A new book chronicles the pain of failure

By Keith Staskiewicz
Updated May 14, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

Bill Shapiro, the editor in chief of Life.com (which, like EW, is part of Time Inc.), mined very personal correspondence in 2007’s Other People’s Love Letters. We recently talked to him about his new book, Other People’s Rejection Letters (even Andy Warhol’s in there).

From love letters to rejection — that’s a big leap.
I took a broad definition of love. It could be ”Oh, baby, your eyes are so beautiful,” but it could also be ”Hey, we’ve been together for five years, but I’m going to leave your ass at the truck stop.” In some ways, rejection wasn’t a leap.

How did it feel reading so much rejection?
Partway through collecting these letters, I started thinking, ”Where are mine?” I saw people taking amazing chances and I [thought], ”Maybe I haven’t risked enough to be rejected.”

Any memorable ones you got yourself?
I got one from a girl at camp saying, ”Billy, I like Jason.” And the fact that I remember that one is a lot more salient than it should be.

How’d you find these letters? I can’t imagine people would laminate their failures for posterity.
That’s why this book was so challenging. Everybody has a box of love letters under their bed or in their closet! I started by asking my friends. Then I hired reporters all over the country.

Was it hard to pick which ones went in the book?
That was the most fun. You lay out letters across the floor. Then you start rejecting some of the rejection letters because they’re not funny enough. Then you have to call people and say, ”Thanks for your rejection letter, but I’m sorry…”

But you called, right? You didn’t send a letter?
Well, actually, some people I sent e-mails to.