Rejection Rant

And then some; the subject is the nth iteration of the Famous Rejections, and the repeated remarks/comments they get.  It started out as some thoughtful responses, I swear.

Rejections build character!

Rejections build character?
Serious *snort* now!

I'm not averse to character building. I suspect that forced revisions and editing (AIIEE MUTILATION OY SHARP KNIVES CARVING THE FLESH FROM MY SOUL!) will be far more character building than an impersonal note from either editor or agent. I frown upon the idea that being denied something that you want and know you should have because you are worthy should be seen as character building, how the hell did those people ever get past their fifth birthday? That ever first no I had to swallow as a toddler prepared me well enough for: no, nyet, nope, nada, nix, nougat-balls, and just because, you figure it out.
It doesn't help finding it not fair (oy Calimero) that my genius is denied; it's not like I can wait until mommy leaves the house and sneak into the cupboard and take the cookie I so deserve.
An explanation would help making me bristle less at the no--we all have that same child still with us, and as everybody knows, some children are louder or more stubborn than others; I must confess to having a very headstrong and petulant child within, but I cope nowadays without pouting and stomping my feet and crying in public. But my character was built enough way back when to deal with an unexplained nope (mind you, not until I figured out that mommy notices cookies disappearing and it would do me no good ignoring that no). I'd like an explanation, but I can live without. But without explanation you don't have anything to build whatever with.
Now, if an agent would send me some flaring remark (what kind of drivel is this, you idiot, with which you disturb my most exalted thoughts?) I might not be happier, but at least I'd have something I could call character building.

I look at the digital stack of impersonal form rejections (stack, pfeh, let's not be overly dramatic: I only have like 9 or 10); I accept why these must be such, though I'm not fully convinced by the arguments (see later). But since I don't have to do that work, who am I to object? No is a no, and stomping my foot ain't gonna get me cookies.
Now, said digital stack of rejections first and foremost remind me I'm a storyteller, nay storyfinder. I can't look at them and not have Cow Watcher award those impersonal words voices, give them faces, and have them speak in a certain tone. When another incarnation of the List popped up on the Rejectionist's blog, I commented that at least those rejections are personal. My digital impersonal stack simply make me feel like a leper trying to sell skin lotion. Thank you but no thank you and have a nice day! Leper moves away from door, with difficulty negotiating the two small steps to the path, then the flagstones towards the street. Before reaching the next door, arm drops off... Oh no, whispers the lady in the next house, Quickly children, hide behind the couch. It's that leper from last year again!

But honestly, I was looking for a short explanation of my feelings when making that comment. What the stack really does is make me feel like a girl scout making her cookie-selling rounds and getting met by kindly smiling faces and a chipper: "Sorry! Not today!" and "Oh how awfully sorry, but I can't."
Brave Girl Scout will not be persuaded by a little adversity like that, but after wandering through many streets, she grows weary with the chipper folk. More and more she has to bite down on a slightly evil grin so as not to blurt out "You're awfully sorry, I know. Bye!" as soon as the door opens.
Surely there are better ways to use/lose time, she feels. It's such a lovely day, and if nobody wants these cookies, what's she trying to prove? But no, she's committed, she's hard working, she'll do this, the right way. So she soldiers on, no matter that her feet hurt.
But Girl Scout is also mere human, and hence prone to petulant inner monologue. She knows slinging cookies through people's front windows will not help the sales, but wouldn't it at least make her feel better? Her fingers are starting to hurt from knocking on doors and pressing doorbells, and pain is hard to bear if you cannot see its reason.
Being somewhat paranoid of nature, Girl Scouts ends up wondering if those chipper folk are all too kind to mention they bought cookies from another Girl Scout, and well, lovely as the cookies are, people have to think about health and diet and money these days. What she would not give for someone to say: "Oh no chocolate, I can't have any says the doc." At least then she would know that the cookie-selling-route-snatching-bitch-that-spoiled-her-day is only a figment of her dark side.

Another recurring remark/sentiment is the one that states it's a rite of passage. I find that one even more disturbing. At least a tribal rite of passage has rules for the ceremony that are clear, or I should say, that clearly state what they're about. In preparation for your rite you won't be told you need to show courage during your test, and then dropped unprepared into a pit with a hungry lion. No, you'll be well warned that you'll have to fight a hungry lion to show courage. To say those two things are the same would be showing a lack of intelligence, or of common sense.

A comment in Bransford's post on the list mentioned that every failure is a step towards success:
a reminder each time, that you are a submitting writer ever one step closer to your goal.
I'm not quite sure how to interpret that. Failure can teach you many things, but failure itself is not getting yourself any closer to whatever goal you've set. And without a teacher, a mentor, a direction or even a glimmer of an idea what causes the failure, how can you learn? Or should I cherish impersonal form rejections for another reason? Is this person perhaps hinting at the greatest secret in the publishing industry there is: might there be some wizard, some AI out there, that counts my form rejections, and if I reach the right number without blowing a fuse or letting slip a petulant remark, the doors of heaven will open and I will be taken up amongst the Angels of the Art?
Well... Crap on the Holy Cow. If only someone would have told me that years ago...

Bransford gives his reasons for finding fault with such lists; I'm slightly disappointed that all remarks and comments in whatever blog on the subject so rarely point out that comparing those rejections with current ones is comparing apples with pears. Why will nobody of our shepherds say out loud: those rejections have nothing to do with how the business is run nowadays. Why not slap down comments like "rite of passage" and "character building" like the fluff they are? Instead their silence only reconfirms the mantra: queries are the pain you must suffer, the ablutions you must do before being deemed worthy to the inner circle of the craft. So, write some more, it's good for your character, it's good for your soul.
You know, carrots are also good for you, but I'm no donkey, and I know when I'm strung along.

Those dear shepherds of the wannabe-writer masses pussyfoot about while they'll write page after page of detailed and thoughtful advice on queries. However, they won't say that the business has changed over the years, that their business has changed along with it, and that while they would love to find the next great artist writer they won't get his books sold. Perhaps even worse, that while they would love to find the next great artist writer, they no longer look for him.
Craft, they mutter, you must learn the craft. But it's not craft, it's not the potter forging beautiful dishes. The publishing industry is about factories copying the design and cranking out as many they can. Nay, it's not craft you must learn, it's industry. It's neither good or bad, but it is what it is and I feel more should be said about it.

Craft? Piffle. And this does not come from my frustration as querying wannabe-writer, but as reader. There's good stuff being written, but in the field of SF/Fantasy I haven't seen the likes of great storytelling like LeGuin's, or Zelazny's yet. Doubt we'll ever see something like him again and this makes me sad; I'll steer clear of questioning they would have broken through nowadays (which is like trying to argue whether aliens will like us or kill us when they come). No, honestly, I'd rather buy and read the next Zelazny than get my own stuff published. The system isn't broken because you need to rack up piles of form rejections, the system is broken because it fails to mention time and again it's first and foremost about selling copy nowadays, and less and less and even less chances are taken. It's sensible, logical, but not quite talked about as much as how it is about style and voice and craft.

It's not about writing, and it's not about craft, but about whether you can carry a platform. Will you go out and talk and do things having nothing to do with writing, and everything with selling? Will you humor fans? Do you understand what makes this business tick? Will your title sell enough within a short amount of time (and too short an amount of time to make a success of most of those writers mentioned in those lists), to make it worth it? I was just about wondering whether it might come to big boops being assets in getting published, but then this happened making it all too clear what the industry is about. Oh laugh at it, mock it, sure, but me, I'm laughing green, because I understand quite well who this particular joke is on, and illustrates so well why I'd better give up now. It's not about writing, it's about the person. And instead of giving me hope and courage, strengthen me in the idea that I simply must have an agent, simply must have an editor, simply must have a publisher, to do this the right way, they make me question if this is the right way. I'd like to get famous and rich overnight just like the next person, or whatever approximation I could ever dream of befalling me, but I'm not sure I want to pay the price. I just want to tell my stories, whether the world will buy them in masses, or not buy them at all. Just like proving courage and being chucked to lions or doing it the other way around, there's a difference between editing geared to making a manuscript into a better novel, or into a more salable novel. It is what it is, but is it what I want?

One of those things that makes me bristle when the shepherds speak of queries is the advice to personalize. I get that when thanking people when you do get published, you name the people that have helped you, whether they were paid for it or not. It's only polite, and makes perfectly sense. Just like writing a story is more than stringing words into sentences, jobs done with heart and good effort are more than something you can pay for with money.
I also understand the need to get a name right, the genre, and perhaps the preferences too. But why should I agonize over personalizing what should be an objective polite request to a stranger, while the addressed is perfectly aware that whatever I say is just a sugar-coating ploy. Something small, like "I like your blog!" or "loved that book you sold" in my weird head always get said in that immortalized tone of: I can see Russia from my house! Surely such fake sentiment will not help my book getting published? Couldn't we just go all out then and turn this show into America's Next Bestselling Author?
Another test of my character then perhaps: can I lie and fake interest in their person even if they promise their response (being 90% to 99% of the time the negative kind) will be an impersonal form rejection?

It annoys me and then some. I'm not a great people's person. Especially when strangers are involved. I pick and fuss over my words, lay awake at night wondering about certain glances, certain expressions I noticed. I HATE making telephone calls if it's my business, but I'll call to wherever if my job demands it, no problem, and I'll be polite and outgoing and not such a bad people's person but it's mostly FAKE. Why do I need to pretend to like strangers if they do not show me the courtesy they expect from me? N.B.: only a third of my rejections use my name in the response. And that simple little effort, an objective polite courtesy asked and returned, makes me feel less like a leper or a Girl Scout who can't get rid of her sodden cookies.

So all in all I'm wondering hard and deep now, reminded of the promise I made myself over Dreams of Cold Stone. I'll wait till summer and then we'll see...


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