Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Literary Snake Oil Salesman

Look at this bit of crazy!  For $249.95 (love the added touch of it being 5 cents short of $250), you can take an online class at Writers University with your favorite self-promoting literary agent Noah Lukeman (who will undoubtedly sell you one of his many books on query letters, plot, and grammar, or if you're really a sucker perhaps his "bestseller," entitled The First Five Pages).  The course is called:  "From Rejection to Acceptance: The Most Common Mistakes Fiction Writers Make When Approaching an Agent." 

(Mistake #1: Approaching Lukeman.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Literary Rejection is Hot on the Interwebs

Seems like there's a proligeration of rejection lately. That, and I like using the word "interwebs."  Here are some interesting reveries for you to check out:
  • Indie writer Zoe Winters thinks it's best to adapt to the changing atmosphere.  (Writers are a bit like cockroaches, so it's easy to agree.) She offers a nice list of links at the bottom of her post about whether or not we have reached the end of traditional book publishing.
  • Some practical submission guidelines at Thoughts from Botswana offer an interesting perspective on rejection, including an inspirational quote by Wendell Meyers:  "You're only willing to succeed to the same extent you are willing to fail." (I'm willing to succeed big, then.)
  • Sally Ahearn (not to be confused with GAK winner and contested publishing muse  Rosemary Ahern) offers some advice, including information on the website Duotrope.
  • Some understandable writerly frustration at Blogfranz.
  • Advice for the rejection weary at Dark Knight Dramaturgy includes, "know thyself," and "it's not a race, it's a StairMaster."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Kill the Book (Club)?

Only five readers participated in our recent LROD book club meeting of Darin Strauss's More Than It Hurts You.  Somehow, given the big flurry over Strauss, I had expected more people would show up with comments.   The Insect Cabinet wants to know what is next for the book club.  I don't know.  It seems like a lot of press for the book, which is nice, but it seems like interest is kind of low.  I could go either way.  What do you think: Should we kill the book club, or keep it going?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pin Mine Up On A Wall


Jade Park sent in this link to her very own personal rejection theory.  A highlight from her post: "My husband wonders why I collect the rejection slips and threatens to discard them. “This is f*cked up!” he says..." The lovely photo above is from her collection.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Three Minute Rejection


This was sent in from an anonymous writer:

"Over the past six years, I guess I've been pretty lucky to have had ten of my stories published--ten was my goal when I started. I thought, if I can get ten, then I must really know something about fiction.

Well, I was right and wrong. I've also accumulated over one hundred rejection slips, emails, and return-to-sender submissions (so many journals curiously went under when I submitted). And I've got at least as many unpublished, and unpublishable stories. And a few terrible novels. That being said, I think I've gotten pretty good at knowing what is my good work and what would embarrass anyone with a conscience.

So, I've been sending queries to agents for a novel I don't think would embarrass anyone. And just today, after careful research and carefully following the guidelines, I sent an email to the agent Jonathon Lyons. Three minutes later, while writing another email, I saw I had a response. I thought it was just an auto-response from the website. Wrong. "Thanks, but this isn't for me."

Three minutes. And I've waited up to a year to get rejected."

Guess the old Lyon knows what he's after (red meat?), but it's never quite the work that we are hawking. Oh well, hang in there, writer; we've all been where you are standing, rejected more quickly than you can boil an egg.  

Eventually, you will find the exact right secret agent for your work.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Best of Luck...Elsewhere!

I had such a nice exchange with an editor at a small press about my manuscript of personal literary essays, but when push came to shove, she disappeared (left the press), and some new young man sent off a standard form rejection.  I've taken out the name of this press, but only because it might give away some personal information about yours truly.  But, you know, they're all bastards just the same:

Dear Writer, Rejected:

Thank you for your interest in publishing with [Name Withheld] Press. Unfortunately, your proposed project does not fit our current editorial mix. We wish you the best of luck in placing your work elsewhere.

Sincerely,

Douche Bagger
Editorial Department
[Name Withheld] Press

Monday, September 22, 2008

Playwright's Lament

Sent in to share with an added complaint about the greeting; why not use the playwright's name, one wonders:

Dear Playwright:

Thank you for sending [title of play] to Emerging Artists Theatre. Plays sent
to EAT are read by 2 to 3 members and a critique is written. Unfortunately, EAT decided to pass on your play.

Best of luck of you in the future.

Kevin Brofsky
EAT Playwright Manager

Sunday, September 21, 2008

MFA From the Teacher's Perspective

Just when you think the MFA question is dead and buried, someone comes at it from a new angle.  This time, it's David Gessner in the New York Times about teaching creative writing as a writer. A highlight:

"For most of us, the options aren’t teaching or writing all day in a barn but teaching or working at the Dairy Queen. It’s not just a question of success or even genius, but temperament and discipline. Young writers think all they need is time, but give them that time and watch them implode. After all, there’s something basically insane about sitting at a desk and talking to yourself all day, and there’s a reason that writers are second only to medical students in instances of hypochondria. In isolation, our minds turn on us pretty quickly. I have two writer friends, successful novelists who could afford not to teach, who insist that rather than detract from their writing, their lives as professors are what allow them to write, and that given more free time, they would crumble. The job provides a safety net above the abyss of facing the difficulty of creating every day, making an irrational thing feel more rational.

Yet no matter how much support you have, how many schedules you make or how many books you’ve written before, there remains the basic irrationality of the task: you are sitting by yourself trying to make something out of nothing, and you rarely know where you’re going next. Creating your own world is an invitation to solipsism, if not narcissism, and as well as being alone when we work, we are left, for the most part, to judge by ourselves if we have succeeded or failed in our tasks. (Three guesses in which direction we most often lean.) My father succinctly summarized his feelings about my choice to dedicate my 20s to writing fiction. “You’re not living in the real world,” he said. I reacted with a young man’s defensiveness, but in retrospect his assessment seems less critical than a matter of fact.

Which is where teaching comes in. It provides all the practical things that can help prop us up above the morass of our insane callings, not to mention something we can wave at the world like a badge. And don’t forget this bonus: other people. How delightful to work on this thing called a hallway, populated not just by colleagues but by students, all committed to, or at the very least interested in, writing. And this is all without even mentioning the teaching itself. I love teaching. There is a deep pleasure in sharing the things that you have labored to learn in solitude. It’s inspiring work — rewarding, interactive, human work so different from what we do at our desks — and it turns out that writers, many of us natural entertainers, often do it quite well."

Having taught at an institution or two, I'd hardly call academia the real world, but the point is taken.  Writing is lonely.  I guess, teaching writing is a way to stave off the loneliness.  Gessner doesn't cover how these sort of programs help or hinder the general quality of writing.   That would have been interesting.

Friday, September 19, 2008

New York Mag Explores "The End" (Of Publishing)


Great article called "The End" in last week's New York Magazine, which chronicles the fall of book publishing as we once knew it.  Here's a link to the article, which you should definitely read.  Here's a highlight:  "In its heyday, publishing was a vast array of mom-and-pop shops, in which the pops tended to be independently wealthy. Their competitive advantage was not efficiency or low costs but taste. Maxwell Perkins at Scribner; Bennett Cerf at Random House; Roger Straus and Robert Giroux at Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Barney Rosset at Grove; and Alfred A. Knopf epitomized the gentleman editor as gallerist, snatching up unknown geniuses. One British publisher advised an American at the time: “Take lots and lots of gambles, but small ones.” So they did. They took poor writers drinking, put them up in their homes, and defended them in court. They made handshake deals, spent their personal wealth in lean years, and built backlists out of modernist classics. Discovering Faulkner was like buying Picassos in 1910."

How bittersweet it is to remember the fine, fine days of the almighty book.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

And Then There Was One...More

Ah, see?  Just when you think the well is dry, a new juicy rejection comes along to moisten things up.  This one is more than a year old, but the editor nicely apologizes, I think.  So all is forgiven.

Writer, Rejected, Thank you very much for submitting “[Title of Essay]” to us. Our review committee has not chosen it for [Literary Journal with a Specific Topic that Might Give Away Too Much Information]. We do very little memoir and personal experiential writing — we would like to do more but we only have 80 pages every two months and a wide range of things that we want to publish. I do hope you find, or have already found, the right place for it. You must have long since given up on getting a response from us here and I do apologize, we have been very shortstaffed.
With all best wishes,
Editor's First Name


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Out of the Woods--Into the Swamp


I'm back from the woods, where I spent a week in blissful silence rewriting my novel, which most of you know is undergoing a radical revision (chopped off the last 250 pages). Happily, there appears to be an editor who is interested in the first 100 pages and what I'm going to be able to do with it in the next several weeks.  Anyway, the retreat was heavenly, and I wish I could have been there for two weeks.  But I am back.  

My clients are crawling all over me with writing deadlines.  The movie people want more revisions.  The editor who is interested in the novel would like to see a new draft of the novel by October.  How will it ever all get done?  Not sure.  But, that's life.  And today I'm glad I'm a writer.  

No rejections for the moment.  Can some kind rodent readers please send me some of theirs at writerrejected at aol dot com?  I'm fresh out!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Randomness of Publishing

  • The Good: Unlike others, whom we shall not name, some editors are thoughtful about rejection.  See Brian Doyle's musings at the Kenyon Review for a refreshing essay on the matter.
  • The Bad: While some "novelists" have all the luck.
  • The Ugly: And some publishing houses think it's brilliant to put their slush piles online.

Monday, September 15, 2008

MORE THAN IT HURTS YOU Book Club Discussion

Welcome to the first-ever LROD book club.  As you know, we are discussing More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss because some of the LROD mice unfairly criticized the man without having read his book, a fact pointed out by Darin himself who was kind enough to show us our errant ways. 

I will start the discussion today with a few of my own thoughts on the book, which ultimately won me over.  When Strauss is at his most relaxed writing, he creates a very compelling story. However, in this particular book, it seems to take him quite a while before he hit his stride.  In fact, during the early part of the novel, Strauss seems overly  self-conscious, his writing a bit artificial, at times even smirky.  For me, More Than It Hurts You did not actually take off until about page 96, which is, alas, a long way to go.  

What happens in the first 95 pages is a lot of posturing and trying to settle in, a bit of searching, which can lead to some graceless and unconvincing sentences: "She was prim as Popeye's Olive Oyle, with the same shapeless frankfurter torso;" and "She fired a huff from the cannon of her nose." Phrases like "raising a Clooney eyebrow" and "a tantrum-repelling calm" really clog up the works.  

A better editor would have served this author well by going through and cutting everything inside the ubiquitous parentheses because they work to slow down the pace of the novel and reveal the author's unsubtle hand.  Clever asides, such as the ones found in More Than It Hurts You, tend to suggest a smirking attitude toward the characters, or the novel, or even the fact that fiction is an artifice--never a good idea.  

Finally, in the criticism column, the prison-release bus chapter, where Muhammad, our doctor/hero's father, gets out of jail, is something of a train wreck in terms of tone and overwriting.  Here Strauss needs the lightest of light touches, but he seems to go at the scene with a pick axe and shovel.

All that said, Strauss does get the marriage of the Goldin's just right.  He tackles complex issues with a delicate balance, and convincingly renders parental feelings during a crisis.  By page 97, I was totally in for the ride, especially won over by the author's efficient portrayal of his female characters: Dr. Darlene Stokes and Dori Goldin, who is, let's face it, a difficult character to nail. (I have a very minor character in my novel with a similar penchant for munchausen, though my character's reasons are very different. Still: I know first hand that it's not easy.)  For me, everything about Dori Goldin seems exactly right on the mark, and happily the narrative satisfies her story completely.

Strauss handles the ending quite masterfully, I thought, by following the startling legal decision with an emotionally keen conclusion for Dr. Stokes and Josh Goldin and finally the Goldin marriage, that seems just right.  

By the last page, I was genuinely impressed.

In my humble opinion, if Strauss can pull back a bit on the overwriting, he can avoid the sentences that get in the way of what he does best, which is unfolding a complex, interesting story about human emotions that are put to the test.

So, that is my two cents.  Now let's hear what the mice have to say.  In your opinion, how successful was Strauss' book? What were his strengths? What were his weaknesses?  Has your opinion of his success as a celebrated author changed in any way?  Has he earned the confident smile from his author photo?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Rejection Goes on Retreat

Dudes: 

You can't believe how great it is to get away for a week.  No phone, no Crackberry, no Internet (not much anyway), no clients, no obligations, no scary nightmares about an insane polar-bear hating, inexperienced, conservative neanderthal  Veep candidate, who is just "pretty" enough for America to vote into office...none of that....just THE NOVEL.  

Here's what's been happening:  I get up at 6:30 and eat breakfast. I write from 7:30 to noon.  Then eat lunch.  From 1 to 4, I write. Then go for a run, shower, dinner.  And from 7 to 9:30, I write some more.  Then read until bed.

What has prompted this insanity?  I try to do it every once in a while, go somewhere cheap and quiet.  Retreat centers are good if you can find one you like.  But the woods are the best.  Also, (shhh, it's a secret), someone (an editor in fact, no agent in sight these days) has expressed interest in perhaps publishing the novel, depending on how good my radical revision is.  And guess what, folks, it's going to be very good.

Okay, I'll be back on Monday, Sept. 15th, as my personal secretary noted, with thoughts on More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss for our book club meeting.

Peace out.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

In The Woods Until 9/15


Writer, Rejected's Personal Secretary here:

WR has gone off to the woods to write. There is no easy internet access in the wild. LROD will resume normal programming on September 15th, coincidentally the date of the LROD Book Club. 

We are reading More Than It Hurts You, by Darin Strauss. 

Until then, Cheerio. 


Friday, September 5, 2008

An American Rejection


Here's a form rejection from ALR. I like the drawing of the little pencil and the phrase "after much consideration."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Get Reading, People


Don't forget! Only 12 more days:

September 15, 2008
LROD's first-ever BOOK CLUB
We will be discussing More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Birthday Kindle!

So, as it turns out, the old fam pitched in and got me a kindle to keep my reading habit fueled.  I have to say, I'm really loving it.  It's compact (flatter and thinner than you'd think), easy-to-use, and great for travel.  You get to read a sample of two chapters for free of any book you like before you decide to download them wirelessly to your kindle.  The cost for most contemporary titles is $9.99. I got a bunch of amazon gift cards, so the downloads are credited to the gift cards, which is pretty wonderful.  I can even transfer my own manuscripts in word just to keep them with me.

In case you think I've too quickly gulped the Kool-Aid, I also got several traditional books as gifts, and I'm looking forward to reading those the old fashioned way.  

Here's my current reading situation:

The Monsters of Templeton (download)
Unaccustomed Earth (download)
The Lace Reader (book)
How Fiction Works (book)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (book)
City of Thieves (sample to see if I'm going to buy)
The Emperor's Children (sample)
The Good Thief (sample)

I haven't figured out what newspaper, magazines, and blogs I'm going to download yet.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Writing TV Spies (or, What Some Writers Do for Money)

An anonymous reader sent in this link to writer Tod Golberg's amusing article in the L.A. Times about writing tie-in novels (i.e., novels that spin off of popular television shows).  Here's a highlight from the article:

"I've published two novels and a collection of stories that have afforded the kind of notoriety one rarely reads about: I've lost all the awards I've ever been nominated for, my most ardent fans number in the tens of hundreds, and I'd need the Jaws of Life to pull me onto the bestseller list. In short, a career in the literary fiction trenches, where acclaim is something you hang your hat on, since you haven't made enough money to buy a hat rack.

Then I received a midnight call from my brother, Lee, asking whether I might be interested in writing original novels based on "Burn Notice," the popular show on USA about a blacklisted spy named Michael Westen, who uses his training to help people out of bad situations (with the mob, drug dealers, pimps, etc.)."