Friday, October 24, 2014

You Are Free To Go by Sarah Yaw (Count Down Day 18: "Acceptance is Traumatic to Your Self-Doubt," Yo!)

I love myself a fiesty author who speaks her mind about literary rejection and everything else. Therefore, I present to you Sarah Yaw, author of You Are Free to Go (Engine Books, 2014).  What she has to say will make you re-think your concept of literary acceptance, a refreshing change of the convo around these parts. Also, buy and read her book, please.  Here are her thoughts on the subject:

Literary rejection has meant nothing to me. The times I’ve been rejected have not been formative experiences. You might read that and think, what an asshole. Or she has very healthy self-esteem. Or she’s high. But the truth is, rejection of any kind can only mean something to you if you have some hope of acceptance.
            Ten years ago, I couldn’t get an interview in my college English department because I didn’t have the right degree. As a writer, I didn’t have the right to teach writing. That hurt. That stung like I imagine getting a rejection from an agent might sting for someone who believes they have the right to have an agent.  At the same time, I was realizing my fears about not being able to have a baby. I’d never been careful. If it were going to happen easily, it would have happened by then. I knew this. But it wasn’t until I declared: I want this; I deserve this, that each month, each test, each trial, each humiliation burned in me the way, I imagine, rejection burns in someone who thinks they have a chance at selling a big book might burn. I wouldn’t know.
            While I was living that job and family life, I was writing a book. Just one book. Nothing else. No blogging. No short stories. I was writing a book I cared about a lot. But I wasn’t sending anything out into the world and if I had, I would have not only accepted rejection without much of a ripple, I would have expected it.
            Then, one day, I finished my book, sent it out to a contest and found a publisher. I didn’t have an agent. I’d hardly made an attempt to look for one. You see, that’s what people do when they believe their work is valuable, they look for agents and then they expect that agent to take their book to publishers and they expect to be accepted and they are disappointed when they aren’t accepted and fulfilled when they are. I mean, this is what I imagine. This is the caricature I’ve created for the writer who isn’t me. The one who sailed into the English department, who got pregnant easily, who knew exactly how valuable her work was when she finished her book.
            Rejection has never been the problem for me. Acceptance, however, has.
            “Why do I keep experiencing acceptance like some kind of trauma?” I asked my friend.
            “Because,” she said, “It’s traumatic to your self-doubt.”
She’s smart, I thought. But I didn’t want to think I was that deeply flawed.
Keep your expectations low, I believed, and you’ll be OK. Don’t ask for too much, you won’t be disappointed with what you get. In my more spiritual moments I told myself that I learned valuable skills from disappointment.
If that self-talk all worked the way it was supposed to, I’d have been pleasantly surprised by my success. But I wasn’t. I was upended, as if everything I thought I knew about myself was completely wrong. I could catalog the fears this inspired and the chronic suffering, the syllogistic nightmares in which my children suffered because I got what I wanted, but I won’t. I’ll just say that literary rejection never had a chance to register on my scales. It would have meant admitting that I wanted to succeed as a writer. It would have meant believing that I deserved that success. It would have meant fighting for it and thinking I was actually in that game.
            I’m in the game. I have a published novel, an agent, a second book well underway. I’m scared shitless, of course, because this is what I think will happen now: From here on out, I’ll believe I have a chance, I’ll probably fight for what I want, I’ll have hope, and literary rejection will sting like holy hell.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Count Down Day 19--Uncool Agent Delivers An Electronic Kick in the Nuts to This Outraged Writer

I am interrupting this regularly scheduled count down to post a rejection sent in by an LROD reader today. It's a particularly weird one, both overly personal and dramatic, and yet kind of insincere. The first line also might mislead a hopeful writer into thinking that "it's finally happened" means that his/her book is being chosen for representation. Uncool, if you ask me, or maybe just insensitive, but you decide for yourself. Here it is:
Dear Author,

Well, it's finally happened: after over thirty years of answering every query letter that has ever come my way, I've been forced to finally acknowledge that a new era is upon us all.  Before the arrival of e-mail submissions, I used to receive perhaps one hundred queries a week.  That was a lot of queries but it wasn't frankly unmanageable.  The Friedrich Agency now receives more than twice that on a daily basis and it's becoming impossible to attend to much of anything else!  I'm so sorry for the impersonal response, I hate to do this.  Writing a good book or a good proposal is among the hardest things in the world to do; I promise, we're not unsympathetic!  You have our word that we are reading every single query letter that comes our way, but from now on, we're only responding personally if we're sufficiently curious and would like to read further. Please don't take offense at this Draconian measure-- there is undoubtedly a wonderful agent out there for whom your book might just be the perfect match. Toward that end, we wish you all the best!

Take care,
Molly Friedrich

As the receiver of this rejection said: "I mean seriously, starting a pass with, 'Well, it's finally happened,' is a real kick in the nuts. As if anyone's gonna celebrate an agent switching to electronic form rejections. C'mon, man."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Count Down Day 20: Things Are Shaping Up in My Little World of Novel Promotion

It's always the hard part to shift from being a writer alone in a room having a love affair or fist fight with words, plot, characters, story to being what amounts to a snake-oil salesman in a matter of minutes.  Once a book is sold, edited, proofed, and out the door, you kind of become a one-(wo)man*-show, a busker, a hawker, a magician. It's disconcerting. That said, I have lined up at least a dozen readings for the fall and winter, have sent out my book for first-book award contests variously, have planned a couple of book launch parties in different locations that I think of as home, and have written guest blog posts and had interviews all around the World Wide Inter-webs. All this, while holding down a full-time writing job in corporate America, which has funded me to write the novel in the first place and is a good source of book buyers, as it turns out. It's all very exhausting, but it's what we strive for, isn't it, Mice?

*Younger readers: You will please excuse my clinging to gender as a worthy construct. I know that the world is changing, and I will too. I'm just a little slow.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Count Down Day 23: Literary Agencies I Have Known and Cursed

I always thought I'd find a literary agent who would be my bestie forever and ever, but, alas, it didn't work out that way. In fact, I've had a series of ephemeral literary representatives who either I fired, or who left the business for a pregnancy, a retirement, a job in another field, a jazz career, or a prompt dismissal because she really hadn't agreed to be my agent in any official way, anyway. The latter is always the most heartbreaking: you work and work on the edits the agent offers and when you can't get it just so, they drop you like a hot potato. "Sorry, I just don't know how to go any further with this," or some such. The kiss off. But, what can you do? Most of these associations were tenuous at best. None of the agents were my BFF, and none of them will probably be that to me. I do still have Secret Agent Man still on my side for the non-fiction book I am writing, but that, too, is taking a long, long time, and who knows how patient he will be with me. Very, I hope.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Count Down Day 24--A Dose of What-Have-You for My Humble Novel

Q: How many journals/markets has your writing appeared in? Over what time period?
LROD: About a dozen when I was writing my second short story collection. I wrote my first collection of stories as a book and it got published when I was in my 20s, before I had a chance to send any of them out to be published in journals or magazines. One of those did get published in an anthology, but otherwise I didn't get started sending stories out for publication until I started writing my second collection (pretty much right away). I would say the best I did was win runner up in the Mississippi Review Fiction Prize, which came with publication, and finalist in the Iowa Review Fiction Prize, which did not come with anything. I won first place in the Seattle Review Fiction Prize ($500) and got the story published in the journal of course. I have also placed stories in a bunch of online journals that are very reputable. Interestingly, the collection (of which almost every single story is published in a journal, magazine, or review) has never gotten published as a book. Everyone said, "Write a novel!" Everyone did not mention how hard writing a novel is.  So it took quite a long time, but I would say I was writing and publishing stories in the late 90s and early millennial years. I was also writing essays simultaneously, and getting those published in anthologies and magazines. I have a collection of published essays, which also has not been published as a book. I'm not complaining though. My main thing for years has been the novel, so I'm very grateful it is going to be a book in the world so soon. When I look at it now; I see that it is really quite a humble little book, and that my expectations for it were grand and grandiose and arrogant.  Life provides the humility one needs, it seems. I got a good dose of it, and none to soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Count Down Day 25--Why No One Comments on My Blog

"Man, you're not getting no comments...what's up with that?" was a comment I received just a few days ago. This is from someone who had not been to LROD in about 6 years, according to his count. And, yes, it is true that 6 years ago I might get a hundred and one comments on one blog post, but those were the olden days. Now, there is mostly the sound of me typing and crickets chirping under the blog roll. In a way, though, this brings web-logging back to its ontological form, which is basically a diary for the one who is logging. And so I am not dismayed that most people are Twittering and Elloing and Chatting on Apps, rather than commenting on blogs. Personally, I appreciate the quiet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Count Down Day 26--What's The Real Deal With Me & Jacob Appel?

Jacob Appel is a prince among male writers. He is also prolific and smart and an interesting guy.  He is the second winner of the Golden Apple of Kindness, or GAK, Award here at LROD. I really have no particular deal with the fine fellow. I just noticed that every time I did not win a contest or award, he did! One day, I will sit at a bar and raise a full glass to the man; I'm pretty sure.