Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Falling in love again...


by Rebecca Cantrell

I planned to write a scathing rejection letter for the blog this week. Being a good student, I did research. I googled rejection letters and found some doozies for classic books. Here is an actual rejection of Animal Farm by George Orwell: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” Here’s one for Steven King’s Carrie: “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

I then wasted far too much time on the Internet (what a surprise!) reading other people’s rejection letters. And after I was done I realized not only that my blog post would now be late, but also that I didn’t want to add more rejection to the world. I don’t think it’s helpful to dwell on rejection.

Truth? I got 30+ rejections for my first novel, A Trace of Smoke. It went on to be published by Tor Forge, sell just fine, and get nominated for various awards. The conclusion I drew was not the 30+ people who rejected it were idiots, but rather that publishing anything is excruciatingly difficult.

Why is it so hard? First there’s the financial risks: paying the author an advance plus paying the team that brings it out: the editor, the cover artist, the copy editor, the fact checker, the publicist, the printer, the sales staff, and others I’ve forgotten to name. Then there’s spending social capital as you call in favors to get other writers to blurb it, reviewers to review it, and booksellers to read it. All that with no guarantee of success.

To do that someone must love your book a lot. Not just like it, not just think it’s brilliant, but absolutely let their heart fall out of their chest onto the pavement to get walked on love it. Nothing less is enough for them to take those risks. I have Marlene Dietrich's picture over there from "Falling in Love Again" in the 1931 classic, "A Blue Angel," because it's a great reminder of the risks of falling in love. We all know it doesn't always end well.

By and large acquisition editors aren’t mean people eager to reject talented authors. They are dedicated and overworked and I think most of them start reading every submission hoping to be amazed and inspired and fall in love. It doesn’t always happen that way, but when it does, it’s magic. Instead of rejections, I try to focus on that magic.I try to write the best book that I can and then never give up searching for the one person who will love it.

14 comments:

Joshua Corin said...

What an excellent post, Becky. You really put into perspective just how obscenely high that first hurdle into getting publishing is.

I know I received some of the kindest, most encouraging rejection letters for WHILE GALILEO PREYS when it first went out, and every day I need to remind myself that No, It's Not a Dream and Yes, MIRA Did Actually Buy My Book Because They Liked It.

I could easily change my occupation as listed on my passport from Writer to Neurotic...and I've a feeling many other writers could do the same.

Michael Wiley said...

This is a great post, Rebecca. It's easy to laugh at the early rejections of books that have subsequently sold millions. And it's easy to become cynical about the selection process. But the reality is that a lot of great books do get published (including ANIMAL FARM and CARRIE) and are well cared for by editors and readers alike.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Josh! I think being neurotic is a sad little trait that most writers share. According to independent sources (my husband), I might have a lot of that myself.

I think that's why most of us are so genuinely surprised when good things happen for our books.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Well said, Michael! And I know the counterargument is that there are a lot of CARRIEs and ANIMAL FARMs out there that never get published. I suspect that's also true, but I don't think it's any complicated conspiracy. It's just a lot of overworked people not seeing the potential in a piece of art. As an overworked person not seeing potential, I went to a modern art exhibit with a friend in LA. He actually got a lot of the pieces, but I mostly wandered around thinking I really didn't have the knowledge/gene/experience to understand what the artists were doing. Sometimes, life is like that.

Dorte H said...

A very encouraging post, thank you!

I began sending around a manuscript shortly before the crisis and had just reached a point where publishers sent encouraging rejections with good advice. Then the crisis hit the world, and I got a few standard rejections. Now I have spent the last year revising my work, and well, I´d better try again, because at least I have not had as many rejections as Rebecca Cantrell yet ;D
(And I won´t, at least not for the same work, because there are not 30 publishers of crime fiction in Denmark).

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Dorte,

Thanks! It can be very tough and discouraging, that's for sure. I think it's gotten much tougher to break in and the past few years have been worst of all, but I always tell myself there's nothing I can DO about the times I live in or the world economic climate, so I just keep doing the best I can at the part I do control: the work. Me alone in a room, wrestling with words.

Good luck!

Shane Gericke said...

Plus, thirty editors might not like it, but the thirty-first will. Publishing is SUCH a numbers game, you just have to pitch and pitch and pitch and see who catches. It's a LOT of work, and mighty discouraging when those rejections pile up.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Hi Shane!

Trust you to turn it into a ball metaphor...I mean a sports metaphor.

My husband always calls it a numbers game too.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Thanks for this, Becky!

I'm learning a lot from you guys and others that have gone before. I see getting pubbed as a crap shoot. Or maybe the planets need to align properly:)

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Hi Terry!

There's definitely a lot of crap involved. :)

Meredith Cole said...

Just one person has to fall in love with your book... but it helps if it's an agent or editor (at least for the first step).

Great post, Rebecca. I know those 30+ people are kicking themselves now...

Kelli Stanley said...

Ah, yes ... the Neurotic Club. Lately I feel like I've been elected president of the borderline personality disorder club, but that's because I've been on deadline and channeling Miranda ...

Wonderful post as always, Becks, and I don't know why it's so damn hard for us to accept the fact good things happen (some people will actually like what we write!) ... but it is. I always feel a bit overwhelmed when I get a letter, and ecstatic that my work has been able to touch someone. And that feeling helps keep us in love with writing and tilting at windmills, as Raymond Chandler put it.

Falling in love again ... never wanted to do ... what am I to do ... I cawn't help it!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Meredith! I think 29 of them probably aren't, but I DID meet one editor at a party a few months after SMOKE came out and she said she'd almost bought it when she read it three years before and she still regretted it. That made my night, let me tell you!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I guess that's why we write noir, Kelli: pessimism and a love of Marlene Dietrich. :)

I hope Miranda doesn't have you taking up smoking Chesterfields.