Sunday, November 25, 2018

384. How to Cope with Rejection: Five Tips

                         Coney Island:

           Summer Frenzy and Winter Desolation 

I have finished my deceased partner Bob’s other work of fiction set in Coney Island, The Coney Island Memoirs of Sebastian Strong.  If The Professor conveys the mutterings of age and experience, this novel is a song of youth.  The time is 1951 to 1961, long before AIDS, but when everyone drank and smoked too much.  Young Sebastian Strong, the narrator, falls in love with Coney Island, knows it in all seasons, connects there with a string of young male lovers.  

Here is Bob, about age 20, at Coney,
with beach and amusement park behind him.

And just when I, as a reader, was  getting tired of these connections, the author surprised me.  With a heavy snowstorm predicted, Sebastian bundles up and heads for Coney, catching the last train for Stillwell Avenue, which creeps ahead through the snow, preceded by a plow clearing the tracks ahead of it.  He goes, knowing there won't be any train coming back, and takes refuge in the shabby little Surf Hotel where he often rents a room.  Jake, the very femme and flamboyant manager, is surprised but delighted to see him, offers him a scotch, and since the room Sebastian usually rents is taken, lets him share his room for the night.  The walls of that room are plastered with pin-ups of Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth, the Hollywood glamour girls of another day, whose images, Jake insists, are holy and should be pasted to the altars of churches.  

Downloadall sizesUse this fileon the webUse this fileon a wikiEmail a linkto this fileInformationabout reusing

          The book is full of weird but fascinating urban characters like Jake, who are seen in an atmosphere of summer frenzy with roaring roller coasters and beach-strutting sun worshippers, alternating with the silence of winter desolation.  Sister Zora, a no-nonsense lesbian in engineer's jeans, reads palms for a dollar fifty, then disappears when the cold weather comes.  Jessye, a heavy black woman, tough and assertive, sells beers to gay boys in her under-the-boardwalk bar, and with an eye out for the cops, lets the boys dance with each other to music from her jukebox.  And many more.  No wonder Sebastian quits college, comes to live year-round at the Surf Hotel, and gets a job at a bingo parlor patronized in all kinds of weather by older Jewish ladies who are charmed by his youth and his looks.  Sebastian is held fast by "these juxtaposed beasts of land and sea," the "old Dragon" that is Coney, facing defiantly the force of the ocean.

Downloadall sizes
Use this fileon the webUse this fileon a wikiEmail a linkto this fileInformationabout reusing

File:Coney Island Astroland at night 2005.jpg
Coney Island in summer.  Sebastian loves this.

File:New York Coney Island beach.jpg
Coney Island beach in winter.  Sebastian loves this, too.

          Paperbacks are available in very limited numbers from me for $15 plus postage, and hardcovers for $20 plus postage.  The book is also available in various formats and at various prices from AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Xlibris.  For my own books, see BROWDERBOOKS below.
Image result for the coney island memoirs of sebastian strong

       How to Cope with Rejection: Five Tips

         We’ve all been there: the invitation that never came, the date that didn’t happen, the prize we didn’t win, the job we didn’t get – rejection.  Life is a series of rejections, so how can we cope?  I’ll offer five tips.  I speak as an authority, because no one reaps more rejections than a writer.  For every story or poem that you send out to publishers and small reviews, the chance of rejection is probably 30 to one.  Your life becomes a chain of rejections, you learn to numb their hurt and sting, and you keep at it – bravely or foolishly – in hopes of that rare acceptance.  And what does that acceptance mean?  Your fragile little effort will appear, along with 20 or 30 or 50 others, in a small review, online or in print, that your friends and relatives and most of the world have never heard of.  That world will not be changed, the literary scene will roll on undisturbed, and you will be congratulated by a loyal friend or two, your spouse (if he or she is speaking to you), and your mother. 
         The poetry scene is annoyingly small, since who reads poetry?  For the most part, other poets.  And if they ever glance at your scribblings, no matter what they say, they probably think that their stuff is better.  I found that scene so frustrating that I finally gave it up for other endeavors.  So there is Tip no. 1: Play another game. 

         I had already done this once, and it worked.  Long ago I was so deluded as to write plays for the American theater.  Not for Broadway, God knows (my delusion had limits), but for Off  and Off Off Broadway.  I took a very useful class in playwriting, threw out my inept early efforts, got to know some actors and directors, and showed my scripts around.  Total rejection?  No.  I had a staged reading done in Dallas, and a full production at the Goodman Theater in Chicago.  Result: nil.  I had a one-act play done on public television.  Result: nil.  A section of one of my short plays was done in the playwrights unit at the Actors Studio, and critiqued by Harold Clurman and the class, and then done in Lee Strasberg’s class for directors.  Result: nil.  Two readers for Lucile Lortel, who had a whole theater at her disposal (courtesy of her husband), urged her to do one of my plays.  Result: nil.  Other promised productions failed to materialize.  The final blow came when a young playwright whom I knew from the Actors Studio got a play done on Broadway to disastrous reviews.  The play was faulty, but the Times review – the only one that most people read – was savage.  At which point I gave up.  Not writing, but playwriting.  And I’ve never regretted it.  Play another game.

         I then tried my hand at biography, wrote two of that genre and – O miracle! – got them both published, one with a university press and one with an obscure small press.  The university press voted unanimously to publish the first one, and the small press accepted my second manuscript with those words so sweet to an author’s ear: “It fits our list.”  And when the second work ws published and got an ambiguously negative review from that oracle of oracles, the Times – a review that, to this day, I have failed to understand – I got a long-distance phone call from my publisher, who insisted that a bad review is better than no review at all.  This lesson, so hard for authors to accept, is true, for a bad review at least acknowledges your book’s existence, while no review does not.  So why did I give up biography?  Because I got tired of wearing out my eyes squinting at old newspapers and other sources on microfilm, and getting red-stained hands from handling – oh, so gently! – old court records bound in decaying calfskin.  So I turned to fiction.  Play another game.

         My current game is historical fiction set in nineteenth-century New York, and New York-related nonfiction derived from posts for my blog.  With the five big presses almost impossible to reach without an agent, and agents likewise impossible to reach without an agent (yes, you need an agent to get an agent), a host of small presses have appeared to fill the gap.  Some are vanity presses who publish but don’t promote, wanting only to squeeze as much money out of you as possible.  Some are presses that help you self-publish but don’t promote, giving you exactly what your contract calls for.  And some are small presses that publish and do promote.  The difference between these categories is arbitrary and debatable, since nobody wants the label “vanity press,” and even “subsidy press” and similar terms are suspect.  But all these presses share one supreme virtue: they bypass the gatekeepers.  To get to them, you don’t need an agent, an agent’s agent, or a connection, therefore no rejections.   Yes, you might be rejected by a prestigious small press, but then you can go the self-publishing route and still get published.  No rejections: a writer’s dream!  But there is one catch: lots of junk gets published, crowding out the good stuff, so you have to hustle for attention.

         I insist that my stuff isn’t junk (what writer wouldn’t?), and in the last few years I have self-published one title and published five others with small presses.  To get my books before the public, I have exhibited at book fairs, and when I do, damned it that one self-published book doesn’t outsell all the others.  And at book fairs, with your books and yourself exposed to a horde of strangers, there is great risk of – you guessed it – rejection.  You wait and wait and wait, until someone finally comes to your booth.  They pick up a book, look at the cover (it had better be sexy), flip the book over, read the blurb, and then, with your hopes now high in the ether, they put the book down and without a word, walk away.  Rejected!  Or they read the blurb, open the book and read the first page or two, dip into other sections, and then, with your hopes soaring into ecstasy heights, put the book down and walk away.  Rejected again!  So what can you do? 

Me at BookCon 2017.  No big sign, no big bookrack, the books lying flat on the table.  Yes, there's a dish of candy, but I had a lot to learn.

         Lots of things.  Hang a sign or banner in front of your booth or above it, to hook the eye of attendees.  Don’t leave the books lying flat.  Prop them up on little book racks, or better still, display a bunch of them on a big book rack that passersby can’t miss.  Add signs with witty sayings, and put out dishes of swag – candy, bookmarks, whatever.  Stand, don’t sit, and smile, smile, smile till your facial muscles ache.  In other words, Tip no. 2: Jazz up your scene.  And if you’re not exhibiting in public, jazz up your blog or your website, and any other way you have of getting yourself out there in public.  Look weird or wise or funny, wear glasses to look intellectual, or sunglasses to look sexy, and a sweater or T-shirt with another memorable saying.  In a world of slobs, be elegant; in a world of elegance, be a slob.  Modesty is out; shyness, taboo.  Jazz up your scene.

My young friend Silas and me at the 2018 Brooklyn Book Festival.  I'm a bit tousled, but that's okay for an author. Smiles, a big book rack crammed with books, and a big sign you can't see.  We jazzed it up. 
         An artist friend of mine assures me that when he displays at an outdoor art show, he goes through the same pattern of waiting, waiting, waiting for a sale and smiling bravely, with the soul-wrenching risk of rejection.  So does a politician turned author, as chronicled by an article in the Sunday Book Review section of the Times of November 11, 2018: “A politician turned novelist learns what real rejection is,” by Steve Israel.  As a politician successfully elected eight times to represent a Long Island swing district in the House of Representatives, Israel admits that voters have called him an idiot, Communist, socialist, liberal, Obama lackey, Bush sellout, and worse.  And once he even needed a police escort to get him from a turbulent town hall meeting to his car.  Did this discourage him?  Not at all.  Politicians are used to voter rejection, develop a thick skin, and go on.  But once he became an author, that changed.

         Sitting behind a pile of his books at an author event, watching people pick up his book like “a piece of spongy fruit in the market,” was torture.  As was their way of frowning, weighing the book in their hands, glancing at a few pages, and then tossing it back down right in front of him.  And the questions they ask: “Is this a novel?”  (It says “novel” on the cover.)  “Are you pro-gun or anti-gun?”  And his favorite: “I shoot bear.  Will this book help?”  Each question, he confesses, was deflating.  Gone is his politician’s thick skin.  In politics, there’s a common saying: “It’s not personal; it’s just business.”  In other words, the voters don’t hate you, just that vote of yours.  Or it’s your party’s image, or just their ignorance.  But Israel the author sees his book as intensely personal, for in it he has put off his protective gear and exposed himself to the world.  Also, when voters reject you, they do it in the privacy of the voting booth, whereas people at a book event reject you right in front of you, in full view of the world.  A cartoon accompanying the article shows a table with books piled high, a sign “MEET THE AUTHOR,” and an author sitting there alone and dejected.  On top of the stack of unsold books is a bird’s nest with three hungry young birds, their little beaks stretched wide, as mama brings them a worm.

         But all is not lost.  Steve Israel is working on the problem, he’s adjusting.  If anyone asks again if his novel will help them shoot a bear, he’ll say “Yes!” and suggest that they take some extra copies for fellow bear hunters.  Which brings us to Tip no. 3: It’s not personal; adjust. 

         At the Brooklyn Book Festival last September, I hoped to beat my previous record of selling 14 books in one day.  So what did I sell?  Fourteen.  Disappointed, I decided not to exhibit there again.  But I consulted the blog where fellow authors from my current small press exchange anecdotes and advice.  One told of exhibiting at a Barnes & Noble in Texas where he sold all of seven books.  Which made 14 sound not so bad.  And another told of exhibiting somewhere with success for three hours.  I congratulated him but asked what he meant by “success.”  His answer: 6 or 7 books sold, contact with other authors, and a promising talk with a bookstore manager.  Again, my record of 14 books in a day didn’t sound so bad.  And it occurred to me that of my neighbors at BookCon 2017, not one showed up at BookCon 2018.  They never said how many books they sold in 2017, when I sold 26 in two days, but if they had sold a vast number, I’m sure they would have come back.  Conclusion: for an author lacking bestseller status, 14 in one day is acceptable; such will be my expectation in the future.  So here is Tip no. 4: Get wise, consult, scale down. 

         And to avoid depression, stop thinking and emoting, and do something physical, especially if you have been avoiding it.  Mow the lawn, do the laundry, wash the dishes, do yoga, clean.  Something not intellectual. It has to be done, so do it; you’ll feel better.  Tip no. 5: Get physical.

         So here are the five tips for coping with rejection.  Adapt them and apply them to yourself as needed.   

  1. Play another game. 
  2. Jazz up your scene.
  3. It’s not personal; adjust. 
  4. Get wise, consult, scale down. 
  5. Get physical.

These are my tips; what are yours?  I’d love to hear them.


All books are available online as indicated, or from the author.

1.  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (Mill City Press, 2015).  Winner of the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  All about anything and everything New York: alcoholics, abortionists, greenmarkets, Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, my mugging in Central Park, peyote visions, and an artist who made art of a blackened human toe.  

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you.  An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017 and 2018, and at the Brooklyn Book Festival 2018.


"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you.  Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way. A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.

"To read No Place for Normal: New York is to enter into Cliff Browder’s rich and engaging sixty years of adult life in New York. Yes, he delves back before his time – from the city’s origins to the 19th Century that Ms. Trollope and Mr. Dickens encounter to robber barons and slums that marked highs and lows of the earlier Twentieth Century. But Browder has lived such an engaged and curious life that he can’t help but cross paths with every layer and period of society. There is something Whitmanesque in his outlook."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Michael P. Hartnett.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

2.  Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017), the second novel in the Metropolis series.  New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder.  Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a persistent and undying hope.

For readers who like historical fiction and a fast-moving story.


"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure.  A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"This was a fun book.  The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character.  I would recommend this."  Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

3.  Dark Knowledge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2018), the third novel in the Metropolis series.  Adult and young adult.  A fast-moving historical novel about New York City and the slave trade, with the sights and sounds and smells of the waterfront. 

New York City, late 1860s.  When young Chris Harmony learns that members of his family may have been involved in the illegal pre-Civil War slave trade, he is appalled.  Determined to learn the truth, he begins an investigation that takes him into a dingy waterfront saloon, musty old maritime records that yield startling secrets, and elegant brownstone parlors that may have been furnished by the trade.  Since those once involved dread exposure, he meets denials and evasions, then threats, and a key witness is murdered.  What price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?


"A lively and entertaining tale.  The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.

"At first the plot ... seemed a bit contrived, but I was soon swept up in the tale."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by snash.

"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing.  The Author obviously knows his stuff."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

4.  The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series, tells the story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.

What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York?   Gay romance, but women have read it and reviewed it.  (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)


"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read."  Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.

"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same."  Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.

"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters.  Highly recommended."  Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

5.  Fascinating New Yorkers: Power Freaks, Mobsters, liberated Women, Creators, Queers and Crazies (Black Rose Writing, 2018).  A collection of posts from this blog.  Short biographical sketches of people, some remembered and some forgotten, who lived or died in New York.  All kinds of wild stuff, plus some stuff that isn't quite wild but fascinating.  New York is a mecca for hustlers of every kind, some likable and some horrible, but they are never boring.

Fascinating NYers eimage.jpg


"Fascinating New Yorkers by Clifford Browder was like sitting down with a dear friend and catching up on the latest gossip and stories. Written with a flair to keep the reader turning the pages, I couldn't stop reading it and thinking about the subjects of each New Yorker. I love NYC and this book just added to the list of reasons why, a must read for those who love NYC and the people who have lived there." Five-star NetGalley review by Patty Ramirez, librarian.

"Unputdownable."  Five-star review by Dipali Sen, retired librarian.

"I felt like I was gossiping with a friend when reading this, as the author wrote about New Yorkers who are unique in one way or another. I am hoping for another book featuring more New Yorkers, as I couldn't put this down and read it in one sitting!" Five-star NetGalley review by Cristie Underwood. 

©   2018   Clifford Browder