Why Would Writers Compete for the Most Rejections?

“I’m up to 60 rejections for my writing so far this year,” I said.

“Oh my God! I couldn’t take it. All that rejection.”

“I know. It’s crazy.”

But true. As my friend Cheryl and I sat on her back deck watching Annie nose around the garden and steer clear of the cat giving her stink eye from a chair by the door, I tried to spin my usual story about how I’m selling a project. Like any product, a lot of people will choose not to buy it, but eventually someone will come along who wants exactly that item. Look how many people pass by the handmade earrings at the Farmer’s Market. The earrings are beautiful, but they’re expensive and they aren’t looking for earrings. They want fresh strawberries. Think of my essays and poems as earrings.

But Cheryl was stuck on 60 rejections in six months.

She didn’t ask how many acceptances I’d had. Three.

That was in July. I haven’t told her that I finished 2021 with 98 rejections and a few more acceptances.

I belong to a group of writers who try every year for at least 100 rejections. In poetry, that means for a group of poems, not for each individual poem. In order to get that many, you need to submit a lot, and that’s the point. If you don’t put your work out there, it will never get published.

Cheryl, who lives in the woods down the road from me, is not a writer. She’s a reader and a fan of my books. My dog loves her because she keeps a big jar of treats in the garage.

When you look at it from her point of view, it does sound awful. Nobody tells the plumber after he’s fixed the sink: “Well, I’ll see if I like it and then maybe I’ll pay you.” No. You hire the plumber. They do the job. You pay them. Like the plumber, we’ve done the work. Time to publish and pay!

But that’s not how it goes.

My father, an electrician, had trouble understanding this too. For him, work was only real if you went to a job site, worked for eight hours, and got paid every Friday. After a few years, you were promoted to foreman and bossed other people around. Eventually you maybe even owned your own company. But this business of sending in writing and getting it rejected? That’s not a job. That’s not work. That’s a waste of time.

My parents were proud of the things I got published, but they didn’t understand the process.

I make every submission believing that this essay, poem, or book manuscript will be accepted, that it is a perfect fit. I study the market, follow the guidelines, and meet the deadline. More often than not, a few weeks or months later, I receive an email saying thanks but no thanks. They wanted strawberries, not earrings. Or they love earrings, but they have too many earrings right now. That does not mean my earrings aren’t lovely.

“How do you stand it?” Cheryl asked.

“Well, I have been doing it a long time.”

So long. Since high school. Since the days of typewriters, since rejection slips arrived by mail, along with your wrinkled, coffee-stained manuscript.

But there have been acceptances, triumphs even. Publishers have said yes to my books, articles, essays, short stories and poems. They have included my writing in their anthologies and nominated it for prizes. Readers thank me and tell me how much my words mean to them. That’s far better than eight hours on a construction site or under a sink.

When an editor says yes, I still shriek so loudly the neighbors probably wonder if I’m all right. In 2022, I have already had three rejections. Why bother? Because when they say yes, it’s better than sex.

Writers understand. Anyone can grow strawberries, but some of us are meant to make earrings.

Brevity blog editor Allison K. Williams recently published a good piece on rejections. Read it here.

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Sit or Stand: How Do You Keep Your Back Happy?

Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Charles Dickens wrote standing up. Virginia Woolf wrote standing up. I can write standing up. Right?

We’ll see.

Convinced that sitting all day at my computer was killing my back, I set out to create a more permanent standing setup than planting my laptop on a rack on top of my sewing machine cabinet in the guest room or occasionally on the kitchen counter. After much measuring, planning, online ordering, and office rearranging, I now have in my official office a standup working arrangement. My desktop computer is an old Windows 7 model with all the brains in a box on the floor. Some of my USB cables were not long enough, so I had to change to a Bluetooth-connected printer (thank you, Pat) and order a wireless keyboard (I had worn off the L and the N anyway). I had to move my clock and my calendars so I could sort of see them, and I’m still figuring out where to put my mug-warmer, so I can sip my tea while I work without spilling it on the keyboard.

All of this rearranging required much standing, bending, lifting and crawling, delightful for my back. If you recall, last week, I was mostly lying down staring at the ceiling or the sky. But I’m doing much better, I was careful, and I’m seeing the chiropractor again today for one more tuneup.  

Standing here, I can look out at my back yard. Sunrise was so beautiful. I can check email and Facebook while on my feet. But I get tired. I wrote this morning’s poem sitting on the loveseat with the dog, and I’m sitting in my new raised “drafting” chair as I type this. But when I feel like it, I’ll stand for a while. I wonder if one thinks differently, if one writes differently standing vs. sitting. Does the body assume a fight or flight stance? What do you think?

I haven’t had a job that required much standing since I worked retail in college. I do remember how great it felt to sit down on my breaks. Since I went into the newspaper biz in my senior year, I have always worked seated. This is a privilege not granted to all workers. Think about all the people who spend all day on their feet: waitresses, cooks, nurses, assembly line workers, bank tellers, hairstylists, teachers, and more. A lot of us don’t even notice that these workers are standing all day, but they are.

It doesn’t take much research to learn that even with supportive shoes, cushioned surfaces, and occasional breaks, standing jobs take a toll on the body. In fact, they’re just as bad for your back as sitting all day. Check out these articles:

Standing All Day at Work May Take Toll on Health, WebMD News from HealthDay

10 jobs that keep you on your feet

Standing All Day for Work? Here’s How to Avoid Pain and Injury

So what do we do? I can testify that sitting all day trashes your back, especially if you’re hunched forward concentrating like I tend to do. You also get “lithographer’s spread” (fat butt) as my late father-in-law used to say. Standing uses more calories, so I’m hoping to lose a few pounds, but I can already tell I’ll only be standing off and on.

Our bodies are made to move. I believe the only logical conclusion is to not stay in any one position too long. So now I’m standing as I write this last bit. Up, down, up, down, keep it moving. I set a timer to both force myself to stay on task and to tell me when to get up and move.

There are people who sit on big rubber balls or run on treadmills while working. Amazon offers what looks like a stool on a rubber mount that keeps moving around. I don’t have the coordination for that, but I applaud their creativity.

How about you? How much time do you sit? Have you worked jobs where you had to stand all day? How did you deal with that? How do you keep your back happy? I look forward to your comments.

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Me and Tom Hanks Selling Our Books

WW authors at Wordstock
Kerry Blaisdell, Jack Estes, John Dover, and Sue Fagalde Lick at the Portland Book Festival      Photo by Gail Pasternack

 

It’s 5 p.m., and the Portland Book Festival is winding down. Where once one couldn’t move for the crowds, now there’s space between the bodies. Formerly known as Wordstock, the festival has once again drawn thousands of book lovers to the Portland Art Museum and surrounding venues. Everywhere you turn, someone is giving a talk, reading from his or her books, offering services for writers, or selling books. People bring their babies and their kids, hoping to turn them into readers. Food carts line up selling tamales, pizza, donuts, and other goodies.

In a world where half the people say they never read books, it’s wonderful to see so many celebrating the written word, even if they wander around in a word-stoned daze, making it hard to move. We stand in line for the readings and talks, for food, for coffee, to buy books, and to use the restroom.

Now, with the festival ending in one hour, it’s getting easier to breathe, but it doesn’t bode well for sales. With several other Willamette Writers authors, I have drawn the last shift for selling and signing my books. My book bag is heavy coming in, but I hope it will be much lighter going out.

We stand behind the table, behind our piles of vastly different books and exercise our best selling techniques. Debby Dodds flashes her technicolor smile and plays her connections with seemingly everyone in Portland to sell her young adult novel, Amish Boys Don’t Call.

Jack Estes, whose wonderful books are about soldiers, shouts out, “Do you know any veterans?” because, well, who doesn’t, and tomorrow is Veterans Day. Sometimes the question backfires. People are like “What? Why?” Plus, people don’t give Veterans Day gifts. Maybe they should.

John Dover, creator of the “jazz noir” Johnny Scotch series, plies his local connections and offers readers a good time with his books and stories. Kerry Blaisdell hands out free calendars to lure people to her urban fantasy novel, Debriefing the Dead.

Me, I pass out postcards with the cover photo from Up Beaver Creek. “Would you like a pretty picture, something to look at and de-stress?” Mostly women accept it. A few turn it over, read my pitch and come back to take a look at the book. Success.

Since our table sits under the Willamette Writers banner, we give out information about the organization, about the various branches, our program for young writers, and our literary magazine the Timberline Review.

But it’s a tired crowd, with going home on their minds. It’s getting dark outside. Their bags of books are already too heavy. Many don’t even glance in our direction. Some dart in to grab the leftover Halloween candy set between the books. And some stop to chat. And chat. And chat. I want to scream, “Move on. You’re blocking my books. I don’t want to carry these damned things home.” Just as I wanted to scream when I was on the other side perusing the booths, “Pass on the right!” and, “If you’re going to stand still, get out of the way.” But I don’t scream any of those things. I smile and offer up pretty pictures.

My photo technique works. I sell a book. The buyer hands me a credit card. It’s the first time I’ve used the credit card app on my phone. Will it really work? It did when I practiced at home, but . . . Look! It works! I hand her my phone. “Finger sign here, please.” How crazy is that? In a minute, I get an email saying $15.00 has been deposited into my account. Magic. Somebody else buy a book. Let’s do it again!

Up until this year, I have not accepted credit cards. Cash or checks only. But that’s old-fashioned. Now we all have our little card readers on our phones. Zip, zoop, sold.

That one sale is it for the night, which is as good as any of us except Debby does, but as John Dover notes, this is not about sales. It’s about shaking hands and making connections. It’s about getting people to take our cards and our swag so that they might go home and order our books or at least remember our names.

It’s also about being with other authors after the solitary process of writing our books. We compare notes. Best and worst selling experiences. Bookstores that treat authors well or treat them badly. Places we might give talks. Favorite flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate squares. (Mine is mint.)

And it’s fun. I think of myself as shy, but I have spent the day talking to strangers, putting myself “out there.” “Hey, you need another book!” I hear myself shouting. I’ve turned into a huckster.

Afterward, walking the six blocks to the parking garage, my bag is no lighter than it was coming in. I couldn’t resist purchasing one more book from a Facebook-only friend I finally met in person. I don’t mind. My feet hurt, but my heart feels good.

It has been a long day, which started with standing in line with approximately 2,000 people for over an hour in 36-degree weather outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to see and hear Tom Hanks talk about Uncommon Type, his new book of short stories. The ticket price included a copy of his book. We grab our books from the thousands piled on tables in the theater lobby and cuddle them like kittens. Tom Hanks does not have to stand behind a table with postcards and chocolate bars trying to get people’s attention. It helps if you’re an Academy Award winning actor.

Tom Hanks’ hour-long talk was fabulous. It was funny, sweet, loving, and wise. I’m in love. We all are. Last night, I dreamed about Tom and his big gray dog walking up my driveway. I greeted them like old friends, casual, not star-struck at all—until my sweet Annie dog turned into Cujo and attacked his dog.

I’m so sorry, Tom. Would you like a pretty picture of Beaver Creek?

***

  • Fun fact: Back in the early 90s, Tom Hanks spent a night camping in an Airstream trailer on my grandfather’s property at Seacliff Beach, California. Or so says my father, who is not impressed with all this book nonsense, but thought it was pretty nifty that I got to see Tom Hanks.
  • The Coast branch of Willamette Writers meets this coming Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Newport Library. Rachel Barton will lead a free poetry workshop. Everyone is invited to join us for lunch at the Chowder Bowl at 11:30 that day where we can chat and fill up on chowder. PM me or email me at coast@willamettewriters.org if you’re coming to lunch so we can save you a seat.
  • I just discovered this is my 500th post! That’s a lot of blogging.

 

Book nerds gather at Wordstock

img_20161105_134332574_hdr1You know all those socially-challenged people who would rather read a book—or write a book—than anything? Well, about 8,000 of them gathered in Portland, Oregon Saturday for the mega-event known as Wordstock. Unlike at the famous rock concert with the similar name, folks at Wordstock were stoned on books instead of drugs. The stage performances were all about words instead of music, and the only naked people were the sculptures at the art museum. Still, it was pretty mind-boggling. Alice Hoffman over here, Sherman Alexie over there, Richard Russo across the street, workshops all day, books to buy everywhere, oh my God.

img_20161105_122427661_hdr1Wordstock’s hub was the Portland Art Museum, but within easy walking distance, other events happened at seven other venues on the South Park blocks, including the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall, the glorious First Congregational United Church of Christ, and the Oregon Historical Society. Red Wordstock signs appeared everywhere. The people I met leaving the parking garage were also going to Wordstock. Of course. Everyone was going to Wordstock. Well, there was that guy yelling in Spanish at a mannequin in a store window. But everybody else.

I was a Wordstock virgin, compelled to go this year not only because I always wanted to but because I’m now co-coordinator of our Willamette Writers chapter in Newport. We had a table at the Wordstock book fair. If I volunteered a couple hours, I could sell my books.

Portland is a long drive from here. Three hours each way if I’m lucky. Much of it was in the dark, and it was raining the whole time. Blinded by the deluge, I prayed my way home and still can’t believe I survived. I also can’t believe the guys in pickups who passed me going 75 mph on Highway 20. God watch over the people in their path.

So, as a newbie, I had a lot to learn about Wordstock. For example:

* Once you pay your $15 (do it in advance online) and get your red wristband, you can attend any of the talks in any of the many buildings. Just walk in. This blows my mind. I thought you needed to pay more for an extra ticket. Nope.

* Get the program online at Literary Arts or in the Willamette Week newspaper and plan ahead. There is way too much to see and do. Picture a massive buffet at which everything looks delicious, but you can only choose one plate-full. Which do you want more, the lobster or the raviolis?

* Don’t open that door to the stage balcony between shows. I decided I wanted to sneak a peek at one of the theaters and got locked in. Locked double doors on each end of a concrete-floored hallway. Luckily there were stairs. Eventually I wound up in an alley. As the doors shut behind me—locked—I gazed at the wrought iron gates that separated me from the street. What if they’re locked, too? I pictured myself gripping the bars like a prisoner and hollering for help. But they opened.

* Expect to get wet. It’s November in Oregon. You will get wet walking between buildings. You will get wet acquiring food from the food carts. You will get wet trying to find a place to eat that food. Wear your raincoat; think about bringing an umbrella. And don’t even think about complaining about the rain.

* It will be crowded. Did I mention there were 8,000 people there? That’s almost the whole population of Newport. Most of these people are too busy gazing at books, authors, their programs or their phones to watch where they’re going. If you try to take an alternate route, a red-shirted volunteer will herd you back into the stampede. Note that many of the attendees are kids, who get in free.

* If you live far away, stay overnight so you can start Wordstocking the minute it opens and stay to the end. None of this sneaking out to beat the traffic and the darkness, neither of which is actually possible.

* You’re in an art museum. Take time to enjoy the art, too. Featured this year was the work of pop artist Andy Warhol, famous for his Campbell’s Soup Cans and prints of famous people. Wild and colorful stuff.

It’s all pretty amazing and a little daunting for this small-town author who skipped her church bazaar to attend Wordstock (which my phone keeps autocorrecting to Woodstock). Of course I spent more money than I made selling books. I thought I was going to die on the road. But will I go next year? As long as Literary Arts keeps putting it on, I plan to be there. Unless it’s snowing. Maybe even then.

Authors, lunch and antiques=heaven

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Authors Valerie Ihsan, Janet Fisher and A Lynn Ash pose among the antiques

An authors’ lunch in an antique store? How strange, but it happened last week at Indulge Antiques in the Gateway Mall in Springfield, Oregon, and it was good. Amid the elegantly set tables, I found authors and book lovers gathered around a long table where books were spread from one end to the other, along with book-related cards and fancy pens. Introductions were made, and we settled in.

The paper menu seemed to list every possible concoction—I went with the sweet turkey wrap—and the dessert tray held more than a dozen cakes and tortes while the waiter described other delicacies that didn’t fit on the tray. Yes, we ate well amid the antique dressers, baskets and Halloween decor.

But it wasn’t all about food. Amanda Bird, proprietor of The Book Nest bookstore, has been hosting lunches with authors for the past two years. The program was on hiatus for a few months while Indulge moved to its new location in the mall, but now she plans for monthly gatherings. The next one is Nov. 17.

It’s casual. You order whatever you want and pay for your own lunch. You sit at the table with the featured authors, eat, chat, ask questions, and learn about their books. You can also buy the books, of course.

This month’s guests were Janet Fisher, who in her books A Place of Her Own and The Shifting Winds writes about Oregon history through the lens of her ancestors who came via the Oregon trail; A. Lynn Ash, whose books The Route from Cultus Lake: A woman’s Path to a Solo Camping Lifestyle, and Vagabonda, tell the stories of her adventures camping alone all over the U.S., and Valerie Ihsan, who wrote about her experiences as a young, pregnant widow in Smell the Blue Sky and has since written a novel titled The Scent of Apple Tea. Wonderful women all, and the casual setting made it possible to not just admire but to become friends.

I love antique stores. I love to wander among the old things and imagine the lives of the people who owned them. In some cases, I don’t have to imagine because I’m old enough to have owned things that are now deemed antiques or collectables. I also love books and authors and lunch.

I may not be able to attend these lunches often. It’s nearly 200 miles round trip, and it was raining so hard on the way there that I felt like I was driving through a river. But I got to try out the new stretch of Highway 20—truly beautiful—and escaped everyday life into a wonderland for writers.

If you are interested in attending an authors’ lunch, follow the Book Nest Facebook page and RSVP if you’re going. The restaurant portion of the Indulge Antiques is open to everyone, but you’ll need a reservation. Visit their web page for details.

I want to figure out how we can do this in Newport. Ideas? Volunteers?

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