I just came across an email exchange between a talented author and me from a year ago.
She wrote, “I’m actually feeling a bit sorry for myself, having just received another rejection a few hours ago from an agent who seemed very excited about my last manuscript, but decided not to offer me representation. Closest I’ve come so far.”
I reflected on that. I knew it was time to offer encouragement. But how?
What to say that wouldn’t be platitudinous or too mundane to have impact?
I had previously urged this author to try indie publishing. She felt it would be too difficult to take that on. So this time, I asked:
“Have you tried the smaller publishers? The future is with small publishers, and many authors find themselves more supported by these small publishers than the larger ones.”
Yes, she replied, she had. No luck there.
Most of us have heard about the experience of J.K. Rowling, who endured rejection after rejection before finding great success with her first Harry Potter novel.
But my author-friend’s novel is set in the Caribbean, so I decided to send her a different example: the story of Jamaican-American author Marlon James, who got 70 rejections for his first novel and decided to quit writing books (Read the Marlon James Story HERE).
Doesn’t sound very encouraging so far, right? But James’ story doesn’t end there. Luckily, he was encouraged to return to his writing. And in 2015, his novel won the prestigious Man Booker Prize.
My friend thanked me for the Marlon James story.
She also said: “I’m getting really good at siphoning out the complimentary comments in these rejections and riding them until the next one.”
So far, so good, I thought as I read.
Then she added: “I do understand however, why Marlon would give it all up.”
Hmm… I knew what time it was: time for me to dig deeper, work harder at being encouraging.
But what to say?
I finally wrote back to my friend:
“Your journey is the most typical one of successful authors.
We hear a lot about the authors whose books get picked up right away, but we don’t hear enough about the ones who endure rejection after rejection before finding an agent or publisher.
Marlon’s story reminds me of Louise Penny’s. Her first book got published only because she entered it into a competition and it was chosen as a finalist.
These rejections have nothing to do with the power and beauty of your writing.
Pitching a book is like bringing a product to market for the first time: the timing has to be right for the story.
Do you remember Life of Pi? The author acknowledged that his book would not have been so successful if it hadn’t been for 9/11. The subject matter caught people’s interest because of its topic of religion and overcoming conflict.
So, a book that doesn’t attract interest today just needs to land in the right agent’s/publisher’s lap at the right time. That’s why pitching the book is such a long and important process, my dear friend. Just keep doing it. Your writing is beautiful.
A publisher came to our author’s club recently and told us about all the reasons they choose a book. It was encouraging to learn that much of it has to do with:
- Whether the publishing house thinks it can get funding for it, since most Canadian publishers would sink without government support
- What other books they have already signed for the next 2 to 3 years
- What kind of following the author already has developed
- How much marketing the author is prepared to do.”
I ended my exchange with her this way:
“Chin up. Your writing is terrific. Keep that prominently in your mind.
She wrote back:
“Thank you, Cynthia. Means a lot!!”
My friend hasn’t published her book yet, but she hasn’t given up. She’s almost finished writing her third novel. And that, in itself, is success.
Writers write because they have to.
They hope to get published, and sometimes that hope wanes. Rejection is hard for any of us to take. But encouragement helps. It worked for JK Rowling, it worked for Marlon James, and it works for the many authors, now writing, who have yet to be published.