Friday, May 7, 2010

Ravenclaw Hufflepuff Gryffindor Slytherin

According to this newstimes.com article on children's authors and rejection, "J.K. Rowling suffered 12 rejections from publishers before she found the lucky 13 company that propelled her manuscript about young wizard Harry Potter into literary history."  Only 12?  That's nothing.  But wouldn't you be sad to be one of the editors who said no?
     I once had lunch with an editor who had passed up Junot Diaz's first short story collection Drown (a beautiful book, btw). When I noted that she must have felt regret to see it become such a big success, she frowned.  After passing a fork through her salad, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "I didn't love the book, so what's there to regret?" Defensive much? Happily dude later went on to win the Pulitzer for his first novel.  The same editor ultimately turned down my short story collection, despite the lunch and apparent interest, but I doubt that means I'm going on to have quite as lustrous a career as Diaz.

20 comments:

Lt. Cccyxx said...

So what if she loved the book or not? Who cares??

What an odd, and selfish, and actually pretty arrogant, lens to see things through! The question she should be asking is whether she can conceive that of a significant group of people loving the book, whether that group includes her or not.

I distrust people who use that much subjectivity/intuition in doing their job.

Chazz said...

Thanks Lt.! That's my war cry.

This attitude is one reason pubs are on the financial edge all the time. Saw it again at a writers' conference last week. "I have to love it," said the agent. No. You have to sell it. As a book rep I sold tons of books (million$) I did not love. I couldn't read them all let alone love them all. But somebody did. (When I worked for a distributor, most were bestsellers.) Aren't these the same people who are always telling us it's a business, not just art?

Those successful rejects call their judgment into question which is why they'll never tell the truth. They'll never admit it, but yes, they do regret the rejects that pan out. Certainly the publisher who loses out on that cash and prestige regrets it.

Another? I'm still hearing the bathtub argument against e-readers. Meanwhile, there are bestsellers in Japan that have never been printed on paper. Japan will lead the way in the ebook revolution and robots. The Gutenberg fetishists will trail far behind them, whining all the way.

Matt Rowan said...

Can I venture a guess that this editor was, hmmm, "defensive" enough about her mistake that the very fact of your mentioning it put you in her cross hairs? Not to get all conspiracy theory and all, so I'm sure she had plenty of good reasons to pass on your story collection. Just the subjective tinge to her attitude about Drown seems to suggest the possibility. In any event, I hope your career is just as lustrous as Diaz's. That's right, I'm a well wisher.

LLC said...

There are many agents who represent books they do not love love love. Many agents take on projects they find tediously trendy just to make money. They do this to put food on the table and to have the resources to support authors whose work they do love.

(And who cares if the editor passed up on a book of short stories that later became a best-seller? JD is a good writer who writes interesting short stories, but he's not a spectacular short story writer. His novel was much better than any of his short stories. That's why the novel won the prize, not his collection. The editor may have had a different take on the novel.)

Lit J said...

Maybe her taste was off. It's like saying "oh, I didn't love any of Cormac McCarthy's books." Okay, but maybe there's something wrong with you that you can't realize the greatness. Maybe you need to become a better reader.

That should be the goal of this editor: to learn how to read not only for her own taste, but with a wide net of taste, trying to figure out what a large percentage of people will find good.

I suspect she really doesn't think that it's no big deal that she missed it, though. If you gave her a second chance, she'd totally snatch it up. She was just preserving her ego in front of you.

NM said...

I love the essential contradiction of this blog:

Waaah, nobody takes a chance on authors anymore! It's all a big money operation and you have to be "in" to get published!


Followed by:

Waaah, editors don't make decisions based purely on economic success (which they cannot know beforehand) and that means my rejected collection is just like Junot Diaz's (MFA, Cornell University, btw).

Writer, Rejected said...

Diaz is a very good writer who happens to have made it big.He is not Waaah; he is hooray. Plus nothing exists without contradiction. Thay's what makes us interesting creatures. Am I wrong?

LLC said...

NM, I could not agree with you more. Agents get trashed around here, and yet the theme of every post and most of the comments is how to woo an agent.

You writers who despise them so much can still get published without an agent you know. Sheesh! Some people just want to complain about anything. Put that frustration into a story.

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed (and surprised) by all the Insider connections W/R has. People who know people, lunches with editors who pass on Junot, etc. W/R's no straight-to-the-slush-pile guy/gal.
I don't know anybody of the least importance in publishing, and I live far from the lights of the big city. So what chance have I got?

NM said...

Well W,R contradictions can be interesting, but not if they all serve a single purpose—in this case the complaints that fuel much of your blog.

What is so interesting about "Writers with MFAs all stink" followed by "Junot Diaz is horray!" or "blah blah stupid publishers just going for the commercial garbage" followed by "HARRY POTTER was rejected twelve times, so nyah!"

Here's something to contemplate: if an editor doesn't love a piece on his or her desk, will the editor actually do well by it when it comes to editing it, championing it at sales conferences, etc?

Writer, Rejected said...

Let's face it. My blog *is* pointless.
But that aside, you bring up a good point. The argument you make about editors not loving a manuscript is very the same that they often make when they reject something. Or they say they love it but could never sell it (i.e., no one else will love it). I find it hard to believe, however, that every editor loves every book s/he publishes. And I feel slightly certain that passing up Junot Diaz has just got to hurt, even if only subconsciously and for a fleeting moment. But anyway....blah, blah, blah.

Chazz said...

But LLC, that's not their rhetoric.

And NM, complaining isn't allowed? Ever? Hm. If you don't care to read our little wahfest, it's not compulsory. Unless... Are you in a Clockwork Orange? Is someone making you read our complaints about publishing's failings? If that's the case, geez, I'm sorry. Otherwise, we can complain a little and write, too, you know.

WR, love the blog. Where do you get all your fantastic pictures?

INSIDE THE SHRINK said...

I think this all went downhill somewhere, but I want to put my two cents worth in anyway. I'm new at trying to get my writing published. I'm a bit intimidated by agents because I'm supposed to sell myself as worthy enough to write this particular piece. What do I say when I haven't been published before, I haven't met an agent, so I'm essentially coming out of nowhere. Will an agent even take time to look at the query letter once my lack of success history is found inadequate? I want an agent. I guess I just worry that an agent will pass up my work because I have no writing history. Thanks for letting me vent and ramble. God bless.

S said...

Shrink, dude, first of all: man up. No one wants to listen to an apology.

Secondly, write something that interests your audience and if they don't like it, move on. The sooner you accept that agents and editors are business people and not guardians of taste/value, the better off you'll be.

Thirdly, even if you haven't published anything you'd better damn well be able to justify why you can write THIS story (the one you're pitching). If you can't, then what the hell are you wasting anyone's time for?

Anonymous said...

Just now joining the fray here, but I choked a little when I read this

"I didn't love the book, so what's there to regret?" Defensive much?

Wow lady, are you arrogant much? If you don't understand why an editor would have no regrets about passing on a book she didn't love, then I can see why it is so difficult and frustrating for you in the business world of publishing. An agent/editor must have these two thoughts running through her head in order to represent you: I love this book; I think I can sell this book.

If I were you, I would stop comparing myself to the Rowlings and Diazes of the literary world, and stop tabulating their rejection rates; it will only make you more frustrated.

Budd said...

this is encouraging, thanks.

gimme said...

I would imagine there are two reasons an editor would publish a book.

1) They LOVE it to death, regardless of its commercial potential.
2) They're ABSOLUTELY convinced it will sell, whether they love it or not.

My personal gripe is that there is so little of #1 in evidence these days, but I think Nick the Troll has a point re: the contradictory complaints here. You can't bitch that everyone is "bottom line only" AND bitch that they're not "bottom line enough.":)

In the case of Drown, I probably would have passed too. I didn't (and don't) think much of it as a work of art, and it certainly doesn't scream "Bestseller."

And I think, by bringing up one that she "missed the boat on" you probably put the editor on the defensive, W/R - understandably (who likes to be reminded of money they could have made?)

Writer, Rejected said...

Actually the editor was telling me the story of the one that got away, and I said sympathetically, something like: "Wow, that's a bummer..." thinking that was where her story was going. But instead she took a hairpin turn and headed toward, "The one that got away that I never once regretted because I didn't even like those stories and can't imagine who does, but oh well, that's how this business goes." Whose arrogant?

Anonymous said...

But are editors discriminating? Do they know what's good or bad? I think not -- just take a look at what gets published.
We're being judged by pompous idiots.

Anonymous said...

the secret is "magic"
like in tales from the dark-side