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Twenty Years - One Rejection

Author:  Terry W. Burns
Date:  10-11-02

I've written 20 years with only one rejection.

You don't believe that? It's true. The dictionary says rejection is to refuse to accept or to repudiate. Repudiate? That's not about writing, that's personal.

I was doing a lot of writing and a lot of querying and submitting. Obviously heartless little slips were coming in right and left. I took them very personally. These people didn't know me, and they weren't reading enough of my writing to make fair judgements. I was incensed.

Then the statement I had just made hit home; they don't know me. If that's the case, how could it be personal? It couldn't. I realized that a response would be a rejection if they said I had body odor, my writing sucked and my mother dressed me funny. I was the one making it personal, not them.

What were these funny little slips of paper if not rejections? I got to spend some time with well-known agent Donald Maass. I was involved with hosting him when he came to our writing conference as one of the faculty, so it was more than a ten minute interview, it was hanging out for a couple of days. I did have an interview scheduled with him, and over the course of the evening the day before he told me how to find out if he handled works such as the one I was set to pitch.

When I got back to the house I did the homework I should have already done. I got online and over the course of several hours I found out the type of works he had successfully placed and what his clients wrote. The question he wanted me to ask myself was not, "Do I write like these people?". Hopefully, we are all unique as writers. He wanted me to ask myself if the readers of the books he was placing would be likely to be readers for the book I wanted to pitch. The answer was no. He wasn't the right agent for me to be going after.

That was the answer. Each agent has a base of publishing contacts that they have strong inroads to. They spend their time working those contacts trying to find material they feel is a good fit to take to them. They spend time on occasion trying something new, trying to open new doors, but primarily they work where they are most productive.

Editors are exactly the same. They know who their readers are and what they read. They search for works they feel sure their reader base will buy. They too will spend some time trying new things, but only if sales in the established areas afford them the flexibility to do it.

So those little slips of paper are 'negative market reports?' I can live with that. There is absolutely nothing personal about it, and it probably doesn't even reflect on my writing - unless they add something specific to the contrary. They are just saying they don't feel they are the market for that particular manuscript.

That means it's a numbers game. I could be sending to the right place at the wrong time. If they had just published a similar book, then the market isn't there. I honestly believe there are Pulitzer quality books that are never published because the author doesn't stay with it long enough to find the right market, and we know some very marginal books HAVE been published just because they came under the right person's nose at exactly the right place and time. Sure, the writing has to be acceptable, but as much as we might wish it were true, a work won't make it just on quality of writing. The market has to be there.

'Negative market reports.' I got one because I guessed wrong, or my research turned up the right place but it was the wrong time for whatever reason. It's an elusive connection and I have to keep doing market research and keep knocking on doors until the link is made. No rejection involved. Well, except for that one guy who said I had body odor, my writing sucked and my mother dressed me funny. Now that hurt!

Copyright 2002 Terry W. Burns. All rights reserved.