Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rejection Sucks.

There. You have it in a nutshell!
The book of my heart has been turned down by yet another agent. Dare I say this guy was a dream agent? Yup. I dare say that. And I will. I will not mention him by name--those of you who know me, know who it was. And I will continue to read his blog and think highly of him. I honestly, truly thought this'd be his kind of book. Apparently, I was wrong.
So rejection still sucks.

This is my first foray back into the marketplace in a long, loooooong time.
And while it's not the first foray for this book, in all its forms, in a long time...still, it's maybe the fifteenth rejection I've had on it. Maybe the 20th. Something along those lines. If I really, really push it and include all the versions that have been written between 1990 and now...maybe it's 35 or so rejections it's gotten.
Some of those have been on previous plots that bore no resemblance to this version, even though it's the same characters and the same basic relationship.
Some of those have been on stuff I thought--and, apparently, some editors also thought--was VERY CLOSE. This is, after all, the book for which I have received by far the most detailed and thoughtful rejections.
And then there was the one today. Three lines by e-mail.

And it sucks.
But it's not nearly scratching the surface of how many more times I can try to get this into just the right person's hands. And I believe that right person is out there.
What does that right person look like?

The right person for this book is, ideally, an agent who can get me a good deal with a brick-and-mortar, real-old-fashioned-book publisher. One whose books you can take in the bathtub without worrying about shorting the book out. :-)
Ideally, that agent will love my particular style enough that s/he will ask me, "How much more of this you got?" Or, at least, "Is all your stuff like this?"
(Now, I'm aware that that question can be equally bad and good...and this could be either. I wouldn't care. Because if the agent's interested in how I write, even if s/he doesn't like THAT BOOK...or wants something else of a slightly different character...that could still very well be the agent for me.)

The right person for this book is, then, an editor who will champion it.
And who will work with my agent to give me a respectable advance and respectable contract.
And by "respectable," I'm talking market average. There is such a thing, and I haven't gotten it yet. But a good agent, and an editor on fire for my material, will be able to arrive at that for me.

The right person, next in line, is the marketing person who gets a hold of the blurb, maybe even a synop or a capsule of it, and says, "Whoa. I know just the stores where this'll sell like hotcakes."
Then the next right person is a distributor who's been sold on the book from someone--either me, or my publisher, or my agent, or someone--whom they trust.
The next right person is the reader who'll pick it up and not be able to stop turning the pages.

And then...we'll see who all the rest of the right people will be.

But to get to those other right people, I've got to find the right agent or editor FIRST.
And that is a process that's going to take a LOT more submissions than I've already done.
Even though the submission process is grueling.
Even though the rejections suck.
Even though sometimes, one wonders if you're the only person in the world who loves your story.

Recently, I read a candid Q&A on an agent blog between a discouraged writer who had a book, much like this one...that had, shall we say, been through the mill a time or two.
They'd picked up something like 35-40 rejections, and they'd started to wonder if maybe they should just put this one in a drawer and forget about the whole exercise.
Now, while there's nothing to prevent this writer from writing other things, that's not exactly what they were talking about, or coming from. They were wondering if they'd reached the point yet where it was clear that they just "didn't have it." That their writing wasn't up to snuff, whatever that was, for whatever reason.
And were they just fooling themselves about whether they could actually do this writing thing.

The agent's response absolutely knocked me out of my chair.
She said something along the lines of, "35 to 40 rejections is NOTHING. You haven't even begun to pitch this work yet. If you haven't gotten 200 rejections, there's no sense giving up yet, and you're nowhere near that stage. Get back on the horse, polish, revise if you need to, but get it out there again. You're on the tip of the iceberg. It's way too soon to pull in anchor now."

I sat there at my computer and mouthed, "200 REJECTIONS?"
And then I grinned.
Because, you see, all editors and agents always tell you, "Keep trying, keep submitting, what doesn't work for one might work for another of us..."
But I've never before heard one put a number on it.
And even if that number was a little exaggerated...I have a feeling it wasn't by much.
Nor was the agent being sarcastic. She was being perfectly, bluntly honest.
As she put it, in so many words, this is a numbers game. You have to keep at those numbers. You have to keep trying, and trying, and trying. Because 35-40, even out of the small world of publishing, is still only barely scratching the surface of the possible people who could take your work on, love it, and pay you for it...or make sure you get paid very well for it, and several more to follow.

So it's one thing to say, "Persistence is the key." It's another thing entirely to look at a number like that and say, "Damn, I ain't even begun yet. I'm getting back out there." And when you really think about it, what's an agent do every day but write submission letters for stuff that she hopes someone will like as much as she does?
And she has to read a lot of those "sucky" notes, too. Multiplied by however many authors she's chosen to take on.

I do admit, this isn't a new concept to me, although the number in black and white was. Anytime you ever try to sell ANYTHING, you invariably are trained by one of those chirpy types who says, "You gotta love the 'no's, because with every 'no,' you're getting that much closer to 'yes.'"
Most of us know that's not REALLY true. You can have 10,000 noes and not get a yes.

And most of us know you don't REALLY "love" the "noes." You hate them. After awhile, you just want someone, somewhere, to extend a "maybe."
Most of us won't have either the intestinal fortitude or the patience for 10,000 noes. Which means that only the true hardheaded masochists will keep at it, will keep learning, will keep refining themselves...until the yeses come a tad more often. In the meantime, sometimes that can extort a terrific cost.
So this isn't that kind of thinking, either.
Clearly, you don't want to keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.

But submitting ISN'T doing the same thing over and over.
With every new pitch, you're talking to a new person.
You're selling the book a little differently.
You're trying to get a handle on how they tick, what about your work is gonna turn them on, and how you can persuade them that you're their dream author, just waiting to be plucked from the tangled vines of wannabes.
And that, my dears, is what pitching is about.
Not about tossing a few names in the air out of a few hats and saying, "Well, my market is ____ number of potential publishers. So once they all turn it down, I'm toast."
That's not true. It's never been true. It never will be true.
Not before you hit that 200 mark or so.
Then you can think about finding some other venue by which to get it out in the marketplace.
Then you can think about giving it away for free.
Then you can think about self-publishing or the like.

But until then? Heck, it might suck...but it's a game you can play to win, if you set your mind to it.
And yeah, you probably need a little touch of hardheaded masochist to keep at it.
And you need a boatload of patience.
And a truckload of belief in your own ability to DO this thing.
And that's not easy to maintain.

But before I will send this book to an e-publisher, to a small press, to anyone who doesn't pay an advance, or to a self-pub venture, I'm gonna give this baby WAY more chances.
It's just started to walk. I ain't putting it in a motorized wheelchair yet.
Nor is my career there.

But rejection still sucks. So let's see if I can find a way to END it...soon.


1 comment:

Donna said...

I agree with you, Janet! You can have 10,000 nos and still not get a yes. But, guess if it's a book we really, really, really, really believe in, we need to keep sending it out there.

Three lines in an email? That is rough! I went to a conference in Sept. met an agent who seemed perfect. He LOVED my character, loved the story, gave me some suggestions for revision and he'd be GLAD to look at it. Well, long story short, it zipped it back. It's okay but he doesn't think it will sell. Bummer . . . so I sent it off to someone else.

One question - do you need an agent? Is it a book you could try to sell yourself? Or is it one that needs an agent? Sometimes I wonder why we do this.