“After 5 years of continual rejection, the writer finally lands a publishing deal: Agatha Christie. Her book sales are now in excess of $2 billion. Only William Shakespeare has sold more.”
“The Christopher Little Literary Agency receives 12 publishing rejections in a row for their new client, until the eight-year-old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor demands to read the rest of the book. The editor agrees to publish but advises the writer to get a day job since she has little chance of making money in children’s books. Yet Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling spawns a series where the last four novels consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history, on both sides of the Atlantic, with combined sales of 450 million.”
“Louis L’Amour received 200 rejections before Bantam took a chance on him. He is now their best ever selling author with 330 million sales.”
“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” A rejection letter sent to Dr Seuss. 300 million sales and the 9th best-selling fiction author of all time.”
“You have no business being a writer and should give up.” Zane Grey ignores the advice. There are believed to be over 250 million copies of his books in print.”
Now, these are referring to publishers, not agents, so it’s a little different, because many of us—myself included—are in the process of trying to land agents. But you get the gist. It’s freaking TOUGH to get published in 2015. Everybody gets rejected in the beginning—from Stephen King (he’d thrown his first novel, Carrie, in the trash; his wife retrieved it and he made a quarter-mill on it) to Harlan Coben to Agatha Christie to Jack London. You name ‘em, they’ve been rejected.
“A friend on Twitter told me she has a wall in her closet where she pins all her rejection letters. She highlights all the nice things editors say. (Why don’t the rejection letters I get say nice things?) Stephen King did something similar, and in On Writing, he says at fourteen, ‘The nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.’ Rejection is a red badge of honor. It means you’re serious, you’re disciplined, and you won’t give up. If you haven’t been rejected, it probably means you’re not passionate enough.”
I love the above quote. And I think it’s very, very true. Currently, I am submitting my suspense novel (87,000 words) to agents seeking representation. It’s been slow going so far! I submitted a novel years ago that I now realize was entirely not ready. But I figured that now, years later, and after having 15 short stories published in various lit mags and journals, and having worked for an agent, and having received a writing degree, and being a book editor, that, you know, I would HAVE WHAT IT TAKES to get my book published!
And you know what? I do have what it takes. The problem is that I want it to happen right now and on MY terms. That’s often the case with us writers. And we’re sensitive. This is our ‘baby,’ right? Our literary flesh and blood, on the page and in the prose.
But the truth is, I know I need to not be married, so to speak, to my book. I need to take the actions and let go of the results. In other words: I need to keep submitting and let go of what happens next. How often does the thing you hope for actually happen the way you foresee it and when you foresee it? Very, very rarely; at least in my experience. Especially in the writing industry.
Maybe it’s just my first 5 pages. Or my first 10. First chapter. First THREE chapters. Or, maybe, it’s the whole book. Or maybe the book is fine now the way it is and I just need to sit tight and allow the right agent to find me. I don’t know. It’s time to face my fear and walk through the uncertainty. But if you’re anything like me, you know how self-defeating we writers can be. We like to think about throwing in the literary towel, blaming the [unfair] industry, shooting our anger at agents, at editors, at the publishing industry, period.
Sure, no one’s going to deny that the industry is magnanimously flawed. There is a clear and present profit motive. We ARE talking about a capitalistic enterprise here. And we all know that terrible books seem to somehow find their way on book shelves more and more every year. And, in general, less people are reading books in America. So, yes, it’s tough. I hear editors say all the time that the market is hard because the books have to be THAT good, THAT exceptional. I disagree. I try not to be a pessimist. But, having worked in the industry as an agent’s assistant, I can say that, from what I’ve witnessed, I think what the crux of the issue is, is that there is WAY too much competition.
The truth is, agents will tell their interns—and you’re almost always submitting to an 18-21-year-old intern from college—to reject for nearly any reason. If there is a typo in the query, reject. If the first line doesn’t hook you, reject. If the voice isn’t ‘strong enough’ in the first five pages, reject. If they address you as ‘Dear Agent,’ they’re not professional: reject.
Of course, we writers are scrambling for the tiny resources we can find to please these bastions, these Gate Keepers of the industry, trying to both ‘write what we know,’ as Hemingway said, and also keep the reality of the market in mind. It’s a tough, nearly impossible balancing act. At the same time, we’re hoping that the intern got laid the night before, has had her coffee, and is feeling excited to discover new talent.
Don’t hear me wrong. I am not anti-agent. I love agents: I think they do an important job and are viable, practical champions of writers’ work. I want one. Many of us do. All I’m saying is that, the writing playing field isn’t like what it used to be in the eighties or nineties. There are other writers everywhere, vying for the same thing as you, all the energy from our collective drive being focused on one area: The Protectors and Gate Keepers of industry. The hallowed Agent Extraordinaire.
So my point is: Keep trying, respect what agents do, don’t give up. And accept rejection for what it is (as discussed via the quotes above): A very real, very irritating part of the process of being a professional book writer. Or short story writer. Or poet. Or anything, really. Don’t take it personally. Don’t tear up your book and throw in the towel. If anything, see it as another opportunity to turn it over to the universe and LET GO. Allow the process to unfold the way it’s supposed to. I have had several referrals lately, to agents, which is supposed to be a gold ticket. And it is, because it means they’ll truly read the pasted pages. Still rejected. ‘Not for them.’ ‘Unfortunately.’ ‘The industry is very subjective.’ ‘I’m sure your book will find a home.’ ‘Best of luck in your search for representation.’ ‘Feel free to query me again in the future if you have another book.’
I get it. We’ve all been through it. Tough it out, shake it off, and turn it over to something higher than you. Let go. Do the work. Like King, Coben, Christie, London, etc.
I’ll see you in the future, on the bookshelves J
“You said it. Let’s edit.”
I do developmental book editing. Right now I am—happily—booked solid until August. IF you want a free test edit now I can do that, but I’ll have to throw you in line for Aug. Cool with that? Have an adult novel (no sci-fi please) or memoir? Email me: email@example.com.
Also, check out my client Christian Picciolini’s book: “Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead.” True tale of a neo-Nazi who got out and became an activist for love and positive change. Great read. Buy it on Amazon (click here).