The first writing job I ever applied for was for a small suburban paper. The owner, editor and publisher were all the same person. I showed him some samples and he told me I couldn’t write and would never make a living as a writer. But he needed someone to sell ads and offered me that job.
I was crushed.
A little later I applied for a summer reporter’s job at the largest weekly newspaper in the country and got it – at a starting salary of $60 a week. I had just finished the second year of a four-year journalism program and it quickly became apparent that I would learn much more at this summer job than I ever did in class.
Years later I wrote a book. The first publisher to look at it said no, and when the outline I had sent them was returned to me – everything was paper in those days – there was a hand-written memo attached. By mistake. The editor had written: “Jerry Amernic is a hack.”
How satisfying to have the book released and to send a personal copy to that same editor, along with a hand-written note: “From the hack.”
Indeed, rejection is part and parcel of the writer’s life. I once gave a business presentation and told the men in attendance that if they think being rejected by women every day is tough, they should try being a writer.
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was turned down by 38 publishers before someone took a chance. It would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize. By the same token, in 1962 some smart guy at Decca Records listened to a new group called The Beatles and told them guitar groups were on the way out. Next please. And when young Fred Astaire went for his first screen test, the studio report said: “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”
Well, the number of rejections I’ve seen in my writing career would fill a book. But they say that which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, so I figure I must be pretty close to Superman by now.
It took 11 years to get my first novel published and the biggest drawback seemed to be that it was my first novel. A New York literary agent once told me he would handle it … if it only wasn’t my first novel. Nevertheless, it got a great review in The Wall Street Journal the day after its release.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t in any bookstores.
Now is this reason enough to kill yourself? If you’re a writer, maybe, and it brings to mind Vincent Van Gogh who I am told sold but one painting during his lifetime. In case you missed it, he did kill himself only to get very big after his death.
His masterpiece Starry Night is one of the world’s most famous paintings. And my favorite line in Don McLean’s song Vincent (Starry Starry Night) is this: “The world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”
I think there must be many Vincents out there.