Letting New Writers Down Gently

14 09 2012

adult hand helping child writeAs an editor, I often have the onerous task of writing rejection letters. Many newbie writers dash off their first novels in a few months. Then proud of their efforts, they pop them into envelopes or attach them to emails, positive they will soon have a book contract in hand. And many also expect to quit their day jobs once the book sells.

I sat across the table from one starry-eyed hopeful a few months ago who told me that she was spending all her after-work hours penning her middle grade book. “I can’t keep up this pace forever,” she confided. “It’ll be great once it sells. Then I can quit my teaching job and just write full time.”

If only… I struggled with what to say. Should I tell her the truth and dash her dreams? Or let the shock of rejection letters and the truth of royalty statements (should she be so lucky) knock her down later?

I opted for soft-pedaling the truth. “You know, many writers, even famous ones, needed to keep their day jobs even after they were published.”

She gave me a dubious look, and I could practically read her thoughts, That won’t be me.

I have never understood why people – who would never think they could pick up an instrument, spend a few months practicing, and debut with a symphony orchestra – think that they can sit down and write a best-selling novel.

I think F. Scott Fitzgerald explained things beautifully when he added this to the end of a letter he sent to a beginning writer:

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.