A reader on my forum posted an interesting question the other day. I don’t spend as much time on the forum as I’d like, but Meg is on watch now and quickly alerted me to it. I wrote a long answer on the forum, but thought it was worth posting on the Peephole as well. It’s regarding my experience with rejection in publishing:
I have a question I would love to ask Pete!
I have a best friend who is sending letters to agents to try and help him publish his first book.
We would LOVE to know how many rejections Pete got BEFORE he got accepted by an agent?
Thank you so much!
I would like to preface my answer by saying that the number of rejections one receives is in some ways irrelevant. The experience is different for everyone. I know of (rare) great books rejected by most everyone under the sun that went on to be bestsellers, and (common) awful books that stubborn authors continued to try and sell even when it should have become apparent they were sullying their good name.
Sometimes you have to give a ship up as lost, go back to the shipyard and build a better one. It’s important for a writer to be self-aware enough to take criticism constructively, use it to improve one’s craft, but also to know which elements are subjective opinions of agents/editors and which are real flaws they need to work on.
I did most of my rejecting all by myself. I started writing novels at 17, and between then and the time I was 32 I wrote 4.5 novels, all of which I showed my friends but never submitted to publishers or agents. Why? Because I felt my writing wasn’t good enough to even show anyone. It wasn’t until I met Joshua Bilmes (my now-agent) at a SFWA party and he lectured me on the perils of self-rejection that I sent in my first manuscript to him.
He promptly rejected it.
In retrospect, he was right to do so. The book was not at a pro level. I sent in two other books after that, both of which were rejected as well (as they should have been). At that point, a rare and wonderful thing happened. Joshua took me out for coffee, and went through one of the manuscripts in detail with me, telling me where it was strong and where it was weak. He said I had a lot of promise, and gave me a book called Writing to Sell by Scott Meredith and told me to read it, then go back and fix the first book I sent him. I did, throwing out 60% of that book and spending a year rewriting it before resubmission.
That book was The Painted Man, and he agreed to represent it immediately. It was rejected by three major publishers before the others started bidding on it.
So that’s my story. Others will vary.
Good luck to your friend! Writing is a long road, and lonely at times, but it can be rewarding as hell.