Monday, August 2, 2010

Write a Rejection Letter for Your Favorite Classic Book

I’ve been pondering this week’s topic. Pondering and pondering and pondering. I leave in a few days for a writers’ conference, and this blog post is scheduled for the day after I return home. Which means I’d better come up with something to write pretty darned fast. The trouble is, I don’t know that I have a favorite classic book. There are many classics I’ve enjoyed, but choosing one as a favorite is like deciding on a favorite ice cream flavor. Sometimes I’m in the mood for Cherry Garcia and sometimes nothing will do but French vanilla. (Good thing I don’t buy my ice cream at Baskin-Robbins. They’re planning to retire French vanilla!)

Anyway, back to classics and rejection letters. I could tell Margaret Mitchell that Ashley Wilkes needs to grow a pair. What woman in her right mind would fall for such a wimp? And that Scarlett O’Hara? Jeez! Talk about a spoiled brat. Besides, who really believes any woman ever had a 17” waist? Even when I wore a size 2 (many, many eons ago and well before children,) my waist was a good deal larger than 17”!

However, rather than write a rejection letter to Margaret, who will never read it because she died a long time ago, I thought I’d relate a story I came across when I was growing my own collection of rejection letters.

Jerzy Kosinski won the National Book Award in 1969 for Steps. Between 1995 and 1977, a freelance writer by the name of Chuck Ross decided to test a theory. He set out to prove that novels by unpublished authors have little chance of ever getting published. He retyped Steps under the pseudonym Erik Demos and sent it off to more than two dozen editors and literary agents. All of them rejected the manuscript, including an editor at Random House, the original publisher of Steps, who not only didn’t recognize the book as their own but sent a form rejection letter.

So what’s the moral here? Some people wouldn’t know a good book if it fell into their laps? No. As in other things in life, timing is everything. No matter how good a book, it has to land on the right editor’s desk at the right time. Luckily for both Margaret Mitchell and Jerzy Kosinski, both of their books did.

Lois Winston is currently hard at work on the second book in her Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, will be a January 2011 release from Midnight Ink. Meanwhile, Anastasia is blogging at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, and you can visit Lois at her newly redesigned website:


Meredith Cole said...

What a great story, Lois! I wonder if any of the people who read the submission actually read the original book. Or if it felt vaguely to them as if it had already been "done" before.

It is hard for unpublished writers to break in -- and you're right, timing is important.

Gabi said...

I heard that story, too, Lois. It does make me remember that 'no' today can become 'heck, yeah' through patience and persistence -- or just plain pigheadedness. Enjoy your conference.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Meredith. Not bad for cheating the topic, huh?

Gabi, you're so right about how 'no' today can become 'heck, yeah' at some point in the future. I'm living proof of that. It's like those much quoted lines from Galaxy Quest, "Never give up! Never surrender!"

Terry Stonecrop said...

Good story!

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Terry!

Shane Gericke said...

Yep, never give up. Ever. The difference between published and unpublished is, sometimes, how many times and ways you ask.