Writer Cathrine Wald knows from "No." Her essays and articles have been turned down by most national publications. Her novels have been rejected by major publishing houses, and her short stories have languished at leading fiction magazines and journals. Her applications to prestigious writer's colonies have been rejected on a regular basis, and she consistently fails to make the finalist's list in a wide variety of fellowships and award programs.
But has that stopped her? What do you think. The feisty Ms. Wald, a self-styled “rejexpert,” has gathered up the best tales of "No" by some well-known writers and came back with the mother of all rejection collections: The Resilient Writer: Tales of Rejection and Triumph from 23 Top Authors, featuring Arthur Golden, Amy Tan, Frederick Busch, Joy Harjo, Kathryn Harrison, Elinor Lipman, and Edmund White.
Now who’s having the last laugh?
The Making of a ‘Rejexpert,’ By Cathy Wald
I never set out to write a book about rejection, let alone become a world-renowned ‘rejexpert.’ All I really wanted was to get my first novel published.
I’d spent five years writing “Woman In Flames,” a historical/fantasy novel set in Bengal, India, around the turn of the last century. Along the way, I got lots of feedback from my writers’ group, and I kept going back and rewriting and revising as I moved forward to finish the book. I thought I’d done everything I possible could to create a masterpiece, and I was ready for the big payoff.
What I understand now, but didn’t back then, is that there’s a pretty long learning curve involved in writing novels. Your first one isn’t necessarily going to be the one that gets you published. I’ve since learned from the authors I interviewed for The Resilient Writer that you might not hit it right until the second, third or fourth novel – if you can hang in there that long. But at the time, I was very impatient and idealistic. When I landed a top New York agent, I was convinced I was on my way to the top.
I remained convinced for two-and-a-half years, while my agent sent the manuscript out to editors, one at a time. Each of the rejection letters we got was thoughtful and informative – yet most of them contradicted each other and some of them made no sense at all. It was a frustrating time that turned devastating when my agent announced to me that she’d run out of publishers. The End.
By this time, I was well into my second novel, but the reality that my first novel wasn’t going to be published stopped me dead in my tracks. I was unable to work on the next book, and I was feeling even more depressed, frustrated and isolated than we writers normally do. To prevent me from inappropriately venting my anger on my family and household pets, I decided to get my emotions out of my system by writing about them.
The first thing I did was write some nasty and hilarious parody material (at least it made me laugh), a sort of anti-self-help book idea for rejected writers. After that I decided it might help me and other rejectees if we could post our letters and stories online – so I created the website rejectioncollection.com. Then I began peddling my parody book proposal, which was roundly rejected. As I rewrote the proposal and it slowly evolved into what is now The Resilient Writer, I was helped by a new agent and the support of hundreds of people who had visited my website. I even got written up in The New York Times.
Researching and writing The Resilient Writer was really the easiest part of the process. It wasn’t hard to find authors to interview: In fact I initially had 26 people, but I had to cut three for space purposes. (Imagine having to reject someone from a book about rejection!) I found that most writers, especially famous writers, have tales of rejection. And they’re usually happy to talk about rejection, because they understand that other writers need to hear their stories.
Rejection is still a subject of secret shame for many writers, especially those who have not yet been published. When they see that everyone, even people like Arthur Golden and Amy Tan and Wally Lamb have been affected by rejection, they realize it’s just something we all have to go through. I hope my book will give people the courage and conviction to keep writing, no matter what.
Even though I have a published book under my belt, I’m still afraid of rejection. While I was writing The Resilient Writer, my worst nightmare was that the authors in the book would decide they didn’t like it. But now that I’ve heard from a few people who have read it, and I’ve reread it myself several times, I’m less neurotic about that. Now all I have to do is worry about the critics!