Once I signed my book contracts for Dreamweaver Road and Cairo in White this fall, I remember thinking to myself, “Now the rejection part of the process is over!” Dreamweaver Road had been picked up almost immediately after I wrote it, but Cairo in White had been a labor of love for almost five years before the complete overhaul this summer that led to its acceptance (perhaps my next post will involve the dreaded re-write). I’d had more agent rejections over the years than I could keep track of, to the point where I had a whole folder of them; another form rejection was like a crushed up, dirty soda can in a landfill. And, of course, that’s not counting the rejections from poems and stories along the way, which have built up in my Submittable “Declined” folder like the ledger of a failing business. Thank goodness for all of the wonderful literary magazines that did publish my work along the way, or like many writers in the early stages of their careers, I might have given up.
So you can imagine my surprise when, after my first round of asks for blurbs for my two novels, I experienced much the same result. Many writers were too busy with their own writing to spend time on mine; some writers, even professors who were friends with my professors, just never answered. I got several who claimed they couldn’t blurb it because it wasn’t quite the same genre or age or style of what they wrote, advising me to ask my friends at Hopkins (Note: These are friends who are in thesis with me, at work on novels that are obviously not published yet).
What was it Blanche said in A Streetcar Named Desire? “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” I have learned over the past few months that writers I’ve met or known for years may not be kinder with their time than someone a friend has advised me to Facebook message. Someone I expected would be too busy writing beautiful poems in fields may actually be eager to read the work of a budding fiction writer. There is no shortcut to figuring out which connections fall into which categories; unfortunately, like the writing itself, you just have to get rejected.
I am lucky to be blessed with several friends and mentors who, as opposed to those mentioned above, give and give and give. So a note to my future self: be generous with your time. Guide new writers, even if it takes up an hour you would have normally spent staring into that white screen. If you absolutely can’t blurb someone’s book, take the time to give the writer guidance about a better fit. After all, hopefully by then you will have a larger network of amazing friends and colleagues who will consider a recommendation from you important, and will take a chance on someone unknown.
Kelly in October of 2013