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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Good News!!

The 99th agent is interested in the novel: praise the lord! Can you believe? Spoke on the phone today and came up with a plan for a reasonable revision. The comments were very apt and well-considered; the novel will be better for the effort. How about that folks? A little forward motion after all. Thank you for all your good thoughts, prayers, and breath-holding. I have to revise by August 1st, a tall order, but tonight I celebrate (and sleep), and let it sink in. Here is part of the joyous email received today: "Sorry for the delay. I finished [title of novel] and I’m a huge fan of the book. The premise is fantastic and the last half of the book completely drew me in, and even left me breathless in the rush to the conclusion. That being said, I had some thoughts as I was reading and wanted to see if you’re interested in working together editorially."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kurt Vonnegut: Eight Rules for Fiction Writing

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Secret Squirrel Alert

So, the assistant to the agent who passed my work along to another agent in the same agency sent me a secret squirrel update to keep me in the loop.  Here's what it says: "So here’s the scoop – [the new agent] is really into [Title of Novel], but given how hectic these past few weeks have been, she’s had trouble finding time to really hunker down with it. She apologizes profusely for taking so long, but she’s organizing her thoughts and will try and get back to you before the July 4th weekend."  I was like, "Dude, no apology needed and thank you so much for being my favorite person on the planet."  Over and out.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Two-Page Personal Rejection

But what did you really think?

Text = 
Dear Tim Love:  Thanks for this-- it has some interesting content, but we can't use it as it stands, I'm afraid.  I think you need to give the reader more information about what is going on, for one thing.  In a story like this, there's a lot to take in, so it helps the reader to set out some things clearly + concisely e.g. what exactly the beehive is and what are its uses, the fact that he's trying to get rid of the (something?) of his girl-friend, etc.  Also, having the action in past tense + flashback in present is confusing.  Try it the other way around maybe. (Or italics for flash-backs?)  The conversations go on a bit  Try to weed out (something) E.G. stuff about capitals on p.5.  The real problem is there's too much density of information and not enough story.  The ideas are interesting but there's not really enough involvement with the characters to draw the reader on.  I think you could try having at the characters b? the guy + the girl love, maybe intersperse the story of their relationship with all the info that's coming from Dr. Peace.  That's a hell of a lot of work to do. in other words, and I can't promise you'll produce anything we can publish but the story contains some promising ideas and I think it's worth more work.  The main thing to remember are 1) Make it easy for the reader to assimilate, 2) Really the essence of short fiction writing: make everything relate to the story. Don't put in (something?) details just because they appeal to you. e.g. (something, something?) Cat Stevens.  It's quite fun, but does it mean anything in the context of the story?  Best, Susan Quinley  P.S. I don't much like the "joke ending, I'm afraid.  I think the ideas in the story deserve something better.

From Tim Love's talk on Breaking into Print (UK)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Your Life Does Kind of Suck

Found this doozie (written by a literary agent, alas) on the Interwebs:

October 17, 1994
Dear Mr. Vickers:
    Thank you for sending your project, I HATE MY LIFE. It sounds like your life really sucks, and you articulate your grievances with it quite concisely. However, I am afraid it is not the kind of work this agency best represents. Best of luck finding a suitable home for it.
    However, in the event that you may decide to develop a book about your on-line Museum of Conceptual Art, we would be interested in seeing your proposal.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Q & A -- As Promised

A clever mouse sent this note in with a list of questions, which I've answered below:

Hi W,R. As a regular reader of your blog and a curious person by nature, I found myself thinking up some questions I'd like to ask you. If this kind of thing interests you, maybe you could use some of these questions for a Q&A post on your blog? I know you are anonymous (and third-gendered) but I imagine these questions could be answered without giving anything away.

This was just a thought, for fun. No need to be creeped out. Seriously! :)

How did your short story collection publication come about? Did you win a contest or just submit to small presses? Back in the stone ages, you could get an editor interested in your work. I had a few stories written and an idea for a collection. The editor took an interest and offered edits as I developed the book. I wonder if that ever happens any more.

Was the experience of having a book published what you expected? Why or why not? It was both better and worse than I thought it would be.  I was relatively young and believed that my life would change after the book came out, but I still woke up the next morning with all the same problems I'd had the night before.  On the other hand having accomplished a major life goal at the age of 29 was pretty amazing. I kept saying to myself, "I'm a writer. I really am." It changed something deep down inside, which in the end is probably the most important change a person can experience.

Are you in any writing groups? Do you have writing buddies or beta readers? I'm a huge believer in writing groups.  I've probably had 10-15 different writing groups through out my adult life.  I have one or two groups going at any given time. I also have certain trusted readers, including my former editor (and friend), the old spouse, and 4 or 5 close friends who consume a lot of fiction in their daily lives.

What is your writing routine? I work professionally as a writer, so I am constantly putting words down on pages. In some way, I find the professional stuff to have helped my creative work, and vice versa. Basically, a story is a story, and practicing writing one (even if it's on the most God-awful boring of topics) helps hone the craft. When I am deep into a creative project, I definitely write every day; sometimes I don't get to it until late at night when the work deadlines are done, but I always crack it open and do a little something.  On light work days, I will spend hours writing and revising. When I'm working on a novel (or an active short story or essay), I have to touch the thing in some way every day to keep it alive.

Have you ever considered getting an MFA? Why or why not? Before my book came out, I had a job that paid employees to get related professional graduate degrees, so I grabbed that opportunity. I didn't have the money or the confidence to get an MFA, but I would have liked to have gotten one. I've taught writing here and there because I published a short story collection, which used to be kind of equivalent to getting an actual degree in creative writing.

In your opinion, what is the "best" (or favorite) lit mag your work as appeared in?  As you know, I've been rejected by the best: The New Yorker, Atlantic, Paris Review, Ploughshares, etc.  I've been published in some very fine journals that take their name from the state in which they are produced.

What was your most heartbreaking rejection, and why?  Rejections where I've come closest to success have dashed me the most. Once an editor at one of the big publishing houses wanted to publish my work; we even spoke on the phone and discussed it, but in the end her big bosses turned it down. Later that year, the publishing company downsized and fired the editor despite the fact that she'd worked there for many, many years and was very successful.  That was in 2001. Then, most recently, a few people associated with a very elegant, smaller mainstream press got excited about my novel, but ultimately the last reader squashed the whole thing, and they decided to pass. In those exciting moments, I let myself imagine the sweetness of having a publisher champion my book. It can be more devastating than a regular out-right "no thanks."

How many journals/markets has your writing appeared in? Over what time period? Probably 8 or 10 in the last 6 or 7 years.

Are you totally done with stories now, and have moved on to creative nonfiction entirely, or are you doing both? I'm not totally done with anything. I just started a story the other day for the first time in a long time. I have a whole collection of stories that has gone unpublished as a book, though, which is a little discouraging. So I guess I've opted for writing creative nonfiction lately, though, of course, I have a whole collection of essays that has also gone unpublished as a book.  So, maybe the form of the story just hasn't spoken to me as much as it used to. I also have a couple of novel seeds that have been germinating over the past few years. I never really know what will stick and become the next project, but that's the exciting part. Something always manages to be the one I need to write next.

Have you read the book AFTER THE WORKSHOP, which seems to include a pretty strong reference to your blog? If so, what did you think? Haven't read it.  Do they credit the blog by name, or just refer to it anonymously? I guess the latter would serve me right.

Do you have any regrets over something you did/didn't do in your writing career thus far? I have both zero regrets and a million regrets.  You can't get caught up in second guessing your past decisions, though. It's better to keep moving forward and trying to learn the game as you go, mistakes and all.

Do a lot of people in the lit mag/publishing world know your "real" identity, or are you that good at being anonymous? A few people in the business know who Writer, Rejected really is, but everyone so far seems to have a good sense of humor about the whole thing.  Otherwise, I'm not really sure how good I am at being anonymous.  I think mostly I'm not anybody very important, so it probably doesn't much matter who I am.

Are you working on another novel? What's your next big project?  I have two or three things that I rotate in and out until I know which one is next.  I work on a bunch of things until something makes itself clear to me. Sort of mysterious, really.

If you and Jacob Appel got together for a beer, what would go down? A very polite arm wrestling match...that I would win.

Do you have any idea what happened to Rosemary Ahearn? Has she ever contacted you about your good-natured "obsession" with her? I'm so obsessed with Rosemary Ahern!  I believe she is working as a freelance editor, so all you peeps out there who need someone to give your manuscript a good working over should contact her immediately.  She's a great editor, I understand. You can find her on the professional networking site Linked-In.  I believe she is someone who knows who I am and who thinks the whole thing is kind of funny, if not a little creepy.

What is the one piece of advice you'd like to give LROD readers? Write only if you have to write; otherwise go into data processing and get paid to move your fingers across the keys.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dude Is Serious

So, one of the literary agents who proposed (and kind of outlined in an email) that I work with him on a book about rejection sent a follow-up note asking how long I need to think it over. Guess why? He has a client/writer who wants to write the book he's proposing. He wanted to give me right of first refusal of their book. And here's what's true mice: there is no copyright on ideas, not even blog ideas/book ideas. If I want to write a book on rejection, I need to write it now. Or am I being coerced into answering sooner than I'm ready? I might have to write his book, which goes as follows, and I quote:

  • Have submitted letters from famous authors writing about their early rejections
  • Maybe some samples of the funniest or meanest rejection letters received
  • Have submitted notes from publishing insiders willing to share stories about books they rejected which went onto great success 
  • Include the rejection letters we receive for your book about rejection
  • We may even go for The Record. As far as I know ZEN and THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE holds the record with 121 rejections
Not sure if this is exactly the book I'd want to write.  I think mine would have more of a narrative through-line, you know? Well, anyway, I didn't realize he had a deadline on my decision. Am I interested in writing this book?  Honestly, I'm not sure when I could get to it. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

What One Writer Wants in a Rejection

Jane over at LeafStitchWord Blog has a wish list for rejections that goes like this:

  • No thank you. This still feels like a draft to us.
  • No thank you. This doesn’t fit with our editorial vision or sensibility.
  • No thank you. Honestly, we are overloaded with stuff right now, and your essay did not grab us on the first page, so we didn’t keep reading.
  • No thank you. This is potentially really interesting, but it’s too long for what it is.
  • No thank you. We really prefer to publish the Under 40 and Fabulous Crowd, and this is not that.
What's on your wish list?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Don't Lose Your Heads

Two agents have now officially approached me to write a book about rejection. Funny, right? Looking for more in weird, not ha ha?  How about this?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Every Publisher to Every (Wo)Man

I found this online, but believe it's the product of someone who is sick and tired of being sick, tired, and rejected. It does sort of start to feel this way after a while.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grinchy Rejection

Here's one that's cold and Christmasy and cc'd to the mutual acquaintance who passed it along. "I absolutely believe that your children love it." Compassion, much?

"The manuscript you gave (a mutual friend) arrived today. I read it at once and am really sorry to have to tell you that I am afraid it is not something we can add to our list. I absolutely believe that your children love it, but there is a real difference between a told story and a written one. And I am afraid that [Title of Book] is just too slight and too sentimental to make a successful book. This is, of course, just one opinion, and I wish you every success with the project. All the best wishes for the holiday season.


(name of lady agent)

cc: (mutual friend)"

Monday, June 14, 2010

Personal Agent Rejection -- FACE!

When my former agent, who quit the business, started having personal public exchanges with all her other former clients, I got all weirded out about it and ended up having to delete her as a "friend" from my Facebook page.  Why I ever thought it was a good idea to be "friends" with an agent, not to mention my former agent, I cannot say.  But I do know this: it's a mistake I will never make again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Salmagrungy, If You Ask Me

Salmagundi wants you to know the name of people who were pulled out of the slush to be published...but, uh, sorry....not you.  Just wanted you to know.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

From The Mailbag

Several mice wrote in with the following news:
  • Jacob Appel apparently also won the Bellingham Review contest
  • One of our mice writes to say he is a finalist with Appel for the Hudson Prize; Congrats to you, Mouse. (Come by and leave your name if you want to be publicly lauded.)
  • Some other nice mouse sent in a list of interview questions for me to answer; I will see what I can do to sate your curiosity about who I am underneath it all. Maybe I'll post the Q&A tomorrow or Friday.
  • Finally, one last mouse wrote to say that she is a semi-finalists in the Leapfrog contest. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Well, Now, That's Nice

This just in about my rewrite from the enthusiastic big-time agent after the encouraging communication with his assistant.

Dear [My Real Name]:
    Well I just finished reading your manuscript. Brilliant, devastating, and ultimately hopeful – it’s one of the best pieces of fiction to cross my desk in quite some time…but I just don’t think I’d be the best agent for it. While I loved the writing ([“nice quote from my novel.”] My God) and the squalor of it all, I had trouble seeing the entire story outside of the close, limited scope of [aspect of novel]. In the end, despite myself, I just don’t think I’d be this novel’s best advocate, and instead of wrestling with my decision I wanted to get back to you promptly so you can shop it elsewhere. If you’ll allow it, I would like to share it with another agent here, [Name], because I think she might just have the perfect sensibility for [Title of Novel]. Please let me know if this would be alright, and if there’s an updated version of the MS you would like her to see, send that at your earliest convenience.
    Again, thank you for sharing and know how seriously I took this. Please excuse this note’s brevity, and know that I wish you only the best with this project and all else.
    [Name I will reveal at some point]

I wrote to say, yes, of course, please send it to your perfect colleague; also to ask what his comment meant; maybe it's something I can use to sharpen the book even more.  So, hold your breath a little longer, anonymice.  We're on this road together now.

Appelonius x 4

Got this in the mail and even snitched the title of the email to use for this post. Clever mouse to think it up: "Should You Not Have Seen This, Golden Boy Appelonius Has 2 Finalist Collections and 2 SemiFinalist Collections in the Hudson Prize. Not Stories. COLLECTIONS! 4 COLLECTIONS. That's f--king insane." The agents who turned our guy Jacob down are nuts if you ask me. They think no one will buy his books, but how hard would it be to turn his story in to a great hook for the media?  Don't get it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Let Sleeping Frogs Lie

Dear Contest Entrant,

The winners of the 2010 Leapfrog Fiction Contest,
adult section, have just been announced and posted on
the Contest Web page. The first-prize winner will be
chosen from among the finalists over the next week.

The judges were kept quite busy with the number of
excellent manuscripts submitted to the contest. We
would like to congratulate our winners, and even
more, we would like to thank every single entrant for
time, dedication, and just plain hard work that goes
into creating a manuscript.

Please see
for the list of winners and information on them and
the entrants in general.

Keep writing!

Leapfrog Press

Friday, June 4, 2010

Can't Use These

Well, not everyone can use your poems, as noted above in The Arcadian rejection slip.  Plus the editor is "yours faithfully," which really does seem a bit arcane and for which it is difficult to find a modern application. Anyway, this rejections reminds me of a birthday party I was at way a long time ago with a bunch of famous poets (one of them sort of famous; one of them actually very famous). As usual, I was bitching and moaning about being a writer, about how hard it is, and I mentioned that I thought it would be even more difficult to be a poet. Well, you'd have thunk I said I'd killed my mother with my bare hands in front of them.  Both looked askance at me and then went on to rhapsodize about what a privilege and honor it was to be a poet. They tried to outdo each other in gratitude and humility about their great poetry fortune, meaning fate, not money. I guess they never had the tortured writing days (years) that I've had. Well, good for them.  I wouldn't wish writing torture on anyone.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

CNF Rejection

I received a form rejection from the editors of the Journal of Creative Nonfiction in the mail on Saturday to let me know my essay wasn't selected this time for their anthology on a certain topic.  I've been published in others of their anthologies, so they took the time to write me the following nicety on the backside of the form: "Dear W,R: Many thanks for letting us consider ["Name of Piece"], which we like very much, but which isn't quite right for the collection. Please do keep CNF in mind for future work! All best wishes, [First Name of Editor]"  I actually can see how my piece was probably a little too edgy or out there for them, so I think she probably meant it from the bottom of her inferior vena cava. Still...kind of sucky.

Rejected By My Own State

I found this one in my old emails.  I applied to my state's artists grants, but didn't win.  Here's the rejection:

Dear Ms/r. Rejected: 
    Thank you for applying to the 2010 Art Fellow Program of [State in Which I Live]. While I regret to say that your work was not recommended for funding, I want you to know your investment of time, energy, and vision in creating new art in the state is deeply appreciated. 
    Applications for [This Program Name] were open to all eligible artists. A total number of 1064 with 632 in Fiction/Creative Nonfiction, and 272 in Poetry, among the other categories.  etc....

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The House on Oyster Creek by Heidi Jon Schmidt

I'm pleased as punch to introduce Heidi Jon Schmidt's The House on Oyster Creek, which is available today. You'll see from the interview below that even the most successful author must temper expectations, face loneliness, and sometimes dream of other careers, while working through the darkness. Schmidt also offers some sage advice on our very favorite topic.

You've written several praiseworthy books--two short story collections and now two novels. As a famous author, have you come to feel less sensitive to the inevitable rejections that accompany this business of publishing books? Haha, oh yes I love rejections! Well…no. If you set out to write something original, it means you’re going against the grain: you’re not giving people what they expect, and they’re not going to recognize your amazing brilliance right away. But that dream of unconditional love persists, no matter how often you remind yourself not to expect unconditional love from a multi-national publishing conglomerate.

When did you start working on The House on Oyster Creek? What was your inspiration for the novel? The night before Thanksgiving, maybe six years ago, I went out with a friend of ours to get some oysters from his claim: there was an immense moon rising and the tide was streaming back in, and it was so beautiful that I was struck by a bolt of feeling such as requires a novel. All kinds of things started to fit into it: the different love stories, the sense of community, the legal battle….but really, I wanted to write about what it feels like to be alive.

Is a second novel more difficult to write than a first? For me the second was easier. I’m older and more comfortable with myself, so I don’t second guess myself as much. Still, it was like swimming across an ocean of thirty-foot waves. I think that’s part of what gives a book life: the reader can feel that the author has really reckoned with something.

Few writers are adept at both stories and novels. Which do you like writing better? Or is it hard to compare? It’s all lonely work. But I always think of a novel as being like a town you might visit in another country—it’s exciting to make up a place with all it’s odd alleys and vistas, and to know it right down to the secrets in the bureau drawers…so for the moment I’d rather write novels.

Is it true that you wrote this novel on a two-book contract? Do those mythical creatures still exist? How does one manage to catch one? Who is your brilliant agent? No, it’s not—I wrote the book without a contract at all, but when I sold it they asked me to write another, and I couldn’t help saying yes. My agent is Jennifer Carlson (Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner), and she is indeed brilliant.

Can you say what your next book is about? Did you already have the idea for the second novel when you got the two-book contract? Did it make you feel pressured? Relieved? Relieved for about 10 minutes…then pressured. I had meant to take a year off from writing….but I loved the world of Oyster Creek so I’d already started to think about another book that would be set there.

When did you finish a first draft of The House on Oyster Creek? How many revisions did you write? I think the first draft was 2006? Then there were at least five more. It’s all such a strange process—as much blind instinct as intellect.

Who reads your drafts? Agents? Editors? Friends? Lovers? Strangers? I have maybe three friends who are kind enough to slog through, and who know me well enough to have a sense of what I’m trying for, and to want to help me get there. Again, if you’re trying for something unusual you can’t really expect most people to share your vision—so for me it has to be people who love me in all my peculiarity. And there aren’t very many of those!

Despite your success, and wonderful books (I've read many), you must have had an inevitable rejection or two along the way. In your life-long career as a writer, what's your worst rejection? Your best? A.) Thank you, I’m so glad you liked them! B.) When I was 25 a high powered agent called me up and promised me things that only a 25 year old can believe in. He quickly decided that call had been a mistake and went on to talk about the draft I’d sent him behind my back, to a lot of people in New York. It was devastating – but it also forced me back on my own resources and pushed me to grow in my own direction. So it may also have been my best rejection.

Your first book of stories was The Rose Thieves published in 1990, then Darling in 2001; then came your novels, The Bride of Catastrophe in 2003 and now The House on Oyster Creek. From your unique perspective how has the publishing industry changed over the years? (It has definitely gotten more difficult for those of us on the outside looking in. Has it gotten more difficult for you and other established writers you know?) This is a great question—but a huge one. When I was in grad school in the 80’s it was almost impossible to publish a book of short stories. Now, the past two Pulitzer prizes went to collections of short stories (one from a tiny press)—so in some ways it’s become easier. The industry is much smaller and leaner now, and much less likely to take a chance (in the 90’s people were getting six figure contracts based on four page book proposals). I think there’s more room for new writers than known quantities, though—there’s always that hope on the horizon.

Sometimes I think I am lucky to be a writer; other times, cursed. Have you ever (in frustration) wanted to be something else? Bank teller? Cook? Oyster farmer? All day, every day. I wrote this book partly so I could imagine being an oyster farmer. Every time I pass a Help Wanted sign I’m tempted to apply, no matter what the job is. I’d love to work in a fabric store and talk to all the customers about what they’re sewing and why. But somehow just when I’m about to make a break for it and head off toward the unexamined life, I think of something I want to write about, and trudge back to the desk.

Do you have any words of wisdom for LROD readers struggling to get their brilliant tomes in print? “No one knows a masterpiece on sight.” –Ezra Pound. And boy is it true. Every successful author I know has been through times of absolute darkness when it seemed no one gave a damn about their work. If you keep working through that darkness, you may develop into a writer no one can resist, you may find the agent or editor who recognizes what you’re doing and wants to connect you with your readers…or both. And meanwhile, remember that Emily Bronte died soon after Wuthering Heights was published to withering reviews….but her work has lived on and on and on. So you’re in good company.