Thursday, March 13, 2008

Save This Book!

Check out this amazing blog post at Author! Author! about what rejections were like in the 1950's. You think we've got it bad? See what Anne Mini remembers hearing tell from her mother Kleo Apostolides Dick Mini and her mother's first husband,Philip K. Dick, as they struggled to get published.

Here are some highlights to an excellent article:

"One of the great advantages of growing up in a family of writers (my father, uncle, brother, and a hefty percentage of the family’s friends all hammered away on the same anvil) is not only seeing with one’s own wee eyes that making a living at it is indeed possible, but also hearing from one’s cradle continual confirmation that yes, baby, even the most talented writers on earth have had to struggle with rejection. Or, to be precise, one is told that back in the day, it wasn’t easy, either. Heck, writers in the 40s and 50s evidently had to walk uphill both ways to the post office in three feet of snow to submit hand-typed manuscripts to agents and editors.

Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when books were widely read, writers didn’t need agents, and the photocopier had not yet been invented. Prior to personal computers (and nice laser printers in workplaces that might conceivably be accessible after the boss goes home for the day), a writer could not print out spare copies of your precious manuscript to submit to every Tom, Dick, and Random House in the biz; equally obviously, no sane human being would send out his only copy.

So how did writers reproduce their work to submit to several publishing houses? They retyped it, that’s how. Every single page.

This is the origin of the SASE, in case any of you had been wondering: getting their rejected manuscripts back would save writers weeks of retyping time...

When a short story was rejected — as, in the beginning, all of Philip’s and Kleo’s were — and landed once again in their mailbox with the accuracy of a well-flung boomerang, they acted as professional writers should act: they submitted the rejected story to another magazine immediately. To minimize retyping, they would iron any pages that had gotten bent in the mail, slip the manuscript into a fresh envelope (yes, with a fresh SASE), and pop it in the mail.

How many? Well, no one knows for sure anymore (since occasionally the only copy of a story got sent by mistake, some inevitably got lost), but one day, the young couple opened their front door to find 17 rejected manuscripts spread all over their miniscule front porch."

So, just think, we could be ironing bent pages, folks. We could be typing fresh copies of every page. It is a luxury that we get to sit around this blog and bitch about our misfortunate. I actually found Anne Mini's article quite inspirational, until I got to the part about her own memoir, A Family Darkly: Love, Loss, and the Final Passions of Philip K. Dick, which is...guess what?...languishing unpublished due to woes you and I only have nightmares about.

This is a very good writer, people, with something to say about an interesting literary life; this is a book writers would really want to read, and I bet it's not fabricated! But, you know how it goes; they can get O.J. Simpson into print, but they can't work out the legal details of the Dick estate. Isn't that always the way?


Daniel Clay said...

Brilliant post. It reminded me of reading an account of skiing in the 1920s - you know, after they got to the bottom of the slope, they then had to climb back up. Sometimes, we just forget how much things have changed. Not always for the better, but not always for the worst.

Keep typing, people. And keep ironing as well!


Steve said...

Maybe if I had to iron my pages I wouldn't be so cavalier about sending stuff out that "isn't ready"...and maybe I wouldn't get so many rejections. Hmmm.

Note: I'm not saying that *I'm* not ready...I'm saying *fiction* that isn't ready. If whoever is still reading this who likes to comment on someone's personal readiness...

Anonymous said...

Major props to Mini, and I hope her book gets published like pronto.

But while we're dwelling on her most excellent essay, we should also grab her insight into what literary agents currently want. It's a sick new world, yes, and your book's gotta match, especially in terms of subject matter and pacing: you can't use the great books of the past -- or even books just a few seasons old -- to judge your own book's pacing, Mini says that none of that even applies but that today's agents need "conflict on every page"; she says they stop reading if they feel bored "even for a few sentences" ... in other words, you've got to be like Dan Brown. Even the "literary" novels of now have this silliness about them: an opening gimmick or something else that keeps these fickle agents from walking away in a sniff. Mini says here that it's the number one reason for agent rejection -- poor agent is just bored by all those words.

It's all so dumb. And yet I've seen it too, in person, the agent flipping aside a ms. and having the assistant dash off a "sorry, I just can't get into the story" reaction to anything that doesn't unwind like a Marx Brothers comedy, while said agent goes off to check Dodgeball or whatever social networking site their "friends" are on. Today, pretty much all agents under 40 are like this. It's a cutesy little club. And while this cutesy club is not representative of American readers, (and is often quite out of touch with them, I believe, which in turn is half the reason why "America doesn't read"), in recent years they stopped taking on anything that doesn't outright cater to their own little whims and peeves and fetishes. So how can your good voice ever get heard, if the people at the gate don't like what you're talking about?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but the young lady could not possibly have spoken to my husband on the telephone because we did not have a telephone. We were too poor to get a telephone.
Her book is pure fantasy.

Writer, Rejected said...

What does the comment above mean?