Mark Terry

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"Rejection. And then what?"

December 27, 2006
Writer Tim Wendel had a wonderful op/ed in yesterday's USA Today titled "Rejection. And then what?" You can find the entire piece here.

Here's a little bit of what he had to say:

According to Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, we have three basic reactions to rejection:

The first one is easy to identify with. You say "to hell with them," Campbell writes, and then retreat to protect your ego, perhaps the gift that you've tried to offer to the world.

The second response is to ask, "What do they want?" You believe you have a talent, a skill. You try to figure out the marketplace. Give them what they want in a commercial sense. But there's a real danger here. You have to be careful not to totally renounce your particular insight to the world in trying so hard to develop a public career.

The third response is "to find some aspect of the domain into which you have come that can receive a little portion of what you have to give," Campbell says. Of course, that isn't easy to do.

My first novel, Castro's Curveball, was rejected 33 times. To this day, I don't know whether I should be proud or embarrassed about that. But the experience taught me that failure and rejection don't have to be the same thing. Failure has such finality to it. It's all over. Case closed. Rejection certainly stings, but we decide when the process is over.

Everybody gets rejected. But many of my students really don't believe this. They think that if they align themselves with the right agent or high-powered editor, they'll be impervious to such heartache. This blind optimism is also common in college athletics, where many athletes are convinced they'll make the pros, though only a tiny fraction do

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Check it out. You'll be glad you did.

Mark Terry


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Very interesting. In order to complete my Holidailies allotment I've just been writing a couple pieces about writing, and specifically harping on my current theme of basicaly keeping on doing what you think you ought to be doing. I guess it is important to me now because I really don't know what's next in the writing line, if anything but I fear, if there is anything next, it's not going to involve capitulation to the marketplace.

I don't consider publication by a small publisher to exactly meet my long time dream of "getting published." These days that would seem to entail a BIG publisher. It's kind of like making it to Triple A in baseball. Damned impressive, compared to what most people manage, but still not The Show.

But, it's something. It's not total failure. It's an accomplishment I can live with, and I am thinking if no one wants to publish pretty damn much what I want to write next, then I'll be happy to live with our seven Poisoned Pen Press books.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

That's an analogy I've used myself, actually. I don't think there's any shame in being published by small presses, and PPP is a particularly excellent small press. Still, most small presses don't have deep pockets or particularly good distribution, and distribution can be the make/or break in this business.

I like to think that small presses may be more loyal to their authors, although I'm not entirely sure that's true. I suspect they'll be more patient than big publishers, although why I say that is based on logic, not on experience. It's not completely clear to me whether or not High Country Publishers was actually going to publish my second Meg Malloy novel. They kept the manuscript for 5 or 6 months without actually reading it, way past the option clause time period, and when I asked about it, they indicated they were going to "get around to it," and although it seems likely they were going to probably publish it eventually, I showed the manuscript to my agent to see what she thought and she liked it and thought it might be salable to a larger publisher, so I talked to the HCP people about getting the contracts changed and they were willing to do so. It was all very cordial and as far as I can tell there were no hard feelings on either pary's part. I was told, however, that they had a few new authors who were more accurately considered "midlist" that they were focusing on pleasing, and I was being backburnered.

That suggests to me that small publishers may not actually be all that different from large publishers, at least in my experience.

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

PPP has been great. I think our books have sold decently by their lights, particularly since historical mysteries don't have a huge market. But it isn't as if sales have skyrocketed from book to book. There's no way we would be working on a 7th book for a big publisher. No one gets to a 3rd book without huge, rising sales anymore, or so it seems. So yes, a small press can be different.

I'm sure if we had sold to St Martin's (say) we'd have had, at best two paperbacks, long since out of print and forgotten. With PPP we've had a nice series, with hardbacks in hundreds of libraries, and the trade paper editions are all still in print and will remain so. And of course we've had the fun and learning experience of writing all those books.

Actually we are far better off to have hooked up with PPP rather than a big publisher. But there is still that childhood fantasy that wants satisfying even though, as an adult, I realize it'd likely be a case of regretting getting what I'd wished for.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good column. Thanks for the link, Mark.

I've become a lot more philosophical about rejection. Of course that will be put to the test again soon, and we'll see how it goes. But I think writers, especially beginning or long time aspirers like me, need to stay focused on the positives of this whole process, and many of those positives depend on us. The one thing that is completely out of our control, prior to publication, is rejection. Submissions are under our control, the editing we do, the story structure, the characters, how we merge all the elements into a whole, whether we finish a manuscript, and whether we make it past the first two scenes to begin with.

By the time we get to a rejection, we've at least gotten through those processes. That in itself is an accomplishment.

So I don't win the five-figure advance lottery, or become the next star of the bestseller lists. If I can get through a few rejections without losing my nerve, I'm accomplishing something most people don't bother to ever attempt. That's where I need to keep my focus.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Barbara W. Klaser said...

That last comment was me -- and not to complain, but that's been happening a lot with Blogger blogs lately, after previewing/editing quite often the comment reverts to anonymous. It didn't used to happen. They've changed something in the set up. Just so you'll know.

5:57 PM  

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