The Truth About Rejection: It Happens
“The road to publication is long and fraught with frustration.” –Virgil Suarez
This was what the award-winning poet and writer said to me 15 years ago when I had just finished my first full-length manuscript and was beginning to query agents.
Poor guy, I thought, life has really put him through the ringer.
For me, things would be different. Getting published would be simple: send out my query letter to a handful of agents, receive an immediate and overwhelming clamor for representation. Pitch that puppy and let the bidding wars begin.
Maybe that was your experience. Good for you! Mine turned out to be very different. After querying 50+ agents with my first novel, then my second and then my third, I finally found a home with Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary. After a much-needed rewrite on what would eventually become my debut novel COUNTING BACKWARDS (CB), Caryn pitched it to editors and hallelujah, one of them wanted to turn it into a real, live book.
A quick timeline: CB was written in 2007, agented in 2008, sold in 2009, rewritten several more times in 2010-2011 and debuted in the fall of 2012.
The next step was for me to focus on my next masterpiece, right? Wrong.
One of the biggest mistakes I made as a debut author was thinking that my work ended when I sent off my final revisions to my editor. I didn’t have a “platform” or a “brand.” I didn’t have followers. I didn’t even have a Facebook page. I was relying on the old model which said that writing was the author’s job, selling was the publisher’s job. I began focusing on my second and third novels shortly after completing CB. I wanted to have something in the hopper when CB went on to become a wild success.
Turns out, having a rock star agent and a contract with a major publisher does not guarantee success.
Now I’m going to be honest with you, maybe too honest. CB was projected to sell 20,000 copies. At least, that’s what my advance accounted for. As of today, nearly three years later, CB has sold a total of 1,000 copies. I will probably never receive royalties for CB and my major publisher is not clamoring for more literary genius from Laura Lascarso, sadly.
There was a point in February of 2013 where I considered hanging up my literary beret. I was talking it over with my husband, the time share between my job (the one that pays), family, and writing, and asking myself whether all the time I devoted to writing, rewriting, and publicizing my work could be put to better use elsewhere.
The next night I received an email that CB had won the Florida Book Award gold medal for YA literature. I thought it was a spam email and nearly deleted it, but turns out, it was true. While winning the award didn’t grant me more money or necessarily even more readers, it was a sign from the universe that I was on the right path.
Now for some inspirational stories of rejection:
Stephen King, living in a doublewide, writing in the laundry room, getting manuscripts rejected left and right. At one point he threw CARRIE in the trash saying, “So I threw it away… After all, who wanted to read a book about a poor girl with menstrual problems?” Carrie was retrieved from the garbage by his astute wife and went on to get rejected 30 more times before finding a publisher and launching King’s career.
JK Rowling, single mom, writing Harry Potter in a café, living on government benefits. HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE was rejected by 12 publishers before finding a home with Bloomsbury. Then, after becoming a raging success, JK went querying again for her adult detective novel under pseudonym Robert Galbraith and publishers rejected her AGAIN!
The first installment of Cassandra Clare’s THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series was turned down by publishers because one of the main characters is gay and embarks on a relationship with another male character. Publishers mistakenly thought teens couldn’t handle homosexuality, but that’s a topic for another post…
So what does this tell us, other than opinions are like elbows and you are never too rich and famous to be rejected? It tells us that if any of these authors had quit when they were down, they’d never have become the household names that they are today, nor would their books have graced our literary consciousness. And for every success story there are exponentially more stories of authors, still struggling, still writing in obscurity, still putting out work in whatever capacity they are able because they are artists and nothing else satisfies like the act of creation.
Now that we can acknowledge that rejection exists, please stay tuned for my next installment on how we as creators cope with rejection in next week’s installment, The Truth About Rejection: Part 2 (It Aint Always Pretty).
Laura Lascarso is the author of RACING HEARTS, an e-novella series, which tells the story of two star-crossed lovers set in the world of competitive car racing. Her debut YA novel COUNTING BACKWARDS, which deals with mental illness, won the Florida Book Award gold medal for YA literature in 2012. Laura lives in North Florida with her two children, darling husband and a menagerie of animals. Follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso