bob. I call this new art form, produced from rejection slips, Crushed Hope Origami.
Sharon Edwards: Mark, you really ought to write a book on how to recycle rejection slips. It will be a bestseller. I’ll buy a copy.
Mark Ozeroff: Rejection slips are part of the game (although 69 for my first book did sting a little). I’m just happy when publishers or literary agents aren’t throwing heavy objects and calling their lawyers.
Sharon Edwards: Why should you be afraid of lawyers? You’re a professional liar.
(That was an allusion to Mark’s first comment when I posted the photo: “I like the fiction sign hovering over my head, Sharon. As a fiction writer, I often tell people I’m a professional liar. I sure enjoyed the authors fair, though – that’s no fiction.”)
The genial officer’s question was a blitz-generator because it helped my Facebook page break the 200 Views barrier for the first time. That’s why I wanted Mark to help me plan a blitz after the Perris author fair. I am writing this before posting our new photo on Facebook, so I don’t know if Mark’s friends will blitz my author page a second time. And I don’t know if anyone will mention rejection letters, but the term reminds me of a creature closely associated with rejection letters, a creature I neither love, like, nor detest: the literary agent.
In my quest for a publisher, I sent queries to around forty agents. Many never deigned to respond, and I am grateful to those who did. Even if they didn’t consider my manuscript worthy of acceptance, at least they considered me worthy of a rejection letter. Time has erased every letter from my memory except the first, which was sent, as fate would have it, while I was flying back from England on October 13, 2011. It was the first email I read next morning.
I’m not superstitious about the date, and I honestly don’t mind what the agent said about the two full excerpts he had read. Every honest opinion is valid (honest being the operative word). At his request, I had submitted 30 pages, which amounted to two-and-a-half stories. What he read were early drafts compared to the published book, so he might have a different opinion if he were to read Pioneer Boulevard today. Or he might not. And that’s fine too.
Even in October 2011, what the agent said about my stories didn’t hurt. It’s what he said about love that was the most unkindest cut of all (making it another reminder of Brutus and the Forum Scene). I have underlined it (in the color of a dagger wound), in case that’s all you want to read of my first rejection letter.
I read the letter calmly. Maybe I was too jetlagged for a different response, but I also had faith enough to believe that the right publisher would come along at the right time. And the more I thought about the letter – like a first love, I couldn’t stop thinking about it – the more I sensed that the phrase “absolutely in love” was significant. How, I didn’t understand until I decided to publish Pioneer Boulevard a year later.
Moments after that momentous decision, I realized that by bringing love into it, the agent who’d written my first rejection letter had set the bar for me. And he had set it high, very high. For love is the greatest motive there can be for any act, be it rejecting a manuscript or deciding to publish it.