Writers and Their Rejections

Rejection Therapy logo

Most of the writers I’ve known over the decades had one goal in mind – publication. They reached for the gold standard of traditional publishing. Most of them never got there. It usually had little to do with their talent.

Many of these writers deserved better. They should have been published. Their work was excellent, polished and moving. But, somewhere along the line, they gave up. They reached an impenetrable bulwark that sidetracked their work and talent. It was the wall of rejection and, for some very talented writers, it was too much to overcome.

Rejection is a tough issue for anyone. In the world of writing, it’s inevitable. For those writers who set the gold standard of publication for themselves, it sometimes became the breaking point. Understandable, right?. However, for those writers who eventually made it through the desert of rejection, there was a potent reward waiting.

The question is one of perspective, self-confidence and experience. It all boils down to how you value rejection. Here’s one way to look at the issue.

Agent rejection. Agents live on the work and talent of writers. That’s the nature of their business. Good agents are looking for long-term relationships with their writers. There’s a reason for this. Once that first book has been published, the chances of future publishing opportunities increase exponentially. Beyond that, getting published opens up doors of opportunity in related areas. Good agents understand this kind of critical mass. It’s why the best of them thrive on long-term relationships.

The bad news is that top notch agents are rare. Most are only interested in signing a writer whose work can be quickly published. For these agents, it’s a numbers game. So, you’re just a number if you sign up.

Now, ask yourself this: Do you really care about being rejected by an agent who doesn’t care about you? The answer should be obvious. Their rejection is, after all, just the opinion of an individual who has no vested interest in your writing career. That kind of rejection is a blessing.

Take a look at Online Publishing and E-Hyphens and E-Agents for a bit more.

Disney Rejection Letter, 1938 (detail)

Publisher rejection. Rejection by other than a recognized publishing house is just as meaningless as rejection by the disinterested agent. Online publishers are everywhere. If the house is not established, not recognized by readers and writers, their rejection means nothing. It’s just another opinion from yet another person who has little or no interest in your writing career.

Even rejection from a major publishing house means little. There are countless examples of publishers rejecting famous authors. The publishing industry is littered with this wreckage and misdirection. If you spend some time reading about the careers of famous authors you’ll quickly see the kinds of monumental mistakes often made by major publishing houses. These stories are legendary and common.

Rejection by critics. OK, you’re published. Here come the critics, frothing and foaming at the mouth. Maybe you get panned. Is that rejection? Of course not. It’s nothing more than an opinion, typically written to please the critic’s readers. It’s wise to remember that critics are not writers. Many are frustrated, unsuccessful writers. They are hawking opinions designed to please their own readers. That’s their job. They are nothing more than opinion sellers, and you know the old warning about opinions, right?

To see the critic review game at its most ugly, take a peek at Paid Reviews Rock Your Pocket.

Rejection by readers. Yep, this is the one that really matters, if publication is your primary goal. It must be measured in only one way – book sales. The “review comments” below each book title mean little. They may make you feel good, angry, frustrated, whatever. But, in the final analysis, these comments are frosting, bitter or sweet. What counts is whether or not your book is selling. At the end of the day, it’s the reader that counts, and his or her opinion is expressed in terms of books sold.

There is only one exception to the rejection game – you. Yep, you count. Your opinions matter. The reason you write is important. Your goals are important. If you’re a writer, there’s a good reason, and it’s always personal, always important.

Forget rejection. Don’t obsess about opinions. Devalue the importance of acceptance. Find out why you write, what it means to you, where it fits in the symphony of your life. Rejection will always be at your doorstep. Just step over it and move ahead. It’s not always the best writer who reaches the finish line. It’s often the most tenacious.

Finally, here are a few articles that may be helpful. Keep in mind that publishers, agents and critics would have no purpose without writers.

The Undiscovered Writer

The Established Writer

Writer vs Author

The Unselfish Writer

Selfishness

A while back, I came across a comment that posed the question of selfishness as it applies to writing and writers. It was a bit of a two-parter that morphed around the subject. The first part of the question asked whether or not an unselfish writer should give away his or her work for free. The second part wanted an answer to the bigger question of “what is a selfish reason to write?”

I think there was more to these questions than met the eye when I first read them. The comments were posed as a challenge more than an observation. Still, they were interesting enough. How does selfishness and writing come together? How does selfishness, or lack of it, play into chasing word art?

A few readers may need to don the crash helmet for what follows. It’s purely an opinion piece, so don’t get too worked up over it. Geezer-writers get to stretch their mouth muscles from time to time.

The first part of the question, whether or not a writer should be paid, is pretty simplistic and obvious. I’ve written a number of posts about this topic. Since I’ve been writing all my life, I also have pretty strong feelings about it. If you’re a worthy writer, you should be paid for your work, period. The only exception is when you choose to offer your work for free, for some personal reason that makes sense to you. There’s an entire section on this blog, along with several individual articles, that speak to the need for writers to be compensated for their work. It’s a no-brainer.

But getting paid for your words is a tough business. Few writers ever achieve that goal. As I’ve mentioned many times, some of the best writers I’ve known never made it in a financial sense. They were great word artists but they never had the chance to make their work pay. This is one of the reasons that I’m such a strong proponent of self-publishing, to level the playing field for writers who would otherwise sit it out on the sidelines for reasons that have nothing to do with their talent.

Pay as You Exit

Should you be paid for your work? You bet, so long as your work is worth the money. In the end, your readers should be allowed to make that decision, not publishers or alleged “publishing companies” that populate the Internet. It’s all between you and the reader. The only way to know if you can make writing work for you is to get your words out there and hear what readers have to say about it. Readers vote with their money, which is just the way it should be. Publishers have lost their importance through their own greed and immoderate behavior. Get your words out there, and do it on your own terms.

The second part of the question is a little strange. I’ve never been asked the question in the past but it’s worth a thought. What is a selfish reason to write?

I don’t find much selfishness among my fellow writers. However, they mostly write books, novels or nonfiction. A few of my writer-friends are journalists. I do see a good deal of selfishness among bloggers, though. I find lots of attention-seeking behavior out there.

Now, to some extent, attention-seeking behavior is inherent in anyone who writes seriously or as a career. We want to be noticed, one way or another. We may write for ourselves, at first, but we publish to be read. At some level, that’s attention-seeking. I doubt that any seasoned writer would argue against this relationship.

attention seeking

But it goes beyond that acceptable level with so many blogs. There are endless posts directed at only one purpose – driving readers to the blog. There are so many words that have this sole purpose that it’s a day’s work to just get through them to the true nuggets of good writing. This kind of behavior is so obvious and transparent that virtually all readers recognize it when they see it. It operates at a level of commercials on TV, except that every so often you run across a really funny, entertaining TV commercial. Not so often with most blogs.

This kind of writing is selfish. It is not intended to convey valuable information, entertain, enlighten, share or contribute to others. It is designed to point back at the writer and do nothing more. It’s a way of putting notches on a virtual blog-belt that says, “Hey, look at me! I now have 34,534 followers!” Well, if you’re into quantity as a writing goal, it surely serves some purpose. It just doesn’t work for me.

If the blog is commercial in nature, I get the point. However, if it’s intended to be a personal blog, and the whole point is to drive readers to the blog, it shows up in the posts and in the writing style. This kind of writer is not trying to share. He or she is trying to collect. In my view, that’s selfish.

So, are writers selfish? The good ones, those who work it out as a living, the journalists, the worthy novelists, and even the occasional strong blog writer are not selfish. They are sharing something of who they are, what they think, how they are feeling, what they’ve learned along the way. They are not selfish. They are writers, even if they remain undiscovered for a lifetime.

Asking if writers are selfish is like asking if a writer is any good at what he or she does with their art. The best writers move well beyond their selfishness and find reasons to create words that are genuine and tangible, meaningful in some way to their readers. Those who cannot get to this point simply don’t make it in the business. There’s too much competition from good, genuine writers for the purely selfish to survive the cut.

Writer-selfishness has nothing to do with money, with getting that advance and royalty check. It has everything to do with sharing that part of yourself that may touch your readers.

Anything else is selfish.

The Weirdness of Writers

Old Man

I’m an old geezer so I can say whatever’s on my mind, right? Isn’t that how it works? Since I’m a writer, I can even make it all up.

This is the weirdness of being a writer. Here are the details:

We live in our heads. That’s right. Forget the world outside. If it’s worth the experience, it lives in here, upstairs. OK, there’s also some intrigue out there. Lots of inspiration from the real world. But, it all needs to get sucked up, rolled around, re-worked in our heads. That’s where we find the action. Doesn’t everyone?

We think in images but cannot draw. Just like you, we see pictures in our heads. We probably can’t express them in a better way than words. A few of us are multi-talented and can do more. These are the true artists. For the rest of us hack writers, making those pictures come alive in words is where it’s at. Descriptions count, a lot. The more vivid, the better.

We like word sounds. Words make sounds. Sounds make pictures, pictures make words. Get it? We like to describe sounds, often in vibrant detail. Check out your favorite writer. See all the sounds he or she describes? Sounds have character. Sounds set moods. Sounds are everywhere. How could any worthy writer ignore sounds? People, too. We call them “characters.”

We’re not that fond of reality. Sure, the world is good. But the attic is better. No cumbersome reality upstairs. Time doesn’t matter. We can do whatever we want up there and nobody can touch us. We create worlds, destroy them, rebuild them, morph them all over the place. That’s our reality. How could the outside world ever compete with that? If you don’t like it, just re-write it.

Nothing is static. Make it once, overhaul it, throw it away, resurrect it, revise it, revamp it and do it all over again and again. Everything changes when you write. Without change, writing is just work, just another four-letter word. Mountains breathe, rocks walk, creatures come and go. It’s a fast-moving landscape up there. Never boring.

quiet

We need quiet. Well, sometimes we need music. The point is that we aren’t too fond of excessive stimulation from others. We need space. We need solitude. We thrive on that special peace that offers the challenge of working alone. Move the quiet times to the front of the line. It’s best to not mess with us when we’re writing.

We are all romantics. We want the world our way, even if we end up destroying it. We thrive on the feelings and moods behind our words. We tend to be very passionate about the people and things in our heads. So, we romance our heads, our unconscious, our moods and feelings. Isn’t this romantic?

English: True Love Couple

We have very understanding mates. If we’re living with another, that person must be very special. Who could even consider living with a writer and still maintain a “normal” life? The weirdness of a writer naturally spills over into the reality of living. Anyone who lives with this strangeness deserves the Lifetime Award of Extreme Tolerance and Understanding. Otherwise, that mate must be another writer and all hell is on the horizon.

We are obsessive. We just can’t stop writing. Period.

Writers Workshop: The Nonfiction Proposal

New Paperback Non-Fiction - Really?! 07/366/20...

There are lots of different ways to construct a nonfiction proposal. It’s easy to search the Internet and come up with some very good advice (and examples) about this subject. Anyone who writes and publishes nonfiction certainly understands that the proposal is the key to generating interest in your writing project. It’s critical to the entire process.

In the nonfiction world of publishing, it isn’t always necessary to have your project completely written before you step into the proposal end of the business. This is especially true if you’ve already established yourself in an appropriate genre. However, even if this is your fist foray into nonfiction, the proposal may be enough to get that critical attention and, hopefully, a writing contract.

Over the years, I’ve found a simple technique that works for me. Agents and publishers seem to like it, and it manages to get their attention as effectively as any other method. There is nothing special or secret about the way I construct a proposal. It’s just an amalgamation of the knowledge of others and a lot of experimentation with what works and what does not.

My technique is based upon two concepts: simplicity and compactness. I understand that agents, publishers, editors and their kin will not spend much time studying any proposal. Rather, they will give it a moment’s attention and either pass it over or delve a bit further. So, your proposal must be tight and manageable yet provide enough information and appeal to demand a deeper look.

My nonfiction proposals look like this:

A few sentences of introduction (or overview). This must be brief and need only state the nature of your proposal and a few words about yourself. The key is brevity. I never let this go beyond 5 or so sentences. This is certainly not the place to gush, sell, or bore your reader.

A list of chapter titles. Now, this is just a list and nothing more. In nonfiction, the chapter titles had better convey what is to follow or you’re lost. If, for some reason, you use less informative (perhaps more “leading” titles), you can follow each chapter title with one descriptive sentence. It’s important to keep this to a single, tight, interesting sentence. It should immediately follow the chapter title and clearly be associated with it.

The complete Introduction. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I don’t believe in long Introductions. You can see some examples on this blog. I think it’s important to be very careful when writing your Introduction. It should really shine and strongly carry your reader onward. I usually put this in front of the chapter list, but not always. I’m not sure which is the best method and I’ve changed-up on this part over the years. In fact, it may not even matter.

That’s it. I know it seems short and, perhaps, simplistic. However, it’s worked well for me over the years. It gives the reader a less overwhelming feeling, which often happens with proposals. It also provides enough information to both point clearly at your topic (chapter titles) and display your writing talent (Introduction).

If you’ve found a nice way of creating nonfiction proposals, won’t you share it?

Reading, Writing the Perfect Book

reading

Like most writers, I enjoy reading. I’m always in search of that perfect book, that unique piece of work that finds a special place in my heart and mind. 

I’m looking for the book I will never give away, never leave behind, never forget. It can be fiction or nonfiction. It’s obviously a subjective search, changeable for every reader. There’s no predictable way to measure the perfect read, to agree on greatness. In fact, it’s hard to even define all the flavors that come together to blend the ultimate brew.

Let’s try anyway.

Legs. I don’t care about the hot genre of the day. They come and go. I want the book that has legs, that keeps its meaning over the years and decades. It has something to say that transcends the time in which it was created. What was important to the writer back then must still be important to me today. It just keeps on going, stays relevant and holds tightly onto its meaning. If the zombie apocalypse makes the tsunami of today, I’ll pass unless your zombie has something really special in store for me.

Easy read. I don’t want to trip over flowery sentences and over-polish. Sure, I enjoy a beautifully constructed phrase or a finely-tuned paragraph. But I’m not interested in only that part of the experience. I want to be able to get through the book without too much work. I want it to flow, to carry me along the story line and not distract me with glitz and fizz. Seasoned writers know this. First-time authors often get caught up in a love affair with their own words. I don’t want that love affair in my face. Keep me on the right track, move me along easily, grab me with the motion and pacing of the story line. Force nothing.

Break the Rules!

Breaking rules. Call me a miscreant, but I like writers who break the rules, so long as they don’t overload me with a manufactured style. Words and sentences are musical phrases to me. Punctuation is a way of making those phrases work well. So, go ahead and push a rule here or there. It won’t bother me at all, as long as its not fabricated or made the center of your style. Make up a word or two. That’s fine. I enjoy the uniqueness of style so long as it doesn’t distract me from the main thrust of the reading journey.

No phonies. I’ve been reading and writing all my life. I can spot a phony from thirty miles. If you’re not a sincere writer, making your art for unselfish reasons, I’ll sniff it out. Most readers will do the same. Don’t make me look at you too hard. If you’re a great writer, I will discover you for myself in your work. I must believe you’re a sincere writer to keep on reading. So, either be sincere or be such a good doo-doo slinger that I can’t tell the difference. Just remember that I’m no reader-pushover.

Move me. I want to feel that emotional side of your story, fiction or nonfiction. If I want a common, dry read, I’ll stick to cereal boxes and bug-chaser labels. If you can’t move me, I stop reading and never return. On the other hand, don’t try too hard. For me, a writer who is moved by his or her story line will also move me. It’s an automatic, transparent process. If you are moved when you write, it will shine through and move me also. If you try to force the issue, I’ll know it.

Make me wonder. I want to take something away from your words. I want to wonder about your story line, to become a part of that journey. Make me think as well as feel. When I put the book down for the night, I want to play with your words in my mind, walk along your story line in my own way, become a part of what is happening in your world. If you can do that, you’re my friend forever.

Surprise

Leave me different. You can make me happy, sad, angry, whatever. Just don’t leave me the same old reader you first found. Change me in some way, even something very small and insignificant. Reshape my views, rearrange my thoughts, tweak my emotions, take me on a little ride with your words. Somehow, leave your footprint on my heart and in my mind. But don’t try too hard. If you’re going to force the issue, I’ll know right away. However, if your word journey left you changed, I’ll likely follow suit.

Make me a better writer. Show me something fresh and unique. The best of the best show me a sincere and inescapable style that I cannot ignore. These works tell me I have more to learn, more to experience. They make me a better writer because I see opportunities and alternatives. In your words, I find a new path on my own journey. Teach me, if you can, but never try to do so. Lead me by your example and unique perspective.

Be honest. Even when you’re lying to me, convince me of your honesty. Can you do that? Great writers do it all the time.

Stay behind the scenes. Hide away behind your words and never let me catch you peeking out. I don’t want you to tell me you’re back there, just waiting to grab my attention. Let your story do the talking. If you’re a good writer, I’ll find you on my own. Don’t sell me, ever.

Don’t define yourself. I don’t want you to tell me about you. I want a little mystery behind my favorite writer. Be changeable. Surprise me. You’re a big part of my reading journey, so make it fun for both of us. Even if you’re the hottest swamp gas in the literary world, stay just far enough away from my doorstep that I wonder. Let me fill in your details. Make me work, just a little bit.

I suppose this list could go on indefinitely. Time to take a breath.

These are just a few highlights and they’re obviously personal. Your goodie list will certainly be different in many ways. Great writing is ultimately indefinable. Forget the sages of word theory and the alleged experts of prose. If it moves you, if you want to keep that book forever, the writer has done his or her job.

The big take-away is ridiculously simple. Keep it real.

Writers: Spank Publishers, Go Podding

PublisherIf you’re in the publishing business, you’ll be unhappy with what follows. It’s meant to give you a good spanking for your bad behavior. This is about writers and their rights, freedoms and alternatives.

I‘ve been around the writing business too long. My memories of working with publishers are mostly good. But, these days, they’re also dingy, irrelevant artifacts. Publishing was never a perfect industry but, by today’s standards, it was at least a somewhat meaningful partnership. No more.

Astute writers are aware of the immense changes in publishing. The word is out there and has been floating around for years. But matters have become truly ugly, especially for young writers trying to make a mark with their words. Today, publishers are circling overhead, waiting for the kill, happy to parse out a tedious, stingy contract in exchange for the writer doing all the work. In reality, these are not publishers at all. They are opportunists who provide no added value, suck up profits, and dump the entire workload on the writer. They are predators and they’re everywhere.

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the publisher was a work-partner, someone who actually provided added value for the writer. Well, forget that idea. It’s history. If you’re a writer, the best you can hope for is helper monkey status on a publisher’s relentless push toward greater profits. You are nothing more than an overworked, abused commodity to publishers.

Black Vulture, very common around towns and ci...

Vulture publishers, magazines, anthologies and the like are preying upon a writer’s intense desire to see his or her work in print, or e-print. That’s the hook and the publisher has no problem setting it with a ruthless determination. Just to spice the stew, anyone can start a publishing company these days. It takes virtually no work, no experience and no skill. It’s a nice landscape for cannibalism, and guess who is the main course?

The few remaining large publishing houses are no better than the newcomers. They also demand that a writer do all the work while they suck up virtually all the profits using insidious and completely unfair contracts. This is their method of survival since the advent of e-publishing. These organizations, old and new, thrive on turning their writers into less-than-partner status who can provide all the publishing services they once provided. To settle the matter, they then put the writer into last place in any contact while they drink the profit cocktail fully.

Do writers even need publishers these days? Probably not, if they find another way to penetrate the reader market. There’s no reason for a writer to self-sacrifice in order to get his or her words out there. There are alternatives, many ways to get around publisher blood-letting.

Something that appeals to me is the idea of writing/publishing “pods.” It sounds a little strange, I know, but that’s because I’ve not given it the time to come up with a better description. Forget the alien context for a minute.

Let me give you an example.

writing

Suppose there exists a small collection of writers. Let’s say 5 or 6 of them. Throw in a trusted editor. Now, add an individual who knows enough about the publishing business to act in that role. Also, someone strong in web design, social media, that kind of thing. In other words, marketing. So, all together, no more than 10 or so individuals. Call it a “pod” for lack of a better term.

Now, this pod has one goal in mind. Get those writers published and do it in a way that makes money. All contracts stay within the pod. The profits are shared on the basis of value, decided in advance by the members. The group writes, works, edits, markets and publishes for the common good. Each member has an equal voice; all important decisions are made democratically. Predators are not welcome.

OK, it sounds a bit idealistic, I admit. The pod would have to start small, with a tight group and inherent trust among members. But it could evolve. It could hold true to its common purpose and become a self-sustaining enterprise. It could, in fact, become much like the traditional, value-added publisher but in a far less predatory way. It could be an enterprise that re-writes the hackneyed rules of publishing and offers a more equitable way of doing the business of writing. If done correctly, members of a successful pod would have no need for publishers at all, no demands for writers to subjugate themselves to the publishing altar of greed. They would operate for the common good and, hopefully, prosper. Forget the top-down gorging on the work of others. Share the load, share the profits.

So, call me a dreamer. None of this will likely happen. Publishers will probably continue preying upon writers to the fullest extent possible. It’s a sad state for today’s young writers. And this idea may be completely unworkable for a number of reasons, mostly sociological. But the point is simple. There are alternatives to the hungry, self-absorbed publisher.

What I absolutely believe is that writers deserve much better treatment from publishers than they are receiving. Since it’s unlikely that publishers will simply do the right thing, it’s up to writers to step out in front and take charge of their careers. There is really no reason to become the slave of a publisher in the modern marketplace. They can be set aside, replaced by a different model, should those who really do the work choose a different way of following their art.

Whatever you may think about the publishing industry these days, don’t be too quick to sign that contract. It will likely be a very unhappy experience. Before you sign, consider the alternatives.

Self-Publishing Whiners and Malcontents

Yikes! From AmacordI’m completely towed-up with self-publishing malcontents. I mean those people who look down on self-publishing as some kind of modern leprosy. They chaff my undies, big time. They need to just settle down and find something else to whine about.

Now, I probably have little right to rant about this subject. My books have been traditionally published, mostly. But I’m irked by people who mock the self-published writer, claiming anyone can do it. Of course, the complainers typically have not done it. But that doesn’t keep them from spewing nonsense. For those traditionally-published writers who are among the malcontents, you are an embarrassment to our trade. Give it up and be happy.

Then, there are those universal prophets of doom who claim the entire publishing industry has been obliterated by the ease of today’s self-publishing tools and opportunities. These are the alleged guardians of what is good for the rest of us. Who appointed them my keeper?

Swamp gas to you all! A pox on your querulous houses, one and all!

The whiners completely miss the point of why a writer wants to see his or her work made available to others. For most writers, self-publishing is the only way to achieve that goal. It really hasn’t much to do with their talents. Great writers often never get published. Lousy writers sometimes do. Traditional publishing is a hard, specialized game in which only the lucky few get through the door. Publishing houses are not the arbiters of art. They often make mistakes and they are in business to make money, not preserve or promote great literary accomplishments.

Mr. BillSo, why should other writers, sometimes very good writers, not have the opportunity to be read by the widest possible audience? Self-publishing makes that happen for many writers. It can level the playing field for young, talented authors, for those who would never see the light of day in the old way of doing business.

For the complainers who believe in the value of the police state, in which a few publishers determine what gets to the marketplace, self-publishing must seem like Armageddon. They claim that the openness of today’s publishing process degrades the quality of work available to readers. That’s absolute doo-doo. Who are these people to make reading decisions for you or me? I don’t need or want the Reader Police messing around with my literary pleasures. I want to make that decision for myself. Give me the widest possible selection and get off my collective back.

Self-publishing makes all kinds of reading experiences available, everything good, bad and in-between. As a reader, it gives me choices. I like that. I’ll do my book-voting with my money, not based on the Reader Police or the selections of a few publishing houses.

For the writer, self-publishing makes complete sense. It marks the end of a long, tough process. It’s the reward for the writer’s work. If the writer allows crap to be released in his or her name, that’s on them. They still have the right to publish. I still have the option to buy or not to buy.

So, to all those malcontents who persist in the argument that today’s publishing opportunities have ruined the literary landscape, I say biddle to you and your whining. Get over it.

Instead of croaking about the opportunities available to today’s young writers, go put it in a book. Self-publish it so I can vote with my money.