Sometimes you just have to write…

Gentle rejection

Some of you may know that in the last year I wrote a book. Or, rather, a potential book: a manuscript, in other words, in search of a publisher. Here’s a description (skip ahead if you know this already):

my “family” in Malawi

This book tells the story of my trip to Malawi and Tanzania last summer, my first time back to where I served in the Peace Corps more than 25 years ago. The book juxtaposes this recent visit and my memories of my life, work, friends, travels and adventures back then, making it a combination memoir and travel narrative.

On this recent trip I travel first to Malawi with my kids, and spend a week training a group of teachers while my kids volunteer at an orphanage. For them, it is their first confrontation with real poverty. For me, it is an opportunity to rethink my ideas about development work, both what I do now and what I did in the Peace Corps.

My husband joins us after a week, and our trip down Memory Lane begins in earnest. We head to Mzuzu, where we both lived in the mid-1980’s. There we visit familiar places and witness enormous changes. Most importantly, we visit our “family” there, which spurs more questions about the value of charity and long-distance attachments.

Next we become tourists, visiting some of the places we remember fondly. The book recounts some of my experiences and adventures from my Peace Corps years, as well as the new ones from this trip. I feel different after all these years, but I am struck by how little has changed in Malawian tourism. On the last stage of the journey, a safari in Tanzania, I find that Tanzanian tourism, on the other hand, has become remarkably sophisticated.

Throughout the book I address my feelings of guilt around the issue of development, but also my conflicted feelings about my continued support of my Malawian “family.”

So that’s the book in a nutshell. I’m still reworking it chapter by chapter with my incredibly patient writer’s group, but it’s more or less done and I’ve started looking for an agent.

So far, I’ve only sent a query letter to six agents, four of whom have rejected it. Two haven’t responded yet. It’s a huge relief, though, that the rejections are so incredibly nice that they almost don’t feel like rejections. (A side note: I tell my students never to use the word “nice,” but it’s just the perfect word for these messages.) Here’s an example:

Please remember that this is a very subjective business and mine is only one opinion.

And another:

I read and consider each query carefully and, while yours is not exactly what I am looking for, I would certainly encourage you to keep trying.  I know your work is important to you and I am grateful that you wrote to me.

And another:

I appreciate the personal nature of your narrative but regret I simply don’t think I would be the best agent for this work. Best of luck.

See what I mean? I know they’re undoubtedly form letters that they send to everyone who submits a query, but they’re just so kind that I don’t feel discouraged.

The problem is that I don’t know if they’re rejecting me based on my query letter – is there something wrong with it? – or on the book itself. But they do it so nicely that, although I’m puzzled, I’m not angry.

How many of these gentle rejections will it take before I actually feel discouraged and rejected? I’ll let you know.

(If you have any words of wisdom for me, please add a comment below!)

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This entry was posted on February 21, 2013 by in Writing and tagged , , , .
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