Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nosfera 2: Return of the Killer Doubt

Yesterday, I went through my first rite of passage as a new acquiring editor.

I sent out my first rejection letters. They were fairly low trauma* (meaning they went to people who’d submitted picture book or middle grade proposals, neither of which Flux publishes). I’m much more apprehensive about the ones I know I’ll eventually be sending to people writing what we DO publish. Even the most professional writers who know that rejection is part of the game don’t want to hear, “Sorry, not right for us.” Those writers, though, can quickly move on. For people just emerging on to the writing scene (Flux publishes many first time authors), rejection can be harder.

One of the things about rejection is that it can lead to self-doubt which, anyone who’s been writing for awhile will tell you, is a writer’s worst enemy. More than any bad review or scathing critic, self-doubt cripples, inhibits, and decimates. Of course, that’s if you let it. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Often, writers are more than willing to give themselves that consent.

There’s a wonderful musical that just closed on Broadway called [title of show]. (Yes, that’s the title of the show.) It’s a wonderful metafiction about two guys trying to write an original musical. Ultimately, the show stands as a tribute to the creative process and what creative people go through in their varied attempts to do their thang. My favorite song in the show is a number called, “Die, Vampire, Die!” It’s about dealing with doubt, that which is inflicted by others and that which comes from within. A vampire is defined as “any person or thought or feeling that stands between you and your creative self expression.” You can hear the song here.** (Warning: Contains adult content. Despite how unbelievably awesome this song is, I wouldn’t crank up the speakers and play this at work. Unless you wait tables part time at the International House of Curse Words. And even if you did, I doubt you’d have access to a computer so you--... I digress.)

“Die, Vampire, Die!” is my own personal creative anthem. It reminds me that someone who doesn’t like my stuff is just one person and I won’t let the vampires in my head make me think otherwise. The quality I admire most in the writers whose work crosses my desk is their fearlessness. They're not afraid to take risks. Sometimes the risks pay off, sometimes... not so much. BUT they took the risk. They got out the crucifixes and garlic garlands and managed to fend off what I can only imagine was USDA Grade A Prime Vampire Attacks. And that will always get my attention and respect.

I suppose I need a point to this post. OK, try this: a rejection letter is not a permission slip giving you carte blanche to doubt yourself. Maybe you do need another draft to tighten things up. OK, saddle up and do it. You're in this to write, right? Maybe you sent your stuff to the wrong agent/publisher. Move on. You want to find someone as passionate about your stuff as you are. You NEED that. If someone says 'no,' it's a good thing. You don't want your work in the hands of someone who can't get fully behind it. It might take a while to find that 'yes,' (Editorial Ass has an excellent post about that here), but when that happens, you'll be glad you took a stake to those vampires.

*="Oh, sure, Brian. It's low trauma for you. You're not the one getting rejected." But that's my point. It should be low trauma for the person getting rejected as well, to hear that I can't even consider their work because we don't do those kind of books. That's like getting worked up because you took your picture book into McDonald's and asked them to publish it. And then the guy behind the counter said, "We actually don't publish books. Can I get you a combo meal?" These people should bonk themselves playfully on the head and say, "Silly me. Next time, I'll do a little more research and ferret out what kinds of books a publisher does before I send a mass mailing of my manuscript at my own expense."

**=And if you have any interest in theatre at all, I highly recommend the cast recording for [title of show]. There are many other wonderful numbers pertaining to the aspirations of creative people.


A.S. King said...

Here's my take:
If I'm not getting at least one rejection letter a week, then I'm not working.**

So, by sending out those rejections, Brian, you have just given those writers a reason to pat themselves on the back. Yay them!

**(Please keep in mind my long standing relationship with rejection. After meeting at least 500 times, we know each other intimately.)

Kirstin Cronn-Mills said...

Good points all around. One day those authors will point to a frame on their wall with your letter in it and say "look, this was my first one."

And Editorial Ass is now on my daily reading list.

Brian Mandabach said...

For me, it was at least 60 rejected queries, 6 agents who looked at part of the manuscript, 2 who asked for all of it, until the wonderful Gary Heidt wanted to represent OR NOT.

Nice thing was that then he got the rejections. :)

Amy's right, of course, and that's the attitude we strive for. But those "not right for us" letters never feel good. Thanks for caring, Brian.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

The McDonald's comment alone has made me fall in love with you, editor Brian. Tell your boyfriend to make room on the couch; I'm moving in.

Anonymous said...

Brian! This is a brilliant post.

-Carrie Jones

tim b said...

Three times hooray for the awesome goodness that was (and may again be) [title of show]. If you haven't been to the show's website, there are many delights there, including the whole YouTube "[title of show] show" videos, which chart the show's progress toward Broadway.

Cheryl Klein mentioned "Die Vampire Die" on her blog a while back... it's a great song for artists in any category. The whole cast album is a great essay on ups, downs and odd little corners of creative process.

My boyfriend worked on the Broadway production team. It was singular experience for him and everyone else involved, including some otherwise deeply cynical theater pros. I'm normally completely immune to Broadway musicals and I went four times and cried like an idiot at the end every time.

Rumor has it, when the show closed, they didn't get rid of the set... it was sent into storage carefully wrapped, which means that New York audiences might get another crack at it. Here's hoping. It deserved a longer run than it got.

Sorry to make this so long... [tos] is one of those weird secret-club things for me... I'm always immoderately delighted to find someone else who connected with it.

Christopher Lives!!! said...

"We're off to kill the vampires", a song that was sung in the BBC's Count Duckula series...AND DAMN IT FEELD FUCKIN' GOOD!!!
Thanks for the inspiration and making me damn aware that I CAN and WILL be and do whatever the fuck I want. As long as I like it, that's all that matters!!!
Well, that just about throws out my 13+4+2 years of education!!!