Before You Publish: Prepare for Rejection

Last week I talked about lining up some goals before publishing, but with lofty goals come low points and even failure. That’s just part of the writing life, and one that prospective writers will need to prepare themselves for if they’re going to take a crack at it.

By the Numbers

There are hundreds of thousands of books published each year by a variety of publishers in numerous formats. That means there are thousands, upon thousands more manuscripts and proposals fighting for those limited spots. In addition, there are only so many topics and story lines to choose from, so there is a good chance that someone may have submitted a proposal before yours that has already been accepted. The competition is such that you can expect some rejections based on the limited number of books printed each year.

By Specialization

Publishers have target audiences and particular topics in mind when they review books. Even if your book is well-written, you may not fit the exact needs of a publisher at that particular time. You may be rejected because you didn’t quite fit the right niche or land on an editor’s desk at the right time.

By Platform

Publishers today are looking for authors who are known quantities with an existing audience or readership that will willingly buy their book and spread the word virally. Authors with a neglected Facebook profile and a blog with three posts over the past year need to invest in these networks before pitching their books. A proposal without a platform has a particularly rough road ahead.

By the Writing

Let’s face it, writing a good book is extremely difficult. One agent once said that he’s looking for a book that he will love. Are you writing that kind of book? I certainly hope so, but if you receive a rejection letter (or never hear back from the publisher), there’s nothing unusual about revising or completely rewriting a book. If you haven’t read books like Lamott’s Bird by Bird that provide details about the difficulties of the writing process, you really need to do so before submitting a book.

The Nature of the Writing Business

While we write to inspire, to help others, and to craft something elegant and beautiful, publishing is a business, and therefore every writer needs to figure out a certain level of detachment from their work in order to think about the business end of things. That doesn’t mean selling out, only that when an editor writes back with a business decision to not publish a book, writers should not take that as the end of their creative writing or dream of publishing.

When a book is accepted, it should be both artistically and commercially viable, but hitting that correct balance for the right publisher takes a mix of luck, practice, and hard work. It probably won’t happen overnight, and if it doesn’t, then you’re in good company.