Hurry Up and Reject Me, Already

August 16, 2011

My life was the green-on-black text of our Apple IIgs. I spun worlds, tapping away on the keyboard, filling page after Appleworks page with brilliance. After I finally finished it, I did a few cursory edits and hit print. The ancient ImageWriter on the desk blinked its lights at me in a “you have to be kidding” sort of way. I fiddled with the paper, blew on the ink cartridge and gave it a tiny shove. It sighed long-sufferingly and started cranking out my manuscript.
I busied myself by copying down the address for a magazine randomly picked from my copy of Writer’s Market 1994. Dreams of author stardom filled my head. “Teenage Science-Fiction Writer Wins Tons of Awards and Gets All the Money!” would be the headline. I’d be mobbed whenever I left the house. People would write me from every corner of the world, thanking me for bringing a tiny ray of sci-fi sunshine into their otherwise desperate lives. How a short story for a magazine that paid $0.03/word would turn into worldwide fame and fortune was less than clear.
I put as many stamps on the envelope as I could fit, enclosed the self-addressed, stamped envelope, and collected my manuscript from the printer. Right, I needed some kind of introductory letter. I quickly banged one out extolling the virtues of my work. In retrospect it probably read something like this to the discerning editorial eye:
dEAr PUBLisher,
I am a stupid kid please do not publish my horrible story.
Plrp.

But in my mind it would seal the deal. I’d be a real writer. That would show everyone at school. They’d take me seriously. I’d have friends! People would want to interview me, I’d go on TV! Life would be so cool, once I was published. I brought the envelope upstairs and put it in the mailbox. Then I settled in to wait.
Fiction writing is both a battle against time and an excruciating waiting game. First, hurry and write something, quick! Let it consume you if you must, but get it done now. Then, send the piece in and watch the eons pass. If you get lucky you’ll get some sort of response. If not, then you face the question of when to give up all hope and try submitting somewhere else. I once wrote a novel for National Novel Writing Month, which is a sort of sadistic excuse for writers to never talk to anyone during the month of November, and then sent it off to a major publisher in the hope that they’d pick it up and presto, fame and fortune. I waited years for them to respond. When they finally did, almost three years later, it was to tell me that there was some sort of format problem with the attachment I’d sent.
I finally did publish that book, but it took six years of trying. In the intervening years I feel I’ve improved or at least grown significantly as a writer, and I’ve learned more about how to approach publishers. The wait time was a killer, though; I stopped writing fiction and concentrated on political writing instead. I decided that no publisher would ever want to get anywhere near my stories, and even looked into self-publishing just to get the book out of the house. I’m glad I didn’t, now. I’m glad I waited. But it surely wasn’t easy. Rejection never is, and every writer struggles with it.
I checked the mailbox every day. I thought the magazine might get back to me really soon, since my story was obviously so great they’d rush to say yes. But as time went on my hopes faded. I went back to the basement and the old Apple II, and tried writing something new. Still, every day I looked through the mail I hoped to find my slim little self-addressed envelope come back home to me, bearing good news or bad.

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