Rejection slips are the butt of jokes made by authors in bleak humor. Snoopy used to make quilts out of them. We hate them so much that laughing at them helps us cope. But those of us looking toward the querying process still dread the day we start getting cold, heartless form rejections.
Successful thriller writer Ryne D. Pearson might have preferred cold, heartless form rejections at the start of his career. What he got instead were personally crafted letters that disparaged his talent and his book.
One hundred and thirty nine.
That is how many rejections my first novel received before it found an agent. Three weeks later he sold it.
I keep those rejections in an old cardboard manuscript box, tucked in the envelopes in which they came. Each addressed by me as was the norm back in the early 90’s when I was trying to break in. In essence, with each SASE (how I came to hate that acronym) I was facilitating a bit of my soul to be chipped away every time the mailman arrived at my house.
Because, you see, among the standard ‘not right for me at this time’ type of reply, there were many gems that were, well, particularly nasty. Shall I share?
‘You are not talented enough to compete with the thousands of professional writers in this industry...’
‘This is not my type of book, and if it were I would hate it.’
‘Your efforts would be better directed toward other endeavors.’
‘Who do you think you are sending this to me?’
‘Do you have a fireplace?’
‘I am insulted by the violence in this. I do not represent trash.’
Now, there were a few more, but those were the best. And these were not from fringe agencies. All were from respected literary agents, three of whom still work in the industry today.
What did I learn from these responses? Mostly that, in at least a few peoples’ eyes, I suck. But I also learned to take it. To swallow the vitriol and keep going. Why?
Because I didn’t believe them. I believed in myself.
The night after I received rejection #139 I decided to dig back into the novel and see if there was anything more I could do to it. The next morning I pulled out all those neatly typed and stacked pages and began flipping through. Reading it for the hundredth time, it seemed.
Then the phone rang. It was an agent at Curtis Brown who wanted to know if the novel was still available. I set the pages in my hand aside, clicked my pen shut, and sat down.
I was right, and they were wrong.
Ryne Douglas Pearson
Ryne D. Pearson is the author of several thrillers, including Top Ten, All For One, and Simple Simon, the novel that was the basis for the Bruce Willis / Alec Baldwin movie Mercury Rising. He also wrote the screenplay for the 2009 sci fi movie Knowing. Coming soon, Pearson will be releasing a science fiction short story, "Specimen," and will be releasing two novels this year. You can follow him on Twitter, where he talks about writing, life, and bacon.