Got out one of my boxes of rejection letters tonight to make an ego adjustment (whenever you start to feel it swell, it's good to insert a drain.) This is one I haven't gone through in years; all bounces from serious poetry publications back in the 80's, when I was going to be the next Sylvia Plath.
I can't imagine why none of them wanted to buy Raw Silk, the 4,000 line epic I wrote when I was 22. I mean, it rhymed and everything.
In this painfully polite pile -- poetry editors tend to be much nicer than their fiction counterparts -- I found sort of a rejection letter from Dominick Abel Literary Agency, dated September '83. Evidently I had written to them looking for representation for my monstrosity.
I guess the agency didn't want to waste their letterhead, as they sent back my original query to them with simply Not for us, thank you. DA scrawled at the top of my letter.
It burned twenty-two years ago, but now reading the query I'd say it was a good call; my pitch sucked. Hopefully Mr. Abel has moved up from using purple felt-tip pens and recycling queries.
Deeper down in the box was an ancient file I'd packed in with the poetry stuff because it was so fragile. In it was a copy of my first and only gothic romance, Sea Hold, typed on my trusty old Royal, and this letter:
Dear Miss Kelly:
We would be happy to look at your gothic romance if it is at least 400 manuscript pages long.
Avon had already rejected my first historical romance back in 1974, but this note gave me a lot of hope. It was personally signed. It was an invitation to try again. It made me feel like a pro. When you're 15 years old and still horribly bruised from your first bounce, that means the world.
I'm wondering if this editor is the same Nancy Coffey who's now a literary agent. If she is, I need to write a letter to her.
I've sworn someday to burn all this junk, but the older I get, the more sentimental I feel about it. This is my history as a writer. I remember how excited I was about the Nancy Coffey letter (Mom ran off copies at work and mailed them to every member of the family.) I didn't cry over the Abel letter, but the burn of that indifferent scrawl made me more determined to get into print. I never let anyone but the slushpile reader at Avon Books look at the manuscript for Sea Hold.
What of your history as a writer do you hold onto, and why?