It was two years ago today that I got The Call from my agent, telling me that Night Shade Books wanted to publish The Daedalus Incident. I remember not because I’m an inveterate calendar tracker, but because it just so happened to be my 40th birthday. Yes, Sara Megibow got me a book deal for my 40th. (That totally awesome remote-control Jawa sandcrawler I got when I turned eight? A distant second now.)
I mention this because there was a recent op-ed in The New York Times on the propensity of authors — would-be and established — to write about their publishing travails, and how they’ve pledged to keep at it, no matter the disappointment. There may indeed be some benefit to hearing others’ success stories, especially when dogged persistence overcomes strings of rejection and disappointment. So here’s my story; maybe it’ll be helpful, maybe not.
First off, if you’re embarking on the journey to become a published author, you had best get used to disappointment. That sounds harsh, but there are far more rejections than acceptances when it comes to publishing. Thankfully, you need just a bare handful of acceptances to get you on your way. Better still, the number of rejections prior to that becomes moot.
I spent 15 years as a reporter, so I suppose I’m inured to the slings and arrows. There were times my editors didn’t like what I wrote. There were definitely times when the subjects of my articles didn’t like what I wrote. Indeed, on occasion, the merits of a given article could be measured by the fact that everyone mentioned in it disliked it. The truth hurts sometimes.
So when I got my first query rejections from potential agents, I wasn’t crushed. And to be fair, I’ve heard stories of writers getting rejected by dozens of agents. I queried six, landed one. (And the best one I could hope for, I should add.)
That said, the book that became The Daedalus Incident was rejected by a lot of publishers before we ended up with two competing offers, one of which was Night Shade’s. Now, of course, I can look back and say with some certainty that it wasn’t because I wrote a bad book — the best-of-2013 mentions from Library Journal and BuzzFeed were nicely valedictory. But when the first round of publisher rejections came it, I won’t lie. It kind of sucked. The fact that each rejection contradicted the last (some liked the setting, others didnt; some loved the characters, others didn’t) was a little comforting, but not much.
And then there was the time when I was rejected by an editor at a publishing house and, when we went to pitch it to another house, found that the same editor had switched publishers and was reading it at the second house. Needless to say, the second publisher also passed. That was almost comical, and the editor in question was actually pretty apologetic about it.
But despite all that, here I am, two years on, with two books out and a third on the way. I’m pretty much established, and I have other writing beyond the Daedalus series that I’m weighing. I have options. It’s not bad.
So there’s my story. Again, I’ve no idea if it’s helpful. If you’re looking for any kind of advice from me, it would be to simply keep writing and develop your craft. If your rejections — from agents or publishers — start to show some common themes, you may want to revise and fix some things. Keep an open mind as to why your work’s been rejected, and resist the urge to grumble about how a given agent or publisher “just doesn’t get it.” I think they do. “Getting it” means they put food on the table — it’s what they do for a living, and if they’re still doing it, they’re generally right more often than not. (Sure, agents and editors often pass on great books, but they just need more hits than misses.) So if an editor or publisher takes the time to give you reasons for the rejection, that’s a bonus, not a burden.
You need a thick skin, even after your book comes out. I will occasionally come across a review on Goodreads or Amazon by someone who thinks I can’t string sentences together to save my life. Someone once questioned whether I’ve ever interacted with human beings before, which gave me a good chuckle. (I also programmed the automatons I surround myself with to laugh at this as well.) You know what? My book didn’t work for them. At all. That isn’t a sin, on my part or theirs. It just is. I’m fortunate that a lot more people seem to like my work than dislike it; in fact, it’s pretty awesome.
Get used to the idea that your book will not please everyone, be they agents, publishers or readers. There is no perfect book. Someone will think you’re a hack, a poseur, an affront to all that’s good and decent in literature. And that’s OK. You will be rejected, and you should expect that. The goal is to get just one agent, one publisher, and ideally have more readers like it than dislike it. For me, that’s mission accomplished.
So be patient, keep writing and improving, and shrug off the bad stuff. Stay the course.