So What Do Publishers Know when Publishers Say No? Nothing.

self-publishing-imageFor too long, we who write for a living have stood in awe of the agents and editors and publishers who look down from their thrones on high and give their blessings to the next great batch of books to hit the bookstore shelves.

They have a sixth sense, we thought.

They have their pulse on the buying public, we thought.

They know what was good.

They know what was great.

They sent us, the great unwashed, rejection letters.

Thanks, but no thanks, they said.

And we felt as though we had failed. We failed only we regarded their acceptance or rejection as the final authority on the worth of our work and our words. The reality is, those agents and editors and publishers didn’t know either.

They played the odds.

They played favorites.

And sometimes they won.

But often, more than any of us will ever know, the hierarchy of publishing failed as well.

When George Orwell submitted his manuscript for Animal Farm to Alfred Knopf, the editor turned down the dystopian allegory, writing that it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.” A British publisher rejected the novel, pointing out “the choice of pigs as the ruling caste will no doubt give offense to many people, and particularly to anyone who is a bit touchy, as undoubtedly the Russians are.” Animal Farm, or 1984, has become an AP Reader standard, selling millions of copies, and winning the Retrospective Hugo Award.

Gertrude Stein must have been devastated. All of her hard work had gone for naught Arthur C. Fifield sent her a rejection letter for Three Lives, writing, “Being only one, having only one pair of eyes, having only one time, having only one life, I cannot read your MS three or four times. Not even one time. Only one look, only one look is enough. Hardly one copy would sell here.” He had turned his back on Gertrude Stein’s only best seller, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

One agent glanced over a manuscript submitted by William Golding and called the book “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” The 14.5 million people who have read Lord of the Flies may have disagreed with him. So would the filmmakers who have adapted the classic twice for the screen.

self-publishing-word-cloudShe was a young romance writer in 1966 when Mary Higgins Clark tried to sell a story to Redbook. It was rejected with a note that said: “We found the heroine as boring as her husband had.” Failure? Not really. She turned the story into a two-part serial in an English magazine, and it took off, setting the stage for forty-two best-selling novels.

Stephen King, like most first-time authors, felt a lot of fear and trepidation when he sent in his manuscript for Carrie. Who, he wondered, would be interested in a novel about an abused girl with no friends, a pitiful girl who just happened to possess secret telekinetic powers. The publishing house certainly wasn’t. The rejection said: “Not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” After the novel was published by a little independent house, Doubleday finally picked up the rights to the paperback version of the novel and managed to sell a million copies the first year.

So what do the big boys know?

When is there a need to depend on them?

Forget they ever existed. In reality, they don’t anymore.

Write your novel.

Edit it.

Publish it.

Promote it.

And let the readers tell you whether it’s good or not.

ref=sib_dp_kd-1Caleb Pirtle III is author of Wicked Little Lies. Click here to read more about the novel on Amazon.

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  • Hear, hear!! Fine post, Caleb!!

    • We may fail, but we have some control over our failure.

  • Yea! I might add, most large publishing houses have a book list (used to) of about 100 titles per year. Anymore, HALF of those acceptances are awarded to CELEBRITY authors. And they might make more money than a title by Joe Blow, because people are interested in celebrities, but it is a fleeting interest that won’t last out of the celebrity’s life span, or less. Joe Blow’s volume may not have as much initial interest but it may have been a classic that could have made much more than the celebrity book, in the big picture. I first started submitting years ago, before celebrity books took up the book lists, before you had to have an agent to prevent your ms from being thrown out, and before rejection slips were unsigned and looked like packing slips with gentic platitudes printed on them. I actually HAVE some rejection slips written on letterheads, and actually signed in ink by THE EDITOR..not a flunkie, not a junior editor, but THE EDITOR of a major publishing company–GEE I AM SOOOOOOOOOOO special. Now if you can find un-agented publishers, they advise “wait 3-6 months for a reply” and “no multiple submissions!” ??????? The average person does not have that kind of time in their lives. I admit I broke the “no mulitple submissions” rule more than once. The most recent time I sent off these mass submissions, one of the big publishing companies actually paid over seven dollars to send the thing back to me in their own classy envelope with a rejection slip (this was one that I hadn’t enclosed a SASE for return in and assumed their statement unaccepted mss will be destroyed was true and final). Was that a good thing? That they PAID to send it back? I am sure they don’t do that with all manuscripts–they don’t have the time and wouldn’t want to spend the money. Was it some kind of publishing house fluke? A good omen? Being dashed on the rocks so many times before, I decided to just start self-publishing in 1999 and go on with my life. I also know that book deals are often made over three-martini lunches and sometimes the people making them are friends or are relatives. What pearls of wisdom did I glean from all of this? If you write regional fiction, the big people don’t want to even look at you (What about A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, that was regional, and a classic?). Best to try a university press or small press if you are a genre-jumper If you are a genre-jumper, don’t let them find out. You may have to use pseudonyms to prevent this. If you ever get a contract with one of the big boys, you are going to have to crank out one book a year–all in the same genre, maybe with some of the same characters. You will have to be a writing machine and do their every bidding. Your life will no longer be yours. You will have to go places you may not want to go and do things you may not want to do, for years. You will no longer be an artist. You will be a workhorse. You may eventually have money and you may have fame…but did I also mention that by the time they make all of their suggestions, your work may not even be the work you intended anymore? We Indies are not only trying to see our work published in an efficient manner, but we are trying to claim our work as the work we created and intended it to be (pure and unadulterated). We are trying to claim our own lives, so that we have the time to do MORE writing, spread MORE of our wings. We want to retain some of the control that publishing companies often take away. We have our reasons. We know why we are doing it. Thanks for the pep-talk, Caleb. We often need one!

    • Your post is like a Colorado creek filled with nuggets of wisdom and insight instead of gold

      • Thanks. Hopefully, others won’t have to go through all of these monkey shines…waste money on postage, etc.

        • P. S. Some TRIVIA: most of you probably know: The big publishing companies started their OWN self-publishing companies in the late 1990s. Random House started up Xlibris. It was pretty good in the beginning, then they started raising the prices of “packages,” then they outsourced it to a foreign country, then they sold it to Author House. It still has a huge client base. S & S started their own in rapid pursuit, as did Doubleday, and so on and so on. And we must ask why. Well, it was to make money, of course, from frustrated authors, but maybe they were trying to also reduce the size of their slush piles, and divert traffic from their workloads. Promotion was nil. Your book was on a huge book list of other self-published works. If you were lucky enough to “get in on the ground floor, ” as I was, that list was under 2000 in the beginning. Eventually they saw the “wisdom” of selling promotion packages. That consisted of mentioning your book title in their own little publishing magazine and offering you large book posters, and pamphlets to hand out at your book signings or place in strategic places for a price. (You could get these materials from a local printer for a smaller amount, most probably.) The main advantage of this early self-publishing was this: You could actually hold a bound copy of your book in your hand in your lifetime–and they did not hold the stigma of VANITY publishing. They had a machine that could crank out these bound books, one at a time per order, without having to subsidize the cost of a print run. These self-publishing outfits DID serve a useful purpose. They helped to usher in digital publishing, helped to remove the stigma of self-publishing, and are still useful if you want a bound book to go with your eBook. It was interesting that if you self-published you were offered the option of it being available on a “glass book.” Ha ha, the glass book never was accepted at the time, and it was dumped. Well, eventually the glass book concept was re-designed by other innovators and “caught on,”

          • The more the world changes, the more it stays the same.

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