Feels so good when I stop.

September 6, 2008

There are three guaranteed ways to be rejected: 1) Have anything — and by that, I mean ANYTHING — to do with the opposite sex; 2) apply for a job; 3) think for one minute that you’re going to be a published writer.

No. 1 doesn’t apply to me much anymore. Well, not since Viking Woman pointed to a glass jar and made snipping motions with her fingers. And it looks like I will be working full-time with Bodyforme by mid-October, so No. 2 can also be crossed off my personal list of Tortures I Have Endured.

Which leaves that whole “getting published” bugaboo.

Yes, that is my book’s cover illustrating this post but, let’s be honest here, I knew going in that PublishAmerica was little more than an RCH* above vanity publishing. No, it didn’t cost me anything to be published but neither did my book appear anywhere but in cardboard boxes after I ordered copies to sell to friends and family.

Which mean the mainstream reading audience remains ignorant of my wondrous skills, not to mention my modest personality.

Because PublishAmerica will print your grocery list if you wait long enough, it at least did not rip away bloody chunks of my soul by way of rejection letters as so many others have. Like everyone audacious enough to think themselves worthy of groveling before the altar of The Publishing World, I have received my fair share of rejection letters. One fellow even saved himself the effort of turning on his dot-matrix printer by simply hand-writing “No” across my cover letter. But, hey, at least I received a “personal response.”

So how do you get past the rejection stage? How do you deliver a book to the waiting world like a proud parent holding high its progeny, the umbilical cord still spewing gore from between clenched teeth?

Asking a published writer that question is akin to asking a lottery winner the secret to their accomplishment. The answer, after much furrowing of brow, can be summed up thusly: “I bought a ticket/I typed 90,000 words.”

After that, my dear, deluded friends, it is simply a matter of luck. And timing. And karma. And a million other factors over which we have no more control than we do over those numbered balls turning in that plastic barrel.

Bad people win lotteries. Bad writers have their books published. There is no rhyme, no reason, no logic. No oracle consulted. No virgin sacrificed.

Talent? I laugh. I scorn. If talent was a factor, then none of us would have hurled what was, essentially, a paperbound turd against the wall in frustration.

So why do those of us with one finger and a keyboard still attempt the impossible, even with the odds stacked so horribly against us? Why do people buy lottery tickets when they have a better chance of being struck by lightning while being hit by a meteor as they’re being devoured by a shark?

Because, each week, someone is published. Because, each week, someone wins the Big One.

And because trying to be published is like banging your head against the wall: It feels so good when you stop.

***

This is going to sound like sour grapes and I don’t care.

My entry in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper’s short story contest didn’t win.

Fair enough. Sometimes just making an attempt is its own reward. As Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take. (The flip side, therefore, is that you also don’t score with every shot you do take).

But then I read the top three winning entries and my first thought is: “These effing suck.”

They were all three dense with words, as if the writers’ goal was to bump right up against the maximum allowable total and the heck with any of them actually making sense. One writer decided the F-word would add more drama to their story (it didn’t) even though we all knew the winners would be published in the local paper (the fact that a “family” newspaper actually printed the fuck-word was more interesting than the story.)

One entry had an ending as high-schoolishly predictable as the “the narrator is actually dead” cliche, and one even I saw coming from several miles away.

My entry was not the best thing I’ve ever produced — I’ll be the first one to admit it — but at least it was entertaining. To be beaten out by these three was an insult. It also reinforced a Universal Rule of Publishing. The one that says it’s all about personal opinion. And on this day, the judge’s personal opinion was that my story was cock. Again, fair enough. Because every day since, I’ve decided that the judge is cock as well.

Nice attitude, I know (no, we are NOT all 12 here), but maybe that’s why we keep writing when all indications are that the effort is really only a massive, heart-breaking waste of time. So when we do win the lottery/publish a book, we can flip the bird at all the doubters.

In fact, I’m practising doing that right now.

*RCH = Red (rhymes with hunt) Hair: a unit of measurement equivalent to “awful darn close” or “missed by the slimmest of margins.” Frequently used by surveyors but not recommended for snipers.

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