Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2010 GAK Winner--Bill Shapiro's Book Available Today

Had a little chat with this year's GAK winner, Bill Shapiro, whose book, Other's People Rejection Letters, is available for purchase today.  Why not buy a copy as a present for your favorite reject.  Me? I already have my copy and hope to get it signed by the GAK-er soon.  Here's what Bill had to say:

1) What inspired you to take up a book on rejection?
I had done a similar collection a couple of years back called Other People’s Love Letters which was full of, among other things, very intimate, very brave moments. After that book was done, I went through it and really studied the letters that moved me the most; turns out that many of them involved rejection. But actually, I didn’t know how much I needed to do this book for myself—to really think about taking chances and risking rejection--until I was deep into it. That’s how the process works sometimes: You trust your instinct and move ahead….and figure out the “why I did this” later.

2) When did you start working on the book? About two-and-half years ago, although, like I say, some of the work and consideration came about while I was working on the love letter book, and that was published in late 2007.

3) How long did it take to get all those rejections? What was your methodology for acquiring said rejections? I started by asking my friends and then friends of friends. But what you find with rejection letters is that people don’t keep them like they keep their old love letters. No one has a shoebox of rejection letters stashed under the bed. So it took a lot of digging. I also wanted to get a mix of people and experiences into this book. So I hired reporters in different parts of the country. That worked very well. There are literary rejections in the book, yes, but I’ve taken a very broad definition of rejections—rejectors include parents, lovers, museums, the US army, presidents, DNA testing firms, the Mormon Church, Walter Cronkite, a Saudi king, Edward Abbey, and on and on.

4) Were there any rejections you didn't use? Did you reject the rejections? Was that fun, or terrible? Did you tell people that you were rejecting them, or was it not that intimate? Yeah, that was kind of a running joke: What does it mean when your rejection letters get rejected? But there were very few that I rejected flat-out because a book like this is all about the mix and juxtaposition of letters and you don’t really know what you have until the end, when you lay all of the letters across the floor of the various rooms of your apartment so you have no place to walk. This was book came together at the end; it wasn’t like I was showing dailies to anyone. But everyone had a sense of humor about it. And some of the ones that didn’t make it into the book will live on the website www.otherpeoplesrejectionletters.com

5) When did you finish a first draft? There really wasn’t a first draft. I did a sort of “confidence show” for my editor sometime around Christmas, I think—although I’m terrible with dates.

6) How many revisions did you write? 3,794. I tweaked this one letter at time until I had a good flow….and then kept changing it, changing it, changing it. There were some letters that I knew I wanted in the front, some I knew I wanted in the back, some I knew I wanted next to each other, but the rest was just playing around with the mix until it felt perfect.

7) Who read your drafts? Isn't this the kind of book you talk about at cocktail parties, making you the most interesting person in the room? No one. I trust myself with the letters themselves. I asked a friend who really gets me to read the intro. And my editor is fantastic. I trust her implicitly.

8) Did you use an agent? How did you get your agent? Yes, a friend of mine knew Brian DeFiore, the brilliant agent who represented the Post Secret books and since my idea—this was for Other People’s Love Letters—had some similarities to that, it made sense to start with him. He got it right away. And he really understood how to sell it.

9) Did you already have a publisher? What's your experience with your editor been like? Yes, the idea was sold on a proposal. My editor, Doris Cooper at Clarkson-Potter, is wonderful and we work extremely well together. I’ve been a magazine editor for more than 20 years so I know what makes editors happy and what makes them really fucking nervous. Doris has great ideas and while she and I haven’t agreed on everything, I think we both know the rule about choosing your battles. Luckily, we haven’t chosen the same ones.

10) What was the worst rejection you came across? Meanest? Strangest? The one from F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter was pretty, well, distilled: “What you have done to please me or make me proud is practically negligible.” I also like the one from Jimi Hendrix’s commanding officer recommending that he be immediately discharged because he “can’t carry on an intelligent conversation.”

11) What was the best rejection? Most entertaining? Most outrageous? The most surprising, perhaps, was the one from the office of the Pope. So delicate, so sweet, you barely knew you were being rejected.

12) How has reading all these rejections changed you as a person? As a writer/editor? As a published author? Well, this is sort of what I was hinting at earlier. It didn’t really strike me until about halfway through the project, when I started getting in hundreds of letters from people who had attempted all sorts of wonderful and maybe crazy things. There was a guy who tried out for the US astronaut program 15 times. And the undeterred would-be novelist who sent me the 60 rejection letters she’d received. The guy with the wacky inventions. Etc. I had all of these in front of me and it hit me: where were my rejection letters? Where was the evidence that I really stretched, really risked failure and rejection to pursue something I was passionate about? They weren’t there. And that told me something about myself….and why this book was important for me to do.

13) What words of advice would you give to LROD readers? Risk rejection… and save your rejection letters. No, no—not for me. For you! Not every writer will have the story about the 30 publishers who rejected them before landing on the best-seller list. That’s not what this is about. You’ll look back on the letters years down the line and see them as markers of your passion, your bravery.

1 comment:

Aisley Crosse said...

Wow, that's a lot of revisions! 3794, can you imagine? Talk about manageable pieces!