June 26, 2008
Failure, Reject, Loser
I'm so jealous that you actually got a rejection letter from H.R.
I'm nearly peeing myself laughing that someone would be jealous of a rejection letter!
When I first started looking for work, I thought I wanted to be a casting agent. Then I wrangled an internship on a movie, got in trouble for the way I dressed, the people I talked to, and the postcard wall in front of my desk. But those weren't the reasons why I gave up that dream. I despised the part of the job—well, most of the job—the lion's share of the job, which was telling people no.
Say it with me: No, no, no, no, no.
An example? My boss saw 500 actors for one part. 499 were told No. At least one was happy, you say. Well, that part was filmed, and then cut. So 500/500 people were disappointed. Obviously, in order to be an actor, you need armor. I know a few actors, and I'm ever so impressed with the way that they deal with the Nos.
Say it loud and say it proud: No, no, no, no, no.
As a writer, you get a lot of nos, too. (Or I do.) The first time I subbed to a major erotica series, my manuscript was sent back to me with the word NO on it in black pen. Just NO. I used to collect the Nos in one big pink folder. I recycled them several years ago. I don't keep nos anymore. Not even Henry Rollins'.
But that doesn't mean I don't get them. This year, I was axed from several collections. I was also subbed in as a last-minute replacement and then cut again as a last-minute reject. Nos don't ever get easier. And I don't have any fixes for getting them. Or honestly for giving them.
For Frenzy, I received hundreds of submissions. I had 60 slots. You do the math. Originally, I was going to take three stories per writer, but I decided I wanted to include more writers in the book. The final line-up features 51 writers. Still, I had to give a bundle of Nos. The difference from this job and casting? I get to say Yes a lot, too.
Sometimes, when I send a No, I receive a "Why didn't my story work for you?" letter. "What's wrong with it/me?" (I got hit with a slew of those with Frenzy, when the writers were actually in the book. I just hadn't been able to send the acceptances out fast enough.)
Still, "What's wrong with my story?" is a difficult question to answer. (That is, assuming you didn't have hot goat sex in your submission.) For Open for Business, five brilliant stories were axed because I hadn't understood the guidelines for my own book! I thought the theme was sex at work, so I included a few very unusual work settings. The publisher wanted sex at the office, so some of my favorite writers didn't make the final cut.
There are so many reasons why a story won't be chosen. But here's the thing (and I may have said this before): every editor is different. Thank fucking god, or we'd all be putting out the same book. My story Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John was written as a submission for Cleansheets' Sex and Spirituality contest. (Okay, so it touches the concept of spirituality with the tip of its pinky toe. But that's about as spiritual as I get. You know, fucking the apostles.) Anyway, this failure, reject, loser wound up in Best Women's Erotica, was featured as a fiction piece on Clean Sheets, and has just been accepted in a new collection.
The most important thing? Whether you like your story. Does it work for you? Then I think you've succeeded.
Take all Nos with a grain of salt.