NEW YORK, NY – A stack of manuscripts, hundreds of them. Pages of white computer paper, formatted in that neat, double-spaced way, printed in Times New Roman. 12 point.
"Could you write rejections for these?" My boss asks. "I just don't think they're for us." I nod. It’s my job.
I spent the summer at a publishing house, working as an editorial intern. I mailed and messengered books, learned the ins and outs of UPS and DHL. I answered phones. I photocopied first-pass proofs and book contracts and signing checks. I also wrote rejection letters. I was taught by the very best. Sometimes, I got Thank You notes.
But I'll tell you the truth—rejection hurts, and not just the person on the receiving end.
I saw myself on every page. I've been rejected from high schools and colleges, from a capella groups and publications and summer opportunities. I know what it feels like to send a piece of yourself out into the silence. And I know what it feels like to get the thin envelope or the small package or the short email back.
And now, here I was, pairing “so I think we're going to have to pass” and “I'm not sure how to position this on our list” with compliments about “lush descriptions” and “compelling narrative voices.” I felt powerful, at first, but that soon wore off. I was left with a dull ache—it’s a mix of guilt and heartbreak.
An author wrote me back after one rejection. "Please be frank," she said. Then she asked if she should just give up.
Give up? I didn't know what to say. She was in her forties, or fifties maybe, and had spent a decade working on this novel. I wanted to shake her. I mean, what the fuck do I know? I'm just an intern. I don’t want to be responsible for crushing her dream, for crushing anyone's dreams.
On T.V. and in newspaper articles, they call us a coddled generation. Bubble-wrapped kids. We—Generation Y, Millennials, whatever—are told that we feel entitled to success. When faced with failure, we are meant to fold in upon ourselves, to give up.
And sure, I think about that sometimes. But as August rolls around and I prepare for senior year and for the real world, for a recessed economy and a shrinking job market, I prepare for the hundreds upon hundreds of rejections that lay ahead.
Because if I know anything, I know that after all the Nos, you only ever really need one Yes. (And thanks, Ecco, for saying Yes.)
But hey, why listen to me, anyway? I'm just an intern.
Emily C. Graff ’10, a Crimson senior magazine editor, is a history and literature concentrator in Currier House.