Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ray's Remedy For Gnawing Through Writer Rejection

"Dear Prospective Author, we have had the opportunity to review your manuscript, yadda yadda yadda..."

If you're in the writing game, it's 99% probable the words following this canned lead sentence to editorial correspondence is going to be followed by unpleasant news. Your story, pitch or proposal has been turned down. You didn't make the grade. Not good enough. Not marketable. Too risque. You should go back to the writers' workshops and submit your darlings through critique groups before you even consider querying editors or literary agents again.

Rejection sucks. That's the bottom line. It hurts. Bad enough if you're a lonelyhearts in search of the elusive yan to your yin. The game of love is brutal. The game of writing is far nastier but the stakes of achievement, readership and personal gratification are what keep serious scribes pushing at their craft. The pursuit of love is no different than the pursuit of literary greatness. Both require supreme dedication, both require concentrated desire and both will tear your soul to ribbons until the day is won and both the id and the ego have been nurtured.

Throwing your words out to the masses is a fearsome prospect. There are countless books on the craft I could cite, such as Ralph Keyes' The Courage to Write, Sophie Burnham's For Writers Only, James N. Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel, Joan Lowery Nixon's The Making of a Writer and of course, Stephen King's treasure trove tutorial, On Writing. Read these if you're getting started and read them twice if you're a pro. These authors and others all around the world will tell you that beating the ugly monster of trepidation chewing on a writer's membrane is the first and most critical element to becoming a valid writer.

In my opinion, the second most critical element is learning how to fend off the monster's doubly ugly cousins, the ones targeting a writer's inherent paranoia and triggering instantaneous chemical imbalances. These are the ones that send writers into despair at the sight of a rejection letter and into green-eyed jealousy towards those who've made it in the literary field.

Face the facts; you're going to be rejected sometime in your writing career. More than likely, you'll gather hundreds of rejections in your career. That doesn't mean you stink, okay? Get that into your uber-obsessed mind and make it an automatic mantra: "I don't stink. I don't stink. I DON'T STINK!"

As much as I've grown to detest the word "subjective" having seen it enough times to open a store next to the Lolly family's adverb emporium, it is the kindest (if coldest) way the industry has to let would-be authors down. Only 1% of submissions to literary agents even get considered, much less invited to pitch. The global population is triple, the internet has opened the gates to new voices which couldn't get in previously and quality control is lax on the web but twice as stringent in real-time. You're going to get rejected, so buck up and think about the next agent or editor you plan to query while you wait. Better yet, get cracking on the next project so you can divert yourself and avoid the yeoman's mistake of pestering editors for a status to your submission.

In the here and now, though, you have to face the hapless fact the short story you've toiled weeks over quite possibly isn't going to see print or even digital typeface. If anyone understands, it's your ol' pal, Ray. I too am faced with debt I need to get erased. I too stay up late and get up early trying to hedge my words into something sellable. I've had tremendous success as a music journalist, but I don't live in Manhattan where I would love to be, so I have to wave my hands harder than the average bear. Many don't see me. There are tons of writers nipping at one another's ankles in New York, Nashville and Los Angeles hoping to be picked by Rolling Stone to let them pitch a piece. I know all too well the eagerness that broils inside a writer's heart. Who's the connection? Who can help me win audience with those editors? What solid do I need to do for someone so they can hit me back with a return solid? The same ethos goes for getting your novel sold, much less your band's demo into a record exec's mit.

Sound familiar? It should if you care about what you do. Because you care is why it stings to smithereens when nobody wants to read or hear you. The rejection letter is such a godforsaken evil beast and it has destroyed the psyches of many authors to the point of their inevitable surrender. But you cannot--I repeat, cannot--let it. You're a winner, so think like one. It's quantum physics. If you think you're worthless, so will the literary field. You won't even register a blip on the radar. Think high and shine like a beacon.

Of course, you're going to have to remain broad-shouldered and resolute to your mission once the rejections do come or the editors ignore your correspondence. The majority of writer emails and hand-crafted letters end up in slush piles, spam folders or in auto-delete. Editors and agents are smothered by pleas from you and me to give us all our shot. We crave it, we need it, our lives are defined by our words. Much of the time, however, this doesn't matter. The rejection comes despite our best efforts, our sparkling cred and our fierce editing.

So how do you beat the curse once it's afflicted you?

I can tell you from experience the resume doesn't always guarantee you an entry slot, at least from those that pay. If you feel satisfaction in writing for free, go for it. Let the intrinsic value aid your muse and together, consummate through your word processor. I too have had proposals batted away, short stories turned down, queries dismissed. I have a rock solid background in this industry but yes, I get rejected at times like anyone else. My last name isn't Grisham or King, so I too must fight my guts out like you all.

The thing is, the fight thrills me to pieces. If I'm not writing, I feel empty and void, like something in my life has gone disastrously wrong. Here is the layer of my writer's spirit which needs stroking, coddling and encouragement. Often I receive praise from other writers, editors, bands and industry connections. It makes me feel wonderful and it keeps me plugging. However, writers are nefariously independent and thus I must provide myself with the necessary coddling if I am to keep to my course. A rejection thus becomes more like a spanking and here is where we must all discipline ourselves as writers to treat that undesirable notice as motivation instead of degredation.

Easier said than done, I know. The last rejection I received actually devastated me. I was inconsolable upon receiving a turndown for a short story I'd written. My credentials didn't matter; the rejection came anyway. How could such a thing happen with my background and pages full of publication credits? Was I foolish for sending the story out? Did it need even more editing than I gave it? Did I research the periodical thoroughly enough? Did I stink? Why bother with this crap anymore? I still have to work a full-time job despite my success, and my life-long belief of writing full-time has been just a dumb, decades-long pipe dream. There are too many other writers out there and it doesn't matter anyway, since Kardashians and Tebows get to butt in line at a publisher's queue. It's unfair, but life isn't supposed to be fair, as it's been said from the brainy to the brainless.

You know what I did the following weekend to purge myself of the emotional, subliminally arrogant ruts I faced from this rejection? I walked away from my work. Yep, I'm not kidding. I did it. It wasn't a vacation, just a step away from my computer. Aside from checking email, posting Facebook updates and Tweeting, I stayed away. I didn't try to network with anybody, I didn't let the Tweet board drop past my eyes to admire all the other authors who were promoting their stuff. I didn't let the publisher Tweets antagonize me with their brag lists. That's motivational antimatter, it's poison. Usually I sit in silence and applaud the success of my comrades in lexicon. I will take about 10 minutes maximum each day on Twitter to scout fellow writers to follow and to find inspiration in their success. Not this time, and there was no spite to my actions. I simply shut myself down from writing.

Instead, I watched a handful of movies as time permitted me with my youngster around. I took him out on the track for a two-mile walk, and that helped relieve some tension. The movies I selected in private time were intentionally designed thus: two mindless action films to relax the gray matter then an immediate cerebral-stimultating film to kickstart me once again. Call it a writer's reboot if you like. These included The Road Warrior, the 2009 Star Trek redux and Sunset Boulevard. Can I tell you how invigorated I was after all that? I did the same with music: a danceathon featuring Madonna, some head-bobbing garage rock grooviness courtesy of Fu Manchu, circumvented with the perplex math metal of Martyr and the electro-earthbound grandiosity of Future Sound of London.

I was refreshed and recharged. I got things done around the house. My son and I had quality time together. I read instead of wrote. It was a cleansing operation that pushed the sour emotions of being rejected away, yet that wasn't enough.

Here is a bold maneuver I recommend to all of you, though the prospect may seem implausible. It works, though, believe me. Right as I was ready to sit down and write again, I told myself no, I wouldn't. I treated myself like I was a spoiled brat and denied myself the privilege of writing for another two days. It was profound how this strategm ignited me. I was Jonesing, as it were.

By the time I let myself out of the penalty box, I came to my words with a delightful sense of aggression but moreso, appreciation. They poured out of me, they caressed me, they kept coming at me. Time was my only enemy in that session. I felt restored as I did heartbroken having to stop writing and leave for my job. That restorative juice to negate the naysaying and the rejection is such a valuable thing to possess when you're a writer. It was so healing to me I came to a phone meeting with a collaborative partner last night and we were rather productive in our attack plan. Rejection? Feh. I'll see you again, but I'll see more of Success in the meantime.

As you might infer, this was a recent event I had to slug through and I'm glad it happened, because it's a reminder that no matter your elevation or your stature in the literary trade, there's always a big rejection stamp lurking over your head and your work. You can't let it shatter you when it plunges down. For years I'd managed to shrug rejections off and stick to my tasks. I was proud of myself for handling rejection with grace, because I don't stink and neither do you.

Sometimes we're going to be reminded this is a subjective world we write in. When that happens and it hurts too damned much, take a Mad Max break and deny the muse until you're once again worthy of her. The monsters will have no place to hide any longer.

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