The
Rejection
Slip
Blues

Part I

When I sent out the package to literary agents, I put this at the top of the first page:

A note to those
given the unenviable job of
plowing through
The Daily Slush Pile

In the letter, I laid out the story of my book, A Geezer in Paradise. I said that it "tells of my days and nights in the very lowest reaches of Mexico as a dyed-in-the-wool Geeze." I gave them a run-down of its history, its appearance as gossamer bits and pieces in The Sun, RALPH, and salon. I included a selection of the high points of reviews I had cadged for other works over the years, and included four sample chapters of Geezer.

    I enclose a SASE so you can tell me if you are interested in it [I concluded]. Since I am almost seventy years old, please hurry.

I culled literary agents' names from the bible of the industry, The Literary Market Place. There are over 500 agents in the United States, but I restricted myself to those who said they charged "No reading fee." The 362 who fit this category got my letter, addressed to "The Slush Pile" --- that fecund region, the mythic dark corner in agents' and publishers' offices inhabited by hundreds perhaps hundreds of thousands of unsolicited manuscripts dumped atop ever-growing heaps of other unsolicited manuscripts, filling the desk-tops, spilling over onto the floor, cascading past the doors, stacked up thirty or forty deep in the hallways so that people can barely pass to get to their jobs. So much naked hope these manuscripts represent --- waiting patiently to be read by the newest, youngest, least experienced, and probably most bored of the editorial staff.

§     §     §

My friend Margot knew Philip K. Dick, the sci-fi writer, author of "The Minority Report," "Blade Runner," "Total Recall." She tells me that in a corner of the room above his desk he had glued the many rejection slips he had gotten over the years. She said they covered the better part of two entire walls. He had them right there where he worked, so that he could look up at them, know the chances, remain humble.

After sending off 362 copies of my package, and after two months, I have gotten back, so far, 207 written or printed rejections, 21 e-mail rejections, a few kind regrets, and a very few invitations to send the entire manuscript.

The rejection slips fall into four general classes: the scrawl, the cold no, the warm no --- and the (yay!) "please send more."

The Scrawl is always slashed across the top right-hand corner of the original letter of inquiry. It's usually "No," or "Sorry," or "No thank you," or "Not for us." The Vines Agency uses a 4-point rubber stamp advising me that my manuscript did not meet their needs at this time. Another scrawl snarled, "Not for me & yr mass mailing, FYI, is not an asset." The signature was illegible, so I had no way of responding with a Hate Missive.

Printed letters of rejection range from a brief cold "No" to the two-page warm, friendly, I-would-if-I-could-but-I-simply-can't. The prize for the most picayune of the former goes to Marcia Amsterdam, with a note the size of a calling card, telling me that Geezer "doesn't meet our present needs." Ruth Nathan comes in second with a hand-written, Xeroxed quarter-page "So sorry --- no new clients at this time." Harold Matson gets a third for the same message but first prize for the concluding adverbial twist: "Thanks for thinking of us, nevertheless." Robert Madsen's response, 1 in. by 6 in., also had syntactical difficulties:

    We've reviewed your submission, however, regrettably, it's not deemed appropriate that this agency represent it.

Angela Rinaldi's rejection slip was bordered in funereal black and was the most artful. Peter Rubie wanted to be sure that I would not "take this rejection as a comment on your writing ability because it is not intended to be one;" then he went on to suggest that my writing induced a certain lassitude:

    Alas, I can only properly represent material that excites me or interests me, and unfortunately your material didn't do that.

Trafalgar Books told me they only handled equestrian writing, and Jeanne Fredricks said that she was "not taking fiction." Thanks, Jeanne. Cherry Weiner opined that she had a "very full list" but invited me to meet her at a conference even though she stated, in proper cautionary fashion, "Listening to me lecture is not enough." She attached some syntactical convolutions of her own:

    I really need to have time on a one-on-one with you to have actually asked for your manuscript.

Blanche C. Gregory, despite my sending along a postage-paid return envelope, informed me that she was not the right agent for me, and, moreover, she had "disposed of the material you sent us" without so much as a by-your-leave.

The Balkin Agency had a four-part rejection checklist, which seemed to me to include the entire written repertoire:

    Sorry we don't handle fiction, poetry, drama, children's books, computer books, software, or articles.

Just to cover their bases, or their asses, they also included a check space that said, again from the literary ennui department, "Sorry, this just doesn't turn any of us on."

Jane Jordan Browne of Chicago sent along a check list as well, including one that quite turned my head around even though it was not addressed to me: "There is too much competition for your book." I could use a little of that. J. J. John Hawkins & Associates send us a form letter, I swear, a printed form letter that said that they would "personally like to thank you for sending in your query," and that

    it is obvious much time and dedication has been spent in preparing your proposal and manuscript.

Furthermore,

    It is indeed a worthy creative endeavor and one that will get a lot of attention.

But not from them.

§     §     §

In her form letter, Charlotte Gusay in Los Angeles got a bit peevish, advising me that "We have received your UNSOLICITED package/material here in our office." She then turned quite bossy, told me that I should submit, "a one-page query letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope." It ended with a paragraph, also in bold, headed, "Read and Heed" with specific instructions on the proper submission form.

Some came back hiding behind the quantitative rejection stance --- too many unsolicited manuscripts, not enough time. New England Publishing Associates faces a veritable mountain of manuscripts, "1200+ a year." The Henry Morrison Agency was even more mountainous: they get "40 - 60 queries a week," 2,000 - 3,000 a year.

In the self-serving department, Robert H. Lieberman found my writing to be "witty and funny" but was, unfortunately, "busy promoting my own novel The Last Boy." He sent along several promotional plugs in case I wanted to snap up a copy.

Susan Herner very much appreciated my thinking of her but said that my letter had arrived "at a rather chaotic time in my life as I am moving both home and office to Connecticut."

    Since I've been in my home for twenty four years and in my office for close to fifteen, I hope you can empathize with the amount of sorting and packing I must do.

I do, I do, being a bit of a mover myself --- and I was thinking that getting out of wretched Scarsdale and taking up with Connecticut was possibly a step up the career ladder, although I was unhappy that she was too flush with papers and packing to take a gander at my submission.

Richard Curtis sent a brief "I'm sorry," and then turned around and invited me to purchase his How to be Your Own Literary Agent for only $16.95. "The Author Development Agency," on the other hand, mailed me a ready-to-be-signed printed agreement. They would read all 227 pages of my manuscript for $300.

B. K. Nelson, another pay-as-you-pray that had managed to slip through my bullshit-protection filter said I should send the whole kaboodle with "a non-refundable evaluation fee of $375" to "determine if my manuscript is saleable." If it was "not finished," they would do an even more exhaustive study at $5 a page.

The same company was also kind enough to send me their "Speaker Directory" which included Don Crutchfield, "Hollywood Private Investigator," Candace Watkins, available to speak on "Transexuality," Arlene A. Eve "Cht." doing "Past Life Regression," Holly Lefevre --- Holly Lefevre! --- on Fashion, Chef Armand Vanderstigchel, an expert on "Chicken Wings Recipes," and, finally, Robert W. Bly. I almost sent off for Bly for I have a deep affection for his male bonding scheme but, alas, it turned out to be some other Bly --- one who would "Jump Start Your Consulting Career" to help me "Earn $100,000+ a Year."


--- Carlos Amantea


Go on to Part II

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