Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Writing anything requires a certain amount of investment from a writer. Time, naturally. But a story also contains little bits of who were are. Writing a book is a substantial commitment, professionally, and often emotionally.

When the story is complete, the investment remains. We want it to be read. To succeed. To endure.

But sometimes our best efforts don't sell. Sometimes it's the writing. Sometimes it's the market. Sometimes it's some weird combination of circumstances that lead to rejection. (In fairness, weird combinations of circumstances often lead to acceptance as well.)

Which brings us to the point of this blog entry: When do we give up on something we've written?

That's a tough question. Is it time to abandon a piece after ten rejections? Or a hundred rejections? Six months? Three years? Does the time we spent writing it play a part in this decision? Does how much we personally like the story factor in?

The point is, we eventually need to give up. We need to stop dwelling on what didn't sell, and focus on something new that might sell.

Almost every writer I know has a shelf novel. Almost all of them have short stories that never say print. In some cases the writers admit this is a good thing. Work that doesn't get published often has specific reasons it wasn't published.

But sometimes we can't point to any particular reason. Sometimes we're 100% certain that a particular piece is gold, and can't understand why it didn't sell.

While rejection is tough, clinging to something because you're emotionally invested in it isn't a smart career move. It's better to move on to something new. Even if you're sure it's good.

So what do you do next? Assuming you've sent you book/story to everyone, reworked it several times, and still struck out, what your next course of action?

1. Grieve. Depression is an obvious response to rejection. You're allowed to wallow in it, as long as the wallowing doesn't last for more than a day or two. If it lasts more than a week, then you probably really are the untalented whiny loser you think you are, and should chose another profession.

Winners don't mope. Winners chalk it up to experience and move on.

2. Put it away. Distance yourself from the project by getting it off your desk, computer, and out of sight. Stick it in a drawer and promise you won't take it out for at least a month. Then you can peek at it again with fresh eyes, and maybe you'll gain a new perspective on it. Maybe it isn't as good as you thought. And if it is, well, rejection is part of this profession. Get used to it.

3. Write. Writers write. You're a writer. So write something else.

4. Post it. We write because we want to be read. If you have a story or book that you can't forget about, no matter how hard you try, make it available for free on your website. Downloads, email installments, audio podcasts, newsgroups and message boards---the whole World Wide Web is waiting to read you.

That's pretty much a lie. Very few people on the Web will actually care about the stories you post. But it can't hurt, and maybe you'll get a few encouraging emails. There's also the small possibility you will get a lot of reads. Stranger things have happened. At the very least, you're getting more reads than if the story was in a drawer.

5. Publish it yourself. By which I mean DO NOT PUBLISH IT YOURSELF. If you really have to, visit www.lulu.com and use them. Don't get an ISBN. Don't try to list it on Amazon or get brick and mortar stores to carry it. Print up some copies for friends and family and leave it at that.

I've written scads about the perils of self-pubbing and POD, and I say DON'T DO IT. REALLY. I'M SERIOUS. THESE CAPITAL LETTERS SHOW YOU HOW SERIOUS I AM.

6. Network. The conferences, book fairs, and conventions you go to are great places to meet other writers and gossip about who is sleeping with whom and who just lost their agent and who is drinking too much.

They're also great places to find out who is editing which upcoming anthology. I've had several rejected tales that were magically resurrected because a peer contacted me, asking to submit something. Often they didn't ask. Often I asked them, after buying them a beer.

Having a few unpubbed stories in a folder isn't always a bad thing. When the right place meets the right time, you can pull them out. But this involves keeping an ear to the ground, and staying active in the community.

7. Read. Want to know what's selling? Buy and read what's being published, and you'll know what editors are looking for.

That doesn't mean jumping on the latest trend and writing a carbon copy--though a lot of writers aping The DaVinci Code and Harry Potter did okay with that. It actually means knowing what types of stories websites, periodicals, and publishers, are looking for.

Books and stories are bought by editors. Editors are people, with tastes. Appeal to their tastes.

8. Get over it. Yes, you spent a lot of time putting those words on the page, and they're dear to you. But put it in perspective. They're only words on a page. Even if those words did sell, you'd still have to move on and write something new.

Dwelling on past work, whether it was published or not, won't do anything for your future. I know too many writers who have been tinkering with a story, book, or manuscript for much longer than they've needed to. A better scenario is to abandon that albatross and begin a new project.

Conclusion. The publishing world, much like life, often isn't fun, fair, or easy. Don't blame the industry. That's just how it works. If you want to blame someone, look in the mirror. You're the one who chose this. If you're miserable, it's your own fault.

Also, if anyone reading this is editing an anthology, I'm pretty sure I've got something uniquely suited for it. Send me an email, and I can get it to you right away...