Monday, May 17, 2010

Rejection and Julia Child

So I watched Julie & Julia with Meryl Streep staring as Julia Child.

Okay, first off, can Meryl BE any better of an actress?? I swear that woman became Julia Child, and somehow managed to do it without being hella annoying. Quite the talent.

Anyway, Julie & Julia tells the tale of Julie, a writer who isn’t writing and finds herself drifting away from her dreams, and of Julia Child’s discovery of French cooking and how she came to publish her revolutionary cook book, Mastering The Art of French Cooking.

Julie’s story revolves around her quest to cook her way through Julia’s book and blog about the experience. Oddly, though she was my age and her situation in life closely resembled my own, I didn’t really connect with her story.

Julia’s, however… No, I’m not a chef, but the way she fell in utter love with her craft, and the struggles she went through to get published really hit me. At one point, Julia meets with publishers. This is after taking ten years to put her cookbook together, agonizing over ever page of it, and knowing that it was her best effort. Only to face a group of grim-faced editors who tell her that her book is “too long”, “seven hundred pages…” cough I FEEL YOUR PAIN, JULIA!!! And there is crushed but resilient Julia retorting, “well, divide it into seven volumes!” Erm…no. Damn.

But what really got me was the scene where after giving up, thinking that her baby would never come to print, she gets a letter. From a publisher. Ah, to see her run out to the porch so she can have a bit of privacy, her hands shaking as she opens the letter, and then that little breathless sob of joy as she reads that yes, she will be published… gave me the chills, it did. What writer doesn’t dream of that?

The thing is, we’ll all face rejection at some point. To make you all feel better about it, here is a list of 30 famous writers and the cruel rejections they weathered before they hit that one “yes”.

Some of my favorites include the one to Steven King who was told Carrie wouldn’t sell. Cough. Okay. Sadly, you know that the publisher was looking at numbers in this instant. Not the book. Which really burns.

Then there is the matter of taste, such as the publisher who thought Lolita should be “buried under a stone for a thousand years.” Ouch.

Reading through these rejections, it is easy to say that these publishers were fools. But is it really so simple? Hindsight is twenty-twenty. And while we can all feel justified in scoffing at their egregious errors in not published these famous books because we now KNOW that said books are successful, what about the 1001 books they rightfully threw out the door?

To the point, some books DON’T merit publication. Yet how do we know which is the poor misunderstood masterpiece, and which is not ready for prime time? And can we as writers be honest with ourselves when we’ve sweated and cried over our work only to produce something that isn’t very good? Will we know?

There are countless examples of writers behaving badly, in that they rage at agents or editors for rejecting them. But is a rejection ever justified?

I’m not saying there is one answer to this. I’m just putting it out there. Do you know when to say when, and when it is a matter of digging your heels in and gutting it out because you know you have a gem –despite what the critics say?


  1. Well, I hope if Austin's story is still being rejected a few years down the road (after numerous query letter changes - I'm working on an overhaul of the letter as we speak) I'd have the courage to give it up and write him into an entirely new story. But not yet!

  2. Tricky questions, Kristen. I *think* I'm pretty objective, and on the harsh side of objective at that, with my work. I *think* I'll know when it's as good as I'm ever going to get it; I just hope that correlates with it being publishable!

    Oh, I saw Julie and Julia a few weeks back and I LOVED it, especially the scenes to do with Julia's book publishing trials and tribulations. Just brilliant!