No Soup for You

I can see Richard Wagner standing at the gates of heaven. “You have to let me in,” he says. “I wrote Parsifal. It has to do with the Grail, Christ, suffering, pity and healing. Right?” And they answer, “Well, we read it and it makes no sense.” SLAM.

―Philip K. Dick, VALIS, 1981

When I was a kid, a librarian told me 27 publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street before it got snapped up.

Well, I’d already won Honorable Mention for the second grade category in the tri-county creative writing contest. I had nothing to learn from such tales of dogged determination.

Nevertheless, over the years, I started accreting a list:

So, some perspective on my predicament: I’m at 15 rejections so far for my YA novel, Healing Star. Twenty-five if you count a former incarnation. I was thinking I should wait for about 10 more before I reevaluate my career choice and/or leap from the New Yorker Hotel.

But Writer’s Digest guru Chuck Sambuchino says don’t give up till you’ve gotten at least 80-agent rejections to queries. So I shouldn’t be gruesomely depressed yet?

How lovely it would have been if my brilliance blinded one of those early agents, who had to knock over toddlers on the way to signing me.

I must take comfort in the grotesque missteps of agents and publishers past. The guy who told Stephen King that dystopian science fiction doesn’t sell. The guy who told Orwell that animal stories don’t sell. The guy who wrote to Melville, “First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale?” Moby Kiwi?

And most famously, the savage editor who rejected Lolita, writing to my hero, Nabokov, “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”

When I read about these face-palm-inducing rejections of authors who have since come to define the literary landscape, I know that I can remain open to thoughtful advice and criticism – of which I’ve received heaps, than, God – without giving up or losing heart from hearing “No” so often.

Although, come to think of it, now I’m worried about why my writing doesn’t elicit such strong NEGATIVE feelings, either! Fuck. I’d better get back to work. As Samuel Beckett says, “Fail again. Fail better.”

Welcome to the pit of feces that is publishing.


i The additional notes in the 50th anniversary edition of C22 tell us this about the number’s origin

number’s origin
number’s origin
: It was invented by Bob Gottlieb, the book’s editor at Simon & Schuster, who feared Heller’s original title, Catch-18, would get lost alongside the publicity for Leon Uris’s Mila 18. But why 22? Though many sources claim the book was rejected 21 times, according to Heller, the manuscript was never rejected: https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/02/15/home/heller-loony.html.

ii Though, having sold his first book at 25, that math staggers the mind. Many sources relate 7,000 rejections.