Rejection and Defeat

I wrote this article for a new indie press, Universal Butterfly, and it was originally published in their August 2018 Newsletter. You can subscribe to their newsletters via their website by clicking here.

“Please please tell me now.”
-Duran Duran, “Is There Something I Should Know”

We live in a world where rejection and defeat are being erased, criticism would rather be avoided and freedom to judge is safe behind a screen. Unfortunately, that isn’t as good as it sounds. People need to be vulnerable so they can overcome their exposure, and that means they must lose and be told “no” at least once in their life.

For lucky ones such as myself, I’ve lost and been rejected consistently throughout my life. Don’t worry, I’m doing all right (well…), plus it makes victory and acceptance so much sweeter and rewarding. The publishing industry has taught me all so well.

I’ll compare getting a book traditionally-published to picking up a potential suitor. You worked hard on developing your product (your experience, personality, presentation, etc.), presented it to multiple people (chicks or dudes), and then were embarrassingly denied over and over, not knowing which aspect of you was actually at fault (probably everything). Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll get friend-zoned, teased with the possibility of something developing further, waste your time, and end up going to your safety net: Plenty of Fish. Self-Publishing is the Plenty of Fish of the book industry.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with self-publishing – there’s definitely some quality out there, but we all know it’s mostly for instant and stubborn gratification. It’s a pool of willingness, and people don’t like to gloat about what they did after the fact… and then what about paying for services? Oh, boy. Are we talking about dating still or publishing? I don’t even know anymore.

Rejection in the publishing industry is going to happen; it’s inevitable so don’t go in thinking you’re going to be a bestseller on your first draft. I always say to no one in particular, “There are a lot more starving musicians out there than successful ones,” and the same goes for writers.

I’ve been tough on Self-Publishing thus far, but there are two reasons that back my thoughts: I’m experienced with the platform and Self-Publishing isn’t as independent as it was a decade or so ago. In 2011, Amazon ruined that. They, like they do with everything, monopolized the industry. So, in fact, there’s no independence in independentpublishing from that standpoint. They coddled you, they stroked your ego, they took your work and buried it in over-saturation – however, that’s for another article.

So what is the best platform? If I knew then I would be a bestselling author, and honestly, everyone has different needs and ideas of success. However, I can offer an opinionated and realistic guide for your goals in really bad dating metaphors.

Self-Publishing: Netflix and chill.
Agents: Trendy and stuck up and will probably end up alone. 
Imprints: The good-looking yet inferior best friend, but if drunk enough, you might get lucky.
Big Houses: Mean Girls, but a She’s All That scenario isn’t out of the question, just a slim possibility.
Small Indie Presses: A great marriage – traditional, but independent George is still alive.

I had a recent discussion with a publisher in the UK about the industry and he was explaining how publishers don’t want to spend the time on a project that will require a lot of work and that they tend to lack in efficiency at times. Though the latter depends on the house, imprint, or press, the former is spot on. This means you need to make sure that your work is polished. There can be mistakes, because there will be, but make sure your submission is not littered with grammar and spelling mishaps. Smaller publishers receive a lot of submissions so don’t ruin your chances over things you can control.

Also, 90% of manuscripts sent to industry professionals are usually rejected (it’s like 95% by agents), and many just from a review of the query letter because of the amount of submissions they receive. This is why making sure the story has good structure, your writing has great skill and the plot and characters present a lot of intrigue is so important – that, and you have to have a polished product.

Advice: Computers can hold a lot of documents, save as many drafts as you need. My books sometimes go through ten drafts, and there are still mistakes. Editing services cost a lot of money so if you’re not established you really need to buckle down and sacrifice your time, but also let friends and family read through your work with fresh eyes. You will never be a good editor of your own work; that’s a fact. It’s easy to breeze over the words because you already know how they’re supposed to read.

If I may delve back into my connections in the UK, and I will, I have noticed that of the few I have submitted to in the past, they’re the most responsive whether it is acceptance or rejection. Since we’re focusing on the negative here, the constructive criticism received has been actually useful. If you think about it, anything beats silence or “it’s not a good fit for us” or “unfortunately at this time” or “the ending isn’t what I expected” or “your grammar and spelling are awful” or “you suck and you should give up.”

What can you take from that? Only submit to publishers in the UK. Wait, that wouldn’t help us out at all. The truth is, and another local publisher we know has alluded to this, that no one publisher is the end-all, be-all experts. You have a voice and you have a story so the amount of interest will differ, but if “no” has become a common reply in your inbox then you may want to consider revising a tad.

On one hand, I believe it’s a publisher’s duty to offer a critique or validation during rejection to help the industry as a whole. Here’s something to think about: print sales increased 1.9% across the board last year which is great, but not one new book sold more than one million copies. The point is that commoditization has over-saturated the market, and lesser quality works are devaluing the unique, great stories still vetting for discovery.

To sum up: people will still pay for something worth reading so make your story better.

However, it would help if you knew how to make sure your work is quality, and a simple “not for us” doesn’t do you or your manuscript any justice. You put a lot of effort into your story so you deserve an honest review.

Now, on the other hand (finally) you need to accept the critique and the rejection as well. They’re in the industry, you’re not. No matter what you think you know, you probably don’t know. No matter what your family and friends said, this is a merited unbiased opinion so take it for the sake of your and the industry’s progression.

Rejection and defeat are an important part of life so use both to get better. Separate yourself from the writers just trying something new for fun and become the writer willing to progress and make an impact.

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