Write Despite

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Archive for the month “March, 2014”

Rejections Revisited

C. Michael Curtis, a senior editor and longtime revered fiction editor at the Atlantic Monthly, published an essay called “Publishers and Publishing,” in On Writing Short Stories, a collection of essays, edited by Tom Bailey. It’s a pretty enlightening, amusing reflection on the fiction submissions he receives. Our fave part:

“Much of the writing that pours onto the desks of literary editors at both the serious-minded but commercial general magazines and the smallest, most fiercely independent quarterlies is inept, undeveloped, amateurish, crazed, obscene, unintelligible, or some combination of the above.”

Kinda makes you feel better about the stuff you submit, right?Syliva-Plath-on-Rejection

At least, that’s what we thought. I mean, we’ve received rejection letters with comments like “uninteresting” and “meandering” and “seems to have no larger point.”

But “crazed?” “Obscene?” Just what the hell are people doing out there?

Here are some other amusing rejections we ran across:

“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” (Written about Joseph Heller’s Catch-22—believed to have been given this title because it was the 22nd publisher, Simon and Schuster, who agreed to take it on.)

“The American public is not interested in China.” (Seriously, what could be interesting about Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth?)

“This will set publishing back 25 years.” (Wonder why? Anyone read Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park?)

“Good God, I can’t publish this.” (Said about William Faulkner’s Sanctuary.)

“An absurd story as romance, melodrama or record of New York high life.” (Gasp! Blasphemy uttered about F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.)

“Stick to teaching.” (Louisa May Alcott was urged to keep her day job after submitting Little Women.)

“I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” (We get your point. But Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was still a masterpiece.)

“An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” (Maybe depressing and gory and violent, but William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was dull?)

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” (Wonder what this visionary thinks of The Hunger Games. He rejected Carrie, by Stephen King)

“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” (Give it up, Garth Stein. Even George Orwell’s Animal Farm can’t cut it.)

This is an awesome essay of Curtis’s by the way, and you can check it out here:

http://www.public.iastate.edu/~yikes/mag_editors_and_fiction.html

If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, let us recap a bit. He gives a great rundown of what editors are, and aren’t, looking for in submissions, including cover letters. He says only two things included in your letter might cause an editor to be more interested in your story than the average one:

  1. Citations of stories published elsewhere, particularly in periodicals of comparable size and reputation; and
  2. Mention of the fact that you’ve been enrolled in a reputable MFA program (or residence at Bread Loaf or Sewanee, etc.).

Other take-aways? Same as you’ve always heard:

  • Don’t recap your story—let it speak for itself.
  • Don’t talk about other magazines that have rejected it already.
  • Don’t single space.
  • Don’t send anything with typos or grammatical errors.
  • Don’t try to dazzle them with your wit or sound hostile or desperate.

In short, just make your writing as fab as possible, keep your cover letter simple and direct, and send it out.

Everywhere.submit button

Spray and pray, people. Spray and pray.

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New Author Angie Chuang: Holding On and Letting Go

Angie Chuang didn’t know what she was getting into when she began writing essays drawn from her experiences as a journalist in Afghanistan. With the publication of her debut book, The Four Words for Home, later this week, we’ll all get to share in her amazing journey.

The publication marks the end of an 8-year odyssey. Angie’s challenges, outlined so honestly below, will sound familiar to many of us. Her  journey is an inspiring reminder that the writing process taps into our deepest reserves of  faith and determination. We’re thrilled to feature another nonfiction writer, someone who has taken journalism to its highest literary calling.

Please welcome Angie Chuang, my old colleague from the Hartford Courant, to Write Despite.

–Karen

COVER - TFWFH(2)

We writers endure so much rejection that every publication, every “yes,” feels like a breakthrough. I remember well my first-ever literary-journal publication, my first paid publication, my first anthology publication, and my first publication in what I regarded as a well-known journal. Each of these felt like stair steps – often with very long plateaus in between – toward the ultimate goal of someday publishing a book.

Starting in late 2004, after I returned from a life-changing reporting trip to Afghanistan, I spent a year in denial that I was writing a book based on that experience (“Essays! I am writing a series of essays!”); four years drafting what I begrudgingly admitted really was a book; one year drastically revising the mess of a “book” I came up with (evident in agent responses akin to, “Love the idea, love the writing, but it’s just not ready yet”); nearly one more year in an even more drastic revision based on the detailed notes of an agent who left her job before I finished. Granted, I had worked full-time as a journalist and then a tenure-track university professor during this time, so all this writing, revising, agent-querying was happening amid a whole lot of reporting, career-changing, teaching, and scholarly research.

But suffice to say that by 2012, the start of year eight of working on my book The Four Words for Home and seeking an agent or publisher for it, I was beginning to wonder if I should shelve it. My book’s focus had shifted from Afghanistan to an interwoven memoir about two immigrant families, the Afghan-American family that had brought me to their homeland and my own. Even so, I knew the reading public’s interest in Afghanistan had faded – the market for my book had shrunk with every year I had spent on it. I loved and believed in the story I had obsessed over for so long. But I was tired.

I promised myself I would send the manuscript out to one more round of small-press contests, casting a wider net to include more independent publishers. Early in 2013, I learned I was a finalist for the Willow Books Literature Awards and was invited to a festival and awards ceremony, where the winners of cash prizes and two book contracts (poetry and prose) would be announced.

When my name was announced as the prose winner, I was so ready to weather another near miss, I thought another finalist’s name had been read. I finally made it up to the stage, but months passed before reality sunk in and I started talking about a book and not a book manuscript. Since then, I have ridden the roller coaster of panic (that I had to stop revising and submit a final version), euphoria (I’m actually going to have a book!), fear (Everyone can actually read it!), and realism (I’ll be lucky if 0.0000001 percent of “everyone” reads it).

As I write this, I’m a couple days from holding the very first copies in my hand, and about to fly across the country for my first book appearances (not a bankrolled “book tour,” mind you, something about as quaint and rare in today’s literary publishing world as a free, real meal in domestic coach class). I know intellectually this publication represents a breakthrough, but I don’t quite feel it in my heart yet. Other authors tell me it takes some time to sink in and really enjoy it, to get past the “cringe,” as one put it, of other people reading and reacting to something you’ve worked on in isolation for so long.

So my advice to those who are in the long and murky middle between committing to writing a book and getting said book published: Don’t give up – and enjoy it.

Not giving up is obvious. Only your mule-headed, obsessive belief in your story will see you past the fatigue, the rejections, the self-doubt, the doubt from others, the 2,000th stupid question like, “Oh, are you still working on that book?”

Enjoying it may be less so. But I already miss a time when the story was mine and only mine, and we were engaged in a dialogue, and often an epic-seeming battle, over what it would become. The countless hours I spent alone with my manuscript – creating, changing, and wrestling with it – gave me enough belief in the story to release it into the world.

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More information about The Four Words for Home and Angie Chuang is available at www.angiechuang.com. The book is available for order via Willow Books or Amazon.

The Best $5 You’ll Ever Spend

Friends,

The countdown is on.

We need 15 more folks to sign up today in order to bring Fiction Attic Press, a fantastic platform for both emerging and established writers, to a broader audience.

Fiction Attic is publishing my novel in the fall, and there are plenty of opportunities for other writers to submit to story contests.

If you’re a writer, this could be the best $5 you’ve ever spent, and you can cancel at any time!

http://www.beaconreader.com/projects/fiction-of-wit-and-substance

Thanks,

Karen

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