Guest Post: Handling Rejection

A treat awaits you below: a Guest Post by Victoria Mixon on “Handling Rejection.” Although Victoria usually blogs for writers of fiction, her unique perspective on how she handles rejection offers wisdom that we non-fiction writers can tap into as well.

Victoria Mixon is a professional writer and editor, working in fiction, nonfiction, technical documentation, and poetry for over thirty years. She co-authored the nonfiction Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators, published by Prentice Hall in 1996, for which she was listed in the Who’s Who of American Women. She now freelances as a fiction editor and has edited such authors as Booksense 76 Selection Sasha Troyan (Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island) and Pulitzer-Prize nominee Lucia Orth (Baby Jesus Pawn Shop). Victoria can be reached at: http://victoriamixon.com.
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“I must say that my rejection slips, if they fell out of the envelopes
at a rate of more than two in one day, depressed me greatly.”
— Muriel Spark, “Emerging From Under Your Rejection Slips”

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HANDLING REJECTIONS
by Victoria Mixon

One time I lost eight pounds over a weekend from shock when my boyfriend broke up with me (no, it wasn’t you, Aaron). As a weight-loss plan, I don’t recommend it.

I only mention this because I got a rejection letter yesterday. And you know what? I haven’t lost an ounce.

There’s a trick to handling rejection letters: stay in motion. Writers
are like the plastic ducks in the shooting gallery at the carnival.

Don’t be a sitting duck.

Granted, this was a particularly encouraging rejection letter. You’ll
get them too. The editor thanks you “so much” for giving them a chance to read your story, says “a lot of good writing crosses our desks that we don’t have the right spot for,” and asks you to continue submitting.

You would do well to get up the next morning and print out another story to send off to them, along with a freshly-edited copy of the first story to send to someone else.

Stay in motion.

This is the publishing writer’s mantra.

I like to launch into a bout of submissions with three to five stories.
I fire them off one at a time to three to five magazines, mark down what I sent to whom (this is important), and get right to work on new writing.

In a few weeks, when I hear back, I do another editing pass on the
stories that haven’t sold yet, rotate them around the list, and fire
them off again. And again. And again. And again. Five stories times five magazines is twenty-five submissions. Any time I have another five stories ready to go down the pipeline, I select another five magazines and start the cycle on them, too.

You know what’s very cool about this system? It eliminates multiple
submissions.

Now, some writers like multiple submissions. Some can’t do without them. Some worry obsessively that they’ll grow old and wind up shuffling around in walkers, gumming their floppy lips, before they ever get published if they do only exclusive submissions.

Lots of magazines understand this and accept multiple submissions
without a whimper. All they ask is that you notify them immediately if the story is accepted elsewhere.

‘Immediately’ is a word writers who submit multiple submissions should have tattooed on their foreheads. If that’s you, take a moment and go in the bathroom and do it right now.

But I don’t need that tattoo, because I don’t have that kind of
organizational pizzazz, the kind that allows you to keep track of not one but several submissions of the same story to a variety of magazines, along with the outcomes of those various submissions. I would like to say I do. But I don’t. You know how a fuse looks in a movie right after it’s been lit, and it’s popping and fizzing and getting brighter and quicker every second while you watch in frozen horror as it inches toward the heroine and hero? That’s my brain on multiple submissions.

So I keep moving.

And writing. Did I forget to mention that part? One story does not a
writer make. I love my early stories — I would like to have them carved on my headstone after I’m gone — and that’s the only way they’re ever going to get published. Not because they’re not full of witty asides and brilliant insights and heart-breaking characterizations. But because they’re not professional enough. I edited and edited and edited, and all my favorite parts, the unprofessional parts, are still in there. Too bad about that.

(I don’t have that problem with your manuscripts because those
unprofessional parts aren’t my favorites, they’re yours, and I have great tact and compassion that I employ in helping you face removing them — I generally call it “saving them for something even better”.)

But the more stories I wrote, the better the stories became, and these later ones are the ones editors wanted to see. So I kept writing. And the stories kept getting more professional. And I kept sending them out.

And they started getting accepted.

It’s kind of nice for the obsessive-compulsive section of my brain, the section that would like to spend a few days sorting pretty colored beads into egg cartons. One section of my brain finds that kind of mindless drudgery intensely soothing.

This might all sound like a lot of work to someone who just wants to write that break-out novel and start collecting infusions of bidding-war advances in large, unwieldy chunks, preferably by direct deposit. It is a lot of work. It’s an insane amount of work. Nobody said writers were geniuses (well, I did, but I only meant Isak Denisen and Emily Bronte). We’re not. We’re obsessive-compulsives who have chosen this particular bone to whittle into toothpicks with our little homemade hunting knives. Get the bit about obsessive compulsion. Get it.

Writing is not punching a clock.

Those of us who publish write because we love it. Most of us were writing long, long before any editor even looked in our direction, much less gave us that gold-plated nod of acceptance. We didn’t write one book and stop. We didn’t lie down and cry, stomp in circles fuming about those stupid agents blocking the doorway to fame and fortune, spend all our waking hours trading poisoned barbs on the subject of editors/agents/other writers we have known (okay, maybe a little of that). We wrote. We wrote. We wrote.

And now we also send out, send out, send out. And we rip open envelopes with our own names written in our own handwriting — stamped with our own stamps — and put those reject/accept check marks next to those magazine/story combos on those lists taped to our desks, polish up, and send out again. When we’re not either poring over the lists, or firing off our accumulated deposits to the bank with an authorial flourish, or making quick friendly little trips to the mailbox for more envelopes we addressed to ourselves…we write.

We’re busy little obsessive-compulsives. It’s kind of fun. We keep our ducks in a row.

©2009 by Victoria Mixon

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Three Helpful Tips for Conducting Interviews

Regular readers of this blog know that interviewing is one of my favorite freelance activities. Preparing for the interview is not always fun — researching can sometimes be extremely work-intensive.  But if you are properly prepared, actual interviews can be fun — you meet interesting and important people, you learn first-hand information about intriguing topics, and some interviews allow you access to locales you otherwise may not have enjoyed.

I’ve done countless interviews over my freelancing career and along the way I’ve picked up many interviewing tips, often from other writers. Below are three that I have found very valuable.

1. Paul Friggens, formerly a roving editor for Reader’s Digest, advises writers to spend enough time preparing for the interview. “One very able interviewer I know spends at least three days getting ready for an interview, learning all he can about a person. As the veteran political reporter and Washington columnist Roscoe Drummond says, ‘You can’t get the right answers unless you know the right questions to ask.'”

2. According to Shirley Biagi, author of “How to Write And Sell Magazine Articles,” visual observation sets the scene for your reader. “Your job is to place the reader in your seat, to discover for the reader through your profile what you discover about your subject, therefore seeing—not just looking—is very important.”

She also advises you to pay close attention to the postures of those you interview. “Try to lure a businessperson out from behind the desk to sit in the office chairs, or lead a scientist from the laboratory to the university’s gardens. Any tactic you can use to relax your interviewee will make your interview, and your profile, warmer and more revealing.”

3. In his book, “Stalking The Feature Story,” William Ruehlmann notes: “You don’t learn anything when you’re doing the talking.” His point is well taken — the interview is about the interviewee, not about the writer, so learn to keep comments to yourself. “Half the battle of getting strangers to talk to you is won when you indicate an interest in what they have to say. That’s flattering. How many people asked you for your views today? The rest is a matter of encouraging individuals to keep it up, easily accomplished by judicial nods and responsive grunts.”

My own interviewing tip: Look for two excellent books, “The Craft of Interviewing” by John Brady and “The Writer’s Complete Guide to Conducting Interviews” by Michael Schumacher,  both published by Writer’s Digest Books. They can be found in many bookstores and most public libraries.

© 2009 Laverne Daley

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Fewer or Less? Which Should It Be?

Do you have as much trouble as I do remembering when to use fewer and when to use less in a sentence? Those two little words cause me a lot more bother than they should.

I do know the rule that says generally we should use fewer with countable items (Skim milk has fewer calories than whole milk) and use less with general or quantity amounts (We had less milk left than I thought). But I always have to stop and think before I write or speak either word.

I’m not the only one to have trouble with fewer and less. I’ve noticed that TV anchors, writers of radio and television commercials, and government spokespersons tend to mix them up, too. So I’m in good company.

Today I picked up a tip from Spark Notes that should help me quickly decide when to use fewer and when to use less. Spark Notes posted this easy way to remember, plus some example sentences:

“If you can’t count it, use less.
If you can count it, use fewer.

• Cain has less love in his heart than anyone else I know.

• Cain gives fewer hugs than anyone else I know.

You can’t count love, but you can count hugs.”

Now that I can remember.

© 2009 Laverne Daley

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