Rejection: A Case Study for Writers

-Beth Wareham

Getting through the layers of agents and editors used to be the great head-bangers ball for writers. With as many opinions as there are interns, most books are DOA in the mail room. They sit there, they slowly move upstairs, an assistant opens them and puts them in a big pile, an editor assigns the first read to a younger editor, an assistant or even unpaid help. Someone doesn’t read far enough, doesn’t understand the history or context, spills their Starbucks on the manuscript. The agent calls and inquires as to how the editor liked it. The editor has not yet seen it and around we go.

Helplessness. The creative’s helplessness in the face of the publishing machine has always been a monumental problem. The arrogance of one side and the sheer powerlessness of the other made publishing toxic. The new world order is changing this and books now go straight into production at the author’s behest. They go on sale that way as well. Publishers now approach authors that have broken the sales code in hopes of hitching their wagon to a self-publishing star.

If this new world leaves questions in your mind, I offer a look into the rejection of some of the great writers who came before you. If they could take it, so can you.

16 literary agents and 12 publishers rejected John Grisham’s A Time to Kill

Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight Series, was turned down by 14 agents until an employee at Writer’s House picked it up out of the slush pile. That employee now has a job for life.

Alex Haley’s Roots had 200 consecutive rejections and went on to be an international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize Winner, showing American publishing that black people DO buy books.

Mom, a Bloomsbury editor, wanted to reject a book, but her 8-year old daughter insisted she get to finish reading the manuscript about a kid named Harry Potter.

Agatha Christie received editorial rejection letters for 5 years until her first acceptance. She is second in sales only to William Shakespeare.

Louis L’Amour read 200 letters telling him he couldn’t write until Bantam Publishing disagreed. One letter from an editor said, “You have no business being a writer and should give up.” With Bantam, he published 330 million books.

Richard Bach was famously jeered at for his little book about a seagull. Turned down by every publishing company at least twice, a young female editor interested in flying picked up the book and Jonathan Livingston Seagull flew out.

When “Chicken Soup for the Soul” made the rounds of publishing houses, the overwhelming response was “no one reads anthologies.” I mean, I just don’t know what to say about how wrong that is.

When Random House rejected his first novel, The Long Walk, he shelved it and began again. Stephen King got a contract on his next book.

So, writerly-types, the world is getting better. Tons better. It is even HARDER to get inside a publishing company these days, but I think you will find less and less reason to do so as the world develops.

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