Some Difficult Truths about Becoming a Published Author (Part 3)

[From my first two posts on this topic: Even in this age of self-publishing, many writers still look for an agent or publisher. If you are one of those people, read on to hear some truths about the hunt. The first difficult truth is that you must spend a great deal of time doing research. The second truth is that you have to follow their directions for submitting your work. Neglecting either of these truths generally results in a rejection email or no email at all.]

Rule three is to be resolute and take rejection in stride.

Dif Truths#3It’s hard to be resolute when all you can do—to begin with—is wait to hear something. Agents often make that wait relatively painless since their rejection email comes so quickly you figure your query email must have passed it going through cyberspace. My best advice, once you send a query email, is to get back to writing, reading, or marketing while you are waiting to hear. Frankly, your chances of even getting a rejection email are slim. I sent out 80 query emails to agents and received twelve rejections. The rest didn’t even bother, and they will generally tell you on their website that you won’t hear from them if they are not interested.

Dif Truths#32Why do so many well-meaning emails to agents or publishers result in rejection? I have an answer for that. The field of combat is set against you from the time you hit the “send” button. Two years ago, I read some research by Dan Poynter, who is a publisher, author and book consultant. He stated that 132 million manuscripts are submitted for publication yearly. Of those, only 1% will get published. Did you catch that? Only 1%. For manuscripts that manage to get through the reader’s slush pile and even be considered for publication, 90% will be rejected based on reading the first page. Yes, you read that right—on the basis of one page. Do you suppose some great manuscripts are sitting in attics because of their first pages? I tell you this not to make you feel worse, but to get you to realize that rejection is a way of life in this business. You have to keep calm and carry on.

If you are one of the lucky writers who actually gets an email back from a publisher or agent, I can almost tell you what it will say:  Dear Author, Thank you for your email inquiry. Sorry for this generic email, but you know, we are busy, busy, busy. At this time we don’t feel we are a good fit for your novel. However, good luck with your future writing endeavors. Signed, Busy Agent.

Now, seriously, should you take this personally?

So, here is my best advice for would-be published authors.

Dif Truths#3.3First, realize that lots of very big authors have faced similar rejection. The example I hear most often is Kate Stockett, who received 60 rejections over 3.5 years, and finally found an agent willing to fight for her manuscript, a little book called The Help. Then, more recently, Jenny Milchman documented her search in Writer’s Digest. She spent eleven YEARS writing and re-writing a book that finally found the right person who got it published. Cover of Snow came out and won the Mary Higgins Clark prize for the best suspense novel of the year. Check out her website here.

Second, save your email rejections so you can feel good later about the money those agents or publishers are NOT making from your work once it is published. As they say, “Karma is a ….”

Third, remember…and this is most important…getting a book published is not personal. Publishing is a business. Publishers are in the business to make money. When they reject your book, they are simply saying they don’t believe it will make them money, often based on one page they’ve read.

Dif Truths#3.4And last, finding an agent or publisher is a lot like selling a house you have loved and fixed up over years and years of your life. You love your book like you loved that house, but eventually someone will come along that is just the right person to fall in love with your house/book too. So, whether a house or a book, even if you have a lot of rejections, keep the faith that someone is out there who will see what you see in your book.

Coming up: Rule four, expect a great deal of waiting.

2 thoughts on “Some Difficult Truths about Becoming a Published Author (Part 3)

  1. You’re right on, Susan. About the 1% of submissions actually becoming a book, I’ve been saying that for 35 years, right along with my ol’ friend Dan Poynter. In fact, the exploding number of submissions makes today’s acceptances more like 1/2 of 1%. One way of looking at this explosion is that the smaller the ratio of acceptances to submissions, the greater (theoretically) is the quality of the books commercially published (story-wise at least; not necessarily in the proliferation of typos.) For more on this, anyone can download all of Part I of Don’t Sabotage Your Submission (practically the same book as Don’t Murder Your Mystery) from my website,


  2. You are so right, Chris. And, by the way, I read your book “Don’t Murder Your Mystery,” and I keep it on my desk like a Bible. You have so many great ideas, and I read it cover to cover while editing my first mystery. I, too, would like to think this 1/2% adds to quality. I wish the publishers would hire better proofreaders. The typos I find in the books of amazing authors, published by the big companies, are hard to believe.

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