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On Rejection: Nate Xie
Writing while working in a publishing house
Welcome to another installment in our On Rejection interview series. I’m so pleased to have Nate Xie here this week. They work at Penguin Random House, so I think they have a really unique experience of being a writer and also seeing the publishing side of the business.
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Hi Nate! Tell us about a time you experienced rejection.
I started submitting after the pandemic started, and so far I’ve only submitted short stories and flash pieces, so most of my rejection experiences have been very impersonal in the way that the online world can be.
I remember with the first short story I ever wrote, I submitted using a common submission strategy in which I started with the most famous magazines. To be clear, this short story was not good enough to be accepted anywhere, and I’m glad it’s never been published. But back then, one of those very famous magazines replied to me, saying something along the lines of: “Thank you for trusting us with your first story. We’re so happy you’ve started your writing career and we hope you submit to us again.” So several months later, I submitted a new story. And got, what felt like, the coldest of cold form rejections.
How did you get over it? (Or, how are you getting over it?)
I think I’m a person with relatively low self-esteem. I always expect rejections. I don’t think I’m good enough for pretty much anything. Which sounds depressing, and I am fortunate to have lots of people around me who keep telling me I deserve more. But for me, when a rejection slides into my inbox, it only confirms what I’ve always felt about myself—I’m not good enough. I’m aware this isn’t the healthiest mindset for most people. However, I’m okay with this because ultimately I write only because I enjoy writing, and it fulfills me in a way nothing else can. The profound joy of writing keeps me going, and it’s a more profound joy than any acceptance I’ve ever received, no matter how much I desire and appreciate that acceptance. I admit, however, sometimes I have to remind myself that this is true. I also don’t know if this will always be true, but for the moment I’m able to believe it is, and I try to take advantage of it by focusing on writing.
If you could go back and tell yourself anything right before that experience, what would you say?
I don’t think I have anything original to say. I strongly believe art is an iterative process. Be patient, trust your future self, and keep improving and having fun with your writing. In other words, focus less on external markers of success and more on your art.
I’m also fortunate to be relatively young, so I can let stories simmer/stew/marinate, and I think about this advice from Matt Bell a lot: “... revision is one of the ways you stay inside a book long enough to manifest yourself upon the page not once or twice but dozens or hundreds of times, ending up not with a book written by the you who existed on any particular day but, rather, one collaborated upon by the many selves who existed over the likely hundreds of days you were writing. These daily manifestations—the many versions of the writer that have come together to collaborate upon the work—are what, I believe, makes our favorite books seem written by superhumans.”
You currently work in sales for a major publishing house (so cool!). Does seeing that data--what's selling, what's "hot"--impact your writing at all? Why or why not?
For better or worse, no impact at all. I write literary fiction, while bestsellers are usually… not literary. And from what I’ve heard, hopping onto a current trend as it’s trending might be too late to hop on. By the time your manuscript is finished, the trend might be over. Maybe a flash piece or a short story can be completed before then, but I don’t know how interesting that piece will be unless I have a deeper interest in that trend. My preference has always been to write what I care about (ahem, obsessed about) and find personally meaningful. I suppose it’s because I mostly only write for myself and sometimes for my younger self. In a sense, I don’t really have a choice in what I write about. Certain stories haunt me and refuse to let go.
If the data has impacted me in any way, it’s that I’ve developed a greater appreciation for books outside of my preferred reading genres. Runaway bestsellers I might not read sometimes enable publishers to better support the novels I might personally love.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a gay, coming-of-age novel that explores the fear of the unknown and its many variations, and the novel features a cult, a cello, and a Chinese-American family. On the side, some short stories and flash pieces are simmering/stewing/marinating or in desperate need of revision. The writing communities I’m fortunate to be a part of are also encouraging me to think about and embark on new stories, which I’m grateful for, and I’m excited to see what happens next.
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Pssst—Yesterday I posted about our upcoming virtual April writing-ins! Check them out if you haven’t already!