Schadenfreude.…what a word.
It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue unless you’re German, perhaps. I’ll have to discuss how to pronounce it when I meet with my German-born therapist. Dictionary.com’s definition of schadenfreude is “satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.” The word’s origin comes from “schaden,” meaning harm, and “freude,” which means joy. Ever since I began blogging, I’ve noticed that my posts with alarming titles which contain the most angst (another word of German origin) have received the most views and comments. I’ve observed the same phenomenon with many others’ blogs as well. Welcome to Schadenfreudeland!
What does schadenfreude have to do with this post? You’ll see. Well, you may be wondering what the writing rejection is all about. Let me back up to last November…take a breath, this is quite a spiel.
In the chilly fall of 2014, I was hard at work writing my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. While I knew it wasn’t the next Whitbread Book of the Year, I believed my concept was unique in that no other published book (to my knowledge)has focused on childbirth-triggered bipolar disorder.
My original plan wasn’t to even think about searching for another publisher until I had a complete first draft. “Another publisher” isn’t a typo. In 2013, during the beginning of a hypomanic episode, I submitted a book proposal and secured a book contract with a health publisher. I canceled the deal because I relapsed while tapering off bipolar medication. (Never again.)
“I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could have been somebody!”
Marlon Brando as “Terry” in “On The Waterfront”
After that mess, I wanted a fresh start with a more established publisher. I was familiar with New Harbinger Publications, a publisher founded when I was three-years-old. New Harbinger has published books about bipolar disorder and bipolar memoirs, right in line with my material. I owned a few New Harbinger titles such as The Tao of Bipolar, Back from the Brink, and Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder. Months before I had remotely considered pitching New Harbinger, they published Dr. Ruth C. White’s excellent book Preventing Bipolar Relapse. At that time I was writing book reviews, and I connected with Dr. White because I wanted to review her book for my International Bipolar Foundation blog.
I was so impressed with Dr. White’s philosophy that I offered to help promote her book any way I could through social media and blogging. She put me in touch with her New Harbinger publicist to help get the word out more effectively. When I decided to check if New Harbinger accepted unsolicited book proposals, I examined their website for submission information. It turned out that authors could submit a proposal without an agent, so I carefully reviewed their particular guidelines a zillion times.
I already had a completed book proposal but I had to tailor it to New Harbinger’s specifications. Believe me when I tell you that I worked my ASS off on the proposal. My husband Craig, a published author of the successful, critically acclaimed book Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West, reviewed my work and gave me great feedback.
Aside from Craig and my writing muse/puppy Lucy, I didn’t breathe a word to anyone about my plan in case my proposal was rejected. The New Harbinger website’s book proposal guidelines state, “Due to the high volume of proposals we receive, the evaluation process typically takes two to three months. In all cases, we will get back to you as quickly as possible with our publishing decision.” I assumed their staff would notify me whether or not they accepted my proposal as a courtesy and also as a confirmation that they received the proposal in the first place.
I waited the requisite three months. I didn’t hear a peep. I knew that definitely wasn’t a good sign, but I told myself, “Surely they’d email me a form letter letting me down!” I also felt uneasy as I wasn’t 100% positive they got my proposal and reviewed it. I wanted confirmation and closure so I could move on. I waited another month. Then, I emailed them inquiring about the status of my proposal.
I decided to use my “connections.”I searched for the email correspondence I had with New Harbinger’s publicist and found it, complete with her direct phone line. I figured I had nothing to lose at that point except some dignity, so I emailed her asking if there was a chance she could check on my proposal status.
When I helped her promote one of her authors, she got back to me right away, but when it came to me, I didn’t receive a reply. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised, but I had to give it the old college try. As I inwardly cringed, I left her one brief, professional-sounding (i.e. not too desperate) voicemail message.
Then, for the hell of it, I emailed New Harbinger the proposal again. Infantile, I know, but three days later I finally got a reply:
“Dear Dyane, Thank you for sending us your proposal. After careful consideration, we must, unfortunately, decline the privilege of publishing your book because it does not fit our editorial needs. Most of our books are step-by-step self-help guides. We publish very few memoirs. That said, we recognize that your book has the potential to help many people who have faced a similar situation, and we wish you the best of luck in locating just the right publisher. Sincerely, The Acquisitions Department New Harbinger Publications Proposals@newharbinger.com“
YUCK! Their email noted, “We publish very few memoirs.” Uh, duh! Before I ever contacted them, I gleaned their memoir listings. While they were obviously trying to lessen the blow of rejection, I thought they came off as patronizing. I didn’t really care how many memoirs they published; it was a moot point, as I still believed they should have published mine! My memoir wasn’t even a pure memoir, as I explained in my proposal, but a memoir with a separate section designed to help the reader with resources and other lovely bits.
While some of the New Harbinger memoirs looked good, other titles did not impress me at all. “My writing and my concept is as good as some of their books!” I muttered in a futile attempt to bolster up my ravaged writer’s esteem. That’s the thing with rejections. Even if your writing is good or even excellent, a rejection will make you feel deeply insecure about your writing quality. I shouldn’t speak for everyone, but having my writing rejected made me feel like shit. Then anger and defensiveness washed over me…
F*ck THEM! I thought. It’s THEIR loss! I discussed this situation with a sympathetic, tolerant Craig. I explained to him, “I looked at their job listings, and they’re advertising for an Acquisitions Editor and a Senior Publicist, so something funky is going on there! They obviously don’t have their act together! I didn’t even have a person sign my rejection email, but a ‘department’.” He listened to me patiently, agreed with me, and then ran away.
When I received the New Harbinger email, the timing was pretty rotten. I got it the night before my first support group met. That evening I was exhausted from a day filled with cleaning the house and firming up last-minute details. I had already known in my heart that my proposal was a no-go with New Harbinger, but to look at their email took the wind out of my sails.
Then, I took a deep breath. I remembered how my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle received so many rejections that she almost gave up writing when she hit forty! I knew that my sulking time with New Harbinger was now officially over. I had a brand-new support group to focus upon, and while I was nervous as hell about it, I was also very excited. Being rejected happens to every writer. No one was taking away my ability to write. Hell, I was even opening up to the idea of self-publishing someday! It was helpful to get the closure I needed from New Harbinger, and it turned out the following day that the support group’s energy was the best way to soothe my wounded ego.
As my extraordinary friend Greg Archer, a gifted author of the memoir Grace Revealed says, “ONWARD.”
Here I am with my first publishing contract – while it’s null and void,
I keep it to remind me that I have the potential for success, and that my writing doesn’t suck!
“I coulda been a contender, people!”
p.s. This meme made me laugh, although I think it’s kind of stretching it a little when it comes to the schadenfreude concept. And are you wondering how schadenfreude relates to my tale of woe? I almost forgot to explain how that fits in here, but you’ve probably figured it out! I’ve always been fascinated about other writers’ experiences of professional rejection of their work. I admit I undergo schadenfreude during those times – I feel like I’m not the only rejected writer on the planet. That comforts me. While I’m not a total sadist — I’m not happy about another one’s misery — I feel less alone in our shared experience of rejection.
“Gott sei Dank, es ist Freitag!”