Updated: May 4
You’ve finally finished that manuscript after countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears. A sense of indescribable completion thrills you and if you had more stamina, you would find the words to describe it.
However, some part of you is weary from the arduous task of writing, rewriting, editing, and polishing.
This is no time to rest.
This is the time to tackle that next mountain.
There are summits yet to be scaled and their ultimate pinnacle is the publication and subsequent distribution of your beloved work to the world. At the foothills of your next great climb stand thousands of ready others, also aspiring to see their work in print.
You realize that being one among thousands, at the very least, to climb this height, where the paths are narrow and tangled with thorns, your chances of reaching the top might be limited by both the competition and the inhospitable terrain.
Like any wise explorer you prepare.
You arm yourself with the most detailed map of the way available. You study your competition. You pack your bags with all the tools you might need. And most of all, as you prepare to climb toward that book deal, you acknowledge the high probability of falling down the mountain before you reach the top.
Indulgent mountain climbing analogy aside, in traditional publishing, there is a process that stands between the finished manuscript and the offer of publication.
It is the circle of query and rejection. You query publishers, agents, and/or editors, then wait for their rejections with a fortuitous hope that eventually you will find acceptance.
What you will learn along the way is, at least, how to accept rejection.
If you want to test your resolve as a writer pursuing publication, I recommend reading An Insider’s Guide to Publishing by David Comfort. If nothing else, you will enjoy the irony of the author’s surname, for the book is filled with hard realities unlikely to put one at ease. But if you are serious about traditional publication, as opposed to self-publication, I consider it a necessary preparatory tool.
In sum, it’s a sobering statistical slap in the face, supported by grim anecdotal evidences. The general take-away is: becoming a traditionally published author is like winning the lottery.
The odds are not in your favor.
The odds are less favorable if you are a first time author.
For the .00015% of debut authors who will snag an offer with a conglomerate publishing house, David Comfort warns against high hopes, presenting the slim number of bestsellers that emerge from the vast swarm of books now being published.
He cites that 98.9876% of aspiring authors remain untouched by traditional publishers and either give up or resort to self-publishing.
To build on this cold, hard foundation, the legacy of rejections and tragic misadventures of many famous authors are revealed, including a staggering number of deaths by freak accidents and suicides.
If you make it through this book with your heart and soul still set on pursuing traditional publication, congratulations! You have an edge.
Now the next phase in the journey will test your grit. It’s the painful but necessary refinement of rejection. To borrow the endlessly applicable analogy of the diamond you, like coal, must bear the immense heat and pressure of rejection to emerge a sparkling diamond.
Well of course you have a choice. Always.
You can go your own way and self-publish. No one can bar the way except your own technical ability and/or pocketbook. And none can reject you ... not initially anyway. Whether your book is read will be entirely up to you and your efforts.
I affirm here that I have complete respect for self-published authors, and in no way wish to take away from their talent and ability. They are brave and entrepreneurial, and certainly as determined as any traditionally published author. I considered the self-publishing path myself.
However, I was curious whether I could accomplish the traditional route.
I wanted to walk the path of authors before me that gained their stripes under the lash of rejection.
I wanted that stamp of acceptance to tell me that someone other than myself believes in my work enough to invest in the editing, the cover design, the printing, and the distribution.
Even though the marketing would fall to me, I wanted to accomplish the dream I claimed at the age of seven: for someone to publish my book.
I knew that with querying, rejection would certainly follow. I had struggled to craft a few query letters, a task that required a lot of hair pulling and some tears.
It’s never been easy to summarize my work.
I finally penned both a short and long synopsis, with equal parts hair pulling and tears. I compiled a detailed spreadsheet of agents and publishers to query, including all of their contact information and submission requirements.
I spent hours querying up to seven at a time, checking and rechecking to assure that each unique, particular requirement was met.
And then I waited. Oh how patiently yet impatiently I waited.
The first rejection came, with two more close on its heels. Three rejections in one day for my first taste of the treatment hit me harder than I expected. Even after my preparation, after acknowledging that it would happen, it stung nonetheless.
Self-doubt trickled in. I wondered why I should tolerate such disappointment. I may have even cried with my face on the floor. Only Beags, my dog, is witness to that pathetic scene, and she’ll never talk.
But then I got up.
I thanked the rejectors who sent more than the standard canned response.
I sent new queries and refined my query letters. With every rejection that followed, my skin thickened. I expected them. I scanned each email for the word “unfortunately”, filed them away, and moved steadily forward.
One independent publisher reported that the editor considered my manuscript “a good one” and asked that I run through it with the publishing house’s pre-edit guide. I spent three weeks on an exhaustive, targeted revision and cut twenty-thousand erroneous words. With my manuscript strengthened, I returned it to the publisher, certain that they would provide an official offer after all that work.
Many days later, I received a response that I anticipated would be favorable.
To my heartbreak, it was not. The publisher disapproved of the bad choices of my main character, bad choices which are only half the story of redemption, but when lined out in black and white, they made the whole project sound base and worthless.
And I staggered.
I was ready to chuck the entire thing.
I questioned whether it could be redeemed.
For a number of hours, I set my mind to let it go. I could fix mechanics. I could polish and edit forever. But the basic plot points that define my main character’s self-destruction, from which she must be absolved, were too essential to the work to alter. I could only abandon it.
When a friend asked what had dimmed my light and I told her, she cheerily reminded me that I had expected rejection and not to quit! Another friend quickly echoed the encouragement of the first.
And they were right.
They quickly pulled apart the prison of self-doubt that, in surrender to fear, I had crawled into.
The next day, I sent out seven new queries.
Ten days later, I received an offer from one of those seven publishers.
One week after that, I signed a contract with Melange Books, LLC for the publication of my debut novel, Eighth Winter!
After a relatively small number of rejections, fourteen in all, I had an offer.
If I had quit, I never would have received that offer.
The stress of waiting and the pain of rejection were worth it.
Like fire, they tested my strength. And as in any trial, there are lessons to learn and developments to gain if we determine to hold fast under the heat.
Do not surrender to fear and self-doubt! Never give up, no matter how many rejections are counted. Failure is an opportunity to grow. And you can only truly fail if you stay down.
Until next time, Stay Thankful ... even for trials and rejections.