Friday, July 23, 2010

I've written 20 years with only one rejection by Terry Burns



You don't believe that?

It's true.

The dictionary says rejection is to refuse to accept or to repudiate. Repudiate? That's not about writing, that's personal.

When I started writing I was doing a lot of writing and a lot of querying and submitting. Obviously heartless little slips were coming in right and left. I took them very personally. These people didn't know me, and they weren't reading enough of my writing to make fair judgments. I was incensed.

Then the statement I had just made hit home; they don't know me. If that's the case, how could it be personal? It couldn't. I realized that a response would be a rejection if they said I had body odor, my writing stunk and my mother dressed me funny. I was the one making it personal, not them.

What were these funny little slips of paper if not rejections? I got to spend some time with well-known agent Donald Maass. I was involved with hosting him when he came to our writing conference as one of the faculty, so it was more than a ten minute interview, it was hanging out for a couple of days. I did have an interview scheduled with him, and over the course of the evening the day before he told me how to find out if he handled works such as the one I was set to pitch.

When I got back to the house I did the homework I should have already done. I got online and over the course of several hours I found out the type works he had successfully placed and what his clients wrote. The question he wanted me to ask myself was not "do I write LIKE these people?" (Hopefully we are all unique as writers.) He wanted me to ask myself if the readers of the books he was placing would be likely to be readers for the book I wanted to pitch. The answer was no. He wasn't the right agent for me to be going after.

That was the answer. Each agent has a base of publishing contacts that they have strong inroads to. They spend their time working those contacts trying to find material they feel is a good fit to take to them. They spend time on occasion trying something new, trying to open new doors, but primarily they work where they are most productive.

Editors are exactly the same. They know who their readers are and what they read. They search for works they feel sure their reader base will buy. They too will spend some time trying new things, but only if sales in the established areas afford them the flexibility to do it, otherwise, they tend to business.

So to me those little slips of paper are 'negative market reports?' I can live with that. There is absolutely nothing personal about it, and it probably doesn't even reflect on my writing (unless they add something specific to the contrary). They are just saying they don't feel they are the market for that particular manuscript.

That means it's a numbers game. I could be sending to the right place at the wrong time. If they had just published a similar book, then the market isn't there. I honestly believe there are Pulitzer quality books that are never published because the author doesn't stay with it long enough to find the right market, and we know some very marginal books HAVE been published just because they came under the right person's nose at exactly the right place and time. Market. Sure, the writing has to be acceptable, but as much as we might wish it were true, a work won't make it just on quality of writing. The market has to be there.

'Negative market reports.' I got one because I guessed wrong, or my research turned up the right place but it was the wrong time for whatever reason. It's an elusive connection and I have to keep doing market research and keep knocking on doors until the link is made. No rejection involved. Well, except for that one guy who said I had body odor, my writing stunk and my mother dressed me funny. Now that hurt!

14 comments:

kristenethridge.com said...

What a great perspective!

It's so hard to not to take it personally when someone rejects our baby. We spend hours and hours on it, miss sleep, time with family, special events, etc, to bring it into the world. And we want someone to love it just as much as we do.

That's why it's so important to find the right agent and the right editor. I take rejections far less personally now, but if it's someone I really think I would like to work with in my writing career, it's harder. Thanks for the great perspective here!

kristenethridge.com said...

What a great perspective!

It's so hard to not to take it personally when someone rejects our baby. We spend hours and hours on it, miss sleep, time with family, special events, etc, to bring it into the world. And we want someone to love it just as much as we do.

That's why it's so important to find the right agent and the right editor. I take rejections far less personally now, but if it's someone I really think I would like to work with in my writing career, it's harder. Thanks for the great perspective here!

Caroline said...

Oh, oh, oh, so true. Great post.

Jeanette Levellie said...

I read recently in Christian Communicator magazine that getting a rejection isn't getting and "F" on your report card. It's that whomever you pitched your book or article to is buying apples and you have oranges.

So, it was your mother who started that cowboy look?

Martha Ramirez said...

This is an awesome post, Terry!
It's a great reminder that even great works do not get published if it doesn't fill the market need.
Also a great reminder of it not being personal.

Oh, and loved ur closing sentence.

Thanks for sharing!

Timothy Fish said...

I have a hard time seeing responses to queries as rejections when the whole purpose of the query is to ask the person if they're interested in considering the work. Some people track these things like they're some kind of metric or something. And then they talk about how many rejection letters some famous book received. That information is pretty much meaningless and yet use it to give themselves hope.

Shmologna said...

This was a wonderful post.

"I realized that a response would be a rejection if they said I had body odor, my writing stunk and my mother dressed me funny. I was the one making it personal, not them."

I belly-laughed at that!

~Britt Mitchell

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

That's great logic, and I love being able to use the buttons at the bottom of the post to repost and retweet it :-)

Cherry Odelberg said...

Thanks Terry. And thanks Bonnie for retweeting! I once had a cork board titled, "Rejection Collection," and prided myself on being a working writer as long as I was adding to it. Then my grown son intervened- he thought it was a rather negative, despondent thing to be proud of. Your perspective is much better.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Never have your words been more apropriate for me to hear...its a survival process, right?

Very uplifting perspective. Thanks!

Nike Chillemi said...

Great article.

Finding the right agent...now that's a novel approch. (smile)

Donna B said...

Oh so true. There really is nothing personal. I have my own handful of those little gems. They're just stepping stones. Some of them are even learning experiences, but a rejection is very rarely, if ever personal. You sure got that right!

Terri Tiffany said...

Great post--you just made me feel better about my last two rejections. I think initially as writers we send to where ever when we first query and don't do the research that's needed.

Linda Glaz said...

Terry, what a great blog. How many of us would have done better in the first place if we had thought of querying in those terms.
Thanks.