Writing as a way to collect rejection slips

March 2nd, 2012 § 0 comments

It has occurred to me that writing is a laborious way of collecting rejection slips. I got my first one in 1979 and publishers turning down my manuscripts still outnumber the times they have agreed to publish my work by a factor of ten or so.

Getting a rejection slip is a disappointment for any author. Here you are, pouring your soul or at least many hours into a project and some stranger says it’s not worth publishing. Feeling hurt, wronged or angry is normal.

But it would be wrong to assume that this has to be the author’s response. I recall at least one rejection letter where I saw the publisher’s point totally. The book was unpublishable. I appreciated their candour and learned a lot.

In fact, even long before my first book was published, I learned a great deal from being turned down. After submitting two or three manuscripts to a publisher over the course of nearly ten years, one of the senior editors invited me to a meeting. “You keep sending us these manuscripts,” she said. “You have talent, but all your work suffers from the same problem.”

She proceeded to explain to me what I did wrong. My next manuscript was accepted and the book received a very positive critical reception. The following two books I submitted to mainstream publishers were accepted for publication too. There was the expectation that I’d have an ongoing, successful career…

Instead, I started collecting rejection slips again!

The first was the one I mentioned where they were right. Even when I disagreed with publishers, I appreciated it if the rejections were considered and thoughtful. What grated was when they clearly:

    • didn’t give the manuscript proper attention (I’ve encountered some jaw-dropping misreadings),
    • dismissed it for non-intrinsic reasons (economic downturn, overfull publishing programme, etc.) or
    • didn’t even look at it at all.

The thing for authors to remember is that publishing houses are commercial enterprises. Quality isn’t the only factor to consider. A brilliant book about bullfighting or big-game hunting is not likely to sell as well as a mediocre one about saving dolphins. And projected sales are crucial in traditional publishing – printing and distribution are expensive.

To a large degree, e-publishing circumvents these cost barriers, so that quality rather than expected popularity can be the publisher’s primary criterion.

When I embarked on this publishing venture with Say Books, I was determined to be more respectful of authors than some of the publishers I had dealt with. Still, it is necessary on occasion to write a rejection letter. It is no fun. Treading on the dreams of others isn’t easy, nor is it a responsibility to be taken lightly.

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