Friday, January 24, 2014


I don't know any writer who likes being rejected, but if you are going to write for the public, you had better get used to it— and toughen up.

Easy to say. Harder to do. Do it anyway. 

Virtually every author has been rejected at some time or other—many of us multiple times.

It hurts both pride and bank balance—and the waiting is exceedingly stressful.

Keep your cool.  As a good friend of mine likes to say: “Life is about managing your fears.” If you are a creative, empathetic, somewhat introverted type—highly likely if you are a writer (and note that I didn’t use the word ‘sensitive’)—it becomes even more important to manage them well. Whatever you feel like inside—act the part of the ever resilient, resourceful writer. Do that convincingly, and after a while, you will be just that. There is magic in this business. 

Much as a combat soldier expects to be shot at, a writer must expect rejection. Press on regardless. Press on beyond what seems reasonable. Rejection is not failure (though it can feel like it). It's just part of the process. Writing is a long game—and a tough one. It may take years, or even decades, to make your mark. Fortitude is a requirement.

Where traditional publishing is concerned, you pretty much have to have an agent, and that's where rejection starts—because it is difficult to get an agent. You are likely to be rejected again and again.

However, assuming you do finally get one, then you merely step up to the privilege of being rejected by publishers. Normally, they will do that through your agent—frequently for reasons that have nothing to do with your writing. It’s easier for them, but it won’t hurt any less. Don’t show your pain.

The lunch your agent paid for was not up to scratch; their list might be full; they might have no faith in your particular genre; they mightn't like the typeface; they might have had a row with their lover and just feel plain vicious - and so on. In truth, it is highly possible that they haven’t even looked at your work.

It is very, very, easy to be rejected. It is what editors do when they are not hacking your manuscript to pieces. It's a power thing, you may well think.  Perhaps, but it’s also necessary because there are just too many manuscripts out there—and most just aren’t very good. I hate to say that because every manuscript is its author’s dream—but it’s true.

You may think that you will learn from rejections because each one will give you a hint on how your writing can be improved. Well, that could happen—after all it happens in books and movies—but it's far more likely that even if a reason is given (which often it is not), it will not be the correct one. They rationalize it as being tactful. You may take the view that you are simply being lied to.

Get used to it. Even if your opus is accepted for publication, you may well will be lied to at every stage in the proceedings. We’ll build you as an author is my favorite—and this from a major publisher who paid me a great deal of money yet didn’t organize one single book signing, book tour, or press interview—ever. 

Incredible! Not in the book business. There is an industry joke that the best description of fiction is a royalty statement—only I’m not sure it’s a joke. Wage theft isn’t confined to manual workers. 

Further, don't assume editors, and others in publishing, know what they are doing. Some are great—a precious few—but mostly they resemble economists in that they are lousy at forecasting. They profess to know what will sell, but mostly their guesses are no better than yours—unless an established Best Selling author, backed by major promotional)investment, is involved. Then, sheer weight of money (normally though not always) guarantees the result.

Given enough resources, marketing works. We are a persuadable, pliable, and predictable public. The phrase “enough resources” is a significant qualifier.   

Worse yet, since publishing went corporate—as in Big Business took over (as a consequence of mergers and acquisitions, there are now only five large publishing houses left—down from 50 a couple of decades ago) the selection is likely to be by committee—and committees tend to play it safe (so you are in trouble if you don't conform to a genre).

Most authors have agent/publisher horror stories to tell, (and some really are horrific) so it's scarcely surprising that—thanks to Amazon—self-publishing has come into its own. It's a truly significant development (which is not going to go away) but it exposes you to the harsh world of the marketplace without anyone to blame if things go wrong. You can't very well blame your publisher for not marketing your book properly (which is normal, by the way) if the publisher is you.

That said, I hold to the view that few writers are natural marketeers—and even fewer have the necessary training and experience—let alone detachment.

Are there exceptions? Many—but they still constitute a minority.

You have real problems if your work is rejected by the marketplace after it has been adequately marketed—by whoever (if that lucky day ever happens). Even then, all is not lost because you can write another book—and the chances are that it will be better. One of the good things about our extraordinarily difficult business is that experience matters; and, if you have talent, commitment, and fortitude, you will get better over time.

As to those who purport to judge your work and decide your fate—to  quote screenwriter William Goldman: “No one knows anything.”

Goldman is a rare exception to that aphorism—as his track record shows—but his generalization holds true.

Carry that thought through and appreciate that the only person who can reject you--in an absolutely fundamental way—is yourself (if you give up).

If you love writing as much as many of us masochists do, you will never quite go that far (though you will come close). And you shouldn't—because, in the end, you may well succeed; and that success will taste all the sweeter.

But what is writing success? It may well not be the Best Seller you hoped for, or the admiration and respect of your peers, but you'll know it when you achieve it. Your inner voice will tell you—and that's all that really matters.

It will feel beyond immensely satisfying. It will feel right. It’s a very special feeling—and it will more than compensate for the years (if not decades) of effort, frustration, failure, dejection, and rejection which will lead up to it.

It feels good to be an author—as good as it gets—and it’s a fine word to have inscribed on your tombstone. It’s short—and it gets right to the point. Beyond that, you’ll be in the very best of company. For all our flaws, we are a convivial bunch, and the work we do—illuminating the human condition—is vital.

The photo is of William Goldman who has written too many fine movies to list—and has a sense of humor to die for. THE PRINCESS BRIDE may be my favorite from his work. He’s an extraordinary talent. I don’t know the man, but feel indebted to him. His writing has enriched my life—and the lives of those I care for.

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