14 Nov Dealing with rejection
No-one likes rejection. But every writer faces it.
Martin Green from Pantera Press recently wrote, ‘Virtually every best-selling author was rejected by every publisher they contacted except the one where they found their eventual home.’ I thought those words were worth repeating. Except in the rare case of a bidding war where several publishers will make an offer for a manuscript and an auction is held, most writers only receive one offer.
And that’s if they receive any offer at all.
I know I’m lucky that Penguin has recently published my first novel. But it wasn’t—isn’t—straightforward. I’ve got a stack of rejection letters from those that didn’t make an offer. For a while I dreaded seeing an email from my agent because I knew they’d be another one.
I keep a record of all the ‘nays’ as well as the ‘yays’. I might refer to them one day. And they keep me hungry. Writing is an evolving craft. Each book is different and you learn something new with each project. You also (hopefully) improve and you learn from your mistakes.
But here’s the thing. Writing is also very subjective and so are publishers. If every publisher who didn’t like my manuscript had said the same thing, I’d think, I can fix this. But everyone has their own reason. Sometimes they give you feedback which is helpful. Sometimes they don’t. One publisher vaguely wrote, ‘I couldn’t put my finger on it but…’
Some American publishers loved the writing but the story wasn’t right for their list. A couple of English editors were keen but couldn’t get it across marketing and sales. It came down to number-crunching in the end: a common story these days as publishers cut their lists, bookshops fold and book prices plummet.
Some publishers never replied. That’s normal too.
As a journalist I’ve been used to getting articles rejected. In general it isn’t personal. Reasons range from a similar story has just run to poor timing to it doesn’t quite fit.
Over the years, I’ve acquired a slightly thicker skin and see rejection as part of the writing process. It doesn’t make it easier, but it keeps things in focus.
These days writers have many other options if traditional publishers don’t come to the table. I won’t go into detail here but there are lots of options: e-publishing, self-publishing, Amazon. So my advice to writers out there is to keep trying. If you believe in your story or your book, then you will find a way to get it read by more than just one reader.
It might take time and it will be frustrating. You learn to be patient in this game. I’m still hoping for that illusive letter of acceptance from a publisher outside of Australia—and in the meantime, I’ve started my next novel.
Because you know what? It’s also about taking back control. Once I made the decision to stop waiting and start writing, I was back in the driving seat. It was like giving myself a vote of confidence, even if others weren’t.
So how do you deal with rejection?