Sunday, December 7, 2008

Rejection: Is your book REALLY that bad?

copyright 2008 Aaron Paul Lazar

Rejection. Oh, how it stings. Most of us have been through it - plenty. Seeking jobs, seeking love, seeking publication for our books. It hurts. Destroys our self image. For a while, anyway. And it tears at the thin fabric in which we cocoon with our fragile writer's ego, protecting the inner belief that our work is valid.
A new writer recently emailed me after receiving a flurry of rejections from big agents. With a crushed spirit, she wrote:
"It makes no sense to me. If someone has written a book that is a good read, then why in the world would it not be recognized, published and read? The only answer that makes any sense is that it's not a particularly good read after all."
Alas, if it were only that simple. Let's step back and take a look at the situation.
You wrote a book. Your instincts tell you it's darned good. You envision an agent or publisher recognizing this and sweeping you up in their arms to share with the world. You dream of financial success, recognition, and that sweet validation that makes you feel you're a "real" writer.
That elusive dream haunts just about every new writer I've ever known. Then, after years of toiling, burning the midnight or early morning oil, sweating and suffering and bleeding onto the pages - most realize, in time, that they'd better not quit their day jobs.If every "good" book were accepted and published, we'd need a great deal more space to store and sell them. I've read that bookstores today stock only 2-3% of the published books in the world. Imagine all the "real" books that don't end up on their shelves? Now imagine all the good books that never get published. It's mind-boggling.
An enormous number of books are submitted annually to publishers, and only a relative handful of agents and editors to scan through the 0.05% that are accepted for the slush pile. They often receive hundreds of submissions per day. Imagine reading 100 emails every single day from authors who want to be heard? It wouldn't be hard to feel jaded in short order.Publishers and agents have cut down their staffs, because of the economy, and it's probably even harder for them to get through the slush piles now, with the fear of job loss if their next pick doesn't bring in some cash.
There are plenty of horrible books submitted each year, too. But there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of very good books out there. Yours may be one of them. (If it isn't, keep on working on your skills until it is!)
Are you in this boat? Have you had your books summarily dismissed by the powers that be, over and over again? Have you hired or courted superb writers to help you perfect your story? Have you scoured your book dozens of times for typos or inconsistancies? Have you researched the heck out of every point that needs confirmation? Have you assured that your dialog is crisp and believable? Have you hacked away at unnecessary adverbs and adjectives? Have you just plain told the story in the same voice you use to speak? And your book has still been rejected?
If not, drop down on your knees and count your lucky stars, for you are among one of the very few who got picked up at the starting gate. If so, let me share something with you.
Rejections may have nothing to do with the quality or value of your book. Most often, they have to do with the market, and what's "hot" this season. It could be the mood of the agent or editor who's reading your stuff, or the fact that your book slides between genres. Maybe it features young adults, but doesn't follow someone's blueprint for what a YA book needs to contain. Maybe it's absolutely perfect for a publisher, but they've already filled the slot for your genre on their list this year. Maybe the first level editor falls in love with your book, but her boss doesn't. Or you get all the way to the top of this year's short list, only to be told you didn't make the cut.
Sound familiar?
If you don't get picked up in the first five years by high profile agents or publishers, I recommend seeking a high quality small press. It's not easy to get into their world, either. But you don't usually need an agent, and they can provide a nuturing home for you, as well as help you get your books out to the public.
And let me tell you friends, it's that public, those lovely readers, who will provide the validation you've sought for so long. When the first person (who isn't family or friends) comes up to you and gushes over your characters, or when you receive that unsolicited email from a stranger who NEEDS your next book or "they'll just die," or that lady who's been staring at you with stars in her eyes finally approaches you in the grocery store and says she wants to marry your lead character... that's when the validation just washes through your writer's soul. It's even better than the glowing reviews. Trust me.
So, the publishing game is tough. But it's not hopeless. There is still a place for us in this intensely competitive world. Acceptance by a high profile firm does not necessarily equate to a good book, just as rejection doesn't always equate to a bad book. Just look at the bestsellers out there. Some are quite odious, filled with plot holes, flat characters, and poor editing.
So, why bother?
Even with staggering odds in today's market, every year several "newcomers" are "discovered" and offered lucrative contracts. It does happen. We hear about it all the time. The next "hot" book will be discovered any day now. And it could be yours.
My final bit of advice is this:
If you are a passionate writer, you need to write independent of what agent represents you, how many times your work has been rejected, what publisher has thumbed their nose at you, how many readers you have or don't have, how many books you have published or not published.

Okay. Group Hug.

Now just keep writing. And remember to write like the wind!

- Aaron

author reading to fans from Healey's Cave, coming spring, 2009.

Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries savors the countryside in the Genesee Valley in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and and watch for the fourth book in the LeGarde series, MAZURKA, coming in January 2009 from Twilight Times Books.


Anonymous said...

I ADORE this post! My thoughts exactly -- in fact, I love the idea of indie booksellers and indie publishers - and I am now in the process of looking at a couple of small presses for my novel(s). I probably haven't done the "query 200 of your favorite agents first" thing - not even 100 -- but, indie booksellers and publishers are making more and more sense to me...

Just a fine post and I will link this to my blog this week. (wish I'd seen it before I did all my "links list" on yesterday's post! but I can link it later)

s.w. vaughn said...

Absolutely, wonderfully, perfectly well-said (and do you think I could use any more adverbs? LOL).

I've read a LOT of pieces about rejection. Hell, I've even written a couple myself. But I think I can say this is the best, most encouraging piece I've ever read.

Gee, Aaron, you should be a writer or something. :-)


Kim Smith said...

Thank you for saying this Aaron. So many writers do not understand that not everyone will love the piece that they write. If they get a rejection it becomes something personal, and it totally shouldn't.

Just write the book of your heart, write it better than the average bear, and keep going. Rejection is just stepping stones up the ladder to yes. And it only takes ONE of those.

Marta Stephens said...

Excellent advice from someone who has clearly been there!

It'll be interesting to see who remains standing after the dust settles from last week's publishing mess.

I'm with an excellent small press and no agent, no regrets -- couldn't be happier.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Great advise, Aaron. It's so disheartening to be rejected. So much so that it's hard to remember it's not personal. But to put yourself in such a position means you love your art. And it's that passion that will help find a publisher. Looking back now I realize all those rejections made my desire to succeed even stronger.

Anonymous said...

I rather enjoyed this, nailed it!

Cheryl said...

Excellent advice and very inspiring.


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Kathryn, thanks so much for your kind words. And yes, it is making more sense to veer away from the big five right now. And the odds are worsening, so why not? Thanks for stopping by. ;o)

SW, you've been my best mentor of all time, and it means a lot that you appreciate this piece. Thank you! I enjoy motivating and encouraging folks, especially when I've been through the wringer, too. Maybe I should have chosen a different career than engineering. LOL. (but I do like those paychecks better than starving!)

Kim, you're so right. I read once that if you don't receive a rejection in the mail every day, you haven't submitted enough. Wow! Now that's a project!

Marta, you got it. I had two agents, each of whom didn't work out. It's also important to pick the RIGHT agent if you're going that way. I was so thrilled to get someone who fell in love with my work that I failed to be discerning regarding their experience and success in the field. But now I'm very happy with Twilight Times Books and intend to stay there for a long time. ;o)

Joylene, indeed. It's the spirit of the writer who will pick themselves back up and go back for more until they succeed that makes us who we are. Thanks!

Thanks, Writer's Life!

Thank you, Cheryl. Glad it worked. ;o)