Sunday, January 26, 2014

My FIrst Rejection Letter

It is interesting to note that if you Google "First Rejection Letter," it yields 43,100,000 hits. Although several thousand of these entries deal with rejections from colleges (or preschools), or bank loan applications, a substantial number of them are related to letters of rejection from publishing companies to people like me. So, should I feel comforted that I am not alone? Or should I be depressed that I'm one among a throng of millions?

125 days after I submitted my proposal for a picture book to a publisher in New York, I received my very first real rejection letter. My literary and artistic creation has been rejected!

After an extra-large hot chocolate (with and extra shot of cocoa), a huge bowl of buttered popcorn and five pieces of chocolate candy (including two I snitched from my husband's chocolate orange) I sought consolation in a more positive way. Reading through some of the really brutal rejections received by many authors (and non-authors) I decided that I was better off than most. When you read the 1912 letter sent to Gertrude Stein, or the one George Orwell received ("It is impossible to sell animal stories in the United States"), I feel quite good about my letter.

My rejection was phrased very encouragingly.  The letter from the Vice President /Editorial Director  "...Appreciated the informative style that teaches about animals and nature..."  The animal examples I chose "are appropriate and would be engaging for young readers...". Unfortunately, as the country song (sort of) says "I came along one [manuscript] too late." The publisher has just signed another picture book, which mine is too reminiscent of. Sigh!!

Mitten The Mouse
I will take to heart the advice from the "Smart Nooks for Smart Kids" blog by Debbie Glade.

    1.    Don’t quit when somebody rejects your work; keep trying.
    2.    Know that all people who accomplish great things take risks.
    3.    Believe in yourself
    4.    Be realistic.  Educate yourself about the process.
    5.    If your story is good, know that somewhere out there, there’s a person who will read it, love it and publish it.

Yesterday a book I ordered came in the mail. It's called, Writing With Pictures. It looks as though it is filled with good advice for artist/authors like me. I will spend time with it this week. I will continue working on my art work, and explore the publishing process. It is time to select the next company to which I will submit my proposal.   I DO believe in myself, and I believe in this book. Who knows what the next 125 days will bring?

I am confident that  - at the very least - they will bring more polished illustrations, a good deal of frustration and anxiety and clearer insights into a good many publishing houses, their requirements and publishing lists. My days at the library and book stores will be filled with exploration of books that have the feel of mine, so that I can find a company that shares my philosophy and appreciates my story, my message and my art work. My job is cut out for me.

I will get by, with a little help from chocolate, and a supportive network of family and friends, all of whom, I know, have faith in my book, and who continue to cheer me on on this journey.

Oh! And I will set up a notebook called "Rejections." I'll let the letters live their, and not let them take up residence in my mind or my heart.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

IS IT A SHORT STORY OR A MEMOIR? Expanding or Contracting a Great Idea.

I have a story that's been running around in my mind, in my heart and on my computer for several years. Three or four years ago I screwed up my courage enough to share it at the local writers group Open Mike Night.  I had had to cut it down to 5 minutes after I arrived at the meeting. Not knowing that The Write Group has a strict time limit before I arrived,  I edited out what I could. It still went 8 minutes, but they didn't cut me off. That was when I knew that this story was something special.

I've written three or four more versions of the story since then. I've committed myself to getting it to a publisher this year, or possibly self publishing it, but now I am in a quandary. Every time I re-approach it, I find another part of the story that begs for more detail.  Do I simply breeze over the Spanish Civil War by mentioning a few of the more famous battles, or do I provide one or two in-depth scenes, introducing specific characters and revealing the true horrors of life in that time and in that space? Should I provide my readers with a clear picture of the dangers and deprivations of homesteading in the Big Bend region of Washington Territory in the 1880s, or simply pass it by with "She had homesteaded in Western Washington when she was a girl..."?

Will readers really care to be pulled into a Victorian living room to watch me cutting out paper dolls and listening to family stories? Do they want to know how I met my husband?

A few of my readers will be all too familiar with the dreadful and delightful details. Others will not have a clue. Is it my job to tell the story to those who know the setting and some of the characters, or is my mission to reveal an entire set of worlds to unknown readers who have never hear of Catalonia or Washington Territory?

Yesterday, between reading "Character", "Plot", "Dialogue" and "Set Design" in Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott, I delved into Auntie Kate by Katharine Garford Thomas, a distant cousin. I located my - as yet unread - copy of History of Catalonia by Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó.

Anne Lamott is advising me to tell more: to let my readers get to really know my characters. I like this idea. I'd love everyone to know Grandmother Arny  and Uncle Vin and Big Lina and all the rest of us. But is it too much?

If the story worked so well in 8 minutes, will I spoil it by making it 8 hours long? Or will I open the hearts and minds of my readers to events they never knew of, and to truths they have not discerned?

I'd love to hear from you, to know what you think.

Meanwhile, I'll keep reading Ann's book and skim through the history book, and maybe see if I can talk with a relative who crossed the steep mountain passes from Spain to Toulouse, France or Skype with a family member who was there, on the docks in Le Harve in 1939.

I really would appreciate your thoughts on this.