Monday, January 10, 2011

Old-timey Rejection Letters

Do I have a treat today for you!

Don't judge me for looking matronly,
I'm preggers here, remember.

First, thanks again to my fabulous guest bloggers last week, Roni Loren and Meghan Ward. Roni and Meghan helped me out because I was on vacation visiting fam and frolicking at Disneyland in Southern California. During my trip, I managed to deliver a cat's ashes to a cousin, negotiate (and fail) for a set of 12 Days of Christmas plates from my aunt, but score a cozy blanket instead, stuff myself full of food, and generally wallow in the pleasure and comfort of being around people who knew me when I was brattier than I am today. Or anyway, I hide it better now.

One of the things I did while with family was glean two fabulous pieces of writing-related news about family members. News that I kind of can't believe they kept to themselves all this time.

And let me just say, these bits of news are going to make for a fabulous January blog schedule.

The first piece of news, which I'm sharing with you today, is that my late great-grandmother, Grandma Hickok, who was a school teacher for many years and fondly remembered by all, was quite a writer. In fact, she submitted and had published what looks like dozens of short pieces to children's magazines. She wrote poems and activities and short stories. Her scrap book, which I managed to make off with Volume II of (but believe you me, I'll get my hands on Volume I next time), shows clippings from magazines called The Children's Friend and Girlhood Days, many of which were published in 1946. I also found dates for some items in the 1950's and 1960's.

But my great-grandmother had been busy long before 1946.

One of the items I was allowed to pilfer from my aunt was a manuscript called "Little-My-Dearie" at 43,000 words, which appears to have been written in the late 1920s or early 1930s. It is a total treasure, painstakingly typed, and written in archaic language that shows just how far we've come with children's literature. A sample from the first page:

"Ol' rain!" said Frances soberly, as she watched the fat shining drops run down the pane. "Nassy ol' rain! Now I can't play out. An' all the little bugs is gettin' wet--all wet an' nassy. All wet an' cryin', too!"

"But, Little-My-Dearie, the bugs are perfectly safe," said Evelyn. "Now you just listen and minute to Sister. All the little bugs and bees are very smart and they always know when it is going to rain. So they just hurry inside until it stops raining, and maybe they are standing by their little windows and watching it rain, too!"

"Randin' in a stow!" giggled Little-My-Dearie, pressing her little nose against the pane as she tried to see where the eves were dripping. Sister giggled, too.

"You mean 'standing in a row,' Little Goose. You always get so mixed up!"

"Where's a goose in a row, Sister? Where's a goose?"

"You're a little goose, Dearie! And the sweetest little goose ever was!" And Evelyn kissed her little sister on top of her curly head.

It goes on like this in similar fashion. I, um, haven't read very far, or past the first page really, but duty urges me to continue reading at some point. I won't besmirch Grandma Hickok's work here, but let's just say it's a story for a time now past.

Perhaps the best part of the whole package I made off with was the stack of rejection letters Grandma Hickok received for Little-My-Dearie. Alas, I don't have copies of the queries she sent, and she didn't appear to query agents, just publishers.

And publishers in the 1930s weren't so nice, it seems.

Below is one from 1932 from a now-defunct publisher called Dodd, Mead and C0mpany (click for a better view; text is written out below).

Here's what it says, sexist terms and sarcasm complete:

"Dear Madam--

When a publisher accepts a book for his list, he usually assumes all the expense of publication and pays the author a royalty on each copy of the book sold. This royalty usually amounts to 10% of the retail price of the book.

Our publishing plans for the coming season are quite complete and we scarcely think it advisable for you to submit your manuscript for our consideration."

Dang! Grandma Hickok may have asked how they pay, and the first paragraph may be their answer. Or, it could be an elaborate lecture to explain why they won't be looking at her manuscript. The second paragraph has an uppity tone I don't care for, especially the "scarcely" bit. Ah well. They're out of business now.

There are only seven rejection letters in the pile, some from recognizable names like Grosset & Dunlap (who regretted to inform her that they were reprint publishers and therefore couldn't look at her manuscript), and Harper & Brothers, the flagship of HarperCollins, which gave the nicest-worded rejection of all ("We wish to emphasize this point [of them being compelled to be cautious in their publications], assuring you that there is no discrimination whatever against your manuscript"). (I love the word "whatever" used in place of "whatsoever.")

One of the nastiest comes from Writer's Digest, I am sorry to say. And that you'll get to see on Wednesday.

(As for that second bit of fascinating family writing news I got? That's coming. Very soon.)

Do you have any writers in your family? My Grandma Hickok wasn't the only writer--my grandfather was a technical editor, and several other members are well-versed in the art of words. I always think it's fascinating that some of our burning passions have been in the family for generations.

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