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it’s not you, it’s me

“You, sir, are an ignorant man. How the fuck do you know it won’t sell if you don’t try to sell it? And do you think I can just shit out another one on five minutes’ notice? I worked on this cocksucker for two years. You got any idea what that takes out of a man? You like to play God with all of us out here, is that it? You kept my manuscript for three months and didn’t even send it around. Here I was thinking the whole time that maybe someone was thinking about buying it. I wish I had you down here. I’d whip your ass. I’d stomp a mud hole in your ass and walk it dry. You turd head. I hope you lose your job. You’re not worth a fuck at it anyway. I hope your wife gives you the clap. I wish I had your job and you had mine. How’d you like to paint a few houses while it’s a hundred degrees? I can tell you it’s not any fun. I hope you get run over by a taxicab on your way home. And then die after about a month of agonizing pain.”

Larry Brown, 92 Days from the collection Big Bad Love.


I guarantee that Larry Brown had a ball writing that letter for his character. As whiny and self-pitying it is, it’s not too far away from thoughts every writer’s had when they get the ‘thanks but no thanks’ reply from an editor. See, you know not to take it personally, because, hell, they don’t even know you. No, it’s far worse than that – they’re judging your baby personally. And I don’t know about you, but the only time I ever get my knuckles lined up is if someone threatens one of mine.

I sent a hefty amount of submissions out last year and had a miserable result. The Nos just kept rolling in and they had no constructive criticism or personality in them at all. Just a bland, polite standard response.

I can understand the Editors position of course, personal taste, quality of content, their particular vision – but this post isn’t about how hard their job is. It’s about rejection.

I went through a stage where I would write on my excel sheet of submissions reject or accept with the response of a piece. After a while I started writing pass instead as my battered ego couldn’t take seeing that word over and over again.

Because it’s not a rejection, really, it’s a pass, and that’s the way you’ve gotta look at it if you want to keep going, if you want your skin to thicken up to rhino proportions, if you want your writing to get better.

But they still suck – this year I’ve had a pretty amazing ratio of 50/50 replies and I’d be lying if I didn’t say the bad 50 doesn’t irk me. Of course they do. But they sure as hell don’t make me doubt my writing the way they used to.

When I don’t feel so hot about that electronic cold shoulder I have two sure-as-hell-fire ways to get up after feeling down about ‘passes’.

Famous Rejections

Colette was told in a letter of rejection: “I wouldn’t be able to sell 10 copies.”

When Irving Stone sent his manuscript, “Lust for Life,” this is what came back in the mail: “A long, dull novel about an artist.”

Crash by J G Ballard

‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.’

Carrie by Stephen King

‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.’

Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller

‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’

Animal Farm by George Orwell

‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

‘… overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.’

Bernard’s Rejection

Who can’t watch this a million times?

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