The First Cut Is the Deepest

This is my rejection letter.

Well, folks, I heard back from that agent who requested pages from me. I would love for this to be one of those first-time-around, kismetic success stories, but alas, it is exactly the story you would expect to hear. That is, said agent said thanks, but no thanks.

What is interesting about this story, and the reason that I decided to post about it here, is that my reaction to this particular rejection surprised me.

I am no stranger to rejection slips. I have a whole bag full of them in my bedroom, and an e-mail folder full of cyber-rejections, too. I have had every short story I have ever submitted to anyone rejected at least once, and only two of them have ever been accepted anywhere. I keep my rejection slips as badges of honor, battle scars, rungs on the ladder to my eventual literary success. Normally, when I receive a rejection note, I shrug my shoulders and toss it on the pile. No biggie.

But this one was a little bit different. It was no surprise, really. Mentally, I knew that I was probably going to get it. But when I opened the e-mail and read the note, I found myself surprised anyway. How could she have rejected my lovely book? How could she possibly have read it and not wanted to read more? If I had read the first three chapters, I would want to read more. Because for all my bellyaching about having to read my own novel over and over, I really do love it. It’s like an unruly child. I see its flaws and they annoy the hell out of me, but at the end of the day, I know it’s destined for great things. Or at least, I hope it is.

I know that it is damn near impossible to get a manuscript agented these days, and yet, I found myself standing in shock that this one agent didn’t want to represent me. And then I realized why: This is my first rejection slip.

Okay, so I’ve gotten about a thousand rejection slips. But this is the first one I’ve ever gotten for a novel. A short story takes weeks, maybe months of work for me. My novel took years. It took so much more work than I’ve ever put into one piece of work before, and this was the first time anyone had ever read part of it, anyone besides friends and family, and she didn’t like it. Or not enough to want to represent it, and to me, that was what counted. That hurt a little bit. I didn’t cry or feel like I would never be successful or write her a hateful letter (which, almost unbelievably, people actually do to agents). I didn’t take it personally, but it did sting. Because this book is personal. It is very personal.

From a different angle, of course, it is all part of the process. It almost had to happen for me to move on. And while I know that there will probably be tons more where that first rejection note came from, I also know that none of them will have the same bite that that first one did. It’s like Sheryl Crow said, “The first cut is the deepest.”

So now, I say, “Bring on the second cut.”