I wish this wasn’t the case. I wish we could hemorrhage our words and feel like the pain and vulnerability and obedience was worth every droplet. I wish we could witness how our gutsy, inked contributions resulted in changed lives. And braver souls. And restored dreams. Every. Single. Time.
But publishing is a wild beast of an industry. Some things are predictable. And many things are not.
Last week two of my good friends shared on their blog that their latest manuscript had been rejected. Their first book was published by a reputable CBA house. But they could not find a publisher for a subsequent book.
I was so proud of these friends for sharing their bummer news. Nobody tweets or posts about the rejections. Otherwise we’d see evidence of it everywhere. But instead, all we see are the anomalies. A New York Times Bestseller! #13 on Amazon! 307 Five Star Reviews!
The reality is:
~The majority of writers labor over thousands and thousands of words and never experience a book on a bookstore shelf.
~Many authors are rejected by multiple publishers for different manuscripts. Even the BIG authors we work with can get turned down for different reasons.
~Many of our authors wrote piddly books with itty bitty publishers (with no advances) before one book became the ‘break out’ book. Most of them started out obscure and unknown and with a dream. Just. Like. You.
Rejection is an obstacle. It is a challenge you must confront if you are going to live a writer’s life. You must allow it to make you better.
I know, I know, you say. I KNOW most manuscripts get rejected by publishers. I just didn’t think it would be MY manuscript! I can’t believe NOBODY wanted my book! NOW what am I supposed to do?
I hear you. And here are your [bluntly put] options.
You can either keep submitting, improve what you got, shelve it for later, or quit. (Maybe some people might say the fifth option is to self-publish? I don’t really suggest that route unless you like playing roulette.)
Writing is all about rejection.
And a little LOT OF divine intervention.
Here is my encouragement if your manuscript has been been turned down:
- You are not the one being rejected. It’s your manuscript being rejected. I know they feel like one in the same, but they aren’t. You are not your manuscript. (You are not your bestseller, either.) You are dearly loved. You are important. And not because you are a writer, or a mother, or a church leader, an accountant or a designer. You have something valuable to offer the Kingdom because you are you. Sometimes we muddle our identities with our callings. Inasmuch as you can try to separate the manuscript from your person, I would try.
- WHY was your manuscript rejected? What reason was given? Maybe the reason has nothing to do with your manuscript and everything to do with timing. Maybe the reason is because they don’t like your book idea. (If that’s the case, you might need a new idea.) Maybe they don’t like your writing. (If that’s the case, perhaps you need a cowriter or an editor.) Maybe they want you to have a bigger platform. (OK, then it means an investment of time (and maybe money) into your brand and marketing). But it does you NO help whatsoever if you don’t know why the manuscript is being turned down. Pay special attention to repeated critiques. Listen to feedback.
- Perhaps you need to rewrite, rework, edit, sharpen, or tweak? Are you willing to put in the work with NO guarantees it will make a difference? Imagine you are selling a house. You can do the work on the front end, fix up the curb appeal, stage the furniture, purge the junk on the side yard, paint the trim, etc. OR you can do the work on the back end. Either way, you have no guarantee of the house selling. But you have a better likelihood of it selling if you put in the work on the front end, don’t you? A friend of ours (not an author client at the time) came to us over a year ago with a manuscript we didn’t like. It was stale, without detail, and without story –only a bunch of facts. We told him to go back to the drawing board. We pointed him towards resources for how to write a better story. We suggested a couple editors to help prune the manuscript by 50,000 words. We gave him hard, honest feedback. And he did everything we suggested. He put in the work. He took it like a champ. The result is that we are sending out his proposal. We don’t yet know if he will find a publisher. There are still no guarantees. But we do know we are sending out a book idea and product that is astronomically improved. His chances are better than ever before!
- Perhaps you need to put the manuscript on a shelf for a time. I know that sounds like sacrilege. How can you shelve your baby? But timing is hugely important. And there are other factors at play in publishing. Like which buyers are buying right now. The cash flow and work load at publishing houses. The staffing changes – maybe you are supposed to have your book published in two years when that killer editor from that other house gets added to your dream publishing team. Or perhaps it’s too close to you. Are you in a place where you cannot see the story the way you are meant to – where you aren’t personally ready for the rejection, backlash, affirmation, or fame that might result from your creation? Perhaps God knows something personally is going to happen in your life a year from now and He wants you available for that thing? You just don’t know.
One of my favorite books, The Help, is by Kathryn Stockett. It took Kathryn three and a half years and over 60 rejection letters before being published. Can you imagine the character refining? She shared about her journey in Writer’s Digest.
A few months later, I sent it to a few more agents. And received a few more rejections. Well, more like 15. I was a little less giddy this time, but I kept my chin up. “Maybe the next book will be the one,” a friend said. Next book? I wasn’t about to move on to the next one just because of a few stupid letters. I wanted to write this book.
A year and a half later, I opened my 40th rejection: “There is no market for this kind of tiring writing.” That one finally made me cry. “You have so much resolve, Kathryn,” a friend said to me. “How do you keep yourself from feeling like this has been just a huge waste of your time?”
That was a hard weekend. I spent it in pajamas, slothing around that racetrack of self-pity—you know the one, from sofa to chair to bed to refrigerator, starting over again on the sofa. But I couldn’t let go of The Help. Call it tenacity, call it resolve or call it what my husband calls it: stubbornness.
After rejection number 40, I started lying to my friends about what I did on the weekends. They were amazed by how many times a person could repaint her apartment. The truth was, I was embarrassed for my friends and family to know I was still working on the same story, the one nobody apparently wanted to read.
Was not The Help a brilliant book? Whatever could anyone find wrong with it? But this is how crazy publishing is. Manuscripts get rejected. Meanwhile some of them become bestsellers. And some sell a couple thousand copies before they’re shelved in a warehouse. And others go on to sell millions of copies and make feature films and pay for retirements. This is a tiny piece of the Writer’s Life. Good thing we like to write for writing’s sake.