Wednesday, February 2, 2011

They're Just Not That Into It

"I just didn't fall in love with it."

So ran the bottom line of a recent rejection of a novel my agent is shopping around. I cringed: I was suddenly inundated with extremely unpleasant memories of the last time an agent sent out a novel of mine--when, as I recalled, this was the standard rejection line,usually preceded (as this one was) with a few moderately flattering comments about my manuscript.

As it turned out, when I looked back at those rejections (yes, I saved them all--don't ask my why), only one or two of them actually used the "didn't fall in love with it" line. But for some reason, that was the line that had stuck in my mind, irritating as a festering splinter.

Why? It would seem that rejections that pick apart the specifics of your characters, your plot, your writing would be much harder to take. But for me, at least, they're not.

Rejections, of course, are never fun, but anyone who wants to make it as a writer has to get used to them (unless you're one of the anointed few who have a smooth and rapid ascent to success, in which case all you have to deal with is the jealousy and resentment of the vast majority of your fellow writers). And I think I've developed a relatively tough skin over the years. But hearing "I just didn't fall in love with it" remains pretty devastating.

Maybe it's because the line is so vague and global that it's hard to separate the rejection of one's writing from the rejection of oneself, something all aspiring writers need to learn to do. What it puts me in mind of, really, is high school, when it seemed that any guy who I was in love with "just didn't fall in love" with me. Meanwhile, of course, the guys who WERE calling me weren't the ones I had any interest in going out with. They were the equivalent, I guess, of those pop-up ads that seem to magically appear on any email I send or receive that has the word "publish" or "book" in it: "Publish your book now! Low rates!" Yeah, the self-publishing companies are all in love with me. They're just not the ones I want.

And of course, the objects of MY affection are going all googly-eyed over others whose charms I fail to see. Yeah, maybe they're more sensational, more provocative. But, I want to cry out, can't you recognize my substance, my depths? Then the bargaining begins, at least in my head: okay, listen, I can give you what you want. I can goose up my plot. Or is it sex--is that it? Okay, I can put more sex in. I'll feel cheap, but I'll do it. I'll do anything!

Of course, the problem with these rejections is that they never tell you exactly what you need to do to win acceptance. And maybe, in fact, there's NOTHING you can do. Maybe they're just not that into you. Oh, yes, they'll say things like, "It's probably just me--I'm sure some other editor out there will love this." But you can tell they're just saying that to make you feel better.

As with other things one has no control over--like snagging a date with the cool guy who doesn't know you exist--the best strategy is simply to move on, if you can. And I've found the best way, maybe the only way, for me to move on is to focus my attention and energy on another writing project.

Because, really, waiting around for someone to fall in love with you, or with your novel, is simply no way to go through life.

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