Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Springing eternal

I did it again.

I don't submit to publishers as often as I used to, but I do have three or four manuscripts I still believe in enough to keep sending out. For the most part, I try to send them and forget about them. You can drive yourself bonkers if you don't.

But I decided a couple of days ago that I should check my file to see what's out. With so many publishers taking the "no news is bad news" approach where they no longer send rejections, I have to remind myself whether enough time has passed that I should assume the publisher isn't interested. (It's an interesting "reject thyself" sort of exercise.)

As I reviewed my submissions record, I noticed that one manuscript was at a house that still sends rejection letters. This particular editor usually responds very quickly, but this time it had been six months with no word.

And -- for one ridiculous minute -- I thought what almost every writer has thought at some point. "Maybe it's in the acquisitions process. Maybe that's why it's taking so long to hear."

Why do we do this to ourselves? We're so hungry for feedback and eager for good news that we try to read between the lines in rejection letters or extract meaning even from an editor's silence. "The editor said she's very sorry not to have better news. The last time she just said sorry, so she must have liked this one better." Or "She drew a smiley face on the letter this time, so..." Or "My friend got rejected in two months and it took me seven, so..."

I know better. I know rejection letters and how fast they arrive aren't codes we're supposed to decipher. I know that a faster rejection may mean nothing more than an intern was helping wade through the slush. I know that a nice rejection letter may mean nothing more than an intern was writing the rejection letters. If I didn't know all that from my own experience, Editorial Anonymous' Eight Rules of Rejection would make it clear enough, specifically rule #6:
6. Most rejection letters mean nothing. Nothing. (Except that you can cross that publisher/agent off the list.) You need to internalize this fact however you can. Chant it in the bathtub. Write it backwards on your forehead. Listen to a tapeloop of it while you sleep. No matter what the editor/agent says, no matter what words they use, rejection letters mean nothing.
 Even so, every now and then, I do it to myself again. I don't know whether that makes me pathetic or optimistic.