Thursday, September 04, 2008

On Rejection...

I worked on my manuscript today. While I just learned it was a semi-finalist in a recent competition, it was also rejected by one of my favorite presses that said (and these are my words, not theirs), "It has a nice beat, but we can't dance to it."

I looked back in my records to see if I had sent the same version of the mss. Yep. I've revised it since then, my manuscript slowly becoming the scab I can't stop touching. Poor manuscript, you are not a scab. Sometimes, I just need to stop touching it.

It's a reminder to me that someone's semi-finalist is another's not-so-much. I'm American Pie & Disco Duck at the same time. One boy tells me I have a nice smile, another says I have a small mouth.

I have to remind myself not to rip apart what I think is good when someone shakes their head no at me, and I have to tell myself to stop bowing in the mirror when someone says "nice job." While feedback from others is helpful, I cannot base my entire manuscript on it. I can listen and consider, but my work cannot be a knee-jerk reaction to what someone else said.

I wrote a short essay for my graduate program about rejection and how I deal with it (summary: I email my favorite poetry/writer friends and they tell me I'm lovely, talented, wonderful, etc. etc. They say "Their loss!" and "You're too good for them." Beautiful friends.) And as I writing this essay I wanted to look into some of the rejections that other more well-known writers have received.

Here were a few from Rotten Rejections: The Letters that Publishers Wish They Never Sent, that I found worth sharing--

“... overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”
A rejection for the book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov—now imagine receiving that in your mailbox. (Under a stone for a thousand years? Harsh.)

“There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice,” received by Sylvia Plath from an editor.

"The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the curiosity' level,” one of many rejections for The Diary of Anne Frank, which went on to be rejected sixteen more times before being accepted by Doubleday in 1952.

The acceptance part of poetry and of all art is subjective. I do my best and cross my fingers. Luck and timing, another part of the writing life I'll talk about some other time, but for now, I return to my manuscript already in progress.


  1. I think it almost hurts more when people comment like that. You know what they meant to say--it's a great book, but we didn't pick it. The logic sometimes for one pick over another is so random.

  2. You're lovely, talented, wonderful ... It's their loss! You're too good for them. All true.

    I still love those pick-me-up lines from the friends and poets who know me. And nothing beats a hug from my husband.

    The publishing industry is so fickle. If you catch someone on a bad day, your work may not be fairly reviewed. So i say don't touch your manuscript. Send it out to a few more places and see what happens. Your manuscript will find the right home soon.

  3. How many times was Harry Potter rejected? :) I think that pretty much says it all!


  4. I love this post Kelli. The description of your manuscript like a scab you can't stop touching - man, how I've felt that way about mine for so long. Thank you for writing this and reminding me that, there is no accounting for taste, and just because someone doesn't like something about me, or my work, doesn't mean I have to run off to the plastic surgeon of editing room floor to fix it. It only means it is not for them.

    It also reminds me, when I don't like something someone else has written it just means I've no flavor for it, not that it is bad, or I am stupid.

  5. Thanks, Nin. Sometimes I think people want to give information to help, but yes, sometimes it comes across as "thanks, but can you now remove that knife from my heart."


    Thanks! I appreciate you saying that. Very much!

    Peter, Yes! Harry Potter and Cat in the Hat. Thx for your note.

    PWADJ-- Yes, exactly. I just heard 4 poets today--one I loved, one I liked a lot, one I thought was okay, and one that I just didn't connect with. They were all published by the same press and chosen by the same editor.

    It is all subjective. And all opinions are correct.

    Thanks for your note.


    Thanks for continuing the conversation!


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