Rejection slips, God’s rude angels (Floating the duck, part II)

duck bottom

(Photo borrowed from “Duck of the Day“)

But by this time, I had met a novelist, and he offered to read the first 35 pages of my story for free. He also explained how important those first 35 pages were. He suggested I read the opening 35 pages of my favorite authors to see what they do. So I did. He gave me a few suggestions.

“Begin at your startling point, not your starting point.” I’ve heard him say this so many times, I would say he sounded like a broken record, except no one would understand that metaphor any more. So I reworked my beginning. I took a little of most people’s advice and integrated it into my story.

The next spring, when I sent out the first 35 pages. I got a nice, personal rejection. The note was encouraging, generally, and pointed out a few problems I had made that had put them off. I fixed those and sent it out the next year. I got another personal rejection. As my friend, novelist Ken Rivard, would say, keep on sending it; it’ll get published. His view is that “writing is 99 percent perspiration and one percent inspiration.”

Though he is a friend, I deeply suspected him of being a liar on that last point. I often thought he was giving me some glib advice that didn’t really work. I wondered if he was unwilling to tell me the truth: stop writing and play computer games instead. Though I suspected his advice was fraudulent, I kept sending it out each spring.

The last five or six years I usually got a response where the publisher would ask to see the whole manuscript. I would send them the whole manuscript, and then they’d reject it with a fairly detailed critique. Usually the comments were extremely helpful, and helped me to slowly improve dimensions of my writing each time. Of course, there were always comments that I didn’t understand, or didn’t seem relevant.

The last rejection I got, last spring, was one from a very sharp editor in Ontario. The managing editor read the first 35 pages, and requested the whole manuscript. I sent it off and editor sent me back the first 35 pages marked up with her comments. She rejected the manuscript. Her advice I found hard to take because she wasn’t kind in her delivery. So I couldn’t deal with the comments right up front. I let them sit for several months and then, just before sending it out this Spring, I read them again. Sharp and jagged, her words were, but in them, a wealth of good writing advice. So, I swallowed my pride, and made the changes. Then I began to shop for a place to send my manuscript. Though rude and sometimes uneven, rejections were paving the way for success. These horrible attacks on my person and project were teaching me to write!

About Bill Bunn

Bill’s excited because his first adult novel, Ghost in Theory, is now available everywhere! Bill Bunn is the author of several books, essays, and articles. He is currently writing two pages a day to generate the rough draft of his next novel. Bill Bunn lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Bill teaches English at Mount Royal University.
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