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June 2012

Today is the day

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thesoundofsilencelargeToday is Red Nose Day, a day to raise funds to help to save the lives of babies and support bereaved families of miscarriage, neonatal and infant death. So it seems like an appropriate moment to reflect on how The Sound of Silence, a collection of women’s stories about miscarriage, has been received. It was published nine months ago (I’m sure you see the irony) and the response has been everything we hoped it would be and more.

Editing this book was an emotional experience and the launches in Canberra and Melbourne were unlike any others I have attended. At both of them strangers — women and men, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and sisters — came up to me to tell me their intensely personal stories of loss, the reasons why they had come to these launches to buy this book.

Since then I have received many emails from readers thanking me for the anthology and telling me how it has helped them. These messages have been humbling. Like this one from Charmian:

I have just sat and read this book from cover to cover! As a mum of two (six, including my angel babies) these stories touched my heart and soul in a way that no other books about pregnancy loss have. I experienced miscarriages when none in my circle of friends had, and felt alone as I waded through loss and grief. The final three miscarriages were particularly hard, given they all occurred in seven months. We have not gone on to have more babies, and I still feel my family is not quite complete. Thanks again for this wonderful resource.

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And this one from Justine:

I have just finished reading The Sound of Silence. I must admit it sat on my bedside table for a couple of days before I found the courage to open it. I was anxious about the emotions it might stir up within me. It is a brilliant book, it allowed me to realise I am not alone in my grief and the feelings experienced are so normal.

One of my regrets is that despite our best efforts to encourage submissions from men we did not receive any. Men are often forgotten in the grief of miscarriage, so I was disappointed that we weren’t able to represent their stories and perspectives. It was, however, heartening to receive emails from men, like this one:

Thank you for publishing The Sound of Silence. While it is mostly written for females, it is also an excellent book for (potential) fathers to read as well — some of them also experience similar emotional symptoms when their partner miscarries 🙁

When I wrote a post for Mamamia about the anthology and my own miscarriage it received an overwhelming number of comments. There are so many women and men out there who need to talk about their experiences. Today I’m remembering Rafael, the baby I miscarried at twelve weeks. I no longer feel sad about his loss, but blessed that he was, and is still, a part of our family. I am also thankful for the three beautiful children I was able to bring into this world, and conscious that there are many couples who are not so fortunate. These stories are the ones that break my heart the most.

At the Melbourne launch a woman told me about her daughter who she has watched go through seven pregnancies, none of which have made it to term. As she told me this story, and the emotional toll it has taken on them all, she wept for her daughter and her lost grandbabies. Her story is one of many. If you know someone who has had a miscarriage, who may still be struggling through grief, today is the day to reach out. All it takes is a simple ‘How are you?’ and the willingness to listen.

Almost (not) famous

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Here are ten reasons why you shouldn’t despair if you have an unpublished manuscript. These famous rejections are sure to cheer you up:

1. Can you imPossum Magicagine a world without Possum Magic? Apparently many publishers could. Mem Fox’s classic was rejected nine times over five years. Little Hush would have remained invisible were it not for Omnibus Books in Adelaide. Originally called Hugh, the Invisible Mouse, Omnibus suggested changing the mice to possums, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since 1983 Possum Magic has sold 3.5 million copies, making it the bestselling Aussie kids’ book of all time. And speaking of magic leads me to…

2. Harry Potter, of course. It was turned down by twelve publishers including Penguin and HarperCollins. In the end it was a child who made it all happen. Bloomsbury only took it on because the CEO’s eight-year-old daughter begged him to print it. Thanks to that little girl JK Rowling is now the world’s richest author. In one year alone (2007–2008) it was estimated that she made $300 million, and it’s rumoured that she’s now a cool $50 mill richer than the Queen. Enough said.

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We Need to talk about Kevin3. Even authors with a publishing track record sometimes struggle to get their newest work into print. Lionel Shriver’s controversial seventh book, We Need to Talk About Kevin, was rejected 30 times before finding a publisher. It went on to win the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction. If you haven’t read this book yet go out and buy it immediately. Yes, immediately. It is compelling, disturbing, haunting and beautifully written. A stunning book that I can’t get out of my head.

4. This one has got to break some kind of world record for the number of rejections it received. Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, was turned down 140 times. Publishers claimed it was ‘too positive’ and that ‘anthologies don’t sell’. I bet Canfield and Hansen have been laughing their way to the bank since Health Communications took a chance on it. The 200-title multimillion dollar series has since sold more than 112 million copies in over 40 languages. Touché.

5. Ted Geisel, aka Dr Seuss, was rejected by 27 publishers before Random House picked up his first book. Just imagine if he’d chucked it in after the twenty-seventh rejection! We’d be without Which-What-Whos and Fox in Socks and Green Eggs and Ham — my children would be none too pleased about that. And I’m guessing there are a few others who might agree. Seuss was advised by one rejecting publisher that his work was ‘too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling’. In contrast, former president of Random House, Bennett Cerf once said, ‘I’ve published any number of great writers, from William Faulkner to John O’Hara, but there’s only one genius on my authors’ list. His name is Ted Geisel.’ At the time of his death in 1991, Dr Seuss’ 44 books had sold more than 200 million copies.

6. Stephen King may never have been published if it wasn’t for his wife. King threw his novel Carrie in the bin, but his wife retrieved it and encouraged him to keep going. He did so, but it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. He received 30 rejections for Carrie, with one publisher commenting, ‘We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.’ Eventually it was picked up by Doubleday (who had previously rejected three earlier novels of King’s) for a modest $2500 advance. The book that would ‘not sell’ found its way into the hands of over one million readers in its first year. King’s books have now sold over 350 million copies making him the third richest author in the world.

Lord of the Flies7. Lord of the Flies is a standard on school curricular across the globe but William Golding’s classic novel was initially rejected by 20 publishers. One nastily pronounced it to be ‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull’. I bet they wish they could take those words back now. Golding went on to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, and, in 2005, TIME magazine ranked it as one of the top 100 English-language novels ever written.

8. To say I’m a John Grisham fan would be untrue, but he certainly has a devoted following. It wasn’t always that way. His first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishers. Of course when the book did make it into print it became the first in a series of bestsellers. The sweetest kind of revenge.

9. Who knew that a story told from the point of view a seagull that flew for pleasure, not just survival, would become a bestseller? Certainly not the 18 publishers who rejected Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Macmillan finally took it on and the book sold more than a million copies in its first year. Then came a movie, a Neil Diamond soundtrack, and a paperback version that sold 7.25 million copies, despite one publisher’s claim that ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull will never make it as a paperback’.

The diary of Anne Frank10. Pretty much everyone has read The Diary of Anne Frank, right? But the English language rights were passed up by 16 publishers, including Knopf whose reader dismissed it as ‘very dull’. He advised: ‘Even if the work had come to light five years ago, when the subject was timely, I don’t see that there would have been a chance for it.’ This was in 1950. It was Doubleday who finally published the diary and made it one of the bestselling books in history, with over 30 million copies sold. Take that, Knopf!

So if you have an unpublished manuscript in a bottom drawer and a growing pile of rejection letters, take heart. You might just be the next Golding or Grisham poised on the brink of stardom.

And even if you’re not plucked from the jaws of a publisher’s bottomless slush pile it may not signal the end. The landscape of publishing is currently undergoing a period of dramatic change. The digital age means that rejected manuscripts (both good and bad) can find their way online. Perhaps a list of famous rejections such as this will soon be antiquated.

This post was first published on Overland literary journal’s blog.