I slid open the mailbox to reveal a few letters stuffed toward the back. Buried in the wad of junk mail was something addressed to me. I didn't recognize the return address, but the light blue paper visible through the envelope window had all the makings of a check.
I opened the envelope to reveal a check with the return address of a publishing company. I was immediately excited about this. I have been submitting to loads of magazines, newspapers, and websites. I have gotten a fair number of rejections, but many items are still in the several-month backlog on editors' desks. (There is no way to automate what they do. A writer can expect to wait.)
Getting that Check
I called my husband immediately after I opened the check. I get small payouts from cranking out a few words here and there, but this is the first check that I have ever gotten from a real publishing company. One of my submissions was picked up by someone, and I got paid. Woo hoo!
When I got back to the apartment, I consulted my query tracker to figure out which publication might have sent the check. A few pieces that I have sent off had a value commensurate with the document in question. I assumed that I would have gotten an email or letter regarding the payment prior to actually receiving it. There are typically contracts and opportunities to read through things one more time before final publication. There are negotiations about who maintains the rights to the ideas and for how long.
The Highest Highs, The Lowest Lows
I was not able to resolve the mystery of this check, so I intensified my sleuthing. The publishing company that sent the check is responsible for one of the publications for which I was under contract, but the article was worth more than I had just gotten. This has been in the works for months. Could this be a kill fee? (A kill fee is an amount offered to an author if their article has to be dropped prior to publication.) In a span of about ten minutes, I went from thinking someone really liked my work to the possibility that they were saying, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Though my first guess was that my article had been tossed, there are a load of other things that this could be. Maybe this is a separate fee for the images that I sent to accompany the piece. Image acquisition was not part of my original contract, but an image acquisition fee was mentioned. Could this be a portion of the original payment since it may be several months before my work sees publication? Did they kill it and plan to get in touch with me later? The mystery will resolve soon enough, but thinking about all the variables in play makes me appreciate how much work goes into all those stories in magazines.
Dealing with Rejection
If you are engaged in creative endeavors, you are going to face rejection. Whether you are the yoga teacher trying out a new sequence, an artist with a unique vision, or an entrepreneur with the best business idea ever, the end game is always the same. If you have the gonadal fortitude to put your work out there, then you have to have the backbone to stick up for your ideas and skin thick enough to deflect the slings and arrows of trying something different. You can't always get it just the way you want it, and that is just a part of the game.
Speaking from a writer's perspective, the story may be great, but it may not be the right story sent to the right person at the right time. An editor may love your story, offer you a contract, and then have to kill your article. This can happen several months into your work's lifespan. With rejections, I have learned not to take it personally. As long as everyone is being totally professional, then there is nothing personal about it - it is business, baby.
No Matter What, It's OK
I so want to have a successful writing career, but wanting won't get me very far. The doing is what will take me places. Am I putting in the hours? Am I querying like a boss? The road to being a full-time writer is paved with rejection slips. In On Writing, Stephen King talks about sticking his rejection slips on a nail on his wall. He just kept putting them on there until one day, the nail fell out. At no point did he give up. He just reached for a bigger nail.
King also mentions that he got a ton of, "Thanks, but no thanks," form letters, but in time, he got rejections with personal notes from editors with suggestions for improvement. These rejections were successes for him. He got their attention.
While I may never reach the status of the exalted King, I understand that if this article was killed, then I can be at peace with it. A kill fee is a definite step up from never hearing back about a submission or getting a form-letter rejection. I may not be ready to give daruma his other eye just yet, but even this is progress.
"Go then, there are other worlds than these."
-Stephen King, The Gunslinger