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Toronto (Canada)

May, 15. 2004


M. M. Afrah

Writers are reputed to be dark, tortured, twisted souls who drink too much, live in poverty and die young. It's true. Not because we're writers, but because we have to deal with constant rejection.
If you think being rejected by a lover is bad, try having work that you laboured over for weeks and months that you've poured your heart and soul into, sent back with a form letter. Now, that's rejection.

It's also part of every writer's life, particularly those with Muslim sounding names, like Mohamed or Osama (not the wanted guy). I once papered an entire wall of my bedroom with rejection slips. Every time I looked at the wall, I'd get angry and write some more hard-hitting essays. I knew I was better than those slips.
And I was. I progressed from form letters rejecting my work to form letters with handwritten notes. Considering how many articles and manuscripts editors and big-name publishers reject every day, a handwritten note is something to be treasured-a very rare commodity.

This lovely handwritten note from the editor of a big-name publisher says my manuscript (MS in the profession) was "a masterpiece and page turner, but we suggest you change your name from Mohamed to Michael or something, because many potential customers/readers might not fancy reading a book written by somebody called Mohamed particularly after the 9/11 tragedy."

I almost went back to the good old Abdullahi Qarshe and Kaariye songs on my dusty shelves to celebrate getting a longer and candid handwritten rejection letter from the top guy. But before I did, I decided to reread the MS. Big mistake. Tacked on at the back was my cover letter, on which the editor I had sent the MS to originally had written his comment: "Excellent material. But with the author's name (Mohamed), it does not fit what we had in mind. Should I call him and tell him?"
Call and tell me what? That I should throw out my computer and get a real job? That the humour police are coming to arrest me, or perhaps go to the local bishop for a name change? Over my dead body, I muttered, imitating Margaret Thatcher, Britain's Iron Lady.
I tried to hire, mentally, of course, Somali Mooryaan (homegrown hit squads) to teach the man a lesson or two. If I read the comments in reverse order, I would have probably done so, had I been living in Mogadishu, the most dangerous place on Mother Earth, but it's the thought that counts.

As bad as rejection is, it's not half as bad as waiting. I recently sent an incredibly a blood cuddling MS to a big-name publisher in the US. The book publishers stated that submissions would be returned within two weeks. For the non-writers among you, let me point out that a two-week turn-around is amazing. Usually it takes more than two months to be rejected. A quick rejection allows flogging that same piece to several other places and receiving many more rejection slips in a fraction of the time. That's progress.
Now, back to this publisher. Two weeks passed and no rejection letter. Another week passed and I found myself racing to the door whenever I heard the mail-only bills and more bills. By week four I was eagerly scanning the company's website, looking for my piece. By week five I could barely type because my fingers were locked in a crossed position.

And by week six I was dreaming of how I would spend the money for the article-I could either pay my phone bill or buy ink cartridge for my printer and upgrade my computer. I was leaning toward the ink cartridges for my printer, (by the way the ink cartridges are more expensive than the printer itself) and upgrading the computer. Let the phone bill wait and get a disconnection slip from Bell Canada, for all I care.

In week seven it happened. A rejection form letter. Anyway, I decided to send a very nasty letter to the publisher, saying that after keeping the manuscript for seven weeks they were morally bound to publish it. But aside from the fact that editors (according to my fellow writers) are notorious for having no morals, getting an editor mad at you is not a good idea if you ever want any future work published.

So, I did the only thing a real writer can do. I turned the rejection into an article. And you're reading it right now. At least I hope you are. Good grief, not another rejection from the big selling Toronto Star.

Mr. Afrah is the author of three self-published books on the Somalia civil war and his regular weekly TALKING POINTS are posted on this website Mr. Afrah is currently working on a new book with the title "LIFE IN THE DIASPORA" This article was also sent to The Toronto Star newspaper. His

--The Webmaster

By M. M. Afrah©2004

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