“What? They didn’t like it?”
And you want to jump off a cliff or put your book through the shredder. I read an Andre Dubus story in which the discontented husband kept shredding his books with ceremony. He at last hit the jackpot and got a literary agent. However – and this happens more often than most people realise – the literary agent was the only person who really liked the book, and after a couple of years, the writer shredded this book as well.
In today’s day and age, there’s simply no need to get that discouraged, no matter how hard it might be. The world’s a pretty big place. Someone out there is going to like your book. And if it’s not a publisher, it’ll be an audience. A middleman just might not be right for your novel.
There’s always a way to make your goal happen.
We live in an age when the internet makes possible what would have been impossible years ago. I was reading William Golding recently. He wrote a short story called “Envoy Extraordinaire”, which was set in ancient Rome. A Greek was telling the Roman emperor that he could invent a way of mass printing, so that noblemen did not need to have scribes make a tiny quantity of copies for other noblemen to read. Everyone could read the author’s work. The emperor immediately saw the advantage of this for the writer. But a moment later, he was horrified and told the Greek it was a terrible idea – why, anyone could get published! The classics would become vulgar or be swallowed up in the vast output of the common man.
We live in that age, and it’s both an advantage and disadvantage. Yes, anyone can share their work – with a worldwide audience, even! But the world is drowning in literary information. So we’ve got to be smart. But there’s simply no cause to give up, because so much is possible.
If you’re struggling with rejections, there are a couple of things you can do.
- If you are attempting to get a literary agent, you can try going straight to small publishers instead. They are more receptive to unsolicited manuscripts.
- You can keep trying for a literary agent, but just cast your net wider. You don’t have to go for stuff in your own country. You can go worldwide. That’s how it works. Depending on how much time you want to devote to it, there’s every chance you could get yourself a literary agent from somewhere in the world.
- Quantity is key. I know a lot of people who just try one literary agent, or one publisher. That is not the way to go. Sure, research the places you’re sending it to, and do each pitch thoroughly. But give yourself a bit of time, and try a good twenty, twenty-five, thirty agents or publishers at once. And then chase them up. My rule of thumb is never ask for turnaround time up front. Wait a month and a half and then send an e-mail quoting your previous subject line and date, and inquire about turnaround time then. Often that produces a result.
- If you’re searching for a publisher, or you’ve been with a literary agent for a long while, and they’ve been trying very hard, you could always self publish. Build yourself up an audience online first. If you’ve got a literary agent, I would stick with them for as long as they’ll have you. I’d just build up a following through a blog and social media. So if your agency dumps you in the end, because your work isn’t working for them, you’ve got a ready made audience for self-publishing. If you self-publish an e-book, it’s easy for worldwide access and a very small gamble for you.
- Don’t just pull out straight away and self publish on Amazon. Make sure you have an internet following. If you don’t, there’s no point. Anyone can shove information out there. But no one knows who you are, and no one cares. That’s brutal, but that’s the truth. Show that you care about the online community. Promote other people’s work, get in touch with other authors in your subject area, and get in touch with readers in your subject area. Be human and be a friend. If people care about who you are, they’ll read what you write. This is good advertising, and this is good socialising. You don’t have to be obnoxious; but also, your work doesn’t have to drown in the sea of books out there.
In summary, don’t let rejection get to you. It’s part of a writer’s job, and it just happens. But nobody gets started if they turn away at the first rejection. Keep looking for ways to make your work work. Rejection is not the end; it is just the beginning. Every rejection helps you shape your path to success. Don’t let the industry whip you.