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Dec 12
Arts and Poetry
Fragile Ego

photo by Charles Blackhall

photo by Charles Blackhall

COLUMN: Celebrating the Arts
On Writing

by Michelle Welch, Phoenix

If you’re a writer and you’re trying to do anything but self-publish exclusively, you’re going to have to face rejection. My first agent hunt involved 8 rejection letters; my second, four. I have a raft of rejections from years of submitting short stories to publishers. Most of them are polite but professional form letters with the standard boilerplate explanation: “We’re sorry, but this doesn’t suit our needs at this time.”

I’m back on the agent hunt for the first time in over a decade, and there seems to have been a subtle shift in that boilerplate. One agency I submitted to sent an auto-reply email to let me know my submission had been received, and it included the following remark:

“Please note that a pass should not be construed as a statement on your work’s publishing viability; it is just my subjective determination that the project isn’t a good fit for me and the agency. I encourage you to continue your querying and wish you the best of success in your publishing endeavors.”

That’s a lot of ego-stroking for a message that came out before a decision was even made.

And that’s the thing I’ve been noticing in the rejections I’ve gotten recently: they all use this terribly careful language, as if the agents and editors are certain the wrong word will set an author off on a spiral of rage or misery, so they have to soothe those fragile egos the best they can. No more brusque “doesn’t suit our needs” for today’s form letters. That could inspire a social media firestorm with an author ranting about the unfairness of it all and dragging an agent’s name through the mud. I’ve seen it happen.

All this came to mind as I was reading a selection from Pema Chodron, Weather and the Four Noble Truths. She has this to say about the second noble truth: “Traditionally it’s said that the cause of suffering is clinging to our narrow view, which is to say, we are addicted to ME.”

It seems we’ve all gotten a lot more addicted to ME lately, if even the literary agents are running into this mentality to the point that they rewrote all their form letters to be more soothing. We love our suffering; social media is practically devoted to suffering. This seems to be the first challenge for us meditators, to cut through all this clinging and deal better with changes in the weather. I’m working on it. Go ahead, agents, tell me my book doesn’t suit your needs. I can take it.

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