Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Up Side of Rejection

By Mark W. Danielson

Let’s face it; rejection hurts. But here’s a look at it using the “glass half full” approach. What do you see when you look at this car? Depending on your perspective, it’s either a red Corvette or a timeless wheeled sculpture. I invested a lot of time restoring this twenty year old car to its present condition, just as I have invested time in writing novels. This car has won several first place awards, but it has also taken some second and third place awards, and even come home without placing. The same holds true for my novels and magazine articles; some were published on their first attempts while others went through several submissions and re-writes. After a while, you realize that such rejection is nothing more than a reviewer’s opinion.

Like many authors, I have seen my share of publisher rejections. Most say something like, “Thanks, but no. It doesn’t suit our needs.” The kinder ones conclude with, “best of luck.” Gee, thanks, except luck has nothing to do with getting published. Either my work fits their needs or it doesn’t. End of story, as it were.

I have kept every one of my rejection letters as a reminder of what it takes to meet a publisher’s parameters. Once in a while, the reviewer has offered some constructive criticism. One publisher didn’t like the names I had chosen for my characters, so I changed them, edited the entire manuscript to ensure the names and situations fit, and then resubmitted. This reviewer’s next response was more demeaning than helpful. “While we admire your perseverance, once we reject a manuscript, we will not consider it again.” That was like getting a head pat while being kicked in the rear – particularly since the reviewer never gave it a second glance. But that’s the nature of this business. Nothing personal. Either they like it or they don’t.

While it’s nice to think that whoever is reviewing your work would have a little more compassion, they don’t have any time for it. Reviewers are swamped with manuscripts, so if something doesn’t immediately catch their eye right away and spell mega-sales, it dies a swift death. Having said that, authors should remain true to their style. After all, it’s who you are. Changing your style to appease a reviewer is ludicrous because there is no way to predict your reviewer’s mood when your work crossed their desk. Case in point, consider John Grisham’s book, The Firm. Grisham had plenty of rejections with this book, but he believed in it enough to self publish. Unfortunately, no one noticed. He had closets full of these books and couldn’t give them away, but then the right person noticed and cared. Sales exploded once The Firm was re-published, then it was made into a movie, and suddenly a new mega-star author was born. Vince Flynn falls into the same category. So were the reviewers right about Grisham and Flynn? Survey says no – at least for these two authors.

The moral of the story is to accept that rejection as part of the writing business. When you receive a negative response, it means that on that particular day with that particular reviewer, your work didn’t shine, so learn from it, make sure it’s what you want, and then submit it to another publisher or agent. If you are concerned about time, then never agree to an “exclusive” look. Instead, sent it to as many agents and publishers as possible, assuming your work meets their criteria. And don’t forget about entering writing contests. It’s a tough business, but you have nothing to lose.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Very good advice, Mark. And I love the car. :)

Mark W. Danielson said...

Sadly, rejection is as much a part of life as breathing.

Chester Campbell said...

Like you, I have stacks of plain vanilla rejections and a few nice letters. But I have to disagree with your statement that luck has nothing to do with getting published. A lot of it is hitting the right editor or agent at the right time. If they've had a bad day or just bought one similar yours can make a lot of difference. As you say, though, you just stick at it.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Chester pointed out that Grisham's book, A Time to Kill, was Grisham's self-published book, not The Firm. Once The Firm became successful, A Time to Kill suddenly was re-published, and the rest is history.

Sometimes luck does happen. If you're fortunate enough to have your book on the President's desk when a photo is taken, or say the Catholic Church decides to take on your book . . .