I always love it when I open up my email inbox and hear three little words “you’ve got mail”. It is even better when I realize that it is an author writing to me to say they are interested in doing something on my blog! This past month Paul Stansfield, author of “Dead Reckoning” published by Melpomene, agreed to do a two-part guest post about dealing with rejection. You can check out Paul’s blog here, but first check out his guest post!
Rejection: Part One
Ow. Rejection. The bane of our profession. Those slips of paper which discourage writers, and make them question why they bother, and may even cause them to abandon their dreams. Some don’t even get this far. Sometimes people are so reluctant to risk rejection that they don’t send their stories out, or even allow another person to read them.
When I’m interested in something, it very often turns into obsession. Also, I tend to dwell on the facts, the actual statistics. Therefore, when I decided to discuss rejections, it got me to thinking: What was the highest number of rejections a particular unpublished story received, or an eventually published book, or the most by one author for multiple submissions?
Obviously, determining the number of rejections isn’t as objective as something like a major league player’s home runs, or an element’s atomic weight, or how many number one hit records a musician had. Presumably an author could save every rejection letter, and produce them if necessary, but basically I’m relying on their honesty (and the honesty of the websites that reported most of these.) I didn’t spend months researching this, so it’s entirely possible that I may have missed some. In addition, some authors, especially under or unpublished ones, might not broadcast their totals out of embarrassment, so there’s that, too. Without further qualification, here’s what I came up with. Clearly, with a few exceptions, these were all fantastically successful books/authors. Some totals include agents’ rejection along with publishers.
Most rejections, one manuscript/book:
1) 245 Gilbert Young, for “World Government Crusade.” The English Mr. Young wrote this political treatise in 1958, and endured this staggering total over the next 30 years. So many that he claimed to have run out of publishers to try. The eventual fate of this book is a bit murky—he made the Guinness Book in the 1970’s (with the 106 rejections he’d gotten at that point), and several articles in 1988 claimed the 245 number. However, Amazon listed this title as being published in 1988, but it was currently unavailable. The publisher was listed as “G.Young” so I’m assuming it was self-published.
2) 217 Bill Gordon, for “How Many Books Do You Sell in Ohio?” copywrite 1986. After achieving this total, he started his own publishing company and put this book out. Which makes one wonder if he would have overtaken Mr. Young if he hadn’t. Plus, is self-publishing “cheating” in this case?
3) 123 (133?) Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, for the first “Chicken Soup for the Soul” published in 1993. Huge bestseller, and spawned a huge series, over 200 books! Both these men are listed as owning the publishing company that put this out, so maybe this could be considered self-published, too.
4) 121 Robert Pirsig, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” published in 1974.
5) 112+ Darcie Chan, for “The Mill River Recluse” published 2011.
6) 111 James Lee Burke, for “The Lost Get-Back Boogie” published in 1986.
7) 60+ Vince Flynn, for “Term Limits” self-published initially, in 1997.
8) 60 Kathryn Stockett, for “The Help” published in 2009.
9) 38 Margaret Mitchell, for “Gone With The Wind” published 1936.
10) 26 (29?) Madelaine L’ Engle, for “A Wrinkle in Time” published in 1962.
Feeling better yet? To defend the publishers/editors a little, we don’t know the follow-up. Presumably, they realized later how wrong they’d been, and you’d like to think they admitted this, and apologized to the author, maybe even publicly. Also, of course, there is the nature of creative endeavors—their subjectivity. Some books, no matter how successful, how classic they’re considered by millions of readers, simply don’t appeal to some individuals. Which makes the publishers wrong about how well they’d sell or be appreciated by others, but not incorrect about their personal opinion. I’m sure we can all think of examples of best selling books which we think are actually terrible. But most of us aren’t publishers, or magazine editors. Anyway, here’s a few editors’ quotes to various famous and successful authors, which came back to bite them on the ass.
Rudyard Kipling: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” From a San Francisco Examiner editor.
Mary Higgins Clark: “We find the heroine as boring as her husband did.” Editor discussing “Journey Back to Love.”
H.G. Wells: “An endless nightmare… Oh don’t read that horrible book.” About “War of the Worlds.”
George Orwell: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.” About “Animal Farm.” I’m no literature expert, but I kind of think that this book just might be a political allegory, and not a children’s book.
To be continued…