Not Falling in Love With the Writing
Recently I was upended by a twit of an editor at Soho Press, not the person to whom I’d submitted my work – must have been handed off to an underling. “I didn’t fall in love w/ the writing,” he penned back on the otherwise proforma rejection note, and signed a name I couldn’t decipher. Like most writers, I’m prepared to be rejected, over and over; slings and arrows from editors, agents and publishers do even less damage now that I’ve learned how to self-publish.
But this one I couldn’t let go, so I fired back:
“I think you should know how this kind of flippant comment affects its recipient. I know you receive volumes of manuscripts. I realize my work may not be the best fit for what you publish and make money on. I know these are hard times for fiction writers in general. But after spending two years on this novel, and after researching and determining that Soho Press may be interested, hearing that my writing does not thrill you, with absolutely no details on why, makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong – but of course I have no way of knowing what you meant. I’m going through my manuscript, examining different pages and thinking, does this part suck? It’s demoralizing, frustrating and sad. If you are going to say something like ‘I didn’t fall in love with the writing,’ I think you really should offer a few constructive suggestions. Otherwise just say it’s not right for us, leaving my good mood and a reasonable level of confidence intact.”
The editor emailed me back:
“Honestly, I admired it, which is why I wrote a note on the turndown, which 95% of the time I don’t.” (note: this is what writers call a “good” rejection)
He went on to tell me I was a good writer and then proceeded to make this sound like an insult:
“but in the end VoM (his shorthand for the title) didn’t build, sentence by sentence, in a powerful enough fashion.”
So being a good writer is not nearly enough – that’s my take-away from our email exchange. Really, I appreciated his follow-up comments and told him so, but now I’m struggling to fall in love with my own writing all over again. I can’t stop reading my manuscript as though I were someone else (the Soho editor, editors and publishers at large, the reading public), and wondering how this insight will help me finish my book.
It’s always where I got stuck as a filmmaker. I am my audience, I remember saying out of one side of my mouth, but the other side was busy pleading for public and critical acclaim. The “independent” filmmaker wasn’t supposed to care about fame, fortune and glory, but at some point an audience of one is not enough of a reason to keep going. I used to go around “presenting” my films to audiences, which gave me a chance to explain whatever wasn’t clear. Even more useful were the times when audience members explained my films to me.
I was a good filmmaker. Now I’m a good writer. Discouraged but still writing, wondering if I’ll get better than good some day.
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