How Much Rejection Is Too Much

We’ve all heard the stories of writers who had their debut novels rejected dozens of times before they ultimately became best sellers. Or, more often these days, novels that were rejected only to achieve rousing success after being self-published. I love these stories! But a downside to them is that they often urge writers–and have encouraged me–to keep spending money shopping work that should be put in a drawer.  Every writer has trunk junk, those novels that served as course work in our own, free, MFA programs. If you have a book, you know what I’m talking about. That coming-of-age book filled with exposition or stilted dialogue. The thriller where, maybe, there was a giant backstory dump for the first five chapters before the action started. The mystery where we couldn’t get the plot right or kept forcing characters into situations that didn’t grow naturally from their personality profiles and back stories. The “great story” that had, basically, no real genre and didn’t qualify as literary.  Sometimes, trunk junk is resurrected. But, more often than not, it stays in a drawer, an embarrassment to the writer who has since learned better. In the worst cases, it never goes into the trunk and the writer keeps laboring to get it published even though his or her time would be better spent moving on to the next, publishable, story.  So, how many rejection letters should a writer stomach before moving on? After querying and being rejected by every agent in that year’s annual agent guide for my first novel before moving on to my next novel, which got an agent, I have some thoughts. Number one is forget cold calls. Go to a couple great pitch conferences, get critiqued, and then try to attract the attention of an agent who has seen your face. If, after doing this a few times, you still don’t have any takers, put the novel in a drawer and move on to the next one. The next one might sell. And, if the first is really that great, you can publish it when you’re better known with a proven track record of sales.  I’ll add an asterisk to this advice. If you, marketing maven, have the power to personally publicize your self-published work thanks to, say, a large blog following or hook-up with local radio stations or personal level of celebrity, then go for it. You might be the success story that inspires us all to keep writing in the face of rejection. 

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