In the Face of Rejection, I Borrowed from the Bozo the Clown playbook

[Dear Lisa Braxton]

…Thank you very much for your submission.  We appreciated very much the quality of your book—in particular, your characters radiate vigor and courage, which gives your work a unique energy.  Unfortunately, we publish a very limited number of books each year and will have to pass on this manuscript…

…We received nearly 400 book submissions to our open call, and ultimately we’ll only be able to choose one. So I hope this “no” doesn’t stop you from charging ahead with this manuscript…

…I think you might have a good project. I wasn’t quite invested in the characters at the start–maybe too much talk of the house. That could be moved later, once we care more about them…

…Keep working on this, I think you will find the right publisher for it with more editing resources. Please think about resubmitting with another work in the future, or this if it has been significantly re-worked…

…Unfortunately, we do not believe your manuscript is right for us at this time. We appreciated the opportunity to read your work and wish you all the best finding a place for it…

OUCH!!

This is but a sampling of email rejections I got from literary agents and small press publishers beginning in 2010 when I’d finished a draft of The Talking Drum that I thought was salable. I had become a machine, spending hours after work and on weekends thumbing through thick reference books and online databases of potential publishing opportunities and cranking out query letters. When the responses started rolling in, I reminded myself of that inflatable Bozo the Clown bop bag I used to punch for hours when I was a child. Every time I’d get socked with another rejection, I’d pop right back up Bozo-style and send a query letter to another outlet. I was relentless.

If you ask authors about their coping strategy for rejection, you’ll get a variety of responses. Some stop writing­­—at least for a while—to recover. Some get together with other writer friends to commiserate. Some fire off a nasty letter to the person who rejected them. Others pursue a change of scenery by going on vacation or taking a hike in the woods. My strategy has been to go full throttle. I continued sending out queries, continued revising the novel keeping in mind any advice from the agents and publishers that I thought was useful, and continued to pursue getting smaller pieces published.

Every so often as my inbox filled with rejections for The Talking Drum, I’d get an acceptance from an anthology or literary magazine for an essay I’d written. The piece I got published about my sister’s Chihuahua in a Christmas anthology, for example, and the essay that was printed in my alumni magazine about the little boy who I befriended when I was his first grade Sunday School teacher helped soften the blows of rejection and kept me going until I got a “yes” for The Talking Drum.

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Lisa Braxton

Lisa Braxton is an Emmy-nominated former television journalist, an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. Her debut novel, The Talking Drum, is forthcoming from Inanna Publications in spring 2020. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and a book reviewer for 2040 Review. Her stories and essays have appeared in literary magazines and journals. She received Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest magazine’s 84th and 86th annual writing contests in the inspirational essay category. Her website: www.lisabraxton.com

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