Though I conduct almost all of my communication with other human beings via email these days, there was a time when this was not so. Other than actually meeting and speaking to them, people used to send me mail. Things that came in envelopes. Very little matched the anticipation of that walk to the mailbox, and it still lingers to this day, even though all I usually get are credit card offers.
When I was first starting out as a writer, the mailbox is where everything valuable happened, because this is where I would discover whether my latest offering was accepted or — much, much, much more likely — rejected.
Recently I discovered a box where I collected those sad slips I so often received: over a hundred of ’em, I guess. They keep coming, of course, but now, as an established writer, one isn’t rejected; instead, the kind editor passes. “I’m going to give this one a pass,” he might say, and it’s always via email . . .
So, for those who don’t know, here’s what a normal rejection slip looks like:
Not much to it. Not a word written on it by a human hand. It means they hated it, that the story had no value to them, and, for a day or so, I questioned my reasons for writing at all.
Luckily, that feeling passes.
Some are amusing:I wonder if they ever checked that next-to-last box . . . at least they didn’t for me.
And here is something wonderful, a real collector’s item: my first-ever (the first of, oh, I don’t know: twenty-five?) rejection from The New Yorker. Daniel Menaker was my editor there, by which I mean the editor who always rejected me. He was always so nice about it, nicer than he had to be, because my early stories were almost unreadable. And yet I sent them anyway. His personal note at the bottom of the page I have more or less written on countless student stories myself.
But most of them, alas, were form letters. And yet even some of them were wonderful. Here’s the best form letter I ever got. From the wonderful Gordon Lish.
It’s never easy to go to the mailbox and find a note from someone who doesn’t like your work. But the day you open up that little draw-bridge and find a real note there, from a real person, who says something really, really nice (i.e., We’d like to publish your story) it makes all those long, dark trips to the end of the driveway seem worthwhile. And it’s good exercise to boot.