Matters of Discretion, or, One Way Writing is Like Dating

Along with my IRL friends, my kids’ friends, and my enormous family, I’m accumulating a growing number of writers on my social network feeds. I like it a lot. One of the newest additions to my Facebook friends list is American novelist Sarah Dunster. I’ve met her only once, but through her online voice I’ve grown to admire the heck out of her as a human being.

She’s currently pitching manuscripts to major literary agencies. I learned about it through her fascinating practice of reporting the responses she’s been getting to her queries. It only takes one positive response – one agent willing to take on a book project – to end the pitching process. Sarah hasn’t received that one response yet so the replies she’s been reporting have been what dour folks like me would call rejection letters.

That’s not what Sarah calls them — at least, not all of them. She seems to prefer the term “polite letters.” She announces them and will sometimes share excerpts of them – anything positive or personalized. Perhaps it’s a way of celebrating warmth, encouragement, and humanity in a process that usually ends in dismissive dead silence. It’s one of the loveliest, most surprising acts of making lemonade out of lemons I’ve seen in a working writer.

When a “polite letter” arrives at my house, I log it, shred or delete it, don’t mention it to anyone but my husband, and only after I refuse to cook and insist he go out to dinner with me.

Maybe I lack the sweetness to make lemonade. I, the girl who, thanks to my parents, went to eleven different schools before I graduated, learned to cope with disappointment by moving on, starting over. When it comes to something like a book proposal, there’s nothing wrong with that strategy. The sooner a rejection is obliterated, the better for me and everyone around me. Get on with it!

I’m convinced both Sarah’s way and my way are fine approaches to rejection. As long as we go on writing and improving our writing, it doesn’t matter how we handle setbacks. Into the shredder or onto Facebook – either one is fine. Looking for the bright side or the blank slate — there’s no wrong choice.

Sarah’s sharing of her rejections on a social network is, by definition, social. My choice to not share mine isn’t meant to be social – but it is.

When an acceptance letter, an award nomination, a good review, or any helpful press coverage comes my way, I tell everyone. I hit Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and this blog to let everybody know my good news. And then I refuse to cook and insist we go out for dinner.

Sarah shares her good news too. It’s on her Facebook feed right along with her “polite” letters. Every writer does this. It’s 2015. The world is chock-full of books and if writers won’t talk about our own work, no one else will.

It’s especially true for writers working with small presses with constrained marketing resources. There are publishing companies (not mine, thank goodness) that require authors to prepare “marketing plans” and submit them along with manuscripts when there’s still no publishing agreement in sight.

My small publisher makes a little go a long way. Thanks to their efforts, I had good publicity for my novel’s debut. Still, my personal contributions of time and online platform-space were indispensable in promoting the book. That’s how this industry works. We may cloak it in humblebrags and earnestly sheepish modesty but writers cannot opt out of our own buzz and expect it to continue.

Buzzing really bugs some people. And not everyone caught in my social network puts up with me by choice. Many are connected to me by birth or other kinds of social superglue. They’d have a hard time tuning out my book promotion racket if they found it annoying. I know it. I’m sorry. And if I want to keep working in this field, I have to subject them to it anyway.

This is where not sharing my rejection becomes social after all. If I was more like Sarah — reporting setbacks with frank optimism, not fishing for compliments — maybe my good news would be easier for onlookers to stomach when it finally comes along. Talking about it would seem more balanced, less like a double standard. I wouldn’t be a humblebragger. I’d be simply humbled. Maybe it’s selfish — even dishonest — of me to advance only good news.

Here’s some honesty. I’m not yet emotionally equipped to post my rejections. I probably never will be. While doing so may be useful for writers like Sarah, and satisfying for a few fed-up readers, it has no value for me. It hurts. I won’t do it.

It’d be like publicly posting something about asking someone to love me and having them turn me down. Marketing writing is actually a lot like dating. Some people want to chronicle every detail of the chase, every high and low; some don’t. In my dating days I was never one to announce I liked a guy until he’d already made a very clear first move. It’s not that I never pined for anyone. It’s just that I didn’t talk about it. That’s how I write too – never announcing my submissions until a successful deal is struck. Neither approach to dating or to writing makes anyone selfish or bad. It’s a matter of discretion, not a character flaw.

I’ll always have more to lose, more to suffer, in flaunting my failures than anyone will have to gain in inspecting them. I still just need to move on. This is a tough business. Trust me: I do get bad news, plenty of it. In lieu of public rejection letters, let’s let this post stand as the official, general acknowledgement of all my bad news, past, present, and in perpetuity. It will remain here for easy reference any time my good news feed gets insufferable.

3 thoughts on “Matters of Discretion, or, One Way Writing is Like Dating

  1. I think her spin is an attempt to ‘be real’ in a world where we are all photoshopped – pictures and status updates alike. No one likes to put themselves out there and have someone say…. No thanks. Still, if you believe what you are offering is good stuff who the hell cares what they think?! I was raised that if you don’t think I’m awesome you must be an idiot so why would I care what an idiot thinks of me? Perhaps that’s extreme but writing is about making money…yet I don’t believe the value to you or others can be easily quantified. Yet that’s what they try to do…..not so easy. Embrace the lows, savour the highs – share with others… Losing bonds us more than winning anyway. Either way, you get to go out for supper! Nice.

  2. I’m like you. I don’t talk about my rejections. But I sure do like what your writer friend does. I’m going to ponder. Maybe that’s a really healthy way of doing it, and then you’re right, people are pulling for her to get success and won’t be annoyed at it, or the constant self-advertisement that writers must do.

  3. Wow 🙂 I feel a bit taken aback in the face of praise like this. To be honest, it may be, for me, more about need. I think I use social media as a form of social support. It helps me to be vulnerable & then have responses that show me that yes, this really is ok. I don’t know if that makes sense. But there are some things I could never share on social media….things I feel too embarrassed about, that you likely would share. For instance, the post about being in class then being sent out to find glasses for your son. You can laugh about that, while I probably would have more like shriveled up and died…and I admired you for being able to laugh and share about the situation. (I’m not a creepy stalker at all either). 🙂 I wonder if it comes down to what we find to be vulnerable. For me, rejections right now are a celebration….it means I am submitting to agents, attempting to find a publisher outside the realm of LDS, doing the thing I have been too scared to do for a long time. I’m so glad I am finally trying to make a go of it. And honestly, the fact you admit here that you get rejections gives me hope, because I kn ok w the caliber of your writing. I like being your writing friend, btw.

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