This novel had already been rejected more times than I wish to name here.
I keep meticulous records—partly to be able to brag later, in a damaged, bitter way, about what the novel endured to finally dig its way to the light of day.
When this editor’s note arrived it was March, raining, cold, dark:
I’ve just started your novel . . . You’re a mighty fine writer. I’m thirty pages in. I’ll have to go slowly with it because I am also [involved in another big project], but I look forward to more of your words.
Had it been possible, I’d have sent myself through the ether to kiss this man. The room seemed to lift, fill with light, and slowly begin to spin. I told my husband: Hey. Listen to this. Good, answered my husband. He’s heard so many false alarms he knows exactly how to pitch his voice: cautious optimism. I know that tone intimately myself, because I use it when fellow artists tell me their own encouraging-but-not-definitive news.
Then I looked at my records.
To my horror, I saw that I had queried the same editor with the same novel exactly five months earlier. He had asked to see the full manuscript, and responded a month later—just four months ago—with this:
I’m sorry to say I’m not going to be taking on [your novel]. You are a very good writer, but the novel just didn’t grab me the way it needed to for me to be able to take it on. I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. Best wishes.
I looked at his words—verbatim in my own records—and the room sank and darkened, along with my poor heart. My husband groaned. I decided to wait and say nothing—but unless this man had completely lost his memory, it would surely be only a matter of pages before he recognized my book and wrote the same regretful verdict back to me.
In truth? If several years had passed, I’d not hesitate to query that press again. Editors change.
Post-facto update: after a week, the editor sent the same rejection note as he’d sent the first time.
It’s all part of the tragicomic fallout of this fraught, fraught business.
Joan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Life, just nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.