On Rejection and Renewal: A Note to Aspiring Novelists

Today’s guest post is from acclaimed American novelist Warren Adler, well-known for his best-selling-novel-turned-box-office-hit The War of the Roses. Warren is now a huge advocate of indie publishing and loves to encourage aspiring novelists.

You’ve spent months, perhaps years, composing your novel. You’ve read and reread it hundreds of times. You’ve rethought it, rewritten it, and revised it, changed characters, dialogue, and plot lines. Writing your novel is the most important thing in your life. It has absorbed your attention, almost exclusively. Both your conscious and your subconscious mind have been obsessed with it. You have read parts of it to your friends, family, former teachers. Most think it’s wonderful.

You have finally considered it finished. Armed with optimism and self-confidence, you obtain from the Internet a list of agents and begin to canvass. You agonize over whether to send your precious manuscript to one agent at a time or to a number of agents. You choose the first option. Just in case, you send it electronically, unsure of whether or not this is now standard practice. You have high hopes. You are aware of the massive changes in the publishing business, but have chosen to take the traditional path as your first option.

Waiting, Waiting . . .

Weeks go by, then months. The agents are, you believe, reading it in the office, passing it around, deciding to take it on. You live on such hopes. Finally you call the agent’s office. They haven’t a clue as to who you are. Somehow, they are reminded and search through the piles of manuscripts in their office, find yours, and send you back a standardized letter, perhaps out of politeness made to look like an original.

Well then, you tell yourself, it is only one agent’s opinion. You send it off to another agent. A letter comes back swiftly, similarly worded. You get bolder, send your manuscript to two agents at a time, then three, then every agent you can find. Nothing happens. “Good luck on getting published,” they tell you. “Not for us.” Sometimes there is a personal, scribbled note that says something nice and you live in its glow for days.

More Waiting . . .

Years go by. You start another novel, but you are less optimistic now, less confident, unsure. You tell yourself you have not paid enough attention to the marketplace. You begin to analyze what is selling, what is not selling, what is being published. You read books on the best-seller lists and are certain you can do a lot better. You try to use these books as a guide to what is selling and you write accordingly. Nothing helps. You are continuously rejected.

Then . . . you begin to read on various websites about how you can publish your own books and get them marketed on electronic venues. Some sites promise that they can get your book in front of movie producers for a price. Some say they have the magic to make you a successful career novelist, again, for a price. For even more money, you will be told how best to market your book. You debate the idea and as your pile of rejection letters mount, you give it a try.

You spend money. A book is produced in print-on-demand format and an ebook is created and placed on every electronic sales venue on the net. Your family buys copies and sends them to friends. It is even reviewed in publications that review self-published books, yet again for a price. There is a word or two of praise in the review and you send it around to the media and everybody you know.

Unfortunately, there is little or no sales, no afterlife. Despite your confidence in your ability, despite the fact that you truly believe your novel is certainly worthy of publication, you feel the full impact of rejection and failure.

Try and Try Again . . .

Still, you cannot shake the certainty or your talent. You write another novel. Perhaps a third. Perhaps more. You go through the same process. Again and again you are rejected. You begin to question your ability, your ideas and your talent. Is it a fantasy, an exercise in unrealistic aspirations? You are becoming embittered. Your dream is crashing.

If you are fortunate, your wife, husband, partner and family stick by you, continue to encourage your dream, help you keep it alive. Other realities begin to chip away at the dream. You have financial obligations. Your kids are growing up. You are losing out in the job market. Others are moving up in their jobs, while you are falling behind.

You feel lost, adrift. Rejection after rejection has beaten you down. You see this as the end of your world, the end of your hopes and aspirations. Your high hopes and self-confidence in your own talent is petering away.

What now?

No Magic Pill

If you’ve read this far without your stomach congealing, I suppose you are awaiting some prescription offering a magic pill for coping. Sorry, there isn’t any available your corner drugstore, and you won’t find it here. Luck—that strange, illusive, heaven-sent burst of good fortune—has not fired a missile in your direction. Not yet.

You have three choices.

  • The first is personal surrender. You’ve been on a fool’s errand following an adolescent dream. Time to throw in the towel and concentrate on your day job. At least you tried.
  • The second choice is postponement. You weren’t ready. You needed more experience of life. But you continue to believe it will come. Some talented people are late bloomers. Give the dream a rest. Wishing won’t make it so. There are enough popular clichés to give you courage.
  • Now, for your third choice, the clincher. It is not recommended for the faint of heart: never give up. Never, never, never. It may be impractical, unwise, foolish, pure madness, but if you truly believe in yourself, your talent, your ideas, your calling, your personal mission, why not, as Lewis Carroll wrote, “go on until the end, and then stop.”

It Takes Determination and Perseverance

To do this requires a monumental ego, total self-confidence in your talent, and an unshakeable belief that you have been anointed with the right stuff. You will require obsessive focus, singleness of purpose, a draconian ruthlessness, and total devotion to a belief in your artistic ability. Fancy words, I know, but with the absence of luck, you will need these attributes to sustain you through the process.

What this means for the true novelist is that he or she must continue to soldier on, keep writing, keep trying, taking the increasingly painful hits of rejection after rejection until, well, until someone out there catches on…or doesn’t.

We are all waiting for Godot. Sometimes he comes.

Warren Adler headshotWarren Adler, acclaimed novelist of more than thirty novels and now proponent of indie publishing, is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and consistently writes about his experience as an independent, self-published eBook author with his own press, Stonehouse Productions. Currently in development for Adler is the Hollywood sequel to The War of the Roses – The War of the Roses: The Children, along with other projects including Capitol Crimes, a television series based on Warren Adler’s Fiona Fitzgerald mystery novels. His new novel, Treadmill, is available here.

Treadmill by Warren AdlerLearn more about Warren and his projects on his website here. Follow him here on Twitter and Facebook.

Feature Photo Credit: OrensteinSolutions via Compfight cc

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  1. I gave talks to English and creative writing students at three high schools last week about my own writing journey. You could’ve scripted my talk. But I chose option 3. I hung in there. I found a traditional publisher, and I’m positive about the possibilities. And that’s what I told every class. In spite of the grim odds, if you want to write, do it. Never give up. Thanks for such an honest post.

  2. Thanks for the post. Waiting for the correct time and place is certainly difficult to do. One might use the time between contacts to research, research, and more research, writing the next book, setting up blogtalkradio spots, and premarketing. Another way to describe this time is positioning. You get your marketing plans in order so when the call comes through, you are positioned to best make use of each and every opportunity. More blogs on positioning would be great. Terry from Chronicles of Orm.

    1. Number three is my only option. I’m a traditionalist. I have three unique and totally original stories. I have been given the gift of writing for young adults,including an imagination that far surpasses most. But,it would appear that I’m a little bit ahead of my time. I always have been, (even when I used to make records) It is, therefore, my belief,that if something won’t go away,then it’s meant to be. With that blind faith,firmly implanted in my mind, I simply can’t give in. Not now! I’ve invested too much time and effort into my projects to even begin to contemplate failure! All I need now, is a little bit of luck and I’m there! When the right Agent comes along, everything will slot into place.
      Craig Thomson. ‘Search for the Sunlight.’

  3. I am in the “persevering” stage as well. I am going the indie route, with an open mind for traditional offers down the road. I have managed to garner some agent attention in the past at Sleuthfest, here in Florida, but my book had a fatal flaw at the time. I now have three books ready to go and am beginning a campaign to build an email list and market on my own. I will still attend Sleuthfest and other such conferences, as they are extremely useful and encouraging, but I no longer feel constrained or overlooked by publishers. I will forge my own path, or eventually go hybrid.

    I have heard from nearly every successful author that it was a long, frustrating and difficult road at times, but I have not yet heard one say “It wasn’t worth it.”

  4. Warren, that’s so beautifully constructed—you build the tension towards the climax and then there’s the sting in the tail! A sting to action: to keep fighting. I’m a published author and former publisher and I like to see encouragement out there, because, sadly, new writers often come up against negativity early in their career and find rejection by agents and publishers very defeating. My advice at this stage is to obtain professional feedback of their work and use CONSTRUCTIVE critiques to build on their strengths and then submit again. Of course, these can be hard and expensive to find. Which is why I’ve created Free Literary Mentor, offering free professional feedback to new writers on http://www.cherylhingley.com/ They tell me it’s useful, and I have the fun of reading and displaying exciting new fiction. I read all genres.

  5. Well, I have the monumental ego. What I don’t have is the lack of motivation to stop writing. For me, writing is always that next story, regardless what happens with the first or the second or the third, etc. If you’re a writer, you write. I personally can’t just write ONE novel and expect that to sell. You also have to learn about your profession or industry to be able to navigate it. Writing one book and expecting to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King is unrealistic and almost headed for certain doom. All true writers must write, even when they don’t want to be a writer like me. It’s something intrinsic in the personality. But that’s just me…

  6. In a nutshell, if an author becomes infected with “pride of authorship” syndrome, they die. When I was the managing editor of an aviation magazine several years ago, I learned how to minimize and stop phone debates with some freelance contributors who insisted their story needed little or no editing. My motto tied to readers’ needs was “Nothing short of right is right.” The writer’s “ego” an be a barrier to publication success.

  7. How very, very sad to see your life so succinctly described. This almost feels like flagellation, this life as a writer.

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