Rejections

Why a whole chapter devoted to rejections? And right after the chapter on submissions? Because guess what's coming shortly after you start sending out your queries?

Rejection is a fact of life in the writing business and something you will face. I have approximately eighty rejections for each of my first two novels. Every publisher my agent sent it to soundly rejected my fourth manuscript. This despite both having an agent representing me and having my first novel out in hardcover. I am currently reworking that manuscript years later using all the comments noted in the rejection letters. My fifth manuscript is gathering dust in my agent's office because we have made a mutual agreement that it is not worth marketing right now and might never be.

A publisher who has done the first six books in a series just rejected me for a seventh book.

If you want to be a writer get used to rejections. It's part of the business.

In fact, the prospect of rejection sometimes keeps writers from sending queries out. If you don't ante up, you can't be in the game.

Ninety percent of the time you will get a form letter thanking you for your query and wishing you luck elsewhere. If you get a personal letter that means someone really took a hard look at what you sent and was interested. Take hope, even though it is a rejection. Read carefully any comments made and take them to heart.

It's essential that you remember that the publishing business is exactly that: A business. Too many writers approach it from an idealistic perspective. The dollar is the bottom line for the publisher. If they don't see how they can make money off your submission—no matter what its literary qualities—then they won't be interested.

I've heard someone once had a Pulitzer Prize winning novel (THE YEARLING) from about thirty years ago typed onto 8.5 by 11 paper and submitted it to a dozen publishing houses. Every single one rejected it. Even if you have an excellent idea and manuscript, you might be rejected simply because they already have a similar manuscript programmed into their production schedule. That has happened to me several times.

There's a book called Rotten Rejections edited by Andre Bernard. (Pushcart Press, 1990). If you feel bad getting all those form letters, take a peek at this book and be glad you aren't getting some of the personalized rejections others did:

The Bridge Over The River Kwai (Pierre Boulle). A very bad book.

The Good Earth (Pearl Buck). Regret the American public is not interested in anything on China.

The Diary Of Ann Frank (Anne Frank) The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the "curiosity" level.

Take heart and hang in there.

Learn to control your emotions with rejection. Sometimes you might get a rejection letter back with comments that you totally disagree with or might be outright incorrect. Don't lash out. The publisher who eventually did publish them initially rejected my first two manuscripts. I was very upset when I got that initial rejection letter back and I disagreed with some of the comments the editor made—but think what might have happened if I had picked up the phone and called him up and chewed him out. Also, after I calmed down, I realized that the comments were legitimate.

On a cover letter for a military techno-thriller I sent out, I got back a sentence scrawled in the upper left corner of the letter that "We don't do fantasies."

For every acceptance I have (seventeen now) I have at least twenty to thirty rejections on average. I also get rejected for teaching jobs at seminars, magazine articles I submit, etc. etc. It's part of the business and you have to use it to your advantage. Take strength from any positive comment. And also remember that you don't know how and when your break will come—perseverance counts, but you are also dealing with people and courtesy counts also.

Remember that many times the rejection has nothing at all to do with the work itself. There are many reasons for rejection.

Sometimes a publishing house has no room at the inn. Their list is full for the next couple of years and they simply can't buy any more material for a while. Sometimes they don't see how they can market a particular work.

You have to remember who sits at the conference table at a publishing house when they decide whether to buy a manuscript. It's not just the editor who read the manuscript, you also have other editors, the publisher, the marketing people, the sales department, publicity, etc. etc. Sometimes editors may like a work but one of those others sees a problem with it, whether it be not being able to market it, not getting booksellers excited about the type of novel, etc. You have to remember that a publisher has to feel like they can sell the book.

One frustrating aspect of rejections is the second read. The first editor likes your work, but they need a second opinion. Sometimes it will seem to you that everyone can say no, but no one can say yes.

The best advice I received regarding rejection came from an agent at CAA—Creative Artists Agency—when I asked him what the "coverage" was on a manuscript he had sent to a bunch of studios and had rejected. He told me that a rejection is an emotional decision. Then the person who did the rejection goes back and invents reasons for that decision, sometimes correctly, but many times wrongly.

Ask yourself this—why did I buy this book and not that book from the rack in the supermarket last time I was there?

One aspect of rejections I find fascinating is what I call the: "We want something like X, but not like X" theory. I got a rejection back from a studio considering one of my novels and the summary was: "This book is too much like Independence Day and no one wants to be compared to the 4th highest grossing movie of all time." You have to really sit and think about what that sentence says. My reaction is, "Hell, yeah, I want to be compared to such a success."

There's no way around this mindset. In many ways Hollywood and the New York publishing world have 'group-

think.' Either everyone wants something or no one wants it. They constantly say they want something different and daring, but they'll reject something because it's different and daring.

The bottom line on rejections is that it is a subjective process.

I recently cut out a newspaper article on a woman who finally had a manuscript accepted. It's her 33rd manuscript— none of the previous ones having been accepted. That's dedication.

There is such a thing as a good rejection if you learn from it and are able to read between the lines. I received a rejection on a new manuscript from an editor who previously bought manuscripts from me at another publishing house. His only comment was: "I like Bob's work, and have bought it before, but this is the same as what he did then."

What I took from that was that I had to get better. I couldn't keep doing the same and expect to move up.

You have to have a thick skin as a writer. It's guaranteed, even if you get published, that someone, somewhere, will not like your book, and that at least one of those people will make it their life's mission to inform you of that.

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