Monday, November 9, 2009
Reject me, please
I’m nostalgic for the days when I used to gauge my how hard I was working by the frequency of my rejection letters. I knew I wasn’t working hard enough unless I was getting at least one rejection a day.
This made sense because if the rejections were coming with regularity it meant that my stuff was being considered elsewhere and would by the law of averages produce a positive result.
These days I rarely count on getting either the rejection or the positive result. It’s a Twilight Zone existence where I spend my days yelling down a long canyon and hearing no echoes.
After a fun and fruitful decade as a freelance magazine writer, I’m using the godforsaken downturn in that field to sharpen and pitch four book proposals (an upmarket satirical novel, a downmarket non-fiction humor book, a memoir and a fantasy tale about how the world would be better a place if Dick Cheney was a kindly superhero).
The general reaction has me thinking maybe it’s time to come up with a fifth book proposal.
I spend about half my time sending out fastidious query letters to agents and publishers and the other half wondering why no one bothers to respond.
The obvious answer is, of course, I’m a unqualified hack and that my ideas suck.
But there is evidence to the contrary. I’ve worked with some of the snazziest magazines in the country -- and I’m talking about ones that still exist and actually lived up to their commitment to pay me. My ideas have earned flattering interest from top ranked industry people who tell me my offbeat stuff’s great, but just not quite right for them.
“Just keep pitching,” they say, “You’re bound to find the right person. Good luck!”
So pitch I do.
I pitch the way the sweaty guys in the locomotive coal pits did when they wanted the train to make it up a really steep grade.
I just keep on shoveling.
But despite the evident energy, the wheels on my locomotive just keep spinning. There is no progress. No advancement.
I get a real surge of satisfaction after I’ve spent a couple of hours pouring through the top dealmakers at Publishers Marketplace until I’ve found 10 worthy targets and tailored my lively query letters to their specific interests.
How can it miss?
I never do it like this, but I wake up those mornings feeling like I ought to shave and put on a really nice shirt. I’m sure two or three of the recipients will respond with hosannas about my proposals, ask to see more or -- hallelujah -- offer me a contract on the spot.
But no one responds. Never. They don’t say yes. They don’t say no. I don’t know whether they got them and are considering them, if they rejected them outright or if they didn’t get them and are sitting there banging their heads on their desks and beseeching, “Why on earth won’t somebody send me a proposal about Dick Cheney in cape!”
It’s worse than even prom time in high school when at least I knew by the hysterical laughter that I’d earned yet another rejection.
Then there are one’s like this that came last month from a top editor: “Thanks for sending this! I’m going to read it tonight and get back to you tomorrow.”
I still haven’t heard back. Has she been abducted? Should I call? Send flowers? Form a search party? If she has been abducted and I succeed in saving her from lost time space ship experimentation you’d think she might look favorably on my proposal -- or at least respond to my query with a crisp, “No thanks.”
I guess maybe I was raised differently. If someone asks me a question, I answer. I respond to all my e-mails, even ones from students or fellow freelancers who are struggling and seeking veteran advice.
I tell them what I can but always include the Bob Dylan line from the 1997 song “High Water” to add necessary perspective: “Don’t reach out for me, can’t ya see I’m drowning, too?”
Pity my poor wife. She sees no result and certainly no income. In weaker moments, she counsels that maybe it’s time for me to find what she calls “crap jobs,” as if my professional existence could possibly become any crappier.
Bless her heart, she just doesn’t have a clue. There are no crap jobs and it’s too late for me to pack a lunch pail and head to plumber school. I’m in it up to my neck.
The only thing left for me to do is to continue to fail at a more spectacular level. I can’t quit. I have to believe I have good ideas and one of them is soon bound to bear fruit.
And on that happy day there will be a grand party. There will be extravagant booze, cigars, succulent seafood and dances of mutual joy until the sun comes up and the band slams the trunks on their battered instruments and heads for home.
It’ll be one of the world’s greatest parties.
And, by God, you’re all invited.
Just be sure to R.S.V.P.
It’s only proper.