Word of Encouragement: If Your Rejection Letter Gets Personal, It Could Be a Good Sign

Gertrude Stein rejection letter - peoplewhowriteThere’s something satisfying about a rejection letter that gets personal. Where a form letter leaves you feeling like Prisoner #26A5B3XXX1, stripped of your identity and reduced to a pile of polite dismissal, a missive that reads as if it were actually touched by a human being can be satisfying, in a way.

It’s like the writer’s version of Captcha. Someone has read your work, and for a frustrating/confusing/incomprehensible set of reasons beyond your control, has decided to pass. But someone took the time to read your work and respond to it, personally. It matters.

When I was writing my first novel, I received a number of rejections, but the ones that took the time to explain in detail why they felt the book wasn’t right for them really kept me going. Recently, I received a rejection that lifted my spirits–and helped me fix the weak spots of my manuscript:

I read with pleasure the pages of your novel  but I’m sorry to say we’ll have to decline. There simply isn’t enough support here at the agency to provide you with the enthusiastic representation your work deserves. A year or so ago, we represented a wonderful book… which is somewhat similar in theme and setting…it was well published and well reviewed but did not do well in sales, and that could be a disadvantage to you if we were to represent your novel.
Meantime, I would like to share with you, some notes from an enthusiastic reader of your manuscript as you may find them helpful. Here are the reader’s comments:
    Up until page 300, the novel is stunning, in my opinion. A round of edits on the second half of the book might be  in order… 

 Of course, it sucks to ultimately be  passed over. Almost doesn’t count, as they say. But it’s given me hope and encouragement as have the rejection letters WritersBloqinc recently posted on Tumblr. You may not want a personal response for query-stalking, but if it worked for Gertrude Stein… 

For more encouragement, check out author Tayari Jones’ pep talk to a young author.

Obama Names Shonda Rhimes to Kennedy Center Board

Obama appoints Shonda Rhimes to Kennedy Center Board of Trustees - peoplewhowrite

Shonda Rhimes

Deadline.com reports President Obama has appointed Shonda Rhimes, Emmy-nominated writer and creator of primetime television juggernauts Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, to the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Board of Trustees. Rhimes joins a rarefied group that includes First Ladies, philanthropists, politicians and arts advocates. The Kennedy Center describes itself as ” America’s National Cultural Center.”

The Fox Writers Intensive is Accepting Submissions

Fox Writers Intensive seeks writers of color - peoplewhowriteFox Broadcasting Company is looking to recruit experienced writers that tend to be underrepresented at television and film studios i.e. black, Latino and Asian writers via its Writers Intensive. The program will give selected writers access to “a wide range of Fox showrunners, writers, directors, screenwriters and creative executives,” the website explains, “in a series of master classes to build on both their general craft and further their skillsets in the business of writing for television, feature films and digital content.”

Writers must be nominated* for the chance to apply. The application deadline is October 18, 2013. There are more deets on Indiewire’s Shadow and Act blog and on the Fox Writers Intensive website.

*The nominating organizations include, but are not limited to, the following:

Bob and Harvey Weinstein Want You

The Weinstein Company and NextMovie.com's "Master Storyteller" Contest The Weinstein Company wants you to “Like” their Facebook page–and grant them “the worldwide, non-exclusive, perpetual, royalty-free, irrevocable, transferable, sublicenseable (through multiple tiers), fully paid, universal right and license (but not the obligation) to use, copy, sublicense, transmit, distribute, publicly perform, publish, delete or display and otherwise exploit for any legal purpose whatsoever” right to your next big movie idea.  The movie studio behind Lee Daniels’ The Butler has created a “Master Storyteller” contest in collaboration with NextMovie.com which will give one Grand Prize winner the opportunity to have his or her movie pitch or film treatment read by a Development Exec at The Weinstein Company. Deadline for submission is October 3, 2013. There are more deets on Shadow and Act.

E.L. James Introduces Fifty Shades of Grey Wine

E.L. James has launched a red and white wine inspired by her bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy - peoplewhowrite

“[T]he wines were developed and personally blended by James and winemakers in California’s north coast region,” according to People.com

Alcohol and writing have a storied past, and present, but with the launch of Fifty Shades of Grey Wine E.L. James is bringing the buzz to reading. The former television exec reportedly collaborated with California winemakers to create the “Red Satin” and “White Silk” wine blends as companions to her bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

“I hope my readers curl up with a glass as they enjoy the romance between Anastasia and Christian,” James explained.  Even critics of James’ literary talent have to admit this extension of the brand is pretty genius.

Happy Banned Books Week

Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty was prohibited in Apartheid South Africa because they assumed the title referred to a black woman. - peoplewhowrite

Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty was prohibited in Apartheid South Africa because they assumed the title referred to a black woman.

In honor of Banned Books Week, my new favorite Tumblr profile Yeahwriters has posted a photo montage of now classics that were once banned, including the reasons why. Apparently, the children’s book Black Beauty was once contraband in South Africa because “its title was misinterpreted by the white National Party as a novel about a black woman”. Read more reasons here.

Rest in Peace, Kofi Awoonor

Ghanaian Kofi Awoonor among the 69 murdered in Nairobi mall massacre - peoplewhowrite

Ghanaian poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor, 78, was in Nairobi for Kenya’s Storymoja Hay writers festival when he was murdered in a terrorist attack at Westgate Mall.


“If I turn here, the rain beats me

If I turn there the sun burns me

The firewood of this world

Is for only those who can take heart…”

— from “Songs of Sorrow” by Kofi Awoonor

You can read more about the moments before the massacre, as told by Ghanaian poet Nii Ayikwei Parkes & Ghana’s High Commissioner to Kenya Kingsley Karimu, in a piece I wrote for EBONY.com.

Your Fave Atlantic Mag Articles May Be Coming to a Screen Near You

Atlantic Magazine writer Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote National Magazine Award winning article

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote National Magazine Award winning article “Fear of a Black President” for The Atlantic

According to Deadline.com, the talent and literary agency William Morris Endeavor has inked a deal with The Atlantic to source the publication and its digital destination for film and TV opportunities. The magazine which is known for its incisive commentary on all things bubbling in the zeitgeist was home to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s instantly viral “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ National Magazine Award-winning Essay “Fear Of A Black President”, while WME’s client roster includes filmmaker Tim Burton and comedienne/author Amy Sedaris among others.

The Atlantic has a monthly audience of about 30 million across through its print, digital and live platforms,” Deadline notes, and the WME deal could potentially expand the reach of the pub’s writers. My hope is the deal will also be a financial coup for the writers.

Deadline does not go into the terms of the deal, but does mention it reflects a trend.

“It’s the latest move for a Hollywood player to seize on journalism as source material. Among recent such deals is 20th Century’s Fox’s two-year first-look pact with Epic, a fledgling online platform designed to be a catalyst for film-centric investigative longform journalism.”

Back in January magazine publishing group Conde Nast issued a new contract to its writers claiming a cut of profits received when an author’s article is adapted for television or film, to the consternation of some writers. One scribe criticized the contract to the New York Times saying, “The people who really get the big options are not going to sign, and the people who don’t get the big options are going to be railroaded…”

Something Else to Consider When You're Writing

The fifth sentence on your 52nd page needs to intrigue the reader.

Of course, every sentence should compel the reader to keep going, but the fifth/52 requires special attention. As part of International Book Week, this post has been going around:

It’s International Book Week. The rules: Grab the closest book to you, turn to page 52, post the fifth sentence as your status. Don’t mention the title. Copy the rules as part of your status. 

Playing along with the current book I’m reading made me wonder if my own fifth/52s would compel readers to want more. Or if this fifth sentence is even a good indicator as to what the book is about.

I think the fifth sentence on the 52nd page from my book Powder Necklace clues you in to the fact that the subject matter is multicultural:


“I bypassed S’ter Ashiaki and unlocked my chop box to share the plastic bag of fried turkey tail snacks.”

If you’re curious to know why “I” has a bag of fried turkey tails in a locked box; and why I plans to share it, then you’re sufficiently intrigued.

The fifth sentence from page 52 of my upcoming novel is a little more subtle:

“I was hoping you would come.”

Does it make you curious?

I’d love your thoughts–and to read the fifth sentences you’re reading or writing. It’ll be interesting to see the types of fifth sentences that are most compelling.


I'm a Bestseller, Now What?

Elizabeth Gilbert, backed by her fans

Elizabeth Gilbert, backed by her fans

As most writers have been told at some point, there can be no story without conflict. In most people’s lives that conflict is, at its most basic, a struggle toward accomplishing a goal, with the vague or clear (depending on the person) intention to be remembered for something. But what happens when you’ve reached your goal, and blown past it?

There are few scribes who don’t dream of topping the bestseller lists, but what are you expected to do after you get there? How do you manage the attendant expectations, the sycophantic chorus, and straight up jealousy?

After receiving mixed reviews for her first foray into adult literature, Casual Vacancy, Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling opted to publish under a male pen name. After she was outed by a tweet from the friend of her lawyer’s wife, Rowling explained why she went to the trouble of concealing the identity she had worked so hard to imbue with equity.

“I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career,” she wrote, “to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.”

Elizabeth Gilbert tells the New York Times Magazine she certainly felt the pressure of the follow up to her dizzyingly successful 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love.

“The biggest thing I had to prove was, ‘Is she going to be able to come out of this tsunami and ever do anything again?’ Or am I going to Harper Lee out? Go J. D. Salinger for the rest of my life?”

She responded to the stress by sticking her chin out.

“I threw [2010’s Committed] out into the world like a grenade. I was like, ‘All right, everybody, whatever you have to say about the last book, whatever resentment you’ve built up over the last few years, let’s just catharsis it out and move on.’ And it did that.”

Now, Gilbert is interested in reminding critics that she has also written award-nominated fiction with acclaim from all the right sources–the New York Times, PEN Hemingway, the National Book Awards, and The National Book Critics Circle Award. Like Rowling, she wants the struggle-rush again.

For her upcoming The Signature of All Things, a 500+-pager set in the 1800s with a botanist heroine, Gilbert is prepared hit the road. While a writer of her stature could get away with leaving at a few well-plaved high-profile interviews on Oprah, NPR, and/or New York Times, she will go on what the Times describes as a “mammoth book tour.”

She explains, “I want to bring this book to people and ask if they’ll read it, and I feel like I have to ask them personally. I gotta sell those grinders, man.”

Turns out the grind is a necessity to the human story–even when it’s by choice.