Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On Writing and Rejection

By Paul

As our historian and resident sane person Patty Smiley noted yesterday, the Naked Authors are one year old. Hurrah! To put that in perspective, Monday was William Shakespeare's 443rd birthday. He's still in print...which is more than can be said for my Jake Lassiter novels of the early 1990's.

So, let's talk about writing.

I have a good friend who's an accomplished journalist and screenwriter. He's written a syndicated newspaper column, award-winning magazine articles, and worked as a writer-producer of half-a-dozen television shows. Now, he's penned his first novel, a smoothly crafted modern-day noir. He's also landed a big-time New York literary agent...and a box full of rejections. Letters and e-mails and calls praising the writing, the story, the dialogue, but saying the book wasn't right for their list, or didn't seem that commercial. You know...the kind of rejection that both gladdens and stings.

Fearless Paul's Advice: KEEP ON WRITING!

Start your second novel, and let the agent keep hustling the first one. If the first one sells, the second one will, too. If it doesn't sell, the second one might...and that may sell the first one. (That is exactly what happened to me. "To Speak for the Dead," my first novel, had multiple offers in less than a week in 1990). But it wasn't my first novel. That one had several dozen rejections and sold only after I was already published.

We all can take heart in Andre Bernard's book, "Rotten Rejections: The Letters that Publishers Wish They'd Never Sent."

Here are excerpts from real rejection letters:
"We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." --Carrie, by Stephen King

"...overwhelmingly nauseating...the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy." -- Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

"I haven't really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny - possibly even satire - but it is really not funny on any intellectual level." -- Catch 22, by Joseph Heller

I could go on, but you get the idea. Don't give up. Glue your butt to the chair, and KEEP ON WRITING.

Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead" was rejected by publishers a dozen times. Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth" landed back on her desk fourteen times. Mary Higgins Clark, who has more than 30 million books in print, could paper her walls with more than three dozen rejection slips before being published. It's said that Louis L'Amour received 200 rejections before he sold his first novel. (There were obviously more publishers then).

So...KEEP ON WRITING. Something good will happen.

A reader e-mailed the other day, saying she really enjoyed the humor in the Solomon & Lord series and asking who I looked to for comedic inspiration. Maybe she expected me to say Perelman or Twain, Thurber or Benchley, or even my former next-door neighbor, Dave Barry.

Well, sure. They're all wonderful. Unique voices. Instantly recognizable. But I've always loved the snap, crackle, and pop of Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, and Nat Perrin.


Oh, they're the screenwriters who collaborated on the 1933 film, "Duck Soup," starring the Marx Brothers.

The writing was no doubt aided by the flawless rhythm and pitter-patter delivery of Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly and his incomparable foil, Margaret Dumont, as Mrs. Teasdale.
Rufus T. Firefly: "Not that I care, but where is your husband?"

Mrs. Teasdale: "Why, he's dead."

Rufus T. Firefly: "I bet he's just using that as an excuse."

Mrs. Teasdale: "I was with him to the very end."

Rufus T. Firefly: "No wonder he passed away."

Mrs. Teasdale: "I held him in my arms and kissed him."

Rufus T. Firefly: "Oh, I see, then it was murder. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first."

Not that Groucho needed ghostwriters for his humor. He once sent this note to S.J. Perelman: "From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it."

(If you would like to send these words of dubious wisdom to a friend, just click on the envelope icon below).



  1. I LOVE Jake Lassiter. I'm looking at my signed hardback of SLASHBACK even as we speak. Somebody needs to reissue those books because they're WONDERFUL.

    I agree with you about pushing forward with the writing. It's very rare that a writer gets a publishing contract the first time with the first book. All of us have rejection stories.

    BTW, Paul and Cornelia are leaving for New York for the Edgar ceremony on Thursday. I expect both of them to come home with one of those ugly little statues. Go team!

  2. Hey, I've got all of the Jake Lassiter books, too. You mean they're collector's items now? Kewl!

  3. I've got 'em, too, and the onlyway anyone else will get mine is when they wrest them from "my cold dead hand."

    I don't always comment, but I always enjoy your posts. Same for all the naked bnloggers.

    Happy birthday!

    Tom, T.O.

  4. As one who has faced rejection in publishing offices, boardrooms and barrooms, I heartily agree - keep writing.

    My two favorite Marx Bros. stories:

    During rehearsal for Coconuts, Perelman raced onto the stage screaming, "Stop! Stop! I think I actually heard a line I wrote!"

    Grouch confided to a friend that he had a problem with premature ejaculation. The friend suggested Groucho try a desensitizing cream. A few weeks later the friend sees Groucho, asks if he tried the cream and Groucho says he did. The friend asks, "Did it work?" Groucho says, "I don't know, I came rubbing it on."

  5. Rejection is character building. Bullshit. It hurts but you can't escape it.


  6. Glad I found this. Mood swings from contemptible to affable just don't come along often enough.

    I keep my own rejection letters in a file. They currently take up most of my 299 gig hard drive.

    My other hard drive I save for publishers hate mail. It's rather bigger. Keep on writing, it gives the Epson ink supplies dept. something to do.