Hello darkness, my old friend
As readers, you probably don’t give a whole lot of thought to how that book you’re reading came to be. Sure, you can picture the author holed up somewhere, churning out brilliant prose as the printed pages pile up beside them. Or, maybe they’re chain-smoking with a bottle of Scotch nearby, pulling out their hair and cursing an absent muse. Just like in the movies. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, it’s a combination. Minus, the Scotch and cigarettes.
But today, I’m talking about what happens after the book is written. It’s the dark side of writing - the part that includes disappointment, discouragement, rejection. Cheery, isn’t it?
Here’s why. Last week, I was on top of the world. I had two agents(!!) interested in seeing my full manuscript. Just so you know, This Is A Very Big Deal. It means they thought the writing and story were good enough to take a closer look. Jubilation! Then wham! An email arrived... The black hole descended.
Rejection is a funny thing. I know it’s coming, I’m mentally prepared, I’m used to it, and on and on. But when it comes, that’s another story. The emotional roller coaster of trying to publish is a hellish affair. So today I’m taking comfort in other’s early failures – aka Writers Who Didn’t Get Published Right Off the Bat but Are Now Fabulously Wealthy and Famous.
J.K. Rowling, as anyone who’s not been hiding in the woods for the past several decades knows, has become U.K.’s best-selling living author. But did you know Rowling received “loads” of rejections from publishers when she sent out her first Harry Potter manuscript. Gazilions of dollars later, Rowling was also rejected trying to find a publisher for ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’, her first crime novel written under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith.
‘Still Alice’ by Lisa Genova was rejected about 100 times before the author decided to self-publish her book. It was eventually acquired by a publisher and proceeded to spend 40 weeks on the NY Times best seller list. Take that!
Agatha Christie’s first novel received a stream of rejections and she was advised by a friend’s agent to write another one. After five years, she finally reached a publishing deal. Her first book was never published.
Master of the spy thriller John Le Carre was told he didn’t have a future as a writer. Mon dieu, that’s a publisher who probably didn’t have much of a future himself.
John Grisham’s legal thriller ‘A Time to Kill’ was rejected by many publishers before finally seeing the light of day and becoming a best seller and successful movie.
One of my favourite publishing stories is about the letter George Orwell received for his masterpiece ‘Animal Farm’. An editor wrote that, “it’s impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”
It took Irish writer James Joyce nine years and 18 rejections to get ‘Dubliners’ in print. Now, it’s heralded as one of the great classics of modern literature and is the bane of English Lit undergrads everywhere.
Now the second most popular book in USA (after the Bible), ‘Gone with the Wind’ was turned down by 40 different publishers. Enough said.
Stephen King’s first novel, ‘Carrie’ received 30 rejections before finally getting accepted. Of course, it went on to sell a million copies and become a successful film. I cling to his quote: “Rejection is a red badge of honour.”
While my own rejection record is still startlingly low, I know I need to steel myself to the cruel world of publishing and keep sending my work out. It may take awhile, but if I get enough rejections, at least I know I’m in good company.
Until next time, happy reading!