in today’s instant world of push-button publishing, rejection letters may become a thing of the past. i once wrote: “there are only three certainties in a writer’s life: death, taxes, and rejection letters.” well, now it seems i have to modify this to: “there are only three certainties in a writer’s life: death, taxes, and bad reviews.”
it’s somewhat of a shame that rejection letters, so long a staple of the publishing industry, may someday go the way of the dinosaurs. as i think back – waaaayy…. back – to when i wrote my first novel 14yrs ago, i realize that all the many rejection letters i’ve collected over the years were actually a blessing in disguise – a very good disguise. i started out like most authors – i loved reading, fantasy in particular, so i wanted to see if i could write my own novel. three months and 200pgs later, there it was, my first novel, sitting high and mighty on my desk. in fact, it’s sitting next to me right now, as i type this, waiting patiently for its umpteenth re-draft, because… well… the draft i wrote at 17yrs old was, quite frankly, shit. nevertheless, back in the day, it was my precious darling – i was blinded by love and couldn’t see its flaws. i thought: even if it was terrible (and it was), what’s the harm in adding another bad book to the masses of existent dreck? so, there i was, perfectly willing to litter the literary landscape with written trash. i sent it off to a publisher and soon got my first rejection letter. however, this only made me more determined to get published and “make it”. i decided that i was going to become an english major. while applying to colleges, i applied to uc berkeley simply because it had the best english program in the nation, but i wasn’t going to actually go there ’cause it was all the way in california and i was in new york. as fate would have it, i got rejected from all the ivy leagues, with uc berkeley being my best remaining option. here again, rejection was a blessing, because uc berkeley turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. it truly is a one-of-a-kind university. because of berkeley, my family and i moved permanently to california, and now i cannot imagine living anywhere else.
throughout college and graduate school, i continued to write more novels and more stories, and continued to get rejected. but guess what? looking back over these manuscripts, i see that each novel is better than the one i’d written before (a trend that i hope to continue). by trying to break past the rejection barrier, i was unwittingly practicing my craft and becoming a better writer.
what would have happened if i’d been born fourteen years later and written my first novel now, in the era of instant DIY publishing? i would’ve catapulted my precious into cyberspace within a couple weeks of writing the last line. it would have generated bad reviews and sunk to the bottom of the huge digital slushpile. my teenager pride would’ve been wounded, but i would have thought, oh well, i might not be the best writer, but at least i have a novel “out there”. i would never have been determined to get it published, never have decided to become an english major, never have applied to uc berkeley, never have moved to california, never have written my subsequent novels or gone to graduate school for creative writing in england. instead, i would have attended college at one of my east coast safety schools, majored in who-knows-what, and probably spent the rest of my life wondering what to do with it. my first novel would have faded away over the years, and fourteen years later, i would likely only remember it as something silly i did as a teenager. it’s hard to imagine what my life would be like now without those crucial rejection letters that have shaped all my adult years, changing my life for (i believe) the better. rejection can be a very painful blessing, but a blessing nonetheless.
will i ever be able to salvage my first novel into something publishable? maybe. will it ever see the light of day? perhaps someday. but even if it’s never published, it was still the beginning of what would prove to be a very worthwhile journey – a journey that i still make every day, and will make for all the rest of my days. writing a novel, like having a child, can change your life. and so can rejection.