Keeping Rabbits & Other Field Methods For Coping With Rejection | Magazine | News for Writers | The Big Idea

By Sheila Agnew

A great many people now reading and writing would be better employed in keeping rabbits.’

So wrote the author Edith Sitwell. She might have been on to something there. Each time I receive the literary equivalent of a Dear John email, I take a few moments to wonder if I might be more usefully employed in keeping rabbits. Gnawing on my bottom lip, I ponder the logistical difficulties.

Where would I keep these rabbits and how many are we talking about?

I assume that the expression, ‘breed like rabbits,’ has some foundation in scientific fact. Wait! Didn’t rabbits practically take over Australia at one point? Perhaps it would be prudent to start off small with just with one or two pairs. No need to get overly ambitious. Yes, two pairs sounds about right. Hang on — what if I inadvertently invest in same-sex couples?  Maybe I need to think about buying three or four pairs. That might be tricky; it’s going to require more financial outlay upfront.

How much capital (ballpark) will I need to set up this rabbit-keeping enterprise? Should I return to Ireland and apply for a grant from a government agency? After all, in the Celtic Tiger days, they probably flung plenty of taxpayers’ money at other new businesses with far less obvious commercial potential.

At this point in my reverie, if I’ve received a level one rejection, I can usually divert my thoughts back to whatever new book I am writing or more typically, dinner plans. Frosties again or Cheerios?

Level one rejections are easily identifiable. They emanate from email addresses like ‘intern27,’ and invariably begin:

‘Dear Author,’ or ‘Dear Shana,’ or, more memorably (once), ‘Dear [Insert Name of Recipient].’

Level two rejections are the kind you receive after the agent or editor displayed interest in the initial query and has gone to the effort of reading the entire manuscript. The nasty jolt of a level two rejection necessitates a more detailed inquiry into the potential viability of a rabbit-keeping enterprise. This is best undertaken during a long walk, preferably outdoors. But pacing in tiny circles in your one-third of the bedroom will do at a pinch.

The challenge of how to launch my rabbits into the marketplace is vexing. I send out queries to experts in the industry and peruse their responses with interest:

  • How do my rabbits stand out from the crowd?
  • Are they high-concept?
  • Are they simultaneously on-trend and completely unrelated to any trend?
  • Do they regularly tweet and blog?
  • Do they have an established fan base even though I haven’t actually got them yet?
  • Are some of my rabbits of ethnic origin or at least, anorexic? No? What about hermaphrodite?
  • We love your idea for your main rabbit.  Seriously, love that guy, Piedro, right? But could you completely change him so that he is …In prison? In a coma? Insane? Invisible? In something (indecipherable – Swahili?)
  • Will my rabbits appeal to all the residents of Jerusalem equally? To boys and girls? What about potential crossover appeal to Japanese senior citizens?
  • Have I thought about adaptations I might need to make to my brand for the lucrative Gabon market?
  • Could I mull over the possibility of leaking a rabbit sex tape?
  • What about finding some carnivore rabbits? (Just a suggestion)
  • Could I post pictures on my Facebook page of a lame rabbit sitting in a little wheelchair contraption that I made myself from discarded sprite cans, empty Tayto bags, some string and a set of toy wheels nicked from my nephew’s jaw- droppingly expensive Cars 2 merchandise?

There’s a lot of food for thought and it’s easy to get a tad disheartened. But what if I caught a super lucky break and the paparazzi snapped a picture of Rihanna carrying one of my rabbits in her purse? Would it help if she wore nothing but a bling encrusted thong? I mean the rabbit, not Rihanna. Have you ever seen a foxy looking rabbit?

On further reflection, I’m not sure I want Rihanna to be the poster girl for my new business. She might decide on a whim to carry my rabbit not in her purse but as her purse. Or maybe, I’ll be flipping channels one day and spot her writhing at a Haitian festival with a small furry thing attached to a string of leather around her midsection. I blink twice. No. It couldn’t be. It is. It’s a sickeningly familiar rabbit foot. (Lo siento mi amigo Piedro).

Then again, Rihanna could be a member of the type of animal rights group that flings stale rice cakes at people who wear rabbit fur. I don’t know. I don’t go in much for reading about the private lives of celebrities except when I get assigned the only seat on the airplane with a broken entertainment system. That’s happened five times and I’m not a frequent flyer. I know this because I checked last week. Apparently, my accumulated air miles entitle me to a seat by the driver on the shuttle bus between JFK and Newark airport.

I’m concerned that I don’t have sufficient faith in my aptitude for rabbit-keeping. Do I really have the necessary skills? From time to time, I’ve wrestled with the notion of posting in the miscellaneous section on Craigslist:

‘Rabbit-Keeping Tutorials required. Preferably gratis or for barter. Willing to travel outside NYC if necessary.’

I’ve never actually gone ahead with that. Fear is holding me back. I’m almost guaranteed to receive multiple fascinating but probably frightening and sexually deviant responses.

Let’s start talking level three. Remember when you were barrelling peacefully along, three years and seven months into an intense crush on someone at school or work, and then one day, the object of your unwanted affection and filthiest desire asks if you could put in a good word for him with your best friend. That comes pretty close to a level 3.

There is no number of rabbits you can pull out of your mental cap that will banish the horror of a full-scale level three. That’s the rejection you get instead of the multiple book contract offer you were expecting, the one that came with an advance that would buy at least six months writing time in Mexico and a puppy.

I’m still stumped by the problem of how best to deal with a level three rejection. For now, it sends me scuttling, crab-like and whimpering, to the nearest rock pool of alcohol where I tip myself in head-first. It would be much more civilized if editors only issued level threes after midday instead of at 8:34 am.

It is maddening to me that at some point during a level three day, I will inevitably find myself swaying as I fixate on the lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, IF:

‘If you can met with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two Imposters just the same.’

The irony of my reciting those lines as I fall apart is always completely lost on me at the time. It’s even more ironic that I don’t buy into the lines when I’m sober. Certainly I aspire to meet Disaster with a heroically stoic calmness. But Triumph?  Hell no. I don’t want to encounter triumph with a cool bloodless indifference. I say, sing it. Give me an Uncle Walt barbaric yawp from the rooftop of the world every time.

I never cry when I get a rejection. My eyes don’t even water. They remain stubbornly dry all day. I find this mystifying. I’ve been known to tear up over late night reruns of Frasier. (Did you see the episode where Marty’s dog Eddie gets lost?) And I cried really hard when I got my first publishing contract (thank you The O’Brien Press!). It was the sort of crying where no sound at all comes out for the first two minutes and you appear to have swallowed an entire, potentially lethal, Guatemalan chili.

Rejections at any level don’t change your life. When someone asks you what you do and you say you’re a writer, you will still often get the same response, that Simon Cowell roll of the eyes. If luck is on your side, they might ask if you’d like to be the back-up babysitter for their children. It’s probably best to take the gig and say thank-you.

Gotta run. I’ve just received an email from intern*44 that starts ‘Dear Mr Sagnew.’

(c) Sheila Agnew

Sheila Agnew is an Irish author living in New York City. She will be speaking on a panel at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival in Dun Laoghaire on Saturday, September 7 at 4:30 pm at Assembly Hall, County Hall. Her humorous novels for children (aged 10+), Evie Brooks: Marooned in Manhattan and Evie Brooks: Battle in Manhattan are scheduled to be published by The O’Brien Press in March and September, 2014.

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