Rejection is the foundation upon which most writing careers are built. We get it. We know publishers turned up their noses umpteen times at Harry Potter and The Help and even Gone With the Wind. We take this sparkling diamond of a fact, wrap it in silk, and stitch it into the lining of our souls, because knowing it's there is often the only thing that keeps us going. We understand, in a rational legal-mind way, that publishing is a business. We don't (usually) fantasize about severed horse heads soiling editors' sheets. We have learned (through yoga and meditation and just plain getting old) to let go, to live in the current breath, to be thankful for the opportunities we've had and to seize the ones yet to come. Sure, we are disappointed our book doesn't recline upon store shelves. That the contract with our agent expired faster than an iPad deal. That the electronic release of The Pecking Order didn't single-handedly crash Amazon's site. But, mostly, we deal with it and hammer away at new projects. And drink champagne.
Today is not one of those days. Today, we stomp our feet and cross our arms and stick out our bottom lips and bitch, thanks to Jennifer Weiner and Dr. Suess. If you don't know Jennifer Weiner, you should. She's a funny, snarky, Bachelor-watching, blogging, tweeting writer with great hair who personifies that quote, "well behaved women seldom make history." She's also published more books than the Bible's got Psalms. (Okay, maybe not that many books, but I couldn't resist a House of Pain reference. Admit it, you're Jumpin' Around now...) She's long been an advocate for women writers, taking to task critics, the media, and authors (looking at you, Franzen), for the disparate treatment of books written by men versus women. She particularly calls out people who dismiss what they have labeled, pejoratively, "chick lit." She recently penned a brave and spot-on blog post regarding how the the New York Times statistically gives more coverage to books written by men. (For Huffington Post's discussion of the issue, see here.)
As we read her blog and tweets over the past few days, we became increasingly incensed. Don't get us wrong, we never expected our book to be reviewed by the NYT, but in our own podunk way, we have felt the same bias. Our agent called our book "upscale commercial women's fiction" and shopped it to major publishers. Every single one found it laugh-out-loud funny, engaging, and well written. But they passed because the market was "saturated." In other words, there was too much "chick lit" clogging up the shelves. Bullshit. How about male-written thrillers with well-coiffed male protagonists, some sort of far-fetched legal conundrum or conspiracy or code to crack, an egregious amount of passive voice, and overuse of adverbs? You can't spit in a bookstore without hitting dozens of those . . . and they're usually on the front tables. (For what it's worth, I'm not sure you should ever spit in a bookstore, but you see my point.) Good for those authors. You did it. You should be proud. We hope you ordered a cake and threw confetti. . . we know we would have. But it's time for women's fiction (and not just the "important" kind, whatever that is) to be invited to the party.
At this point you may be thinking . . . wtf does this have to do with Dr. Suess? (Or maybe you're thinking about a peanut butter chocolate chip milkshake. Or maybe I'm projecting). NPR aired a piece this morning, on the 75th anniversary of Dr. Suess publishing his first story, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. I'm a huge fan of the Doctor. I listened to the segment with a smile on my face, nodding in solidarity when I learned his story had been rejected by publishers 27 times. This is exactly the encouragement I need today, I thought, pouring out a little green tea for my literary holmie. Then I heard this: Dr. Suess had all but given up when he was walking home and "bumped into a friend ... who had just become an editor at a publishing house in the children's section." Of course he did. Where's that champagne?