On rejections and promoting my memoir and history of American adoption

Rudy Owens after the 2008 Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage. I finished 21st.

I like a challenge, and I am conditioned for succeeding in long races and difficult projects. This is me right after completing the Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage in 2008. I finished in just under 3 hours and 9 minutes, and finished the race 21st overall, in all ages. I do not walk away from momentary setbacks.

Every week, I continue to reach out to agents and publishers to consider my forthcoming memoir, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are: An Adoptee’s Journey through the American Adoption Experience.

Like nearly every writer who has come before me, I have been rejected multiple times. I expect this. It is part of the business and it is a part of nearly everything we do in life. You will not always succeed. You must try and try again. What matters is what you do after you are set back.

In my case, each email reply helps me improve my pitch. Rejection also fires up my spirit of perseverance.

Being adopted and having overcome discriminatory adoption laws, societal stigma, prejudice, and even family conflict is perhaps the best training there is for overcoming the word “no.”

Nothing trains one for confronting adversity like being an adoptee who challenges the system, and then wins. My book is essentially this story, and by winning I mean achieving justice and reclaiming what was taken from me—my history and family origins.

In my case, I labored several years until I found my birth family and received my birth records that Michigan and my adoption agency tried to keep from me. It would take another 27 years later until I won a court case that defeated the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and forced them, by court order, to surrender my original birth certificate they should have, by law, given me in 1989.

So I am totally fine with the rejection. I am tracking those rejections now, because they tell me how to improve. They also give me good critical feedback. Here are just a few of the comments I have received about my book proposal from editors and literary agents since April 2017:

  • “Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough presentation of your work to [OMITTED] . By contrast, your care in preparing your proposal makes the majority of submissions received thoroughly inadequate.”
  • “Thank you for submitting your proposal to [OMITTED]. We found the material to be quite interesting. Unfortunately, it does not fit into our current publishing plans. However, we encourage you to approach us with any future projects you might develop.”
  • “Thank you for your inquiry regarding the publication of “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are: An Adoptee’s Journey Through the American Adoption Experience.” Although the topic sound​s​ interesting, we have decided ​it do​es​ not look suitable for our upcoming publication list as [OMITTED] does not cover the topics within your proposal.”

Of course, there are many more rejection emails to date.

One thing is certain: I will publish this book. Just as Peter O’Toole’s character T.E. Lawrence told Omar Sharif’s Sheik Ali in the epic Lawrence of Arabia, “That is written.”

4 comments

  1. Hi Rudy,

    I have a suggestion – though I’m unsure what publishing companies you could approach. I think you should try publishing in the UK, Australia, NZ and/or Canada perhaps.

    I suggest this because in Australia (where I am) our government opened adoption records in the late 1970s allowing mothers and adoptees to find each other with government support even. In 1988 I met my mother because my adoptive father remembered her last name and the government had given me her first names – otherwise I would have been waiting for her to register on contact lists the government also supplied.

    In March 2013, our then Prime Minister and first female at that apologised on behalf of Australian government for mid 20th century closed adoption policy in Australia which concealed abuses of power in practices that were illegal – acknowledging the system was a form of violence against women and that many adoptees lives were cruelly effected by being adopted.

    From my own research I know that the US still denies adoptees and mothers (particularly)
    access to birth and adoption records – lagging far behind the rest of the western world. So although your country espouses freedom (I lived in NY for 7 yrs so just saying) your adoption legislation remains archaic in relation to legislative changes implemented by other nations.

    Wishing you all the best and hoping this may help. Try some Australian publishers because we ARE interested – especially since the government apology – in how adoption impacts on people’s lives and the changes that the USA should be making to catch up with the truth about what is now intergenerational trauma, grief and loss imposed by closed adoption policies.

    Regards

    Alison Ingram

    1. Alison: Thanks for visiting my website and for your thoughtful comments comparing the disparities between the way Australia treats its adoptees and birth mothers compared to the fractured, state system in the United States that denies millions of adoptees basic human rights (namely, equality and the right to know their kin and history). You are right, the legal landscape is vastly different–similar to the differences in gun control and health care, I might add.

      My forthcoming book, in fact, focusses on this disparity, not just with Australia, but other modern nations that have national adoption systems yet provide all adoptees the right to their birth documents without prejudice.

      So, yes, I reference your former Prime Minister’s apology to mothers and their children. I reference the report written by your government that provided reconciliation and thoughtful analysis of wrongs in the past and the need to fix the problems in the present. I also mention how improbable such important gestures would be in my country because of the nature of our political system that has placed adoption as the formal policy alternative to abortion in the GOP national platform.

      It’s very clear from the emergence of the Christian political theology of orphan adoption that adoption is even more closely linked to Christian political thinking, and the GOP in most states, along with Democrats, would dare not challenge the sanctity of adoption–a fact exacerbated by even greater control of state governments by the GOP. It has become a sacred institution that include many backers from other camps as well. It’s also not a pure Democratic/Republican split. In fact the backer of a bad state bill in New York that could harm adoptees was championed by a Democrat!

      I will consider some alternative publishing outlets. I am not certain if an American story would play well Down Under, across the pond, or north of our border in Canada. But you don’t know until you try. And right now, I’m game for that.

      Hope you check back on this blog later. I’d like to report some good news that the book deal is moving forward. It will happen.

      1. Hi again Rudy – thanks for your reply – what you outline is indeed concerning – the current ‘talk’ about adoption in the US and the new administration’s cuts to Planned Parenthood funding – which will undoubtedly lead to more unplanned pregnancies and subsequent adoptions. It just seems such a blind attitude to adoptee’s experience – such denial of all the psychological, psychoanalytical and sociological research – SINCE 1942!! (Clothier).

        I’m doing my PhD investigating trauma in adoptees and birth mothers. I’m interested in helping people to communicate (my mother refused to speak of her experience and was so damaged by it she never asked me any questions about my adoptive family – and I liked it that way because I couldn’t tell her what a terrible dysfunctional home I’d been raised in – so you know, silence suited both of us but no I wish we had had some help to get past that pain – we would have done a lot better together if we did I’m sure).

        I’ll keep you posted as I proceed. I MAY want to do some counter experience interviews with US adoptees and mothers.

        And I think the Australia Adoption Community is very interested in American perspectives – especially from adoptees and mothers who would desperately like to meet but are still denied access to information. It’s just archaic and so ignorant I feel awful for people who are powerless against such ignorance. So again, please do try for a publisher in Australia – we are interested in the plight of US citizens who aren’t as lucky as we are – because even with our open access to records now, the impact of the past continues to be felt as irretrievable loss and grief – the silence shame and secrecy manifests in the present – happy reunions happen frequently but I know from my research the honeymoon period usually doesn’t last and reality bites in most cases – closed adoption has done irreparable damage – time, connection, the self who might have been – all lost.

        Stay in touch – I’ve checked the ‘Notify me of follow-up comments and will now also check the ‘notify me of new posts’. Don’t how you feel about Facebook but there are several support group pages ‘Adoptees Speak’ for example and I know there are several American members on that page. Folks on social media may also have some suggestions for publishing??

        Best

        Alison

  2. Hi Alison: Thanks for your reply. Yes, I would concur it’s not a rose garden for people to meet their kin after having been denied those relations by government/laws/society for decades. How on earth could it be. I also think people have to “roll with it,” meaning the reality of life. My book addresses that too. I don’t mean to discount the adoption experience. However, I’m an existentialist at heart, and for me, that means taking responsibility for your life and finding meaning in whatever it presents to you. My book is indebted to Viktor Frankl in that sense, who made a great case for this approach in his classic Man’s Search for Meaning. It really is a fabulous work about living a good life. My book will frame the American adoption experience with this as its foundation–and some adoptees may not like it. But that’s OK

    Can you contact me via my contact page. I’d welcome some contacts on that channel for any publisher you may have or a Facebook group that may offer a suggestion. see me a note via my contact page: http://www.howluckyuare.com/contact-rudy/. Thanks again for visiting my blog/web page.

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