No writer likes to receive rejections. Anyone who has been following my blog for a while knows I’ve been trying for months to find an agent who would say “yes” to In Her Mother’s Shoes. By Christmas I was reaching the realization that the book would not be picked up by an agent because it wasn’t sensational enough. If it doesn’t have blockbuster potential, an agent couldn’t easily sell it to a publisher, and it follows that they wouldn’t want it on that alone.
The handful of compliments I received about the writing being very good and the story enjoyable raised my hopes that maybe I could find a publisher who considers unagented work who would take a chance on it. I’ve sent it to six such publishers and, alas, the rejections have continued. Only one so far, but I’m seeing the writing on the wall.
The rejection wasn’t highly negative. It read: “Thank you for considering MacAdam/Cage. Unfortunately we have decided to pass on your manuscript, In Her Mother’s Shoes, at this time. While your characterization is rational and straightforward, we felt that there just wasn’t enough to make this work really stand out….”
There’s a pattern here – and perhaps a lesson to be learned by all writers who are receiving rejections. The pattern of responses that start with some variation of “I enjoyed your story, but…” or “Your writing is very good, but…” and end with the message that it just isn’t stand-out enough, shouldn’t be ignored. It has now become way too consistent to think they just don’t appreciate my style. It’s time to make a decision – do I want to change the way I write (and can I?) so agents and publishers will see stars and dollar signs as they read my work? Or am I content to write what comes naturally and self publish and enjoy the praise of the friends and family (who are the primary buyers in that case)?
I would have to say that’s a no-brainer. I’ve said repeatedly that I love to write, but that I want to be published and I want to leave a mark, however small, on the literary world.
But am I capable of writing the way I would need to for that goal? Or maybe, am I willing to invest the time and effort necessary, especially while I’m still employed and have a long commute? Writing what I do now – writing Autumn Colors and In Her Mother’s Shoes – has been pretty much effortless. I wrote from the heart and spiced it with a little imagination. I didn’t do any research that had to be woven seamlessly into the story line. I didn’t stretch much. (And maybe there’s a message there, too – just as “you get what you pay for”, you also “reap what you sow.”)
And I’m not sure I want to, at least right now. My husband has dropped more than a few hints that he’d like me to spend less time on writing-related activities and more on things we can do together. After 35 years of marriage, I should be happy that he still wants to spend time with me – and that we have similar tastes in “fun.” I don’t want to sacrifice our time together, because I know all too well that in a heartbeat he or I could be gone. It’s a constant tug-of-war between spending time doing fun things we can share (and include Nala, our dog), and doing fun things only I can appreciate.
I could say I’ll just spend less time on writing so I can spend more time on mutually enjoyable pursuits. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that very hard to do. Maybe I’m an all-or-nothing person. Or maybe my senior brain needs to stay focused on one thing to do it well, instead of spreading myself around.
I don’t have the answers as I write this. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to self-publish In Her Mother’s Shoes, once I get the rest of the inevitable rejections from the publishers. I can’t leave it sitting idle in the computer, even if agents and publishers do think it lacks spark. I thought about re-writing it with more spice and trying again, but agents don’t like receiving re-worked manuscripts they’ve previously rejected. So I’ll get it out there on my own, assuming no miracle occurs in the next few months. (I have this dread of the possibility of committing to self publishing before all the rejections are in, only to receive an acceptance. It’s unlikely, but would be just my luck, which is why I’m waiting.)
Then after that? Undecided. I have Kiss Petey started, but I’m not thrilled with it so far, and I’d have to do a lot of research to raise it to the level sought by agents. And that takes time. You see how I’m spinning here.
So I guess I’ll ponder the dilemma a bit longer. Playing in my head is that song from Oliver: “I’m reviewing the situation…” Different dilemma, but same circular thinking.
I’d like to clear up a couple of misconceptions that might be getting in your way. First, every book should be outstanding in some way. But even if it is, that doesn’t mean it’s publishable in a commercial market that’s becoming increasingly unstable and big-seller oriented. It only has to be outstanding to the people who enjoy that particular kind of book. Second, self-publishing isn’t second-best, and sales aren’t limited to friends and family. I know of many self-published writers who have enthusiastic readers waiting for their next book. I self-published my first two novels, which are selling slowly because they’re in a small niche and because I don’t knock myself out with promotion. But they’ve all been sold to people I don’t even know–no friends or relatives. Isn’t a year of your life enough to tell you that you need to think about an alternative to chasing agents? Self-publishing can be a very satisfying way to go. It doesn’t absolve you from doing the hard work of editing and proofreading, and it can be confusing until you learn the ins and outs, but it’s a fascinating path to follow.
I appreciate your comments. For the longest time I’ve been hung up on getting published traditionally. I have many writer friends who have gone the self-publish route – and I did on my first novel – but I still wanted the credibility of a “real publisher.” I know the world of publishing is changing, and I should embrace the opportunities. But there’s still this little voice in the back of my head telling me if I was good enough, I’d be picked up by an agent or publisher. I need to keep hearing folks like you remind me that self-publishing is a viable option with nothing to be ashamed of, on the assumption that what I’ve written has been properly edited and flows well. Thank you for taking the time to write.
Attitudes toward self-publishing are changing, but slowly. I encourage everyone to be the kind of writer that makes sure they do change–for the better. Every well-written, properly edited book helps kill the idea that you self-publish only if you’re not good enough for traditional publishers. A lot of indies, including myself, are celebrating the freedom to write stuff that no publisher will touch, but that readers are looking for and are willing to pay for. It’s a whole new world out there.
It is a dilemma isn’t it? It seems to get a publisher these days you need to be a celebrity or have some gimmick that they can market. I’ve recently bought a kindle and did so to buy e-books that sounded like a good read to me. Publishers are wanting to make money, readers just want a good book. I’m writing the 2nd draft of my novel and will try to get a publisher/agent. If no-one will take it on I’ll ask people who’ve read it whether they think it is good enough. If they answer yes I’ll go the indie route. I hope you reach the right decision for you. Best of luck.
You are so right – part of the problem, though is that if you don’t have a traditional publisher, it’s harder for people to find your book. Not insurmountable, but it does add to the challenge. Your plan to have folks read it is wise, but take it from me, friends and family won’t always be honest. One route I’ve tried is the website youwriteon.com, where you post an excerpt from your book and total strangers (who can be brutally honest) will critique it. Thanks for your comments – I have a feeling I’ll be going the indie route, but like you, I’m pursuing the traditional route to the end of my options first.
I’ve read a number of people who do ask beta readers to comment. I’m also thinking of maybe going down the literary consultant route. They offer a service as well as proof reading/copy editing so it’s something to think about. My wife is always honest about my writing 🙂 and I’m in a writing group who won’t hold back either!
Good for your wife, being honest – that is more important than most spouses realize! I had my novel critiqued (privately) by two of the Writers Digest University instructors (Mark Spencer and Terri Valentine) and the First Fifty service offered by Andrea Hurst. I believe the combined feedback (line by line critique and editing) made a tremendous difference in the quality of my book. I don’t belong to a writers’ group, which is why I relied on the on-line option. Keep at it – maybe in 2012 we’ll both be published, whether on our own or with someone else’s dime!
Dawn Lajeunesse Website: http://www.dawnlajeunesse.com Author of AUTUMN COLORS Blog: https://mtnwriter77.wordpress.com Twitter: mtnwriter77 Facebook: Dawn Lajeunesse
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I hope so. Good luck