Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Rejection Project (Sad Cat is Sad Edition)

For nearly eight months now, I have been in a perpetual cycle of hope and disappointment as I try to find a literary agent. It's beginning to take its toll.

The other day it occurred to me that I might be mildly depressed. I've been going back to bed after the kids leave for school. I've let dishes pile up in the sink, something I rarely do. I've avoided putting the laundry away and I've been lax about the grocery shopping. I also am consistently tired. The thought of doing, well, pretty much everything exhausts me.

I've been using my usual methods for mood improvement but none of them are really taking. Even if I feel lifted up for a bit, it's not long before I'm low again. Maybe this is what an addict feels like. The lows are lower. You have to find a way up more often, but the old ways of getting up just don't last as long as they used to.

I'm still working out regularly so that's something. But when I walk on the trail that runs along Lakeshore Drive, I usually listen to my iPod on shuffle. Lately, as each song comes up, I think, "No. No. Nuh uh. Nope. Next. No. Next. Nooo! Next." Apparently, I hate my own musical taste.

I also go to Pure Barre, a routine I love for its intensity. By the end of it, I usually feel pretty damn powerful and ready to tackle the day. Last week, I spent most of the time during Pure Barre thinking about how torturous it is. I couldn't really focus on the exercises because I couldn't get out of my damn head. By the end, I just wanted to go home and sit on the sofa some more.

I know why I'm so tired. It's exhausting trying to constantly escape from one's own thoughts.

As I was writing the end of my book in December and January, I took a break from the hope/disappointment cycle of looking for a literary agent. I know I should get back to it, but the same woman who hates all the music on my iPod thinks this would be a colossal waste of time because it is only going to result in more rejections.

The woman in my head says, "You know that non-fiction books by non-celebrities aren't selling. Give up. Agents want to make money. Your book is never going to make money. Give up. Your book is 'small.' You are small. Give up. Plus, the publishing industry is a mess! The economy sucks. Give up. No one gives a shit about your stupid book.

"Give up."

It's very difficult to get her to shut up. She's the same one who tells me a lot of uglier, way more mean things on a regular basis. Sometimes I repeat these things to someone else like my mom or Tina or Erin, so I can hear what these ugly things sound like out loud. I feel guilty for doing this. I feel self-indulgent. Maybe because I know that what I want is to hear someone else say that all those things aren't true. And that seems needy. I don't like feeling needy.

The irony is that, when I am immediately told that these things aren't true, I also feel angry. That woman who currently hates my musical taste is pissed off that her whole negative belief system is being dismissed out of hand. She's irritated that no one will even consider for a minute that this is all her fault, that she is to blame, that she should be punished.

The good news is that I'm not going to give up. But I need a new way to do this. I need a new way of thinking about it. This current cycle is not working for me.

Here's what works for me: Saying out loud what I want (an agent and a book deal and relief from worry). Saying out loud what I'm afraid of (small fear: that my book isn't good enough/big fear: that I don't deserve good things). Making jokes to lighten the weight of all those dreams and fears. Because we all know what I really want is a George Clooney make-out session. (See what I did there?)

So here's what I've come up with:

The Rejection Project

As I've been going through this process, I have heard many stories of famous rejections. Good friends forward them to me to remind me to keep going. People love these stories. There are about a zillion Web sites that tell the tales of famous writers receiving not just a "No, thank you" but receiving a "Oh, HELL no."

It is inspiring to hear that Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times before she finally found an agent, sold her book, and made literary history with The Help (which, of course, has gone on to be a hugely successful movie). But it's also sort of mind-boggling. How did Kathryn Stockett keep going? It amazes me.  I'm already sick of it and I haven't been rejected nearly that much. Yet. I haven't been rejected that much yet.

And that brings us to how I'm going to look at this in a new way: I'm going to see how many times I can get rejected.

That's right. Let's do this! I've decided to see just how high my rejection number can get. The higher, the better, dammit!

I'll keep track of it here on my blog. Look for an upcoming post documenting the rejections I've gotten so far. I will update it with the current number.

In the meantime, here are some fun literary rejection factoids:

William Golding was told that his manuscript was "an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull." That manuscript was The Lord of the Flies.

Major publishers such as Penguin and HarperCollins passed on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A small London firm, Bloomsbury, accepted J.K. Rowling's first book only after the CEO’s eight-year-old daughter read the book and loved it.

Gone with the Wind was rejected by 38 publishers.

John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 16 agents and a dozen publishers before a small publisher accepted it.

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times.

Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin was rejected by several agents and publishers. After it was published, it won the 2005 Orange Prize.

Of Kathryn Stockett's 60 rejections, one said this: "We don't want to do this. Please don't send me your work any more." Another said this: "I don't think this would be saleable in the United States. No one would ever buy this book."

Stephen King's Carrie was rejected 30 times. He threw it in the trash. His wife took it out. You know the rest.

The Diary of Anne Frank was rejected 16 times. One publisher wrote this rejection, “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”

Confession: I like these rejection stories of the rich and famous, but it also makes me feel like I'm saying I'm freaking Margaret Mitchell or Stephen King over here. It reminds me of that scene from Look Who's Talking when John Travolta and Kirstie Alley go up in the plane and she starts naming all the movies about people killed in plane crashes. John Travolta says, "There's one big difference here. They were, like, rock legends and you're not."

I'm not a rock legend.

I'm really just someone trying to figure out how to fight the urge to give up.

Related posts:
The Rejection Project (The Official List)


  1. You are a rock legend. And you can't give up. What would have happened if all those writers had believed what those agents and publishing houses said? It is strong to turn the rejection letters around. It will do wonders at talking back to that woman in your head. She's a fighter but the bigger part of you is too -- the one who will preserve till this story is told. And then we can go to see Tony Robbins and walk on fire and say see, "I choose not to believe certain stories I tell myself. I am writing my own biography." Then the agents will wring their hands with regret and George, who will b doing your dishes will say, "That's my lady." Just sayin.

  2. Amy -- the only absolutely guaranteed way to NOT have your book published is to give up. One of my best friends is a fiction writer, and she's gotten a bazillion rejection letters. But she never gave up. And guess what -- last summer, her ms was pulled from the slush pile at Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins. She signed a two-book deal. She's not Margaret Mitchell or John Grisham or Kathryn Stockett, but she's a damn good writer and she wrote a damn good book. You're a damn good writer and you wrote a damn good book. Don't give up. Take a break. Write something else. Shake your fist at the sky and say "As God is my witness, they're not going to lick me." But don't. give. up.

  3. There are also authors whose work isn't published until after their death. Your words are ALIVE forever, Amy. Your book could be found by your grandchildren or great grandchildren and be published years from now. What you can't seem to accept is that regardless of whether you are ever published, you are as God made you....a beautiful, funny, insightful, intelligent, strong woman. You have the gift of explaining to us things we really already know but that we couldn't possibly express the way you do. You are a voice of reason in a mad, mad world. You really just don't get how absolutely necessary you are to your family and friends. Accept it - you ARE worthy, you DO deserve, you ARE loved.
    Now, get over yourself and go put some laundry away. I love you.

  4. on your rejection post I have a question about where you found the picture of the white kitten with the blue eyes. I would like to use it for a newsletter but am curious to know about any kind of copyright it may have.

    1. I found it on Imgur ( I'm not sure the original source.


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