Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Writing with the Masters: Jack London

Jack London (1876-1916) received six hundred rejection slips before he sold his first story.*  In his semi-autobiographical novel, Martin Eden, he describes his feelings about the submission process.

He began to doubt that editors were real men. They seemed cogs in a machine. That was what it was, a machine. He poured his soul into stories, articles, and poems, and entrusted them to the machine. He folded them just so, put the proper stamps inside the long envelope along with the manuscript, sealed the envelope, put more stamps outside, and dropped it into the mail-box. It traveled across the continent, and after a certain lapse of time the postman returned him the manuscript in another long envelope, on the outside of which were the stamps he had enclosed. There was no human editor at the other end, but a mere cunning arrangement of cogs that changed the manuscript from one envelope to another and stuck on the stamps. It was like the slot machines, wherein one dropped pennies, and, with a metallic whirl of machinery had delivered to him a stick of chewing gum or a tablet of chocolate. It depended upon which slot one dropped the penny in, whether he got chocolate or gum. And so with the editorial machine. One slot brought checks and the other brought rejection slips. So far he had found only the latter slot.

     It was the rejection slips that completed the horrible machine-likeness of the process. These slips were printed in stereotyped forms and he had received hundreds of them—as many as a dozen or more on each of his earlier manuscripts. If he had received one line, one personal line, along with one rejection of all his rejections, he would have been cheered. But not one editor had given that proof of existence. And he could conclude only that there were no warm human men at the other end, only mere cogs, well oiled and running beautifully in the machine.

But London didn’t give up, and he eventually found the check-dispensing slot. So if you are discouraged by rejection slips, take heart from his experience.


* The source for this statistic is Jack Canfield in Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, pg. 153.


The quote is from Chapter 14 of Martin Eden.

Both the picture and Martin Eden are in the public domain because of their age.

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