Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Every Writer Gets Rejected

The number of times such and such iconic book was rejected has long been a favorite parlor game. The latest iteration in the genre is making the Internet rounds this week: 50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected (many of them quite rudely).

To which I say: Really? Only 50?

As agent Michael Bourret pointed out: everyone gets rejected. Everyone. Show me a writer and I'll show you someone who has been rejected. Repeatedly. By agents. By editors. By reviewers. Everyone.

The funny thing about these lists is that they're often used as evidence the publishing system is broken, especially among those who have received one too many rejection. People start shaking their fist about how the industry is stupid because INSERT NUMBER number of agents/publishers passed on INSERT ICONIC BOOK and then that book went on to become a RAGING SUCCESS. The raging success, of course, is meant show that the system is broken. Because, um, it was eventually so successful. Stupid home run hitter, you should have hit it a grand slam ON THE FIRST PITCH!

It always bears repeating: publishing is a human institution. Not everyone is going to see what others love in a book, even one that goes on to big success. Fit and enthusiasm are everything. And of course: Miss Cleo notwithstanding, humans are only so good at predicting the future.

Ergo: all writers are going to receive rejections. Even the best ones.

Still, these lists do have a purpose: they remind us that all writers have to go through their share of rejection.

There is definitely some comfort in knowing that the road isn't easy. Even for the best.






143 comments:

Wordy Birdie said...

And if it were easy, would it be so worth it? Probably not!

Rejection letters are a rite of passage, and a reminder each time, that you are a submitting writer ever one step closer to your goal. Keep them, cherish them, enjoy them!

soompt said...

Getting rejected doesn't mean you're any good.

Jaimie said...

I needed to read this today. Thanks.

Steppe said...

The more rejections the higher the odds go
up that its a ground breaking story or a heartbroken author.
Cliche of the day:
"Live to write, write to live."

Mel Bossa said...

It's a rite of passage. It hurts, but it's a good hurt. The kind that teaches a lesson. A little thing called humility. Unless, you know, you're already humble (nearly suicidal ), and then that rejection letter sends you off boozing, feeding pigeons your left-over ramen noodles. But not me. I'm good. I'm fine.

Thermocline said...

Eh. I couldn't hit things on the first pitch even when I played baseball ... or T-ball. Now THAT was embarrassing.

Jael said...

The problem with the "SEE you SUCKERS in publishing don't know ANYTHING" argument is that it assumes the book that got the rejections is exactly the same book as the one that eventually was hugely successful. What with editing at the agent and editor level, in some cases the changes are pretty radical.

But rejection is just part of the process. You get used to it, and you soldier on.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

I always saw those sort of lists as inspiring. The authors mentioned didn't give up, and I won't either.

JDuncan said...

Hey, it's going to be a "no" if you don't submit, so why not try? For me, it's simple matter of numbers. Limited ability to buy, and way too many writers wanting to get published. Well that, and knowing not to take rejection personally. Even the great ones had haters.

Stuart Neville said...

I've made this point many times over, both on my blog, and when asked for advice by other writers. The most important factor in an agent or editor taking on a book is whether or not hey connect with it on a personal level. You can rationalise it all you want (and blogging agents are particularly prone to doing just that), but it really comes down to that indefinable X-factor.

Wendy and Charles Siefken said...

Wow, I just read through the list and was amazed at how many famous writers I recognized on there. I do keep re writing my Queries and keep trying to come up with the right formula that will get a yes. We haven't had any bad rejections, all very polite but still a no. Its not the right book for them. We will keep trying and keep revising.

H.C.Reignoir said...

I think there is another important message in all these rejection stories: Revision is crucial.
If our work gets rejected, okay, it's just another chance to go over it and revise. There's always something else to fix and by that I don't mean over-polishing our text, just making it the best it can be before sending it back out to the world.
We can always revise and improve.

Julie said...

Wow. Quite a list! I like your emphasis on fit and connection. Not every agent or editor is going to feel that spark, but what a triumph when someone does. There IS an audience for every book and story out there, and that is no small comfort.

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

Just another reason to keep trying. I think the lists prove that maybe some publishers/agents who received those masterpieces didn't actually read them. If they did, wouldn't they have 'discovered' it first?
These list also makes us stronger to keep trying like those authors did.

Jenna Wallace said...

It must be a day to muse on rejection. My post today is on Perseverence versus Denial. How many rejections do you rack up before you decide it isn't going to happen?

Honestly, I'd like to know!

http://www.inthedreamstate.blogspot.com/

abc said...

Rejections build character! Or something.

Josin L. McQuein said...

One problem with those lists is that you end up with American Idol mentality. For every "I didn't give up" story that leads to someone of brilliance being discovered, there are 10,000 hopeless wannabes without a chance of ever seeing commercial success that think they're that "one".

Almost every reject at American Idol thinks the judges are idiots for passing on them (and are genuinely surprised that they didn't make the cut). Some of them will realize, once they've seen themselves on TV, that singing isn't their thing. Others will continue on seeking their big break under the belief that they're truly gifted.

Writing's the same way.

Many authors have Golden Word syndrome and can't separate themselves from their books. They take every rejection of a MS as a rejection of them as a person, when it's not. They see the agent/editors as one more person trying to stop on their dream and "keep them down". This mindset keeps going until the writer stops externalizing their failure to capture attention and re-examines their product. Maybe it's derivative or boring. Maybe they just can't tell a story someone else wants to read.

One agent said it best. When you submit a MS, you're asking a simple question: Do you want to publish this (or represent, if it's to an agent).
The answer is just as simple: Yes I do. OR No I don't.

Nowhere in either question does the value of the work or the writer come into the equation.

Michelle said...

Not quite as encouraging as "rainbows and puppies," but helpful in the wake of form rejections on a query you've spent hours (days?) perfecting.

Thanks for the post!

Dawn Maria said...

Well it looks like I'm in damn good company! What a boost.

Maya said...

"The funny thing about these lists is that they're often used as evidence the publishing system is broken"

Maybe you just see it that way because you're an agent :) but I only see these lists as inspiration for writers, telling them not to give up.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Nathan!

I find these kinds of rejection stories to be inspirational.

Great blog post, though. Love it!

Best,
J.F.

Martin said...

Jason Pinter makes some scary points about this subject in his recent blog post: http://huff.to/bMZGdw

Rejection isn't doing the job it used to, and we're all in trouble because of it.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I think these lists are popular because it makes writers feel better knowing that William Golding and Margaret Mitchell faced many rejections too.

And they made it big...so hope springs eternal.

Mira said...

Oh, well, this is an area we disagree, Nathan, I do think the system doesn't work well. Not people within it, but the system.

Actually, I really liked the way that SS@S said it in post a couple of weeks ago - the industry has not yet matured. That's a better way to say it.

But I'm trying to GET ALONG lately, so I won't pontificate. On the other hand, I'm also trying to have INTEGRITY, so I don't want to just not say ANYTHING.

On a very important side note, I really need to learn how to BOLD my comments.

So enough of that, in terms of the presevering though rejection - HUZZAH!!

I really need this myself. I tend to get completely flat-lined by harsh rejection - even if I don't respect the source. I have no idea why I'm so sensitive, but it really needs to change. I need to trust myself more.

I do think it's a hard question - when to give up. I'm still going with NEVER. Believe in yourself. At the same time, keep working on other books, and eventually you'll grow enough as a writer to evaluate the one that got rejected as:

a. an early effort, or
b. pretty darn good, I'm going to keep plugging, someone will see it. If I get no bites, I'll publish to Kindle and see what the readers think.

The one I heart the most is Chicken Soup for the Soul, which had 120 rejections.

Amazing. I tend to give up after two. So, they are my heroes.

Thanks for the encouragement, Nathan, even if we do disagree about the other stuff. :)

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Having doors slammed in your face is a great equalizer. This is a strange profession.

Rick Daley said...

I'm still keeping tally of the number of rejections I receive so I can one day say my book was rejected X times before it was published.

BTW...X is a variable, not a Roman numeral 10.

I'm just happy to have a book on submission to publishers. And last week was a rejection-free week. It was also an offer-free week, but let's not be negative.

Milo James Fowler said...

I received three warm rejections yesterday, and after polishing up each of my submissions, I sent them off to three different magazines. I'm starting to see rejection as an invitation to revise my work further and--hopefully--make it better by the time it's finally accepted somewhere out there...

Marsha Sigman said...

I think rejection only makes you try harder if this is what you were meant to do.

D. G. Hudson said...

Rejection does strange things to people. We can get moody, stubborn, angry, or depressed when our offering of a story is dismissed for whatever reason. Human nature wants attaboys and approvals, not rejection.

It's a rite of passage, as one commenter said. It should strengthen our resolve.

Karen said...

While I always think it's interesting to hear about iconic authors' many rejections by apparently hapless agents, it doesn't really mean much to me. Especially with the more I learn about how the publishing industry DOES work.

The fact is, Harry Potter would have been different and might not have been as successful if a different agent who knew different editors who worked for different publishing houses had said yes right off the bat. The sheer number of people that collaborated to edit and promote the series helped make it what it is today. JK Rowling is an extraordinarily talented woman who wrote a set of books that will not soon be matched in their greatness, but the journey and the level of success would have probably been much different under the guidance of someone else.

Lucy said...

"There is definitely some comfort in knowing that the road isn't easy. Even for the best."


Interesting, isn't it? that the reaction to such lists says more about the writer than it does about publishing. Those prone to self-pity or negative outlook see a deck stacked against them; and those who are hopeful, dedicated and optimistic see a suggestion of their own eventual success.

Glass half empty.... Glass half full.

Wordver: linger

Which means if I actually played the lottery, it would be my day to win, because there's clearly a favorable astronomical alignment going on. Blogger made a REAL WORD! Yes! :D

Myrna Foster said...

The bit about Judy Blume not being able to look at Highlights without wincing is heartening. They like my poems, but they've rejected every story I've sent (with very encouraging hand written notes).

I read in a Writer's Market article, a few years back, that Paula Danziger never received a rejection. But they only mentioned the fact because it was so unusual.

February Grace said...

Thank you Mr. Bransford, even though I'm just a rejection newb it's good to know that the road ahead of me is complicated and angst ridden! LOL (and yes I'm joking. After going blind and going through a lot to get any sight back, I'm happy I can SEE my rejections! That makes you appreciate the puppies and rainbows believe you me).

This came to me a couple days ago pondering the whole issue of 'x factor' or 'fit or resonance or what have you'.

This little writer wrote a novel.

She read and researched and edited and then she saw a house up in the beckoning distance. She knew that there were people inside that house who could help her show her books to the world, and that was what she most wanted of all things she'd ever wanted before.

She went to the door and saw three slots with multiple genre listings over them in long, neat rows. She looked at the list, squinted, bit her lip blinked three times and then her eyes widened with apprehension.

"Oh no!" cried Goldi, as she read the lists. "This novel is too small! It's the literary equivalent of a Twinkie!"

"But don't people like Twinkies?" The little bear seated beside the door asked, as he set down his Kindle. "Some do. Some go the whole Ding Dong/Ho Ho route and I'm one of them but that's neither here nor there. "

"So what do I do now?"

"Darn if I know, I'm just a bear." The bear flipped his Kindle back on and returned to reading On Writing by Stephen King.

Goldi sized up the slots, thought a minute and pulled out the manuscript of her second novel- a whopping 100k words with pretty prose and elaborate descriptions of soap opera divas and even a pink snowstorm (it works, trust me) a book she had pretty much had the time of her life writing- but then she read the footnote about shorter books being better first chances for a novelist to get an agent and wondered even as she internally debated the eternal question "Chick lit or Women's Fiction or WHAT?"

"Uh oh, is this novel too big?"

By this time she was talking to herself, because the Bear was listening to Lady Gaga on his iPhone while simultaneously updating his Facebook status and Tweeting: Clueless blonde broad at the door. Wish her the best of luck in finding representation.

Stephanie Garber said...

I know it's already been said, but thanks for posting this!

Tabitha said...

"Stupid home run hitter, you should have hit it a grand slam ON THE FIRST PITCH"

Not only that, but who's to say that the reason the book became an eventual success is because of who picked it up, and who worked with it to help it become the best it could be. It's possible that same book wouldn't have done as well if someone else would have picked it up, because that person's vision/workload/whatever might be different.

So, yeah, everyone gets rejected. But that's not necessarily a bad thing...

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

I agree with what Maya said above. I've never thought of these lists as some sort of evidence the publishing industry is broken. Instead, I see them as evidence that not every agent/editor/reader will like every manuscript. These lists serve as encouragement to us writers dealing with rejection, and God knows we certainly need it.

Remus said...

I think the point of these parlor games, Nathan, is that 'fit and enthusiasm' are unpredictable and subjective, which *then* proves the publishing industry is broken. The aspects that you see as essential are what others perceive as mortal flaws.

Kristi Helvig said...

Rejections will just make me that much more grateful to be agented and hopefully published. I actually want to be rejected by those who don't love my book (I'm just hoping that's not everyone :)), as the person who does love it will fight for it!

Anonymous said...

The stats mentioning the writers who wrote everyday for four years (eight years in one case) before getting published is presented as though that's surprising news. The author of the list should've researched better and would've known that the norm is that ALL writers work on their craft for years before getting publishing, no exceptions, except maybe, a few.

Nathan Bransford said...

remus-

Every human institution is flawed because every institution is made up of individuals with subjective tastes, who have their own opinions, who make mistakes, etc .etc. I have a hard time seeing how this makes publishing (or any other institution) mortally flaws unless you have a supremely pessimistic view of human nature.

Ken Baker said...

I'll take a rejection any day over a non-response. At least you know they read it. Rejections also help you gauge your progress. If all you get is form rejections, you probably have a bit more work to do on your writing or your approach. As you start to get personal comments or even "smiley" faces on your rejections, you know you're getting closer. I love those smiley faces.

Tchann said...

It doesn't even enter my mind that the system could even be broken.

Instead, every rejection I receive sends me spiraling further into a pit of self-loathing and depression that lasts only as long as it takes for me to have an idea and start writing again.

And then? The cycle repeats...

Fawn Neun said...

Hey, Decca turned down the Beatles, who in turn (on their Apple label), turned down David Bowie. So... my guess is it doesn't mean as much as we think it means.

Fawn Neun said...

@remus - Often it's a case of square peg/round hole.
Seriously. It really, really is. I've turned down shorts for our journal that were snatched up by others. Like any art, literature is a matter of taste, and packaging and marketing it is really a gamble. And will never be anything else.

February Grace said...

As long as nobody reacts like Bernard Black did to rejection, then it's all good.

If you're to the point where you're thinking like that, then it's definitely time to quit...

Nancy said...

My screen saver is a marquee that quotes Agatha Christie: "I assumed the burden of the profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you are writing, and aren't writing particularly well," to which I would add, "and even when it feels like no one else likes what you write either..."

Thanks, Nathan--great post!

Jck said...

I think Stuart is right on the money here, the Factor-X, the conection agent-writer is vital. And once your book is out there the same goes for writer-reader.
If I start reading a book and I don't conect in the first page, I stop reading.
YES, as a consumer I forget I'm an aspiring writer (guilt trip right now!).

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Thanks for a great reminder, and the perspective!

Marilyn Peake said...

I don’t think the author of the article "50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected" is saying anything at all negative about the publishing industry. She only said, "Whether you're a struggling writer, or just studying to be one, you probably know that there's a lot of rejection in your future. But don't be dismayed, rejection happens even to the best. Here are 50 well-respected writers who were told no several times, but didn't give up." I think she was just giving a pep talk to writers, telling them to keep on writing, no matter how difficult it gets. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Malia Sutton said...

Rejection does make you tougher. And if you're going to stay in publishing for the long haul, you'll need all the initial rejections you can get to prepare you :)

Francis K7 said...

Nathan, I disagree with you. I think we should discuss this in person.

Expect me in a black hat and sunglasses really soon at your office.

The name I will give your assistant is "MIB" or "Smokey" or "My mom's too f***ed up to give me a name".

Best regards,
Francis

Anonymous said...

The query/partial MS system doesn't get it right all the time . . . it's a human process so it's bound to be flawed.

Writers can choose a hybrid system today:

1) Query the agents and publishers. Get rejected. Do it again. Get rejected again.

2) Publish your book to Kindle, and see if the masses buy it. If they do (and you garner good reviews) then you have a marketable work. If they throw rotten fruit (and your rank is consistently above 40,000 or so), toss in the towel. The agents were right. Your writing sucks.

It's that easy, a two-step process. If you think your book is the shizzle -- even after all those rejections -- then gird your loins and self-publish as an ebook.

It costs nothing to publish to Kindle, and it's the fastest way to test market your book. It worked for me . . . my book that was rejected by NY publishing has sold over 5,000 copies in 6 months. On Kindle store only.

Does self-publishing mean that the big publishers won't accept my next work? Who knows, but if I get rejected again I can fall back to the digital no-cost publishing and distribution channel.

Anonymous said...

Accountability.

I've got no issue with humans making mistakes. I take offense however that the geniuses of publishing want their names renowned for their successes, they want their imprint on the spine of the best seller, but there is a conspiracy to conceal names of those who’ve failed to spot and promote talent…often under the guise of, “I just didn’t love it sufficiently enough.”

If they can remain anonymous, then so can I.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@1:33-

If you believe that agents aren't actually just doing the best they can to spot books they believe in and are instead engaging in a colossal mass conspiracy to cover up their incompetence I think it says more about your worldview than it does about the agents.

treeoflife said...

I think what one can gleam from these stats is that perhaps the most important quality a writer can possess is persistence.

William Saroyan got 7000 rejections? That's so absurd I really don't think I can believe it (although I'm sure it's a large amount). Yet he eventually won a Pulitzer prize.

While I don't think these rejections are a sign that the industry is fundamentally flawed, but does anyone think the industry will ever improve it's batting average?

John said...

If you've looked or are looking to find true love, then you know what it is to search for an agent and publisher.

Rejection is positive. You don't want someone who only mildly likes your book to take it on. Most likely they'll cheat on it by courting other books behind your back while you wait for months or years for a sale to a publisher.

You want that person to be in love with your book so they'll devote time and energy to it not because they feel they have to, but because they want to. They love that work and want to convey to someone else why they do.

So it's not really about rejection. It's about finding the perfect match for your book.

Ermo said...

So Nathan - how many rejections did you receive for JACOB?

Nathan Bransford said...

ermo-

I didn't keep track of an exact number, but it was plenty, especially if you count the novel I wrote before WONDERBAR that I had to put in the drawer.

Steppe said...

February Grace said...
Little Bear Story ( ... )
Bullseye
That's X Factor Z Funny!!!

Robin said...

Lists like this both inspire and madden. I recognize the hard work involved in the process and understand that achievement lies ahead. At the same time, it is clear that there is A LOT OF HARD WORK AHEAD.

Remus said...

That publishing is 'mortally flawed' is not my opinion -- I was attempting to translate the reason behind why these parlor games keep coming up.

In my opinion, the publishing industry is like democracy: The worst system ever, except for every other system that anyone has tried.

Given that, it's best to just shrug and work with the way things are. Perseverance will win out.

Nathan Bransford said...

Ah - sorry, remus, misunderstood.

Steppe said...

Writing a great story and getting it published are two distinctly different creative functions.
If the social pressure of jumping back and forth between functions helps either side of the process it's a good thing.
Time brings change if engaged in both sides of the process; so I'm with the revision is good crowd and queries should be targeted and tight as a drum at the one sentence, one paragraph, two-three paragraph synopsis level. It's worth it to give yourself, your work, and prospective sales partners good tools to try and take the best shot at any particular moment to sell a piece of work.
It takes a while to feel that way in a calm cool collected manner and accept that it is the way things are and continue patiently refining the two functions of writing and selling.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,
I was speaking more of editors at publishing houses than agents. Guilty conscience? Agents are, I believe, held accountable by their rate of success...if nothing else by percentage of royalties generated by their clients.

If you believe people "trying their best" to be successful is sufficient without holding those folks accountable for their mistakes (as well as their successes) then it's not my world view that's blurred.

Twelve of them turned down Harry Potter. They just didn’t “get it.” In any other industry they’d be a laughing stock and never work again. In publishing they're still stamping REJECTION.

Anon 1:33

Remus said...

No need for you to apologize. As a writer, I should be communicating my thoughts more clearly. ;)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I've certainly suffered my fair share but what really chills me is the stories of people who've 'made it' with a great contract and successful release and still get rejected on future projects.
If we're going to continue with some baseball analogies, I guess it's like getting benched when you were hitting 400 just last week.

Jinky said...

In the esteemed words of one Barney Stinson:

"So you got a drink thrown in your face. Happens to me all the time. Soon you'll be able to anticipate it. And when you do…free drink."

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@1:33-

Ha - not so much a guilty conscience as a thin skin on this subject. I think we all bristle at the idea that we (agents and editors) aren't just doing the best we can and our passes are instead signs of our incompetence or what have you.

Though I will say for editors that they too are held to standards by their employers (i.e. publishers), and are under constant pressure for their books to sell and for their risks to pay off. They are most definitely accountable for their mistakes.

And I think people in the industry better understand why firing everyone who missed on a hit is a losing proposition. There would be no one left!! It happens to everyone at some point. You just hope your batting average is good enough. The greatest agents and editors have passed on big books. It doesn't make them incompetent.

Kelly Wittmann said...

Great post, Nathan. It's so important for writers to learn to take rejection without getting bitter.

Anonymous said...

That article is riddled with spelling and usage errors. As for the facts, I don't know... but J.K. Rowling said in one interview that Harry Potter had been rejected by 9 agents, and in another that she didn't remember how many rejections it had gotten.

Anonymous said...

At the same time, maybe it's important to remember that the vast majority of writers/artists get rejected, but never make it to the national stage. It's pretty safe to say that everybody pursuing an artistic career gets rejected at some point, and only a very small minority of those people actually become really (say financially) successful. So reading a list of authors who were rejected but turned out successful should be about as encouraging as hearing about an actor who waited tables and eventually made it big. Maybe it's time people stopped treating that tiny minority of super successful cases as the ideal, plausible outcome of persevering in a chosen career, and instead began treating them as anomalies that are really pretty unlikely. But then again maybe that would be a buzz-kill.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle said...

Nathan,
Thanks for telling about your "drawer" novel and receiving "plenty" of Rs for WONDERBAR. It makes you one of us, and makes the whole process a little easier.

The Red Angel said...

Good post, Nathan. Rejection can be a pretty harsh and huge party pooper and bring down self-confidence, but everything you said was very true.

There's a first for everything, even rejection for writers.

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Tabitha Maine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karenbb said...

I worked in music for years and it's the same thing in that industry--my old boss passed on Hootie and the Blowfish and Nirvana. Nathan was so right when he first said that fit and enthusiasm are everything. It doesn't do a writer any good to find a home with an agent or publisher that doesn't have the perfect system in place to do something with your work.

Sure, it's no fun feeling like the rejected needle in the haystack. But at least we all have each other in the haystack. Builds character, right? That's what your mom would say.

Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado said...

Having my work rejected doesn't hurt (too badly) but it makes me insecure and I have to step back and regroup. This ultimately has proven not be altogether a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

"The funny thing about these lists is that they're often used as evidence the publishing system is broken, especially among those who have received one too many rejection..."

And yet, the fact that they all were published and found success also suggests that the publishing system DOES work and that talent won't fall through the crack forever... unless said talent walks away and gives up.

Debbie said...

I understand why many of these works were rejected. So many of them pushed really big boundaries. Why wouldn't an agent or an editor hesitate about trying to market something like "Ulysses" or "On The Road?"

What I see is that there are sometimes agents and editors who are willing to take that leap with author. I'm sure that most of the time it doesn't work.

Ah, but when it does . . .

Am I saying to avoid pushing those boundaries? Not at all. But you might want to be prepared for big pile o' rejections.

writegirl said...

Thanks, I really needed that!

Anonymous said...

"...instead engaging in a colossal mass conspiracy to cover up their incompetence I think it says more about your worldview than it does about the agents."

You could be on to something here. I'm not joking and I'm a brand new anon. I'm talking about the world view being influenced, not agents in general. Maybe agents are, at least in a subconscious way, paying for the mistakes of CEOs and politicians. Because we certainly can't trust *any* of them :))

Stephen Prosapio said...

The perspective I give this topic is that back in the 1970s (when most would agree it was *easier* to get a novel published...certainly there was less competition), Stephen King had his first FOUR novels rejected. Summarily rejected.

Today, like his work or not, he's the most successful commercial writer (by most standards) ever. His book On Writing is considered one of the top books on the craft.

So do I feel I'm a better writer than him? If so, I don't need to write 5 novels in order to get published. Right? LOL

I think we live in an incredible era of entitlement. People feel entitled to more than ever before, and it's such an incredibly difficult thing to write a book....percentage-wise not that many accomplish it. But it still doesn't entitle one to be published.

And one factor that NONE of us wish to consider is luck. JK Rowlings and Stephen King and everyone else on that list is good...but they also got lucky. So, the more books you write, the more submissions you have, the more you learn, the more chances you have to be lucky.

Thanks for the blog, Nathan!

Jane George said...

Rejections(via one's agent)from editors are more angst-worthy than ones from agents. There are far fewer submission possibilities. The odds go down and the stakes go up with every pass.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Luck and timing have a lot to do with things in this business (and many other businesses).

But, yeah, rejection is a part of it. If you don't want to be rejected or to receive a bad review, or to hear "no" or to hear "not this time" or to hear "almost but not quite" or to hear "you've done it!, now do it again....and again....and again...just as well, or even better"

then don't get into the writing business :)

The Zuccini said...

Authors revise. Rejection makes us revise. Who can say the book would have been the same success without those revisions? These lists do not take that into account.

Mireyah Wolfe said...

Really? Evidence that the system is broken?

Man, I've been going about this all wrong.

*I* thought it was to make sure crap doesn't flood the market.

And I've been waving my rejections about like battle scars! *facepalm* No WONDER I haven't gotten anywhere, like those other folks who think the publishing industry should be run according to whose mom says their book is wonderful.

Geez.

Tawna Fenske said...

Love this post!

I'll admit it -- there were plenty of times in the eight years leading up to my recent three-book deal that I cursed the system and muttered about how stupid editors are.

But I always remembered that this is a subjective business. There's no magic formula for writing a book everyone is going to love. While we writers can hone our craft to razor precision, talent isn't really the thing that gets us published in the end. It's persistence.

Thanks for posting this!

Tawna

Shelly said...

There's a crucial point that many here seem to be missing. The publishing market is totally, 100 percent money-driven. Agents and editors don't care about furthering a writer's career or giving someone their big break. They care only about money. That's it, period. Lots of times an editor may like a writer's work and believe they're talented, but they are at work when they're reading it...at a company...and maybe they don't think it will be a hit with the masses, or maybe they can't fit it into one of their genres and they don't know how to market it. We writers write from the heart and think about characters, plot, pacing. Agents and editors, when at work, think only of marketing. Those famous authors who were rejected, it's just that an editor thought (obviously in error!) that it wouldn't make much money.

Amanda Sablan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sally apokedak said...

Two things--

first, did anyone click on the link to the Dr. Seuss books that were supposedly rejected? Whoever put this list together at onlinecollege.org obviously didn't read what they were posting. The doctor Seuss list was pretty funny.

http://www.commonplacebook.com/jokes/funny_lists/dr_seuss_books.shtm


Secondly, I've just submitted my novel to many agents and gotten many rejections and am now, happily, working with one agent on revisions.

I'm with the zuccini. I wonder if maybe some of these books did stink at one time. We can assume they were edited when they were finally bought, at least, and it's possible they were revised along the road, between rejections, too.

Rejection may not be a sign that some stupid agent/editor missed the boat. It may be the thing that causes to go back and fix the manuscript so it can go on and sell.

wickerman said...

I always laugh at the idea that rejection keeps 'piles of crap from flooding the market'.

rejection, pure and simple, is someone saying 'I really don;t think this thing is going to make money.' Now does that equate to it being crap? Sometimes. Sometimes not.

Looking at this from a realistic viewpoint, let's say publishing had no standards. Like, say, there was this thing called um, I dunno let;s call it the INTERNET!!! So say we have this silly internet thing and anyone at anytime could publish anything they wanted to and offer it for sale at any price they wanted for it.

GASP!!! The horror!!! All those unvetted books! The poor unwashed masses!! What will they do when they are inundated with CRAP!!!??

Publishing is a BUSINESS people - quality is secondary(at best) to PROFIT. Better yet, potential profit. If you send Nathan a novel he LOVES TO DEATH but is 100% sure no editor in this galaxy is going to buy, he will reject you. He needs to make a living. If he sends out unmarketable books to publishers on a consistent basis, he gets pegged as 'insane agent' and that hurts his business.

That is rejection folks and editors do the same thing as agents and marketing departments do it to editors. Quality is not under attack by a 'free-for-all' system. We have that system already. If you have a few hours time you can get something in shape for a kindle release all by your lonesome and offer it for sale on Amazon.

None of us will die if it sucks and Nathan or Random House never got between us and it to stamp REJECTION on it. Agents are not here for quality control (that's a side effect) they are here for profitability control. And they screw up. And so do editors and marketing departments.

So did the people who wrote directed and produced and starred in the Adventures of Pluto Nash. No one plans for a bomb. They just do their best to do a good job. Sometimes they fail. Sometimes they reject Harry Potter.

No one was blind to the quality of Harry potter (although I don;t like it so there!) They were blind to its potential for profitability.

sally apokedak said...

sorry about the link the to the Dr. Seuss deal

Leah Petersen said...

I heart this post. Or ITA. Or +1. Or whatever internet lingo is appropriate or maybe just: Brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Nathan,
Here's a piece for your TWIP...

Basically, so many writers are eschewing the agent process in favor of throwing ebooks at Amazon to see what sticks that people are getting worried about the Very Quality of Future Writing itself!!!!

It's all about the Konrath Effect now...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-pinter/the-konrath-effect-will-n_b_579455.html?ref=fb&src=sp

But Pinter pounds some nails of reality into the boards of would be e-bestsellers' dreams.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Yeah, I'm still working out how I think it will impact the future. There may be no rejections in the future, only silence. Or things will end up basically as they are now. Tough to say which landscape will prevail.

Donna B said...

LOL...except Nora Roberts.

I just blogged about rejection last week. and had a pretty good response. Come check it out if you'd like http://www.donnabsnow.blogspot.com/

Since I sit on both sides of the table it's pretty neat.

Tahereh said...

i love this post. thank you.

Anonymous said...

"There may be no rejections in the future, only silence."

lol yep

Or another way to put it: "There may be no rejections in the future, only the cricket-chirping-sounds of poor sales as another e-book dies on the internet vine."

Jane Opal said...

So true. I think it goes both ways, though. Awful books also get published, sometimes right away, simply because they are written by someone "famous."

So what really gets a book published at the end of the day? Is it the fact that the book is worth reading, or is it simply the book's ability to sell and make money?

Anonymous said...

I dunno. It makes a newb writer wonder. Should I just be focusing on e-pubbing and racking up an online fan base and sales in order to end up with a traditional deal? Or slog it out for years in complete obscurity as I continue to try to get an agent and go straight to the big 6? Seems like others are having some success--even if it's modest, still--they're selling their books and getting read, eventually working their way into traditional deals. which is the better route to take?

give yourself a year to go purely traditional (ie the 'old way' where you query agents and then go right to the bigs), or what seems like the new way, where you prove yourself on Amazon and then get picked up by the bigs?

I really have to wonder! How many of you will let your work rot for years on your harddrive just because you can't get an agent? At what point do you take matters into your own hands and try to get read, see how people respond?

Maybe in the future, agents are only for established writers, thos who have proven themselves on the net?

Triffany said...

Sometimes it's just not your time, until it is your time. *shrug* That's why we have to write because we love to and submit because we love what we've written.

Kathy M. said...

So true, so true, and life goes on. Sometimes persistance pays off, and sometimes it simply means rewrite the dang thing, and sometimes it means bury it, and start again, but never, never quit. Besides the writing part is the fun part, and the selling part is the hard part. If you believe in yourself, then believe it will happen someday.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Still, these lists do have a purpose: they remind us that all writers have to go through their share of rejection.

That's exactly why I love those lists! I collect them. They've never reminded me of why the system is "broken." They make me think, "Look, Harry Potter got rejected a couple dozen times. HARRY POTTER. Once you start submitting, you will have nothing to feel bad about until you far exceed that number."

J. T. Shea said...

One of the commenters on the Jason Pinter article thinks selling 100 books at a profit of 90% of cover is the equivalent of selling 6,000 books at 15%!

Anonymous said...

Interesting to read about authors who got rejected before finding success.

MORE interesting would be to hear what percentage of bestselling authors DIDN'T get rejections...

popsicledeath said...

The only thing stupider than the idea that it's possible for a writer to not be rejected at some point in their career, are the people who cite the 'see, such and such book got umpteen rejections before becoming HUGe' sort of defense of their own rejections.

Here's the thing. Being rejected isn't a rite of passage, it doesn't mean your work is just so good nobody can understand it yet and we need to wait for society to catch up to your genius, or even that it will somehow make you stronger.

Being rejected usually just means your work wasn't deemed good enough. Whether it was just not to an agents liking or it's actually crap, it means the same thing. For that moment, that one decision the agent/publisher made, the work just wasn't good enough. Period. It doesn't mean you're the next [largely imagined] JK Rowling-writing-on-napkins-single-mother-being-rejection-millions-of-times best seller. What it means, almost always, is that your work just isn't good enough yet.

YET.

That's the key. All the people on every list ever of 'they were rejected and finally stuck it to the idiot publishing industry' share one thing in common. They kept writing.

They didn't look for blogs to find out other people were rejected to so they could feel better about themselves. They didn't proclaim the industry unable to recognize their genius. They didn't declare it some group-therapy 'rite of passage' and e-hug other writers.... okay, maybe they did, but they also shut their holes and just kept writing.

Bleh. We need messages to KEEP writing, not to feel good about being rejected.

Linda C. McCabe said...

Nathan,

A good friend of mine has the book Pushcart's Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections: A History of Insult, A Solace to Writers. He refers to that book when he wants a good literary kick in the pants to remind himself that even those writers we consider as having written classic novels that have withstood the tests of time were also rejected and subjected to rotten reviews.

Reactions to the written word are subjective. Just like reactions to art and music are subjective.


Sometimes it just takes longer to find what all writers crave: an audience who appreciate their work.

Thank you for reminding us that all writers must endure being rejected, even the writers we admire.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Amen, Nathan. Amen.

Nancy Coffelt said...

I have an accordion file stuffed full of rejections. Some are 10th generation copies on a half sheet of paper - I wasn't worth a WHOLE sheet I guess. Some were wonderful, with personal comments and my favorites, from a wonderful editor that actually did end up taking me on had fuzzy kitty stickers on them. Those were totally "squee" moments when I saw them.

Yep, it's hard. But I've always been determined to be the last one standing.

Competitive issues? Perhaps...

ElizaJane said...

Huh. My all-time favorite writer seems to have written a novel on a whim and had it accepted by the first publisher to whom she submitted it. I'd love to think that she exaggerated this story, but perhaps it was just super-easy to be published in London in 1949.

James Lewis said...

Well I feel like a Johny-come-lately here, but still wanted to chime in on this subject.

I love reading about other writers failures, if they were successfull despite them. So needless to say, I loved the Post Nathan.

It's not a perfect system for us writers, because we all want to be published, and we all think we deserve to be.

It's not a perfect system for the agent because they have to wade through a lot of crap, to get to the good stuff.

Its not perfect, but it's a pretty good compromise between the two.

Anonymous said...

question!

how many rejections did you get for your story nathan?

Donna Hole said...

You just made my night. At least I know I'm in good company.

Back to the rejection cycle (sighs).

........dhole

Kate said...

When we read statistics like about Lord of the Flies being rejected 20x, I am not sure if this is talking about rejections from queries or from having the whole book read. I am guessing that it is actually harder to get your book read these days than it was in the past and therefore the whole rejection thing is different.

howdidyougetthere said...

These stats are brilliant to ease minds in Non Writer World, and it's sister planet, Very New Writer World.

Also, I can't help wondering about the level of improvement these novels achieved after the editing process of the house that ultimately accepted them.

Any stats on that?
Kristi

Clay Johnson said...

What this makes me wonder is how much the Query changed as some of these great successes tried to get published. Would the first three agents J.K. Rowling submitted to have said yes in a heartbeat if the query they received was the same as the version she sent the agent who eventually represented her?

Nathan, has that ever happened to you that you've noticed?

Have you ever seen a book published that you passed on, read the back cover, read the book and thought: Oh, well hell, if they'd described it that way I would have said yes?

Jason said...

very good assessment Nathan. While it does remind us that the going is tough even for the best writers, These lists certainly aren't in themselves proof of anything wrong with the publishing system. Because it is that system that eventually made those books the hits they are/were.

There may be no way to prove this, but it'd reasonable to assume that during the rejections, the authors/agents involved were continually improving the works, which in turn helped to make them into hits.

To prove the point that there's something wrong with the publishing industry, you'd have to show how a fair number of books became smash hits outside of the normal publishing system. And I'm not seeing that....

Kathy said...

This is why I bake. A lot. Instant completed project, which everybody wants! Everybody loves! Sad that I need so much affirmation.

Glen Jordan Spangler said...

You throw in "(many of them quite rudely)" and then promptly forget that point. If everyone gets rejected--even the best--I think editors and agents who tell a writer he has no future, etc., deserve to be laughed at a bit when the writer goes on to be LeCarre.

Gerald Rice said...

The home run analogy doesn't really fit. That's a different swing from the last one and the one after. You're only talking about one book. A like comparison would be a first book getting rejected by a publisher and then the second one being accepted.

K.L. Brady said...

In one of the most surreal moments, I looked at my pile of rejections this morning as opened my Publisher's Lunch email and saw my deal listed. My self-published novel acquired. lol Amazing.

The only difference between that email and the pile was hard work and persistence. That's it.

Nathan Bransford said...

Congrats, K.L.!

Star-Dreamer said...

I can't help but feel that if you don't go about publishing the hard way -- through the muck and mire, through the sludge and dirt -- if you can't brave the dangers of getting dirt under your nails when it comes to publishing, then you probably don't have what it takes to promote the book. I've considered self publishing, but always based on a marketing plan that I'd started to build. In the end though, I knew I would rather go through the pains of finding a traditional publisher.

Wordy Birdie is right: rejections are a rite of passage. I'm not published yet, and I'm pretty new to this whole business (the publishing one, not the writing one), but I've already recieved 3 rejections, and I honestly couldn't be more excited about it! I don't like the waiting, but rejections just mean that I haven't found the right agent for my work yet.

That said, I have a question for you Nathan: I don't know if you, as a writer and an agent, brave the query slushpile of other agents, but couldn't you just represent your own book? How does that work for agents in the publishing business that double as writers?

Georgia McBride said...

Oh, I'm not that negative. I don't take it to mean the system is broken at all. In fact, I find it inspiring. It shows that no one is perfect and that even the most sucessful writers have had to go through what we are all doing so right now. Posts/lists like that only drive me to work harder and confirm what I already know--it's only a matter of time.

Cheers-
Georgia

Joyful Juggler said...

I gotta say, I would have rejected some of those authors, too. Call me sacreligious, but I've never liked Dr. Suess. But Agatha Christie and Tony Hillerman? You gotta be kidding me.

Of course, that's all to say that individual taste is just that, and when an author runs contrary to our taste, it's hard to imagine the masses liking it any better.

Anonymous said...

One concern I have as I receive rejections is the response, "This just didn't interest me," or "my taste runs." I understand that an agent has to be enthusiastic to represent something, but when you write for children, I wonder with such responses, what do the kids want? How does an agent or publisher know that s/he is really addressing the market when it appears that s/he is responding to his/her own taste?

J. T. Shea said...

Clay Johnson raises a very good point regarding improving queries. Many, if not most, of the queries I have read here and elsewhere on the net are incoherent. The writer's informal description of the novel is often better!

Writers love pounding their chests and swapping macho (gender notwithstanding) war stories of their hundreds of rejections. Delve deeper into their blogs and you often discover those intimidating statistics include impatient scorched-earth stunts like sending a hundred or more undifferentiated queries to every agent listed by Writer's Digest, ignoring genre and submission guidelines.

The agent or publisher rarely rejects the writer, a person they rarely meet, nor the book, which they rarely see. They reject the query, the only thing they see most of the time, which may tell them little that's useful about the book. It would indeed be interesting to compare different versions of a query over time.

Emma said...

Poetry magazines have 98% rejection rates (yes, they only accept 2% of poems submitted) so you accept rejection isn't personal.

Sylvia Plath's English teacher used to encourage his pupils to submit short stories to magazines and run competitions on who could get the most rejection slips, just to teach them rejection means you didn't hit the right desk at the right time: keep writing, keep submitting.

lotusgirl said...

Indeed. I say rejection can make us better instead of bitter if we let it.

Laurie Boris said...

Nathan, thank you for this. When I was a newbie writer with my first manuscript out to agents, I shook my fist as well. Now I know better. But yes, I agree with others who have commented...rejection is a part of the writing life...heck, of any kind of life. We're not growing if we're not putting ourselves out there. So I cherish those 138 rejection letters (on that first book alone)and one day hope to wallpaper a small room with them.

Stephen Prosapio said...

@ popsicledeath

I understand what you're saying, but in some cases you're 100% incorrect.

Anyone wanting a real eye-popping account that issues in the publishing industry aren't new should read the forward in the newer version of "The Caine Mutiny" by Herman Wouk.

The novel wasn't rejected; it was published, but it was rejected for serial rights (one of the main ways they made money back then) and Hollywood wanted nothing to do with it. Wouk was told (in 1951) "That no one is interested in WWII anymore."

After readers made the novel a best seller (and it won a PULIZER PRIZE) everyone loved it and Humphrey Bogart even got the lead in the film.

Same book. Good enough.

I'm certain there are hundreds of books per year that fall through the cracks of publishing. It is what it is.

Jodie Ansted said...

I follow a number of writers on Twitter, and read their blogs and their books, and the more I read, the more I have come to realise how difficult being an author can be! Rejections, not to mention even after publishing there is often little money earned (unless your JK Rowling of course - but I guess she had to go thru the rejection process first too). And I guess it could be easy to wonder why people bother?

But if you love to write...write. If you get rejected, so be it. If you believe in your work, keep plugging along with it, because you never know what's around the corner. Not everyone will see your vision, but someone is bound to eventually.

Thanks Nathan. Enjoyed the read.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I don't mind the rejections so much; they afford me an opportunity to revisit my work and rethink whether it is really as good as I can make it before I send it out on another round of submissions. It's the non-responses that really bug me.

I hate those.

Deepa said...

Am almost done with my book... it'll be rejection time in June...

Yea! Can't wait!! *rolls eyes*

Anonymous said...

Hey Nathan,

Thanks for the post. My agent submitted my ms to about a dozen editors (about 8 mos ago.) I've received two very gracious and professional rejections and haven't heard anything from the others. My agent has gently indicated that silence most likely equals a rejection. Do you feel that there are different "grades" of rejection? i.e. does the fact that most editors couldn't even reject my ms professionally speak volumes about the quality (or lack thereof) of my book? Or am I just being paranoid and should assume that all rejections are created equal?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Other than editors going way out of their way to convey that it isn't an ordinary rejection, rejections are indeed created equal.

Melanie and Christy said...

how interesting!

yuvi said...

I really like your take on the purpose of these kinds of lists. In the slightly different realm of getting published in literary magazines, here is a short video presentation I did on the acceptance of getting rejected. I think the same basic message applies for books. In my case it took 544 (!!!) rejections from the beginning of my writing career to getting accepted into Glimmer Train magazine. From Poop to Glimmer. I made this presentation just as a reminder (for myself and others) not to let rejection slow you down...

tamarapaulin said...

If every rejection leads to rewrites and a better manuscript, then the final book that is published is not the same that was rejected!

A.M Hudson said...

It's bad though, when you get rejected at the query letter. So far, I haven't even made it to a synopsis request. I would love a rejection letter from an agent that has actually read my work, but they don't even get that far. :) Thing is, not to toot my own horn, but my book is good. Go ahead, read my blog, tell me I'm wrong. :)

It's such a big industry, everyone thinks they're a writer, and that leaves very little room for those who actually are.

I pity agents and publishers greatly. Hell, if I could take the load off and read some query letters for you, I would.

http://bloodknightseries.blogspot.com/

ernie said...

Hi
I read your blog and found it very informative and helpful to me .Thanks for such an effort

Anonymous said...

OMG OMG OMG. I'm a young writer. I search up the story of how Harry Potter got rejected. Here:
"A publishers little 8-yr-old daughter read the first few chapters and begged for more.When she was done she fell to her knees and begged for it to be published."
BBBLLEESSS YOUR LITTLE SOUL

christina said...

Great Blog and excellent comments. In the book, "Go For No" by Fenton & Waltz; they say, "Yes is the destination No is how you get there."

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