By Joe Moore
I wrote my first novel over 20 years ago. I would get up a 4 AM, sit in a dark corner of my living room and type on something called a Magnavox VideoWriter. While my family slept, I worked away until it was time to shower and be off to my day job. For over three years I put in every spare moment, taking away from my family, friends, everything. The day came when I finished my masterpiece, an action adventure novel that I felt would knock readers on their butts. I could easily see my name on the bestseller lists just above Clive Cussler, Dale Brown, Jack Higgins, Tom Clancy, and all my heroes. It was just a matter of time before the critics would call me the next Clive-Dale-Jack-Tom guy.
I picked the biggest NY publisher of action adventure blockbusters I could find and spent countless hours tweaking my query letter. Finally, off it went. And to my amazement, I got a reply back from one of their editors asking to see my entire manuscript. Man, this writing thing was way too easy!
I printed the manuscript, packaged it up and sent it overnight costing me more in shipping than I could afford. Then I sat back, basking in the glow that my plan was on track. I was about to be rocketed into the action adventure stratosphere and worshiped far and wide.
A week went by. Two weeks. Three, then a month. I theorized that they must be passing my baby around to all the editors, marketing guys, cover artists, and publicists to see who wanted to work on the next major bestseller.
Then one day, I was working in my yard. I had thick crotons growing up against the front of my house, and it was time to trim them back. As I clipped away with the hedge cutters, I noticed a stained, yellowed shipping envelope shoved back behind the crotons. It was addressed to me and was from that big NY publisher. The mail carrier must have put it there to protect it from the weather. Checking the postmark, it had been mailed back to me less than a week after I sent the manuscript out.
I went inside, opened the package and pulled out my weather-worn, damp, rumpled, moldy pages. Written across the front of the title page in red were three words: Not for us.
I had spent 3 years working on that book and over a month fantasizing what I would do with that 6-figure advance. But with just three short words, my dreams ignited like a piece of magician's flash paper. It hurt. Even thinking back on it today, it still hurts.
Somewhere out there is a guy who decided to write “not for us” on the front of my manuscript many years ago. I’d like to thank him. Looking back, that book was not for primetime. And anytime I need a reality check, all I have to do is walk out my door and look at those crotons. They’re still growing and, hopefully, so am I.
What was your first rejection like? How did you deal with it? How long did it take to get over it and back on track?