Let’s Play the Schadenfreude Game! (A Writer’s 1st Rejection)

Maybe

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.  

Crickets.

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.

Chirp, chirp.

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!

Photo on 2015-03-06 at 08.32 #2 “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.  

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“Gott sei Dank, es ist Freitag!”

The Queen of Mediocrity

 

 

Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007 at age 37, for most of my life I thought of myself as the “Queen of Mediocrity”.  I felt this way early on as I never accomplished anything of merit compared to my parents, who were both prodigies in their chosen fields.  I considered them to be truly extraordinary and so did many other people!  

Dad was a world-class violinist who played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for thirty-nine years!  He was the youngest musician ever to be admitted into the super-competitive orchestra. Dad was a Juilliard-trained, Fulbright Scholar who lived an incredibly full life despite having bipolar one disorder.  My Mom was an award-winning actress-turned speech pathologist and a loving hands-on mother.  Mom taught speech therapy to special needs students in the public schools.  She developed a unique rapport with both her students and colleagues, and she did an outstanding job.

I considered my graduation from the University of California at Santa Cruz and my A.C.E. (American Council on Exercise) personal training certification as hard-won achievements. However, I didn’t attend an Ivy League university like many of my classmates did.  My job as a personal trainer didn’t command great respect either.  

Aside from personal training I worked at the gym’s front desk to make ends meet.  At the counter I handed towels to members who usually treated me as the lowly “towel girl”.  Most of these members had no idea that I had a college degree.  When I handed a towel to the high-powered local newspaper editor-in-chief, or the future billionaire/founder of Netflix, I’d inwardly sigh and feel a bit of humiliation! 

At long last, I’m happy to report that my mediocre self-image is starting to change, slowly-but-surely.  In the space of just a couple weeks I’ve had two wonderful, totally unexpected things happen.  These serendipitous events have boosted my confidence even more than a makeover on “What Not To Wear”!  

Ted

I miss that show, especially stylist Ted Gibson who charges only $1200 for a haircut! 😉 

Two weeks ago I received an email informing me that I was nominated by the bestselling author/mental health advocate Wendy K. Williamson (“Two Bipolar Chicks Guide to Survival” and “I’m Not Crazy Just Bipolar”) for the WEGO Health Activist “Best in Show Blog” award.

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I thought the email was a joke!  Then I read Wendy’s nomination blurb on WEGO’s website: 

Dyane’s site is the best out there.  I love that she tells it like it is and supports her fellow followers.  A gifted writer, she clearly conveys through humor and honesty what is happening in her world and the world around us. Dyane taps in to our feelings beautifully, saving us from emotional isolation. Activist, champion, Dyane is both and more.  — Wendy

As you can imagine, I was absolutely blown away by Wendy’s generous praise.  Out of curiosity I checked out the other nominees’ profiles in my category.  Every single one was impressive.  I automatically thought, 

There’s no way in hell I can compete with these people.  I’m not good enough.

I felt tempted to withdraw from the competition, but I didn’t want to let Wendy down.  It simply wouldn’t be cool to offend her, especially since she had become my incredible writing mentor.  I told myself I could be a “loser” and leave it at that.

I’m not sure what happened next, exactly, but I had a change of heart.  

I realized that seeing myself as a loser was not how I wanted to play this game!  I could at least stay in the running and promote myself, a necessary task in order to place as a WEGO finalist.

I’ve spent my life promoting other people’s causes and passions.  I’ve worked at four non-profits where at an average of $10/hour, I worked my ass off to publicize other people’s missions and events.  My first full-time job was at a Silicon Valley special event production company.  I promoted a myriad of events and I dealt with the media all the time.  I knew what I needed to do in terms of my own promotion.

My defeatist thinking changed to: 

I’m going to give this shot & try to win this WEGO, or at least place as a finalist!  

Then the second surprise happened.   But first, here’s the long-winded backstory…bear with me!

Long before I was diagnosed with bipolar after Rilla’s birth, I had a series of unfulfilling administrative  jobs.  I wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old, but I wasn’t writing anything except for work-related projects.  In 1997, in addition to my day job, I finally began writing freelance magazine and newspaper articles.  

My first magazine article was for “Fit” which unfortunately no longer exists.  I loved “Fit” because its content was deeper and more interesting than other fitness magazines.  Although “Fit” had a air-brushed celebrity on its cover every month, I let that slide because the celebrities they chose seemed more circumspect than the stars featured on other magazine covers.

I pursued the editor to give me a shot at writing an article.  At that point I was twenty-seven and I had already experienced clinical depression.  Using “write what you know” as my motto, I wanted to write an article about women, depression and exercise.  After an enthusiastic phone pitch to the editor, she gave me the assignment!  Landing my first national magazine article was a major thrill, and I knew I needed to do my best to get off to the write right start as a freelancer.

I compiled a list of people who I wanted to interview for my piece.  My first interviewee was Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison.  I was astounded that I was able to get ahold of the bestselling writer of “An Unquiet Mind”.  Ironically when I called Dr. Jamison I had no idea I’d be diagnosed with bipolar myself a few years later.  I interviewed another doctor I admired: psychologist/author Dr. Martha Manning, whose profound book Undercurrents detailed her experience with depression and ECT.  I hadn’t a clue that one day I’d have electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) just like Dr. Manning did.

Next I questioned several young women who suffered with depression, and I spoke with assorted exercise experts.  After submitting my article, my jaw dropped when I got a paycheck for doing something I loved to do.  

I wrote several more articles for “Fit” and was told I’d become a regular contributor.  I was over-the-moon about having a regular writing gig!  Unfortunately the New York media group that owned the magazine called it quits and my job opportunity vanished.  

My “Fit” experience was a propitious start to my freelance writing career.  With my confidence level high,  I approached my favorite local weekly paper “Good Times” helmed by editor-in-chief Greg Archer.

I had been a faithful “Good Times” reader for years.  I admired Greg’s vibrant, top-notch, often-hilarious writing – I was jealous of his talent!  I contacted Greg’s managing editor about some of my story ideas.  I suggested that I interview a writer who wrote books I picked up and couldn’t put down – the one and only Anthony Bourdain.  Bourdain was slated for a book event in our town, and my timing was right.  I was given the job and I turned in a solid piece.  I wrote two more articles for “Good Times” about another favorite author of mine called SARK.  Once again it was awesome to have the chance to interact with one of my writing heroes and get paid for it.  

As you can imagine, my freelance writing career went down the drain after my bipolar diagnosis. I couldn’t do anything, let alone write.  But some of you know that I came back to life a little over a year ago thanks to my new medication combination of lithium and the MAOI drug Parnate, plus exercise, good quality sleep and finding a good psychiatrist.  

After I recovered from a bipolar depression relapse,  I invited Greg Archer to a delectable Italian lunch to learn more about his writing philosophy.  We became friends and I hid my jealousy of his talent well.  😉 I felt instantly comfortable with Greg as he reminded me of a close friend I grew up with in Los Angeles. It was a joy to be friends with another writer who I looked up to as a role model.

The longest backstory ever is now complete! 

Last week Greg emailed me to ask if I could send him a photo of myself for a future article that I assumed had something to do with bipolar.  I was out of it and didn’t ask him for details.  To my chagrin, I emailed him a blurry selfie but that’s all I had.  Then I got distracted by my girls and forgot all about it.  

An hour later I got a brief email from Greg simply saying to visit the link copied below.  

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-archer/agents-of-change-5-inspir_b_5992870.html

I thought it was his recent Huffington Post article that profiled 5 inspiring men.  

After opening the link I spotted my photo I just sent him and I almost fell off my chair.  The photo was accompanied by Greg’s beautiful description of my writing and how I’m “one to watch” in the mental health advocacy movement!  I was part of a group of 5 “inspiring agents of change” including Kathleen Turner, for God’s sake!! (I loved her with Michael Douglas in “Romancing the Stone”!)

I thanked Greg profusely and then I emailed or called everyone I knew to tell them my happy news.  The fact that my Mom shared the Huffington Post article link with her friends, relatives and her Facebook network was especially moving.   It was such a lovely moment for me to hear pride in my mother’s voice when called to congratulate me.

I’m no longer feeling all that mediocre.  Don’t get me wrong – insecurity still lurks within my psyche each and every day.  I’ll keep plugging away to repair my damaged self-image with therapy – that’s all I can do right now.  

In the meantime I want to thank you so much for reading this lengthy post.  I’d like to send a special shout out to my writing gurus Greg Archer and Wendy K. Williamson!  

I encourage you to read their books.  Soon I’ll be sharing some information about Greg’s second book “Grace Revealed”, a fascinating memoir to be published in January, 2015.

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http://www.gregarcher.com


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http://www.wendykwilliamson.com/

p.s. I’d be grateful if you could endorse me for the WEGO Health Activist Award – it’s easy & takes 20 seconds!  

Visit:

https://awards.wegohealth.com/nominees/4811