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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Publish Your Rejections in This Book

I've been corresponding with this dude who is writing a book about rejections entitled, Other People's Rejection Letters.  Random House will be publishing it. Below is the guy's notice and call for submissions.  I urge you to send him your most important, embarrassing, interesting, humiliating, glamorous rejections.  It will make you happy to be published at long last by Random House. Most certainly, I'm sending him some of mine.

Project Description
Last year, I published a book called Other People's Love Letters (Oprah's magazine said it was "addictive," Esquire described it as "painfully entertaining," a woman on called it "crap"). Now, I'm working on a similar book about rejection letters featuring reproductions of all kinds of rejection letters... and I'm hoping you might have one or two (tucked back there in the closet) that you'd be willing to share.

Whether typed form letters or handwritten in a fit of rage, whether sent by
text message or scrawled in crayon, any kind of rejection is fair game: You
didn't get the job or the loan or the membership; you're not the right fit
for our dentistry school; you're my son but I never want to see you again;
your restaurant failed its health inspection; your parole has been denied;
we had a good time together but you cheated on me so this is goodbye.

Don't worry, I can digitally black-out any names so that you won't be
identifiable; if you or your company has sent out rejection letters that
you'd consider sharing, I'll digitally remove the recipient's name from the

The book's premise is that nearly everyone, no matter their age, upbringing,
intelligence, or ability, has been rejected somewhere along the road,
sometimes brutally. While each letter may have stung the person who received
it, taken together they have the potential to soothe. And entertain.

If you have questions, email me ( If the rejection is an email, you can send it to that address. If you have a letter, you can either send it to me or scan it (600 dpi, por favor) and then email it.


Bill Shapiro

In the meantime, happy Thanksgiving to you and yours (and to Rosemary Ahern, who should come back to the industry and publish me....please).  I'll be offline until Monday because I've got stuff to do, including stuffing the bird, whom my family has named Tina, which ultimately I think is a mistake.  Anonymous is better, IMHO.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Your Ideas Are Distasteful

My friend, a writer, was recently telling me about the time his query letter was sent back with the three middle paragraphs circled and the word "Yuck!!!" written in the margin.  If he weren't a good friend I might be tempted to think this couldn't be true.  Who would be so callous? Sadly, he won't allow me to name the agent of rejection in this instance. I suppose it doesn't matter, could be any of them.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Heart Swears Often

"I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, 'To hell with you.'" --Saul Bellow

Dude, I've had to say that a hell of a lot of times, and in more than just my heart of hearts.  But still it's comforting to hear, isn't it?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Isn't It All Just Fear, Fear, Fear?

Here's an interesting rejection from an anonymous editor to an anonymous writer that arrived via email today:

Dear Writer: 

Lots of explaining, positing. Needed more violence/slug/portals/fear/death/fear/fear/fear.
What's urgent? What needs to be told? Are you starting as close to the end as possible? What moves?  No thank you.

[Editor on Ritalin]

It's like someone's version of an MFA in less than 7 sentences!  (The unfortunate "no thank you" doesn't count.) 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Even Joe the Plumber Has A Book Deal

For all those on this blog who think that ridiculously big book deals by unlikely people who can't write helps everyone.  Try to justify this.  By the way, JTP got $250,000.00.  That's exactly $250,000.00 more than you and me.  At least maybe we're getting closer to something literary because this dude was a total fiction, a symbol used by the politicians to, something, or other.  

The theory that noble publishers put out crap like this so that they can make money to fund literary fiction and other worthy pursuits of art is just bunk, if you ask me.  They put out crap like this so they can make money.  Oh, and, also, so that they can put out more crap.

Then again maybe it's not worth it anyway.  Not that it really matters, apparently.

Who Doesn't Love a Good Hand-Job Story?

A letter arrived via carrier pigeon from your friend and mine, "Sassy Pants". It goes like this:

"Dear LROD

The Warren Adler Writing Contest. Have you heard of it?

Well, last summer, I entered his funny story contest, and of course I didn't win. But you see in this contest five finalist are chosen (all of them being NOT YOU) and you vote for the "people's choice award" that winner is the runner-up, while Adler has already chosen the 1st place winner from the five finalists. So, I got to read the top 5 stories, none of them were funny, the winning story was entitled the 'Italian Motzah Ball' for god's sakes. Now, I'll admit that my story was a bit crass (there was a hand-job in it!) and Warren Adler is 81 years old, but I know it was significantly better than all of the finalists.

You can read the horrendous stories
here for yourself

Anyway, let's cut to the chase.

"We have strived to put originality as the gold standard of our choices. By its nature our judgment is purely subjective. Our advice to those who have submitted is to stay with it. Not being among our top five is by no means a rejection. Thank you so much for submitting your work. We look forward to hearing from you again when we launch our next contest. Our motivation in creating our contests is to enhance and promote the art of the short story form and to encourage other writers to embrace it."

--Thanks, A Venting, Sassy P.

Here's a question for all the grammar nerds out there: Have they strived or have they striven?  English is so alarmingly irregular, isn't it?  I love that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That's A Lot of Math

Some numbers from the mailbox last night:

W,R: You ask whether any of the advances in the palin-seinfeld-silverman crop of celeb books'll earn out. There's a (hypothetical but educated) breakdown of the finances in the seinfeld deal here. He talks about some of the other financial stuff in the deal too, but I'll quote the part dealing specifically with whether the advance'll earn out:

"So let's say, using Moonrat's numbers, that Jerry Seinfeld's Book is published in hardcover in mid-2009 at $24.95, with a 15% flat royalty rate. (The latter won't be true, but it helps to simplify things, and will get us into the right ballpark.) And let's say that Jerry Seinfeld's Book sells a million copies, which is what the book by his missuz, Jessica (Deceptively Delicious) sold last year. I'm assuming a large part of the interest in Deceptively was because she was Mrs. Seinfeld.

Seinfeld will do a lot of media to promote a new book; he can get on any late-night or morning show pretty much by asking, and on nearly anything else almost as easily. (Publishers kill for authors with that kind of platform.)

With those assumptions, we've got $3,724,500 in earned royalties for the hardcover. That's a nice pile of change, but it's only about half of the rumored advance.

But, wait! We're assuming this is a hard-soft deal. (Hardcover-only deals have mostly gone the way of the dodo; you're not going to see them from a big New York house, if you see them anywhere.) So let's say there's a trade paperback of Jerry Seinfeld's Book in mid-2010, priced at $15.00 and with a 15% flat royalty rate as well (we're assuming the publisher throws this in -- it's pretty generous -- to help make the deal with Seinfeld and his agent), which sells about two million copies.

That's an additional $4,500,000 in earned royalties for the paperback, pushing the total earned to $8,224,500. (And that's actually above the numbers quoted -- probably because I'm using very rosy sales assumptions, but so will the publishers running P&Ls to justify buying this.)

And there will be a mass-market edition as well: let's assume that comes along in mid-2011, priced at $8.99, with a flat 10% royalty rate. I'm assuming that mass-market distribution hasn't completely collapsed by then -- which may be an unwarranted assumption -- so let's let that chill our numbers a bit, and only assume another million copies sold.

That will be another $899,000 in earned royalties, for a total of $9,123,500.

Voila! Jerry Seinfeld's Book more than earns out, in three editions. Using more pessimistic assumptions -- for a book at this level, most publishers do several P&L scenarios -- with sales at only about two-thirds of what I originally estimated, it would still earn over six million."

Anyway you might wanna have a look at the rest. You'll find it interesting. And by "interesting," I mean disgusting.

In fact I do find it interesting/disgusting.  Thanks for the opportunity to feel both.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Aw, Come On, Now!

Sarah Palin has reportedly been offered $7M for "her book" by Random House.  At least, so says Radar, Fishbowl LA, and subsequently skeptical Galley Cat; therefore, it must be true. (p.s. there's lipstick under that muzzle.) I guess anyone who didn't poke his eyes out first would have seen this ass-deal coming a mile away. BTW, Sarah Silverman's as-of-yet unwritten book hooked an offer of $2.5 M according to the NY Observer, and don't forget that tremendous literary hero, Jerry Seinfeld, whose book is going for $7M to $8M.  Will any of those advances pay out?  Seriously, only in America would comedians and illiterate politicians be taken more seriously than literary novelists.

Excuse me, now, while I go f*ck myself.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Talk Softly and Carry A Big Degree (Or Don't)

An interesting note came in via the cybermailbox recently:

Hey W,R:  I just was reading an interview with the editor of a new online/print pub called Sotto Voce. Apparently the editorial selection process is totally blind; all identifying information about the writer -- name, previous pubs, education -- is stripped from the ms during the review process, and only after a piece has been selected for publication do the editors find out who wrote it.

A quote that left me feeling kind of smug, considering the incessant speculation on your blog and elsewhere that an MFA credential magically opens publishing doors:

"Ironically, I received an e-mail from a disgruntled contributor (he was rejected for the first issue) who said that "[Sotto Voce] only recognize[s] three letters of the alphabet. MFA." I set him straight, but I had to laugh at his misconception. Any skewing of our contributor pool in favor of those who have formal education in writing or art demonstrates one thing: that formal education will make you a better writer, poet, or artist. Of course, there are the few-and-far-between natural geniuses but, in general, those who devote their time and energy towards learning their craft will be better at it."

Here's the interview:
And here's the new zine:

A caveat: I haven't read any of the fiction in Sotto Voce, and I see that the blog interviewer is a contributor in the first issue; relations between editor and contributor might be cozier than the editor admits. But since there is no such thing as the imaginary cookie-cutter "MFA style" some of your posters are paranoid enough to perceive (it is impossible), I believe the editor when she says she goes for accomplished art.

Anyway, I thought you might be interested. You know I love Literary Rejections On Display and have great respect for you and the grace with which you conduct yourself, particularly with the meanies who show up periodically.

This note does bring up an interesting question, though. Are editors with MFA's more likely to publish the kind of writing they learned and learned to value in graduate school? Perhaps some lit eds will come around and set us straight on the question. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Picture This

Or perhaps you prefer video commentary on rejection?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Long Live The Queen!

Props to the unstoppable Rejection Queen; she is at rejection #39 and counting.  We all prefer to think of ourselves as pre-published, but you clearly are our leader.  We bow down, sister queen. We bow down low.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Program Your Novel, Program Yourself

Galley Cat reports on a program called Write or Die that just might help you.  THe program is from Dr. Wicked's Writing Lab, and you can take it for a test spin here.  Or watch the YouTube video about it.

Some Rejection Lists for You

Oh, the many lists people keep concerning rejection.  Lists to avoid it and lists to deal with it.
Here are few for your viewing pleasure:


A new science is born: the study of rejection!  It appears that two dudes (James Payne and Dr. Esim Erdim Payne) presented An Analysis of Rejection Letters from Literary Agents at the Fourth International Conference on the Book, held at Emerson College, Boston, a couple of years ago.
Here's what the abstract said:

"The rejection letters were received within an 18 week period. Of the 314, 111 were form letters, 101 were personalized form letters, 43 were real letters, 7 were helpful letters, and 52 were notes written on top of the submission cover letter. The purpose is to graphically show the frequency and type of rejection letters so novice authors won't be shocked, get depressed, or take a rejection personally. A rotation submission system is suggested for novice authors to help reduce the expense and minimize the time and effort involved."

Why Even Try?

In the meantime, Nick Denton is forecasting media doom.  So, really, what's the difference?  

You Bore Me, You Spoiled Brat!

Here's an interesting comment from an angry LROD reader from a recent post:

"there are other ways to make contacts besides getting an mfa...

how about making friends at a chichi artists' colony? editors who've published you? writers you've been published along side?

it must take work to have *no* friends in the lit biz, after 20 or so years. complain much wr?

your writing should usher you into the literary world on it's own merit. after all the $$$ you won, you sound like an overgrown spoiled brat. i'm sure if your defenders knew all the breaks you've had they'd think twice about championing your blog. your literary lottery winnings trump those of most people with mfa's. if you don't like where your career is at, you have only yourself to blame."

Actually, I didn't say that I had no friends after 20 years. That was a misinterpretation. (How do you think I got as far as I did in the first place?) But this dude probably has an MFA and probably doesn't like that some people are hating on the degree.

Here's another less personal one:

"LROD is the Mobius strip of blogs. Just when you start to think you're heading in a new and interesting direction, you end up where you started. I'll check back in two or three months when the whole MFA debate returns -- YET AGAIN. But only after a few entries (yawn) on VQR, Narrative, and Darrin Strauss."

My response to this comment is that I...I....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I Guess E Told Us!

The old MFA-argument has reared its ugly head in the comments section of yesterday's post. One LROD regular, who calls herself E., has this to say about that:

"Jesus God, the MFA crap again. I am so fucking sick of this argument -- frighteningly similar to the anti-intellectualism of the outgoing neocon fearmongers -- that to actually study a subject is to somehow limit one's ability in that subject, to stifle one's worldview, and to fail to be a real, authentic, genuine "artist" (or American, if you like).

For the umpteenth time, people: MFA programs do not program writers to write in a certain way--to value or emulate particular elements or style or forms--any more than individuals not in MFA programs train themselves by reading what they admire and growing as a result of the exposure. I challenge anyone to try to sculpt another writer's voice by way of instruction, discussion, and critique; it is impossible. Sure, it's possible to imitate, but imitation is not sustainable.

Furthermore, who says the finalists in this contest are recent MFA grads? Could it be they graduated ten, twenty years ago? It could. Who says they earned their degrees when they were in their tender twenties? It may be that, like me and many of my fellow MFA classmates, they are in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties. But even if they're not... Extrapolator Anon, you know *nothing* about these people, least of all the extent of their personal life experiences. Paint with a broad brush much?

As for being in debt: I'm not, because I have a full ride. Elitist luck? No; I worked to be admitted, and I'm working my ass off in the program as a writer and a TA. Most MFA programs offer at least partial funding; most students manage to sidestep this mythic mountain of debt I keep reading about. The fact that I'm lucky to be doing this doesn't make me a hack writer. I've carved out time at great personal sacrifice to devote myself to writing. After my three years are up, it's back to writing between the margins of a fulltime job, just like I did before.

There are a lot of reasons to whine about the state of publishing. People who dedicate themselves to studying the art are not one of those reasons.

If you're going to make an argument, make it original and cogent, will you please?"

She makes a good argument. I'm almost convinced. What do you think?

Clinical Rejection from BLR (Twice)

Yesterday, I received two (count them: 2) rejections from BLR's Literary Prize: one in fiction and one in nonfiction.  Here they are:

Dear Writer, Rejected

Thank you for submitting your work for the Bellevue Literary Review's literary prizes. We appreciate the efforts that have gone into this piece.

We were impressed by the enthusiastic response from the writing community. The volume was such that, unfortunately, a great deal of quality work had to be rejected. Please be assured that your piece was read thoroughly and given careful consideration. A list of contest winners may be found on our website,

We wish you luck in placing this piece elsewhere, and apologize for not being able to offer a more personal reply.


The Editors
Bellevue Literary Review

NOTE: Please do not reply to this e-mail -- we are unable to respond personally to messages sent to this address.


Dear Writer, Rejected

Thank you for submitting your work for the Bellevue Literary Review's literary prizes. We appreciate the efforts that have gone into this piece.

We were impressed by the enthusiastic response from the writing community. The volume was such that, unfortunately, a great deal of quality work had to be rejected. Please be assured that your piece was read thoroughly and given careful consideration. A list of contest winners may be found on our website,

We wish you luck in placing this piece elsewhere, and apologize for not being able to offer a more personal reply.


The Editors
Bellevue Literary Review

NOTE: Please do not reply to this e-mail -- we are unable to respond personally to messages sent to this address.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Book Dreams

As we buckle up with our hopes and dreams pinned on Barack Obama for the next 8 years, I can't help wonder: Will he be the one who brings back the literary book?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

When Is A Commission A Commission?

Here's a good question from an LROD reader: Let's say you have an agent. If you submit stories to contests and lit mags and they get accepted, does your agent get 15% of whatever you earn? Even if your agent wasn't involved in any part of the submission process for these stories? Or do agents only get 15% of what they sell?

In my humble experience, agents have always refused a commission on any publication or deal I worked out myself, including prize money, unless I asked them to review a contract, or perform some other duty.  Then, we negotiated the commission. 

What about the rest of you mice?   Commission on story submission and prize winnings?

The Temple for Athena, Not You

Here's my analysis of a rejection that came recently from the Parthenon Prize in Fiction: It's very nice paper stock and letter head.  Also, this outfit has a nice website.  They must have a lot of dough. The stakes for winning were high: $15K prize and publishing contract with Hooded Friar Press (whatever that is). There was no reading fee, and I think it had something to do with Frank Lloyd Wright, but I don't remember what.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Oh, Yes You Can

It's a new day in America, friends.  It was an awe-inspiring night. And if dude can get elected unruffled, undeterred, and with great humility, simply by putting one foot in front of the other and staying smart, I know you can stay the course, keep the calm, find the inspiration, write the novel (story, essay, book, or poem,) and get it published.  This is a new era of possibilities. Might as well ride the wave.  What the hell, right? 

You guys are writers. What's your reaction to the election in one sentence or less?  

Here are some samples:

  • "I got my country back!"
  • "The U.S. is in terrible enough shape that we have overcome 300 years of racism to fix it."
  • "The best run election in the history of this country; of course he won."
  • "Good-bye McGramps; Good-bye Sarah Palin."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Go Vote!" says Writer Hussein Rejected

If you can't change your literary success rate, maybe you can vote to change the country.  That's a good start, right? Also, please take the post-voting poll (over to the right) and we'll see if LROD reflects the rest of the country. What are the chances?

Monday, November 3, 2008

In Defense of Lee Klein's Rejections

Here's a note from an anonymous writer, who wishes to defend our friend, editor Lee Klein.

"I sent a story that wasn't very good [to Eyeshot] and got this [rejection from Lee Klein]:

Hey there, [name removed] - I think that for what you're doing to be considered "legitimate" by editors, you really need to master things like the hyphenation of compound adverbs and also copyedit your stuff till it's totally perfect. for example: "self induce myself into a comma"? That's the first battle, without which you'll never proceed to much more difficult battles, like imprinting an image in a reader's brain, then modulating that image, dragging it from their head to their loins to their guts to (very importantly) their heart. My semi-professional editorial opinion of your writing is this: you have a wonderfully unpredictable, nonconformist instinct, something that can't really be taught, but you're maybe a bit too confident right now that a reader is going to follow you, is going to keep reading after the fifth sentence about 37 erections, right? I think you need to be more anxious about the appearance of your text and also about losing a reader almost right away. Maybe always picture that, on the other side of the page, is an impatient person who's read and lived way more than you have. Let a little bit of old-fashioned standard editorial work serve your instinct and thereby improve the language you're apparently sort of maybe a little too easily excreting right now. Essentially, I'm saying there's more to writing than having fun composing -- there's also a super-serious aspect to it called "editing" -- I'd suggest, as a exercise in disciplining your instinct, you try to devote 90% more time to editing than to composing right now -- that is, if you give a shit about this. If not, don't bother. If you're half-assed about it, consider whether your time could be better put to use or if you want to devote a little more of your ass to it (meaning: read as much as possible)? Anyway - sorry to rant - Just trying to help.

Then I sent him another story [and received this rejection]:

Hey [name removed] - Things are a bit cleaner with this one, if "fleas" is spelled wrong! So, in general, it's a hard thing to do, writing stories like this, and writing stories in general. How old are you, by the way?

I think there's something going on here, something that went on with my own stuff when I was really getting into writing, just sort of totally open and amazed that I could write cool-looking sentences and stack them atop one another and they'd build up to pages!

I think there are different instincts when you write something, the descriptive and the narrative. The first can be external detail or psychological loop-de-loops/impressions, right? The second is the story, what's going on. The first is sort of like the water and the second is the river, or more mechanically, the piping.

You seem to sort of get off on the first more than the second, but without more of the second the first won't flow as easily. The thing is, if you focus on offering more of a compelling story than a letter to mama about a brother, it'll let you use/play with the language more without losing readers as easily.

When you have descriptive writing without a story, you have stream of consciousness, impressionistic writing, which is awesome if you have absolute control of the language (see the last 30 pages of Ulysses) but otherwise we mortals need to send our language down the stream of a story?

And then there's the language: I just took the part about the cigs and the ant hills and the regret and cut out a bunch of unnecessary words:

"I count the cigarette butts I step on. Little clumps, like ant hills. No sympathy for tobacco mountains. My brother and I destroyed entire ant colonies. Even the cigarette butts leave me regretting what's lost"

I'm not saying that quick edit is infinitely better, but it's tighter and the sentences vary more, some are fragments etc -- each sentence is like a shot in a music video, some jump-cutty, some held longer, all of it working to keep the viewer's eyes on the page (writing is actually a visual art, right?) - so you want varying textures, different syntax etc - long and short - don't always start sentences with "I" or "The" or He" (go back and look at how many sentences do that, then go read a page of your fave writer person.)

Anyway - just keep at it, keep working it, delete all unnecessary words etc, and send more whenever.


Either way you look at it, Lee has gone out of his way to help me. He's almost written more than I wrote to him, well not quite, I tend to ramble and could use more cutting down. Anyway, I thought Lee deserved some good publicity even though I'm sure your anonymous comments will end up not understanding things and then say stupid words and not feel good about themselves or something."

Look like Lee has made some fans while still rejecting people, which is no easy feat.  I think that's nice.  What do the rest of you think? (Try not to say stupid words.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Question of Pacing?

An Anonymous reader (and a rejected writer in his/her own right) sent this email in for LROD comments:

This is what I got. I was wondering if you might have insight on what an agents means when they say pacing and depth or is this just another "standard rejection" of thanks for playing.

p.s. I love your blog!

THE REJECTION IN QUESTION:***Thank you for sending me the full of TITLE for further consideration. I want to apologize for not getting a response to you sooner regarding this project. I had a chance to read through the story and I am unfortunately going to pass on this project. I have to say, I loved the premise of the story and the beginning certainly was fantastic. I felt, however, that the story slowed in terms of the pacing and I just felt like I wasn’t seeing the depth in the project that I was looking for.

I'd say this is a bonafide rejection, not a standard form letter.  It seems like someone definitely read a chunk of your manuscript and had a strong reaction to it.  This agent seems to be saying that you lost your mojo after a really strong beginning. You slowed up, lost direction, stayed on the surface too much, didn't get to the heart of the story, or any number of things that can go wrong during the complicated, delicate balance needed for writing a successful novel.  Maybe if you put the manuscript away for a little while to get some perspective and then come back and read it with fresh eyes, you'll be able to see if there's any truth to this opinion.  I've had to do just that on several occasions when I'm not sure if the criticism is valid. Or else you can send it out to a few more agents and see if there's any agreement on this.  If so, you can always go back and revise.  I've done it many times, myself.

What says the peanut gallery?