Successful Authors Who Received Loads of Rejections
Greetings from the querying trenches!
I'm going to preface this post by warning my readers that I've been living on Twitter since October 2021. In a move I never thought I'd make, I've joined the hashtag WritingCommunity -- something I actually should have done four years ago when I made my professional Twitter account. I wasn't interested in the social media aspect of being a writer, but once I entered a pitch contest back in October and realized how active agents and well-known writers are on the Bird App, I became addicted to the interactions and the supportive nature of everyone I've connected with. There really is a "community" on Twitter, made up of people who are willing to share their successes and setbacks.
And on the subject of setbacks, I'll segue into the main topic of this post: rejection.
So I'm querying. Not actively, something I consider myself to be doing whenever I'm sending subs in batches of 5 or so at a time; I'm still waiting for a certain agency to open, and that one will kick off my official sub journey for My Brain On Love & Panic, my latest work I'm aiming to make it to print. In the meantime, I've sent a few tests to three agents I also happened to like, and I recently entered a contest to receive mentorship from an agented author. No bites from the agents, and the results aren't yet in for the contest, so I've been doing a lot of waiting over the past three months.
When you write for the public sphere, all you're doing is submitting your work. You're putting yourself in a vulnerable spot, willingly inviting rejection. And there's a lot of it, as I've discussed -- you have to realize this going in, or your ego will never recover. Even if you don't handle criticism that well, if you understand this business is subjective and therefore you will be rejected over and over again, you'll be fine (ish).
The contest I recently entered is headed by agented authors offering their time and expertise to get your "submission package" -- usually a query letter, a synopsis, and the first 50 or so pages of your polished manuscript -- to a competitive level for literary agents. It's an opportunity to gain valuable information that many successful authors have benefitted from. Only one person per author "mentor" may be chosen, and though there are probably 50 mentors up for grabs, I am one of nearly 1,600 writers who entered this contest. Late last week I selected four authors I thought might want to work with me and sent them the required materials. And ever since, I've been stalking Twitter for their vague updates.
One author to whom I did not submit posted an inspirational tweet insisting that not getting picked to be mentored says nothing about the quality of your work, and instead has to do with how well a mentor connects with the material they end up choosing. It's nice to be reminded of this, but when you're facing loads of rejections, tracking them and finding the ratio skewing in the wrong direction, it's easy to start wondering if what you're doing isn't working. It's difficult to remind yourself on your own. So I found an infographic.
I work at a library. We love these things.
I found an infographic list of many successful, best-selling, well-known authors and their rejection rate before their final "yes." This is what I look back on when I'm in the place I am now, a few queries in with no takers. Every author has been here, and I know it doesn't mean as much about the quality of my work as I'm prone to immediately believe. Of course, all work can be improved, but one gets to this point and starts assuming they're a terrible writer, which is rarely -- if ever -- true.
I don't look on this list to revel in others' disappointments and setbacks. Besides, these authors are now successful and thriving, at a place in their career I'm trying to get to, so I couldn't "look down" on them if I tried. No, I look on this list to find solidarity, and to remind myself of the journey to being a career writer, because we often don't hear about the rejections -- we just see the end result, the fancy headshot at the back of a New York Times Best Selling novel jacket, the accompanying author's biography letting us know everything about said author except how long it took them to get to this point.
And that's not the information that's going to make us feel better, is it?!
*Note: The list below is taken from an infographic I found on novel-software.com/rejection-buddy. I wasn't able to post the graphic here, but I still want to highlight the source.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone -- J.K. Rowling: 12 rejections
No Thanks -- E.E. Cummings: 14 rejections
Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl -- Anne Frank: 15 rejections
Lord of the Flies -- William Golding: 21 rejections
Catch-22 -- Joseph Heller: 22 rejections
Dune -- Frank Herbert: 23 rejections
The TIme Traveler's Wife -- Audrey Niffenegger: 25 rejections
A Wrinkle in Time -- Madeleine L'Engle: 26 rejections
A Time to Kill -- John Grisham: 28 rejections
Carrie -- (THEE) Stephen King: 30 rejections
The Thomas Berryman Number -- James Patterson: 31 rejections
Gone With the Wind -- Margaret Mitchell: 38 rejections
The Help -- Kathryn Stockett: 60 rejections
Still Alice -- Lisa Genova: 100 [!!!] rejections
Chicken Soup for the Soul -- Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen: 114 rejections
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance -- Robert M. Pirsig: 121 rejections