Ah, December. In Florida the temperatures have finally dipped below sweltering and TV’s are starting to play holiday shows. For me, ‘tis also the season for realizing, holy crap, where has the year gone??? But in the midst of trying to finish my sixth Cat and Bones book, and get my Christmas shopping done, I wanted to talk a little about publishing. Recently, a couple writers messaged me to ask how I broke into publishing because they’re depressed that what they’re getting right now is a pile of rejections. It almost sounds uncaring or smartass to say this is normal and it only takes one “yes” to change everything, but actually, that’s true. I wrote a piece a while back about everything I know on how to get published, and I have nothing new to add since (sorry, folks :)).
But I do have a little bit more to elaborate when it comes to rejection. I don’t know the exact odds, but I’d venture a guess that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than to never encounter rejection on your path to publication. It’s tough trying to break into publishing, and writers need to remind themselves that rejection is part of that tough process. But even with those reminders, it can still sting. Sometimes even leave a scar. The good news is – despite some claims to the contrary – it’s not impossible to break in. The doors haven’t been slammed shut, leaving self-pubbing as the only option. How do I know? I read Publishers Lunch every day and see all the new deals with those magical words of “debut author” attached to them, for one. I see agents Tweeting that they just took on a new client. I hear editors talking about what they’re looking for in submissions. This is a hard business, true, but one “yes” can cancel out a hundred “no’s” just like that. The battle scars writers endure in the slush pile can fade with time, and upon occasion, can even be looked back on with satisfaction or humor.
I was rejected a lot while querying Halfway to the Grave, and I have lists below to prove it. Some of those rejections I handled with aplomb; some, I’ll admit, brought me to tears. In fact, these lists below represent only a small portion of the places that passed on my manuscript because more often than not, I threw those rejection letters away. Not just away in my household trash can, mind you. I would walk them out to the community dumpster so that I wouldn’t even spend the night under the same roof with those dreaded little missives (oh yes, I can be THAT crazy ;-)). Off the top of my head, I think I was rejected between 50 and 60 times, so that was a lot of treks to the community dumpster. But for those places I queried electronically, or received an electronic reply instead of a paper one, I still have records saved. Hopefully this will encourage some writers currently going through the submission-and-rejection process. Maybe it will have no effect, but I want to once again highlight that rejection happens. It doesn’t have to mean that your novel is doomed. Sometimes, it just means try harder or query wider.
Please note: these rejections were received back in 2004 and 2005 when I was querying, so some of these places may no longer be in business or may have changed their submission preferences/requirements. Don’t use this as a list of places you should query unless you research their current business status / requirements, plus cross check that against Writers Beware and Predators and Editors to see if any of these places have advisories against them (good idea for any place you query).
With that being said, Halfway to the Grave was rejected by…
Sedgeband Literary Associates, Inc.
Writers House – twice (one from Merrilee Heifetz, one from Ginger Clark after I revised)
Rick Henshaw Group
Farris Literary Agency, Inc.
Curtis Brown, LTD.
Donald Mass Literary
The Vines Agency
Kimberley Cameron, Reece Halsey North
JABberwocky Literary Agency
Spectrum Literary Agency
Larson-Pomada Literary Agency
3 Seas Literary Agency
Ethan Ellenberg Literary
Trident Media Group
John Hawkins & Associates, Inc.
The Fogelman Literary Agency
Bantam Spectra Books
Red Dress Inc.
I eventually landed an agent with Lowenstein-Yost (which is now Lowenstein, Inc, and I’m currently with Nancy Yost at Nancy Yost Literary) who sent my manuscript to seven publishers. Six of them didn’t outright reject it, but didn’t offer because they either hadn’t read it yet, or just weren’t in love with the story enough to make up their minds on submitting an offer. The seventh editor, however, loved it so much that she offered a deal before even fully finishing the book. One “yes” made all those previous “no” or “eh, not now’s” obsolete.
As a side note, I received a rejection from one of the publishers I named above two weeks after Halfway to the Grave sold (they took over a year for them to respond to my submission). This was the comment that came along with that rejection:
“Well written. TMI vampire sex. ::sigh:: Why is there always one handsome male vampire on the side of Good, that the Heroine falls for? “Half vampire” female heroine also getting clichéd.”
So again, subjectivity reigns when it comes to rejection. What was TMI and cliché for that publisher turned out to be just what Erika Tsang at HarperCollins was looking for. As Halfway to the Grave was an instant bestseller and launched my Night Huntress series with Cat and Bones, which later launched my spinoff series featuring side characters from that world, turns out, it was what a lot of readers were looking for, too :).
To quote Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest: Never give up, never surrender!