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Harker Heights Evening Star
Harker Heights Evening Star

Hearing no

Lynette Sowell

My front porch

For more than 16 years, longer than I’ve been a news writer, I’ve made my way through the fiction writing world. I’ve heard yes a number of times from publishers, editors and agents. But there’s always that “no” that comes down the pike.

The first “no” I heard came in 1999, a one-page typed letter from an acquisitions editor. This came several weeks after she requested the whole 45,000-word manuscript after I’d mailed her a proposal in a big, fat United States Post Office envelope. This was in the old days, before proposals were sent electronically.

I sat down, pulled my “baby” out of the flat envelope (I’d sent return postage, too), held it tenderly (okay, so I’m being dramatic) and bawled. She liked my writing. But it was too similar to what was already “out there,” she said. “Please, send me another proposal in the future.” (I completely missed that part due to my shock and disbelief she didn’t send me a contract along with a big fat advance check.)

I gritted my teeth and went to work again, this time submitting a historical fiction proposal set in Kansas. Again, months rolled by. Then came an email, same publisher. “Good story,” the editor said. “But you really need to edit the soup out of your work.” He then proceeded to name, line after line in the first chapter, all the “errors” and suggested tweaks I should make. It stung. More bawling and commiserating with fellow author friends. And chocolate. Chocolate always helps.

What was wrong with my writing? Worse, what was wrong with them, that they didn’t see the beauty and charm of my story? Sure, I could be edited. I sucked it up, and kept writing. More rejections. I entered contests, placed in some, won one, and received some good feedback. Again, more proposal nos came in. I finally got an agent.

Again, the nos came. After a while, it was hard not to take it personally. Again, editing staff changed and the new editor, one I’d met in person at a conference, seemed to take “forever.”

Finally, in the spring of 2005, I decided to put in one more proposal, this time for an anthology co-written with a trio of author friends. They were all published, and I was the newbie in the group. I’d put in other proposals for historical novellas, and they were still sitting in that editor’s great inbox in the sky.

Out of frustration, I decided if this didn’t happen, I was going to give it up. Clearly, I was wasting my time. Maybe I could use my writing skills and passion in another way, but I didn’t see how. I was tired. Then in May 2005, I received notice that the publisher wanted to put our book on the schedule for summer 2006. I emailed my author friend, “Does this mean what I think it does? Does she want to buy it?” She did!

One thing I’ve learned, although I still have received some nos in the past 10 years, that hearing a no is truly nothing personal. I was taking a business transaction and deeply personalizing it. How often do we do that? We hear a “no” from someone and it upends our day. Most of the time those nos aren’t personal slights, whether it’s dealing with a company, a boss, or what have you. Someone’s just doing their job and it’s not about us.

That doesn’t make hearing no any easier, but it does help a little. That, and some chocolate. Always, chocolate.

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