Today’s Inspirational Message Comes from Kathryn Stockett

Yesterday, I received my third rejection email on a manuscript. Actually, this project has had much more than just three rejections, but this was the third rejection on this draft. A draft I thought would be the final draft. However, the rejections were “good rejections,” in that they actually contained great feedback. I guess I’ll be working on at least one more version.

I didn’t feel like incorporate any of those edits yesterday though. I felt like throwing the stupid stack of pages across the room, hopefully hearing a satisfying thud as they hit the wall and fluttered all over the room. Before I lobbed the thing through the air, I opened one more message in my inbox. A non-writer friend had forwarded me a link to an article she thought I’d find inspirational.

I’m a sucker for inspirational quotes, photos, stories, and whatever. My friends forward a ton of them to me, bless their hearts. This one was an essay by the author of The Help and exactly what I needed for a little cheering up yesterday.

You should read the whole article Ms. Stocket wrote for More. It’s worth it. But for the CliffsNotes version, here are  some passages that gives you the gist of her story:

It took me a year and a half to write my earliest version of The Help….Six weeks later, I received a rejection letter from the agent, stating, “Story did not sustain my interest.” I was thrilled! I called my friends and told them I’d gotten my first rejection!

…I opened my 40th rejection: “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” That one finally made me cry….After rejection number 40, I started lying to my friends about what I did on the weekends. They were amazed by how many times a person could repaint her apartment.

By rejection number 45, I was truly neurotic. It was all I could think about—revising the book, making it better, getting an agent, getting it published. I insisted on rewriting the last chapter an hour before I was due at the hospital to give birth to my daughter….the nurse looked at me like I wasn’t human and said in a New Jersey accent, “Put the book down, you nut job—you’re crowning.”

After my daughter was born, I began sneaking off to hotels on the weekends to get in a few hours of writing. I’m off to the Poconos! Off on a girls’ weekend! I’d say. Meanwhile, I’d be at the Comfort Inn around the corner.

In the end, I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books.

The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good.

The Help is now a major movie with Emma Stone in the leading role. I might go see it, in between waiting for rejections, revising my pages, and sending the manuscript out again.

34 Comments

  • tanya.debuff says:

    I didn’t know it was a book. I wanted to see the movie, but now I have to read the book first. I haven’t had much experience sending things out as of yet, but I feel like this prepares me a bit for the oncoming onslaught of rejections I’m sure to receive before someone recognizes my subtle genius. :)

  • Monet says:

    To be fair, I admire Ms. Stockett for her perserverance, as to the writing in the book, I was not impressed, mainly because the subject matter recquires a certain amount of deftness that her writing style lacks. But to be fair, it was a bold move for a thirty-something white Jewish woman to tackle a subject so far removed from her own life and one that as far as I can tell has never been told by someone of with her characteristics.

    • That is very diplomatic and very honest Monet. I haven’t read the book, but also admired her tackling a subject that many people would say she’s not qualified to write about. I have this story in my head about a main character who is very southern, as is the setting. Even after living in Texas for five years, the thing stopping me from writing it is that I’m not from the south originally.

  • Roxane says:

    There’s a reason why that book was rejected sixty times.

  • Melissa says:

    I’d sort of been hoping someone would write a review of this book for Bark and summarize all of the hoopla surrounding it. I hadn’t heard of it until the movie had been made and the cover featured the film actresses on that horrible yellow and purple and Comic Sans-ish nightmare that made me avoid it in Powell’s as if it would give me gonorrhea. (Side question: was the original cover the same colors? Amazon makes me think it was. With birds on it instead of actresses. Put a bird on it. Good. Three birds? Even better.) Snottiness aside, I think Asa’s takeaway from the author interview is valid- we all have to figure out our own ways of dealing with rejection and persevering- but it sounds like this book has some serious problems. I still haven’t read it, but here’s a take on it via the Algonquin blog a few days ago (pretend the article wasn’t originally published in EW). I’m looking forward to reading Roxane’s essay, too. http://www.algonquinbooksblog.com/blog/the-truth-about-the-civil-rights-era-martha-southgate-on-the-help/

    • Monet says:

      Melissa – I thought about it bringing The Help to Bark. Even wrote a few notes and after several attempts recognized that I couldn’t be unbiased or even literary about it. Maybe someone else can.

      • Melissa says:

        A few notes is way better than my plan of silently wishing someone else would write a review while making no effort whatsoever to read the book/write the review myself. Maybe someone could just do what Sam calls a link-dump post, linking to some of the various reviews of the book. Or maybe I could just, you know, seek them out myself like a functional human being.

      • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

        I’d like to hear what you think, Monet, even if it’s unbiased — especially if it’s unbiased.

      • Monet, I think a review has great merit even if it is not literary or unbiased. Especially if the reviewer admits that upfront or make it clear in the review. Please do post your review.

        • Monet says:

          Asa – it’s in the works…I’m even calling in some sources (i.e. my mother and grandmother)so it should be interesting.

          • Cool! Now I really have to read the book/see the movie so I understand the context of your review. Or, maybe I’ll do it after reading your review to have a better context of the movie.

  • Shira Richman says:

    I haven’t read this book, nor have I seen the movie. So with all the baggage aside about whether or not the 61st response should have been a rejection, I admit I find this anecdote inspiring. I know that there are those voices (in our heads and out) that tell us when writing is rejected 23, 45, 67 times that there is a good reason for it. But I’m dogged and stubborn and will probably keep on sending.

  • Amaris Amaris says:

    Jim Hanas called this “Rejection Porn” on his Google + blog (Plus Ça Change) this morning, a lottery narrative (if I just keep sending out this manuscript, someone will publish my book) that writers have bought into and end up promoting. He says, “But there’s something even more troubling to me about the lottery narrative, and that’s the helplessness that it implies. I don’t think I’ve ever met a group of people who feel less in control of their careers and destinies than writers–particularly the writers of books.”

    • I like the phrase “Rejection Porn” and I hope people keep on writing it because it will keep me inspired. I don’t think that Ms. Stockett’s quest for an agent really falls in Hanas’ description though. She was looking for someone to represent her and help he make the book publishable–and she kept revising the book. She wasn’t just blindly sending the same draft into publisher after publisher.

      I’ve met plenty of writers who refuse to revise because they know their manuscript is perfect, no matter what publishing professionals tell them. I think that attitude falls more into the “lottery narrative.”

  • Seth Marlin says:

    Damned right. Thanks for sharing this, Asa.

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