Yesterday I finished my spring cleaning and put up my summer sign, Ms. Sheeply, to ready my home and my spirits for at long last...summer. Even though we've yet to hit an 80 degree temperature here, that doesn't mean it's never going to get warm.
So even though I got some bad news yesterday about one of my favorite stories, that doesn't mean I won't see it in print ever. Over the past five years I've learned that in the give and take of freelance writing, sometimes it might feel like lots of give and little take.
Some writers deal with rejection by figuring the odds. Jay Neugeboren blogs beautifully today in Poets and Writers about keeping score of rejections and acceptances, and how he reminds himself that the scoreboard is his muse.
So here's what happened to give me the early summertime blues. Yesterday I received two email missives from an anthology I regularly contribute to. In the early afternoon I received a general call out, asking for a story for an upcoming book about how teenagers deal with difficulties. I immediately dashed down a reminder. I welcomed another fresh opportunity to explore a long ago event in my life, the time I'd had to drop out of college in my sophomore year because of an injury from an auto accident.
Then, a little later, I got an update on a book that's scheduled to be published next month, one that I thought would contain one of my favorite stories, about attending my grandmother's funeral when I was fifteen. This note informed that my story wouldn't appear in the book after al.
I sat there, stunned. I've had stories cut by this anthology series three times now this past year, after I'd already signed permission slips...but this is the first time I've been cut after I'd already OKed page proofs.
I'm not a quibbler, so editors generally find me easy to work with. I don't care if a title gets changed or an ending gets truncated. Just give me my byline and give me the book. But this time around I was so puzzled, I actually asked for an explanation. I got an answer. The editors had to include more stories by actual teens...so my bad luck, I got scissored.
Back in earlier years, when I used to write articles for magazines, most publishers at least offered a kill fee, usually 25% of the agreed-upon compensation. For anthologies, though, the author writes on speculation. You take your chances. Some publishers don't bother to send rejection notices, let alone any whisper of why a story isn't selected.
I can understand this. Sheer numbers can prevent a personal response. This popular series, for instance, generally receives two to three thousand submissions for each proposed title.
But yesterday I felt devastated...just as if my suitor had called off the engagement and jilted me at the altar.
Coincidentally, yesterday morning I'd sat in on a webinar on marketing memoirs, hosted by Writer's Digest. Literary agent Paula Balzer, who represents such diverse celebrity talents as Diablo Cody (Juno) and Randy Jackson (American Idol), warned us not to write as Bitter Bettys. Nobody wants to read rants about mean bosses, spiteful neighbors or evil ex-spouses. So apparently we're supposed to get over our broken hearts.
"Memoirs need to come from a place of resolution," she said.
I agree. Rants can be draining, and can keep us frozen in the past. So today I'll seek another home for my sweet little orphaned story. I used to say I was never certain of publication until I saw the page proofs. From now on I won't count my chickens until I hear them clucking on my doorstep.
In the meantime, for those writers of memoirs and narrative essays who missed Balzer's webinar...here's her To Do List:
- Write frequently.
- Be marketable.
- Find a hook.
- Read memoirs.
- Play with structure.
- Find your voice.
- Research carefully.
- Build a platform.