by Lisabet Sarai
I have a confession to make. Rejection doesn't bother me much. I almost feel embarrassed to admit that, unlike some authors, I don't burst into tears, smash china against the wall, curse the editor, go out and get drunk, or sulk in my room for a day when I get the news that one of my submissions has been rejected. Obviously, I'd rather have my work accepted, but when it's not, I'm relatively philosophical.
My equanimity in the face of rejection derives from two sources. First, I'm not as emotionally invested in publishing my writing as many authors. I started writing on a lark. I continue for the fun of it, for the little bit of cash it brings in, and most of all to please my readers. I know that I write reasonably well, but I have no illusions of being a Great Writer. My scribblings explore the many facets of love and lust, occasionally in relation to spirituality, but I have no deep conflicts that I am trying to resolve, no heavy messages to deliver, no absolute Truth to impart. Sometimes I feel that I am not a "real" author, since I don't burn with the overwhelming desire to share my insights with the world. In the larger scheme of things, it doesn't matter much whether I'm published or not.
The second reason that I don't get too upset when my work is rejected is that, quite honestly, it doesn't happen very often. Again, I'm almost ashamed to say this. I'm well aware of the struggles some of my colleagues face, trying to get their work published. My debut novel, Raw Silk, was contracted by the first publisher to whom I submitted it. Of course, the book was more or less tailored to fit the guidelines of that publisher (Black Lace). And it is true that they rejected my next two novel proposals -- because they ventured too far from the formula, I suspect. However, both were accepted by the next publisher I tried (the now defunct Blue Moon Books), an imprint that handled a broader range of erotic fiction.
Much of what I write is targeted for a particular publisher or at least a specific genre. Most of my short stories are written in response to calls for submissions that detail what the editor is seeking. This significantly increases the odds of being accepted. In fact, when my work is rejected, it is mostly because it's not a good fit to what the editor wants. When I first starting submitting to Total-E-Bound, which focuses on erotic romance, Claire (the wonderful owner of TEB) rejected everything that I sent her because 1) it didn't have a happy ending or 2) it didn't focus on a core relationship or 3) it was written in the first person present, a perspective that I like but she abhors. Now that I understand the conventions of the romance genre (as well as her personal pet peeves!), my acceptance rate has gone way up.
I think that the people who receive the most rejections are often the authors who are most creative. Their work doesn't fit nicely into the cubbyholes of a popular genre. Their stories are perhaps too long or too complex or too challenging, emotionally or intellectually, to be appealing to most publishers. Garce (who proposed this week's topic) is that kind of writer. I know that he's gotten far more rejections than acceptances, at least so far. My heart aches for him, because I love his work and I think that the world should read it. He has a lot to say -- a lot more than I do.
Yet I'm more successful than he is, at least if you judge success by number of publications. Something is not right about this. It definitely makes me uncomfortable.
We authors perennially bemoan the short-sightedness of an industry which looks not for the fresh voice or the original premise but for more of what is already selling. But that does make it easier to avoid rejection. You just have to give the publishers what they want.
Am I really that bad? A literary whore? A hack who can bang out a three or four thousand words a day, once I sit down to it, with the comfortable conviction that if my first choice of publisher won't accept it, my second choice probably will? Is there no room for inspiration? For flashes of insight? For a truly original approach to my chosen genre?
Well, I try. I look for new angles. I overturn stereotypes in a quest for novelty. But if I want to be published, I can't stray too far from the publisher's specs (and perhaps the readers' expectations. I'm brought back to the issues we raised when we talked about genres a few months ago.)
I've always been good at following instructions. (Hey, I'm a submissive at heart!) I know how to mold my writing into the shape that will at least be acceptable to my target publisher and audience. Rarely does my writing take over and drive me furiously in unexpected directions, the way other authors report. It's tamed.
This makes me somewhat sad. I envy them that madness, the thrill of being overwhelmed by inspiration, "the buzz" that is so intoxicating but which seizes me so rarely. On the other hand, as I add credits to my publishing history, I recognize that other authors probably envy me.