‘We Regret to Inform You’: A Story About Marriage and Book-Publishing Failure

regret to inform letter

(Image/Now and There)

I felt that little jolt of hope and nervous excitement in my chest when I saw the unopened email and recognized who it was from. Please let this be it.

It wasn’t it.

“Dear Matt. You’re not good enough. I’m not interested. Good luck.”

Damn it, I thought. I can’t believe this is happening again.

There was a lot riding on the first major non-marriage promise I’d made to my wife, because I didn’t know if I’d get to keep her if I didn’t fulfill it.

We moved to a beach town near Tampa, Fla. after graduating from the Ohio university where we’d met. I was a newspaper reporter. I wrote business stories for a daily newspaper, covering things like commercial real estate development and Florida’s regulated energy industry.

We were still five years away from the first iPhone launch, so it wasn’t weird to put your economic future in print journalism back then.

We both liked Florida—its gorgeous beaches, its mostly beautiful weather, its amazing seafood, and having sun-soaked skin most of the year. But. People—family, friends, community—mattered more to us than those great things. We missed home. We had limited financial resources in our early twenties, and it was cost-prohibitive for us to travel home. We missed funerals, weddings, class reunions, and holiday gatherings because of the distance.

It affected my wife more intensely than me. I was raised as an only child who split time between two parents who lived hundreds of miles apart. I was accustomed to living far away from people I love. I was pretty good at by-myself stuff.

But this was her first encounter with it. The distance. And she took it hard.

Living far from home was hurting her.

Her hurting was hurting me.

After our first year or so in Florida, my singular purpose became finding a job back home. That might seem like not that big of a deal. But I was a newspaper reporter. Guess how many newspaper reporting jobs are available at any given time in a livable city in Ohio?

I flew to several job interviews in Ohio. I even interviewed in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Detroit because they were much closer to home.

There was so much riding on these interviews. It wasn’t about me getting more money or advancing my career. It was so much bigger than that. It was me fundamentally fulfilling my first promise to my wife who I married DURING the couple-year job hunt in a largely attended, and beautiful ceremony near Cleveland.

In the car, sitting at dinner, or lounging in bed, we’d talk about how much we hoped this time it would work out. That we’d finally get the offer. Total strangers I needed to be good enough for so that I could be good enough for my wife.

Sometimes I’d get a letter in the mailbox, or receive an email or phone call from a newspaper I’d interviewed with.

My chest would thump. Before answering the phone, clicking the email, or opening the envelope. This has to be it. Please God. Let this be it.

But for many months, the message was always the same: “Thank you for your interest in working with us! It was such a pleasure to meet you! Everyone on staff loved you and thought you’d be the perfect fit! Unfortunately, competition was really high for this opening, and we had a ton of qualified candidates. It was such a hard decision, but we did choose to go with someone else.”

And then I’d die a little on the inside.

“Have fun telling your wife that you failed her again. I’m sure she’ll think you’re awesome and have no regrets about hitching her wagon to a constant failure!”

Sometimes, I’d wait several hours to tell her. Because she cried almost every time. And in a way, I couldn’t make it better, because in some respects, it was my failure to win the job that made it hurt.

Other than the unfortunate situation with my parents living hundreds of miles apart from one another in my formative years, I’d never encountered personal adversity before this. If I tried to accomplish something, I usually did. (Not because I’m awesome, but mostly because I only tried to do things in which I had a certain degree of confidence, and those things tended to work out.)

I thought I was done with that experience. And I was grateful for it. But—in a much different way—I find myself back here once again.

“Sorry Matt! We really appreciate you contacting us, but we’re just not interested in anything you have to say and don’t think anyone else is going to be either. You’re not good enough. But hey! Good luck!”

I’m Trying to Make a Non-Fiction Book Titled ‘She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink’

As most of you know, back in early 2016, I published a post with this title, and then all hell broke loose. A few days later, it was the most popular thing on the internet globally for 15 minutes, and I was getting dozens of media interview requests, and large publications seeking permission to republish it.

More than five million people read it on this blog. I can’t imagine how many more must have read it on the larger sites like The Huffington Post, Your Tango, Thought Catalog, Babble, etc.

The Inquistr published an article ABOUT the article. That’s when I got scared, because I was seriously trying to keep my writing a secret in my personal life.

But that’s when everything changed.

That’s when I learned that things I wrote could matter to people more than I ever imagined. A thousand people told me over the following week or so that I’d saved their marriage.

And it was no doubt hyperbole, but all I could think about was that maybe that was a thousand husbands who didn’t have to cry like I cried when my wife packed a suitcase and drove away. Maybe that was a thousand little kids who didn’t have to cry like I cried when I waved to one of my parents out the rear window while we drove the opposite direction.

That’s the moment my life became less about me and more about other people. My blog audience tripled after a solid few months of viral website traffic.

Credible publications invited me to write for them. Event organizers invited me to speak at their events. TV, radio, and podcast producers did the same.

Me! An idiot who started a blog drunk on vodka because I was upset about my divorce, and jokingly named it Must Be This Tall To Ride, because I’m not very tall (5’9”-ish) and was only then realizing what a handicap that was while pathetically trying and failing to online date. The blog was supposed to be about not being good enough for my wife, and not being good enough for anyone else either.

I didn’t think people would actually read this shit. But then they did.

Everything in my life unrelated to parenting is about trying to help others have better relationships. More accurately, it’s about helping people NOT accidentally poison them through a series of innocent, thoughtless behaviors and habits that happen in their blind spots—behaviors that ended my marriage, and ends thousands per day.

Just because we didn’t know any better.

I think I can write a book. And I think I can write a book that doesn’t suck.

Everything I write and publish is a stream-of-consciousness first draft with no editing, and no thoughtful organization. I unprofessionally spit it out in about an hour during a lunch break. Just like right now.

With the guidance of professional book makers and editors, as well as actual time to research and interview, I’m excited to see what’s possible.

But First, I Need Someone to Say Yes

About three weeks ago, I started querying literary agents for a full-length non-fiction book titled “She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink.” You might say I have strong data to support the title’s effectiveness.

When trying to publish a book the traditional way (through the old guard publishing houses in New York—there are four primary ones that have consolidated most of the traditional printing press industry) as an unknown, first-time author, the first step is sending a query letter to book agents.

I have to research agents and agencies who represent authors writing in the genres I’m interested in writing for. Then I email them a little pitch telling them about the book idea, why I think it has merit, why I think it’s unique, and why I think I’m the person who should be writing it.

And then you email them with something like “QUERY: ‘She Divorced me Because I Left Dishes by the Sink’ (nonfiction relationship self-help/memoir)” in the subject line, and hope that someone gives a shit.

The biggest agencies MIGHT write you back sometime within six months. (It can seriously take that long.) Others might write back faster.

Some have. Four, to be exact. About 25 percent of the agents I’ve queried so far.

All with the same message: “Sorry. Not interested.”

And that’s when it hit me that this wasn’t going to be easy. I don’t know whether I thought it would be easy, but somewhere deep down, I guess I hoped it wouldn’t be hard.

And I don’t mean difficult. I don’t mind difficult.

I mind hard. Where you feel it in the head and chest and feel like that 23-year-old all over again: Maybe I’m just not good enough.

Or maybe I am. I think I’m the only one who is supposed to have an opinion that counts. But, and this shouldn’t surprise anyone, it feels as if everyone’s opinion but mine matters.

Ultimately, yours.

But before I even have the opportunity to try to make something substantive for you to decide what to do with, I need some faceless stranger reading hundreds of book pitches per day to decide that mine is worth taking a closer look at.

I wish the fate of the most personally relevant and important project of my life weren’t in the hands of people I’ve never met and most likely will never meet. But that’s where we find ourselves.

Again.

Trying to be smart enough. Trying to be good enough. Trying to matter enough.

Jobs. Wife. Dates.

Must be this tall to ride.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

24 thoughts on “‘We Regret to Inform You’: A Story About Marriage and Book-Publishing Failure

  1. Chris says:

    Trying to please everyone..in effect, you please no one. My mantra as a divorced dad with two daughters and an ex-wife who hates me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Before Bill Cosby was a monster, he was a likable fellow, and said something important once that wasn’t about pudding pops:

      “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

      Like

  2. Mandy Aleksiak says:

    I would love to read your book! I have referred dozens of people to this blog. I think that what you say matters. Good luck. Hang in there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      I promise I will. I’m just readying myself for a long, mentally/emotionally taxing process that I should have been smart enough to have anticipated.

      Thank you very much, Mandy.

      Like

  3. Denise says:

    Write your book! Try further afield there’s a whole world out there not just New York I’m from a little country in the middle of the pacific called New Zealand! I love your blog it’s great to finally read about a guy who gets it! Go for it write the book

    Liked by 2 people

  4. personinprocess says:

    Just keep at it. The right person will read it.
    What you write hits so many people where it counts, I have no doubt that it will get the attention of the right publisher.

    It may take a long time. There’s so much that plays into why publishers ( or an agent? ) choose a book, and likely very little of that has to do with the quality of the work, or the message it’s sending.

    Rejection IS hard. Sorry you’re feeling it.
    But there will likely be a thousand no’s before you get to the yes. It becomes less painful, I swear.

    There was even an article written not too long ago about some guy purposefully putting himself in the position of being rejection to build a tolerance to it.
    I think it’s smart to balance that with remembering and visiting the places (metaphorically) you are secure. But if you ask any published author they will likely tell you there was a ton of rejection before it was accepted.

    Have you reached out to any published authors?
    Maybe they could help.

    I think you’re great, and you’re doing great work.
    You’re also an excellent writer and story teller with incredible passion.

    It WILL happen.

    Hope you feel better soon.
    (Stupid literary agents : P! )

    Liked by 1 person

  5. emilyvaillpfaff says:

    When you send your queries, do those who are reading it ‘know who you are??’ Do they know the attention you received from the first and many following posts? It seems to me if they did, they could stretch their imaginations that some of those five million might buy your book. Do you summarize that initial experience of explosive attention and notoriety? I discovered you being interviewed on the radio, probably NPR, and then went to look up your blog post because it hit home then and they still hit home when I can focus long enough to read them 😏. So as the others say, don’t give up, maybe shorten the title of the book in your queries? That is what editors are for right? Helping you figure out that title that will grab the browsers at JoBeth Booksellers or B/N?? Hang tough Matt!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hey, think of it. What does having millions of views and all that media attention tell you? People [i.e. real people like us] are interested in your stream-of-consciousness posting. Times are changing. Who knows? Perhaps your opportunity to influence is not going to come through a literary agent.

    I remember a quote long ago [don’t remember who said it], but it was along the lines of ‘Find out what everyone else is doing and do something different’.

    Have you considered doing a vlog to get your message out? Some vloggers are wildly successful—even recognizable around the wold [Casey Neistat is a good example]. Why not bypass network news and legacy publishing houses all the way around? Your ease with your stream of consciousness thought process would be a great asset in a vlog.

    Whether you ever have a book deal or not is not a measure of your talent and ability. Reverse the psychology … see how many rejections you can rack up and still laugh about it along the way.

    What is that old truism? He who cares the least holds all the power.

    I say don’t let literary agents hold your power. Write because you love it and because there are lots of us who want to hear what you have to say. If the literary agents miss an opportunity, it’s their loss.

    Take care and keep typing.
    Go Bucks!
    O-H ….
    [Sorry … Columbus Ohio native here.]

    Like

  7. Oh! I feel your pain. Self-publishing gets no publicity. Traditional publishing takes forever and so much rejection. I did find a hybrid company in Ohio that allows you to keep ALL rights and profits if you would like to message me. I too wrote a marriage book. It is about surviving infidelity. I love your writing and will continue to follow you, book or no book.

    Like

  8. carlystarr says:

    It must have been just insane to see your post go viral like that. I have written a fiction book and I am currently the agent/publisher rejection merry-go-round myself. We got to hang in there hey.

    Like

  9. Sheila L Mynatt says:

    Just remember the book “The Shack” was self published and quickly took off. I enjoy your writing style and the soundness of your advise.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Can you self publish digitally? That’s what that woman who wrote ‘Fifty Shades..’ did. Then it got picked up by a print publisher.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt says:

      Of course. Anytime I want.

      One of them costs you upfront. The other, the sometimes give you some money, and then surround you with a ton of resources to help you succeed, which is why I’m trying that version first.

      I’ll self-publish if that’s what it takes.

      I AM self-publishing a couple of e-books for Kindle/Nook/Apple Books/etc.

      The first is with the editor now. I hope to have it finished in the next couple of months or so.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. ej725 says:

    Skip those stupid ignorant publishers. Just go to Amazon. Can’t wait for the book!!!

    Like

  12. Louie says:

    Ok Matt….take this as a scolding. In the years I’ve be a part of this blog community I’ve never once noticed you giving a doom and gloom spin on any of the subjects or responses presented. You are hurt but confident, humble yet bold, vulnerable yet have a defense cuticle. Your advice and perceptions have given so many hope to move forward and take some of the simplist parts of their lives once thought to be gone back. You’ve dried many a tear and have made many cry reliving and cleansing tears. Your words, revelations ,perspectives, accounts, research and most of what you bring here have been a beacon for many lost and drifting.
    Now some advice from an elder statesman….Read your own stuff and apply same! Do not give up, feel crestfallen ,have bullshit thoughts of inadequacy etc. I , we won’t stand for it! Yes I said we! The collective majority of this community believe in you and your path. You owe this primarily to yourself to be successful in everything, but you also owe your son,family, friends, ex,and us who are immensely proud of you. Fuck those stuffy bastards! Years ago I would “moon” ( Anne will attest to this…poor sweetie) any of the ” hoy peloy” that attempted to invoke some prejudice based aristocracy on me or mine. If need be I’d “moon” any of those assholes for you. Keep plugging bud, pick yourself up dust yourself off and move forward. We’re counting on you! And yes I want pre -order my copy right now! ( autographed of course!)

    Like

  13. I know nothing about the publishing biz, but a 25% response rate to your queries sounds pretty encouraging to me. Just on the basis of probability alone, if you cast your net wide enough, you are bound to get some bites, I would think.

    Are you in a position to reach out to any of the four that replies to ask them what it was about your submission that they didn’t like? Can’t hurt to ask nicely, and you might glean something that’ll help you reformulate what you’re presenting to the next batch.

    I’m wondering if there are any smaller niche publishers (marriage/relationship) out there that might want to take a look.

    Just thinkin’ out loud…I really do know nothing about publishing.

    Like

  14. Ceci says:

    Hey Matt,
    You probably don’t need another “write your book,” response given how many of my fellow readers have already beat me to it, but here is my vote/response as well. Write your book.
    I hate the fact that all of these postings of yours have come at the price of your own marriage ending, your son, your exwife, and yourself suffering. Selfishly I’m glad your site exists, I wish it still did and your family had been saved. But since I don’t have magical powers (however much I wish, it would solve so many problems), at least let it have a larger purpose, a savior for other and future marriages, preferably all. 😃

    Your site is on my short list to visit in regards to my marriage. Your writing is great, it’s insightful and funny. Clever, witty, easy to read, but not dumbed down. So please if you are still willing and want to, write your book. I will eagerly await for it and order a copy, probably even pre-order.

    If you go the self-publishing route, I offer my services as an Illustrator to you, if needed and/or wanted, and if so then in compensation: 2 copies of your book… your book would be a real help to people, as your site has been, this type of thing matters and should be helped/promoted.😃

    PS- The book publishing people are idiots so far then. If it helps in any way whatsoever, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series almost never got picked up.

    Like

  15. Brian Jones says:

    If you succeed with this book AND meet somebody new and it looks like it’s going somewhere good, that’s when you stop writing.

    WHAT? Stop?

    Yup. Find the kind of work that’ll give you the one resource that’s essential for the best people in your life: time.

    Unless you’re the Usain Bolt of writing, writers don’t have that time.

    I used to be a journalist too. Sometimes straight news, sometimes sports and entertainment-oriented stuff. Insane hours, lousy money, idiots from corporate, too much time spent obsessing and arguing over minutiae with colleagues…but also press credentials to get into cool events for free, the potential for loads of fun and great stories to tell. All that is fine for a single guy, but it’s death on relationships, and it never occurred to me at the time that my communications skills would be good for a lot of other things that would have enabled me to have the time to get the best things right. More than one wonderful woman walked out of my life because of the lack of “us” time, and I can’t say as I blame any of them.

    On top of that, pretty soon you look up and now your parents need help, and now all the fun stuff about your job goes to the younger single journalists because you’ve got elder-law issues and where’s-mom-gonna-live questions to answer.

    Pay attention to the people who hit it big, or at least fairly big…and got off the merry-go-round. Another hit off the fame-pipe was theirs for the asking, and they walked away instead, because there were far more important matters to attend to.

    Like

  16. I Forget says:

    Have you tried this publisher? I don’t know if they’re the right fit or not, but I figure whoever publishes the book is the right fit. Well, presuming they don’t stiff you on the royalties.

    https://www.ahigherlife.com

    Like

  17. I forget says:

    What about Running Press Adult? They published Tracy Schorn’s book and its standing is still pretty high over at Amazon.

    Like

  18. Matt: From one Matt to another; it is time to DIY. I have been trying to appeal to everyone else and do it the “easy’ way. It has fallen in my face. But when I gamble; I usually do okay. Im trying to write and get my stuff out. Its time to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

Join the Conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: