While going through my emails the other day in an attempt to clean my mailbox of the junk mail I receive on a daily basis, I came across a “rejection” letter from a publisher. It was dated decades ago when I still lived in Dubai and was for my book The Lost I. I don’t remember what I did to go that far back in my inbox but knowing me I must have pressed the wrong button or icon.
Now I know I have an unusual name that people find hard to pronounce. So when I email editors, agents, and publishers I always go the extra mile and try to explain in my letter that I am a mother of two, etc. What was weird about this particular rejection email was that not only had they addressed me as Mr. but they didn’t even have the title of the book right.
I had a cover letter, a synopsis, and title page included in my email. And in all of these documents I had the title mentioned not once, not twice, but several times. Could it be a typo then? How could they have missed it? There was one answer to all of my questions. No one bothered to read anything I sent them. Period.
Over the years and following the advice of other experienced writers I have learned to accept rejections with an open mind and not take them personally. But this one still hurt. And I thought, would it have made any difference if I had sent a letter instead of an email (not that they are accepting letters anymore)? Would it have been easier to accept had the publisher addressed me as “Dear Author, sorry not for us …” instead of Dear Mr.? So I did what I do at times like this. I grabbed my book and started reading success stories of other writers. Here’s one I would like to share with you.
When Linda Stafford was 15 she announced to her English teacher that she was going to write and illustrate her own books. Her classmates laughed at her and her teacher said: “Don’t be silly. Only geniuses can become writers. And you are getting a D this semester.”
She was so humiliated that she burst into tears. That night she wrote a short poem about broken dreams and mailed it to the Capper’s Weekly magazine. They published it and sent her $2. The next day she showed her teacher and class, they still laughed.
“Just plain dumb luck.” her teacher said. But this time she didn’t cry because she had sold the first thing she’d ever written.
During the next two years she wrote and sold dozens of poems, and by the time she graduated from high school she had a scrapbook filled with her published work and a C-average. But she didn’t mention her writing to anyone.Then years later she met a new friend and here’s what happened:
“It’s easy to write a book,” that new friend told me. “You can do it.”
“I don’t know if I am smart enough,” I said suddenly feeling 15 again and hearing echoes.
“Nonsense!” she said. “Anyone can write a book if they want to.”
I had four children- the oldest only four. We lived on a goat farm in Oklahoma, miles from anyone. While the children napped, I typed on my ancient typewriter. I wrote what I felt. It took nine months, just like a baby.
I chose a publisher at random, put the manuscript in an empty Pampers diapers package, which was the only box I could find (I’d never heard of manuscript boxes). I enclosed a letter that read: “I wrote this book myself, I hope you like it. I also drew the illustrations. Chapters 6 and 12 are my favorites. Thank you.”
A month later I received a contract, an advance on royalties, and a request to start working on another book.(Crying Wind became a bestseller)
People ask what college I attended, what degrees I have and what qualifications I have to be a writer.
The answer is none. I just write.
I’m not a genius, I’m not gifted and I don’t write right. But I have beaten the odds because I tried and I didn’t give up. I wrote what I loved and had the guts to mail it. If it was rejected (many were), I put it back in the mail the next day.
To all those who dream of writing, I’m shouting at you. “Yes, you can! Yes you can! Don’t listen to them.”