Forgive me. I’m in a ranting mood today.
I’ve been out and about more lately because my book just came out. I’ve heard various versions of this a lot lately, “I’ve written an awesome novel. I’ve been writing for six months or a year or two. No one will publish it because I don’t know anyone. You know, it’s the gatekeepers. It’s a great book that would be a bestseller but I can’t get past those gatekeepers.” They go on to say everyone else is getting a big deal (but if you ask them who they know that got a big deal they will say they don’t actually know anyone but they’ve heard, they’ve read someplace—big deals, everywhere). Why not them? Why not them? I think we all do the “why not me?” thing sometimes, so I sympathize, but I also think that media attention to a few big deals skews new writers notions about publishing.
I’ve got a few things to add to that.
The first is that I read an article not that long ago that said the average published writer wrote a little over ten years before he/she published his/her novel. Now, of course that’s the average. You might do much better than that. I hope you do, but I didn’t. And it says something, doesn’t it, that it takes most writers that much time working on their craft before they publish. So, that’s one thing. Learning to write well is a slow process. If you’ve written for a year or two, even if you’ve written some good work, maybe your work isn’t quite ready to be published. Some writers do get to writing well very quickly but if you're not one of those writers, and obviously most of us aren't, you will get there if you keep writing with passion and a desire to improve.
Another thing: these deals people keep reading about are few and far between. People think there are deals being made all over the place and they’re missing out. They read about the big deals online every week or two so it seems like they’re the tip of iceberg, like there are many of these deals being made, but they’re, um, actually the whole iceberg. Those few big deals every month are in the news because they are so few. The much, much more common small deasl aren’t made a big deal about (ha) and the thousands of manuscripts that are rejected every week—you already know this—are not mentioned at all. I heard an agent speak recently. He said he got 5000-6000 queries a year. Last year he took on two new clients. I think that’s about the number of queries my agent got last year, too. Now, to put things in perspective that agent said about 90% of the manuscripts he got, he could dismiss right away for various reasons, but still. Lots of rejection out there and very few acceptances. That’s the norm. The big deal happens to someone, of course, and maybe you’ll be that person but it’s always a matter of luck and skill and the luck part, I’m afraid, is out of your control. Working hard to improve your skills though—that you can do.
Finally—are the best books always published and the others rejected? No. You may look at a published novel and think your manuscript is better than that. Maybe you’re right. (Of course, it has to be said that writers are not always the best judges of their own work). However, a number of other factors are always involved in publication besides quality. And also we all view “quality” subjectively so it’s a little hard to measure. For example, a person who hates all romance novels isn’t going to be able to judge a good one from a bad one. BUT all of that aside, I think some bad books or so-so books get published and I’m sure a lot of very good manuscripts get rejected. It’s the nature of publishing that manuscripts get overlooked and that some very good works that would only appeal to a small audience might not be published for that reason. That sucks.
BUT here’s the thing. If you let yourself get too distracted by dreams of being published to acclaim and big checks, you’ll miss out on what is most fun, most satisfying, most rewarding about writing-- the writing itself. And I believe that every writer with just a bit of talent can eventually, through hard work, through fighting to grow as a writer and writing a lot of words and reading, become a writer that agents and editors can’t ignore.
Or so I think today.