As I mentioned in Part I, I signed up for an adult education class; Writing for Fun and Profit. That very title alone sent a thrill up my spine. I saw myself writing for travel magazines or maybe my husband’s many sports and hunting magazines. That might be the ticket. He could indulge his passion for hunting, and I could ferret out interesting side trips in the towns we visited. How hard could writing travel articles be anyway?
Hard. Very, very hard.
After taking something like two classes, I felt I had enough information under my belt to dash off an article and send my words of wisdom to Field and Stream Magazine. I don’t remember what the article was about, but I do recall being astounded at how quickly the rejection letter arrived. I also don’t remember my reaction to that letter, but I’m pretty sure it did not make me happy. I probably cursed the editors for being too stupid to recognize the brilliance in my article—but in the interests of fairness, I have to admit I recognized (after many days) that they may have had a point. I still had a lot to learn before any of my work could be considered for publication.
The instructor of the writing class, Marge Campbell (God rest her soul), strongly suggested that all of her students pick up a copy of “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. It is a very short book, 85 pages, but packed with everything you need to know about writing, a regular soup to nuts casserole for the brain. This is a must-have on every writer’s desk whether you’re penning newsletters or novels.
Anyway, back to Marge and her writing class. About half-way through the semester, she called me aside and asked whether I’d ever thought about writing a novel. My mouth fell opened and nothing came out. Smiling secretly, Marge went on to say that she thought I had a certain flair with words, something that might suit the world of fiction. Again she asked if I had any interest in writing a novel. This time I think I giggled a little and shrugged. Taking that as a “yes,” Marge went on to suggest that I think about writing for the romance novel market. To that end, she added that I ought to pick up a few of those books, read them, and see what I thought about writing one.
I’m darn sure that I said “yes” to that suggestion. Buoyed, excited (and WAY overconfident) in Marge’s appraisal of my talents, I rushed to the bookstore and bought the smallest romance novel I could find. I believe it was a Harlequin Romance, 172 pages long. Notice I said ‘the,’ novel, not those. That’s right. I only bought one. Read it in one short afternoon, and you guessed it, again proclaimed … how hard could this be?
Hard. Painfully, soul-crushingly, and terribly hard.
This is where we get to an agonizing point that happens in every writer’s career—rejection. It is the dirtiest of dirty words, worse than anything ever snarled through human lips. And don’t think the major players in the world of novelists managed to escape the scathing pen of many an addled-brained editor. To this end I give you;
Stephen King. He threw the original draft of “Carrie” into the trash, where it was rescued the next day by his wife. He’d rejected himself before editors had a chance to do it for him, but his wife had faith in the manuscript. And I’m sure you know the rest of that story.
Then we have Vince Flynn, author of the enormously successful Mitch Rapp series (sales in the 10’s of millions), who had over 60 rejections for his first novel, “Term Limits.” Daunted, but determined to see the book published, he did it himself. That self-publishing venture caught the eye of the New York Times Bestseller list, and the rest is history.
Ditto John Grisham, a mega-star author with a mega-pile of rejection slips for his first novel, “The Firm.” In a fit of frustration, he too self-published his book, and after a long wait, a New York publisher finally noticed the novel. After re-publishing the book, sales exploded as did Grisham’s career.
The list of the unfairly-rejected goes on and on, and of course, includes your truly. For more of what’s sure to be a bit of a sob story as well as the secret to what it takes to become a published novelist, tune in next month for Part III…
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