Rejection. Oh, how it stings. Most of us have been through it – plenty. Seeking jobs, college admissions, love, or publication for our books. ItÂ hurts. Destroys our self image. For a while, anyway. And it tears at the thin fabric in which we cocoon with our fragile writer’s ego, protecting the inner belief thatÂ our work is valid.
A new writer recently emailed me after receiving a flurry of rejections from big agents. With a crushed spirit, she wrote:
“It makes no sense to me. If someone has written a book that is a good read, then why in the world would it not be recognized, published and read? The only answer that makes any sense is that it’s not a particularly good read after all.”
Alas, if it were only that simple. Let’s step back and take a look at the situation.
You wrote a book. Your instincts tell you it’s darned good. YouÂ envision an agent or publisher recognizing this and sweeping you up in their arms to share with the world. You dream of financial success, recognition, and that sweet validation that makes you feel you’re a “real” writer.
That elusive dream haunts just about every new writer I’ve ever known. Then, after years of toiling, burning the midnight or early morning oil, sweating and suffering and bleeding onto the pages – most realize, in time, that they’d better not quit their day jobs.
If every “good” book were accepted and published, we’d need a great deal more space to store and sell them. I’ve read that bookstores today stock only 2-3% of the published books in the world. Imagine all the “real” books that don’t end up on their shelves? Now imagine all the good books that never get published. It’s mind-boggling.
There are enormous quantities of books submittedÂ annually to publishers, and only a relative handful of agents andÂ editors to scan through the 0.05% that are accepted for the slush pile. They often receive hundreds of submissions per day. Imagine reading 100 emails every single day from authors who want to be heard? It wouldn’t be hard to feel jaded in short order.
Publishers and agents have cut down their staffs, because of the economy, and it’s probably even harder for them to get through the slush piles now, with the fear of job loss if their next pick doesn’t bring in some cash.
There are plenty of horrible books submitted each year, too. But there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of very good books out there. Yours may be one of them. (If it isn’t, keep on working on your skills until it is!)
Are you in this boat? Have you had your books summarily dismissed by the powers that be, over and over again?Â
Have you hired or courted superb writers to help you perfect your story? Have you scouredÂ your book dozens of times for typos or inconsistancies? Have you researched the heck out of every point that needs confirmation? Have you assured that your dialog is crisp and believable? Have you hacked away at unnecessary adverbs and adjectives? Have you just plain told the story in the same voice you use to speak?Â And your book hasÂ still been rejected?
If not, count your lucky stars, for you are among one of the very few who got picked up at the starting gate. If so, let me share something with you.
Rejections may have nothing to do with the quality or value of your book. Most often, they have to do with the market, and what’s “hot” this season. It could be the mood of the agent or editor who’s reading your stuff, or the fact that your book slides between genres. Maybe it features young adults, but doesn’t follow someone’s blueprint for what a YA book needs to contain. Maybe it’s absolutely perfect for a publisher, but they’ve already filled the slot for your genre on their list this year. Maybe the first level editor falls in love with your book, but her boss doesn’t. Or you get all the way to the top of this year’s short list, only to be told you didn’t make the cut.
If you don’t get picked up in the first five years by high profile agents or publishers, I recommendÂ seeking a high quality small press. It’s not easy to get into their world, either. But you don’t usually need an agent, and they can provide a nurturing home for you, as well as help you get your books out to the public.
And let me tell you friends, it’s that public, those lovely readers, who will provide the validation you’ve sought for so long. WhenÂ the first person (who isn’t family or friends) comes up to you and gushes over your characters, or when you receive that unsolicited email from a stranger who NEEDS your next book or “they’ll just die,” or that lady who’s been staring at you with stars in her eyes finally approaches you in the grocery store and says she wants to marry your lead character… that’s when the validation just washes through your writer’s soul. It’s even better than the glowing reviews. Trust me.
So, the publishing game is tough. But it’s not hopeless. There is still a place for us in this intensely competitive world. Acceptance by a high profile firm does not necessarily equate to a good book, just as rejection doesn’t always equate to a bad book. Just look at the bestsellers out there. Some are quite odious, filled with plot holes, flat characters, and poor editing.
So, why bother?
Even with staggering odds in today’s market, every year several “newcomers” are “discovered” and offered lucrative contracts. It does happen. We hear about it all the time. The next “hot” book will be discovered any day now. And it could be yours.
My final bit of advice is this:
If you are a passionate writer, you need to write independent of what agent represents you, how many times your work has been rejected, what publisher has thumbed their nose at you, how many readers you have or don’t have, how many books you have published or not published.
Okay. Group hug.
Now just keep writing. And remember to write like the wind!
(author reading advanced release excerpt of Healey’s Cave, release date spring, 2009)
Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at www.legardemysteries.com and www.mooremysteries.com and watch for the fourth book in the LeGarde series, MAZURKA, coming in January 2009 from Twilight Times Books.