Being a Reject

Because rejections slips are on my mind, I googled “rejection slips”. Yeah, I know, goofy.

They’re agony for a lot of writers, especially ones who write mostly for the love of their stories and characters and are not looking at writing with an eye to business.

First off, I want this really clear: I consider that sort of writing a totally valid form of art. I eyeroll people who are “writing a book” because they usually say it to try to impress. I can tell the difference between that and, “I’ve got this story I’m writing that I love.” There is a big difference.

But, back to rejection slips.

Why, why, why, is this a huge deal to the person who wants to go pro?

If you wanna go pro, you’re basically saying, “I’m an entrepreneur and my product is my words.”

If you’re going to be in sales, which as a writer who wants to be paid, by God you are, you need to learn some facts about selling:

  • Sales is a numbers game. Yes, yes, yes, you have to be an artist to write good fiction. But when the book is done as best as it can be without the editor’s input, you have to take off your artist hat, and put on your salesman’s hat.
  • A direct mailout that advertises a niche service that gets four “yeses” to ninety-six “nos” is a good, solid performer. The numbers are a bit better for fiction, but keep in mind most first books, even the classics and the best sellers, get a lot of “no”s before we get to a “yes”.
  • Even if you are a writing a mainstream novel, you are writing to a niche market. 25% of respondents to a 2005 Gallup poll did not read any books in the previous year. Another 50% read less than five. (Makes me feel like a bloody freak. I’ve read more than five books in the past month not counting audiobooks). Then keep in mind that a large percentage of those books are the big name best sellers (Harry Potter series, Oprah’s book club…) The market is adequate, but hardly enormous.
  • A good salesman doesn’t take a “no” personally. Writing is a business as much as is selling brushes. Oh sure, people in the front lines of the publishing industry (editors, agents, etc.) get into it because they love books1, but they have to get paid enough to eat somehow!
  • If you really do want to be a professional writer, accept the business part of it and learn to sell. There are thousands of books out there about it. Selling isn’t about Leisure Suit Larry nor is it about some guy who wears an Armani suit with a perfect haircut and is slicker than snot on a doorknob. Learning to sell well is about being interested in people. If you’re writing fiction, chances are good you’ve got this down pat. So expand on it.

I’ve read a lot of sites about rejection and dealing with it in the past few months, and I’ve found the ones not aimed at the artiste a lot more useful than the ones aimed specifically at the writer.  Don’t paper your damn bath with your rejection slips.  If you must keep them for tracking purposes, be business-like about it and file the things.  Someone selling telephone systems doesn’t keep a memento of every “no” he gets like a serial killer keeping a tooth from each of his victims.   Don’t you do it!  Be a pro.
1They don’t get into it for the money! Median annual earnings for salaried editors were $43,890 in May 2004. Okay money, but no-one’s going to encourage their child to marry an editor for the financial security

5 Replies to “Being a Reject”

  1. I work in sales. We have this thing we track called “conversion” where basically you count the # of customers in the door and divide that by the number of sales you had in the day. Anything over 20% conversion is considered good. If we hit 25% conversion, usually there’s a note from corporate in our email the next day telling us what a fabulous job we did.

    It really IS a numbers game and 75% of your numbers are going to be “no’s”, at least, unless you get to be someone like Laurell Hamilton or Misty Lackey and people will publish your laundry list.

  2. Well, Rainy, I’d be willing to bet that even they get told no. It’s just that they start talking about a project first rather than having a whole book rejected!

  3. I picked up a copy in The Other Boleyn girl….I am hooked
    Thanks for the recomendation….

    Just wanted to let you know

  4. I think that sales of writing (especially fiction, but to a great extent also non-fiction) is more than JUST a numbers game.

    There is a large amount of skill required (which you have, in spades) and also a harder thing – fitting in the writer’s vision (and product) with the editor’s or publisher’s vision for their publication or house.

    That second bit is harder to master. When trying to explain this to a(nother) very fine writer I used her blog as a metaphor. She loves my writing, but if I were to send her a piece and say “hey, could you post this on your blog” she would send me something that would look a heck of a lot like a traditional rejection slip (something like: “thanks, but I don’t think that really fits with my concept for right now; DO keep writing, though!”)

    If you add that editor’s perspective to your already-powerful writing skills, rejections become an “oh” rather than an “oh no”. It also changes marketing strategy a bit, I think: finding the most likely fit becomes as important as doing the writing.

    (Of course, my personal preference is seeing your non-fiction writing bought. In large quantities and for large piles of money. But that is because I have been enjoying it for years. The fiction – which I haven’t read – beckons less; probably because I’m a non-fiction kind of reader. I hope to watch your amazon sales figures skyrocket someday and tell friends “I’ve been reading her since about 2001; ain’t that writing HOT? She sure tells it like it is.”)

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