December 15, 2008

Human Piñatas and Rejection

I'm fascinated by advertising's better efforts even as I scorn the vast majority of ads. Walt Whitman felt the same way when he wrote:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Anyway, I want to give credit where it’s due, so kudos to the creative team that concocted this Skittles ad.

Bill Shapiro (whose previous project was Other People's Love Letters) has sent out a call for writers who've been treated like human piñatas. That is, he wants their literary rejection letters. The cream of the rejected crop will be collected into a book: Other People's Rejection Letters. (The book will be large. It will contain multitudes.)

Writing in the Guardian, former editor Jean Hannah reveals that she rejected about 1,000 book proposals when she was in publishing. She fears that this new book will overlook the art of the rejection letter in favor of gratuitously pleasing material. Hannah notes:
“[W]riting rejection letters is a delicate skill... For it is not easy to achieve and balance the two central goals of a truly accomplished rejection letter: trying not to make the writer feel distraught whilst also discouraging him or her from ever contacting you ever again…. what I really wanted to write was, "Dear 'Writer', Please throw your laptop out of the window and never go near it again because this typescript is a shocking abuse of a perfectly good and innocent alphabet."
Guardian reader Mike Petty comments that his favorite rejection was, “Your work is so finely wrought and so divinely inspired that it would expose the rest of our output as the shallow nonsense that it is, leading to loss of face and a catastrophic fall in company morale, so we are reluctantly forced to return your manuscript to you.”

Without checking my own rejection slips (a trauma I'll avoid today, thank you), I'll tack on that also frustrating are editors who inform you that while THIS project of yours isn’t quite right, please keep them informed of your next great idea. This encouragement ("They like me!") leads one to immediately submit another proposal, which also ALMOST makes the cut but doesn’t… and so on. It’s almost enough to make one switch to decaf.

But in case you're feeling like a human piñata, let's end on an upbeat note: This very kind (uplifting, even!) form rejection letter (not mine!) from the literary magazine zyzzyva.

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