“I got my third rejection letter,” my friend says to me mournfully. “This process is ridiculous.”
He wants to wrap a typewritten copy of his manuscript in old newspaper, send it to Random House, and become the next Hemingway. He has told me this.
“My story is just not relevant anymore.” He sighs. “Who wants to hear from an old man?”
We are both English professors. We like old men almost as much as we like dead men.
“You don’t even get to complain until you’ve got 50 rejection letters,” I say.
Fifty is my magic number because that is how many queries I sent out before I got an agent. I’ve received plenty more since then.
Getting an agent 50
Memoir (never sold) 32
First novel (never sold) 2
Second thriller 0
YA novel 0
Romance novel ?
Add the rejections I’ve received for poems, short stories, and newspaper articles, plus all those people who never bothered to send me a reject at all, and I think you could call it a round 150. That’s about 37.5 rejections per contracted book which I think is pretty good.
It’s easy to be cavalier now. When I began querying agents, going to the mailbox made my hands sweat and my stomach go sour. Acceptances never come by post. Every rejection letter left like the truth.
That the rejections contradicted each other did nothing to dispel the feeling that these agents spoke the word of God. My writing was depressing and overly cheerful, turgid and too spare, clichéd and unsaleable because of its radically unique perspective.
Later, when my agent was unable to sell my memoir, I shredded all my writing notes and went straight into therapy. If you are serious about writing, this will happen to you too.
You will find yourself wandering the aisles of Wal-Mart late at night wondering why you are such a horrible person and trying to select a sugary breakfast cereal on which to gorge your worthless self. After much deliberation, you end up with something called Super Sugar Crunch Berry Wow Pellets. A surgeon general’s warning on the box says that you will become diabetic as soon as you open the box.
Remember this: you rejected a hundred breakfast cereals on your way to Super Sugar Crunch Berry Wow Pellets but that does not mean the other cereals are abhorrent, pathetic failures, and that Post brand should be ashamed of even thinking Grapenuts were a good idea.
Other multinational conglomerates are not mocking Post behind its back, saying, “Ha! Grapenuts! What does Post think it is? The Hemingway of breakfast cereal?”
It’s this simple. There are about 315 million people in America, and they like different things.
When trying to publish your book remember that good writing still rises to the top. Courteous professionalism is still the key to success. And while you should not blanket the industry with generic query letters, increasing the number of queries increases your chances of success.
The last book on my equation of rejection (see above) is a lesbian romance novel, tentatively called Out in Portland. There is a question mark for the figure because I don’t know how many times it was rejected. It was a hard sell my agent said.
“There is no precedent for books like this,” she said. “I couldn’t get you an advance.”
But she placed it with Grand Central Publishing, a subsidiary of the publishing giant Hachette Livre. Now the rejections don’t count. The only voice who speaks the truth now is the editor who said, “this is worth a shot.”
It is nice to have someone else be that voice, but if you are still aspiring you may have to be that voice for yourself. Tell yourself this is worth a shot! Those rejection letters won’t mean anything once you make it, and they don’t mean anything now.
I tell my friend the truth. I think reading Hemingway is like eating Grapenuts…hard and crunchy without a lot of flavor.
“Hang in there,” I say. “You’re better than that.”