02 June 2010

Who's Counting?

Stephen Parrish is the author of THE TAVERNIER STONES, a longtime friend of Electric Spec, and is today's guest blogger.

A while back I wrote a post about not giving up. I was surprised by how many people told me, in comments and emails, how impressed they were that I kept trying, that I kept revising and submitting until I finally broke through.

The alternative being?

I want to repeat something I posted back in 2006, when my odyssey was getting underway:

Jackie Gleason first tried to break into the entertainment business as a singer. During his debut appearance in a vaudeville act his performance was so poorly received, members of the audience threw rotten tomatoes at him. Apparently theater-goers of the time routinely equipped themselves with such projectiles for just such a purpose. At home that night, wiping tears and tomato juice from his face, Jackie learned his mother had died. He went on, of course, to make his mark in comedy and drama, staring in the hit TV series "The Honeymooners" and several films including "The Hustler." What few people seem to remember is that he also sold millions of "mood music" albums in the 1950s and 60s. The guy whose singing voice launched rotten tomatoes became, for a time, a force in the music industry.

Joe Konrath accumulated 500 rejections before publishing a single word. And he doesn't hold the record: Jack London reputedly was rejected six hundred times before selling his first story. Most wannabes in the entertainment industry hear "No" many, many times before they hear "Yes."

And yet I'm aware of people who gave up on their novels after receiving twelve or fewer rejections. This astonishes me. They threw tomatoes at Jackie Gleason; what the hell did they do to you?

Rejection sucks. It sucks getting the "dear author" letter after allowing your hopes to rise, after permitting yourself to believe this particular agent will be a perfect fit, because she represents authors you adore. Because when she describes what she's looking for, she sounds as though she's peering into your soul. Because she liked your premise, your voice, your partial, and asked to read the full. It's emotionally devastating to open even the kindest rejection letters, because no matter how the message is couched, your dreams just crashed and burned.

You try again. What's the alternative?

I was turned down over 200 times, by publishers, agents, and literary journal editors. My experience tells me the number is neither high nor low. But I should add this: I didn't know what the number was when I finally recieved an offer. I had to refer back to my submission log before composing this paragraph. How many times you've been rejected is irrevelant unless, like Joe Konrath, you're using the number to inspire others. I love what Sophie Littlefield said:

I swear I was rejected by every literary agent in America in the course of a decade of submissions. You may think I’m exaggerating, but when I come across an agent who didn’t reject me, I want to go “Where have you been hiding yourself, Cupcake?” and buy them a drink.

Did you catch the part about "a decade of submissions?" Nowadays she's published by St. Martin's and her agent is slithery Barbara Poelle. Sounds to me like she didn't give up, either.

Okay, now you know I was rejected 200 times. That's the good news. The bad news is, I had to write twenty-five short stories and four novels to accumulate those rejections. But don't feel sorry for me. They threw tomatoes at Jackie Gleason, not at me.


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lesleylsmith said...

Wow. I admire Stephen's persistence. Kudos to him! But...this story is pretty depressing, isn't it? :(

Charmaine Clancy said...

Slogging away at getting my WIPs done, I'd be happy to finally be at the stage of receiving rejections. But thanks for the reminder that we just have to keep writing and keep submitting :-)

Catherine Stine said...

Inspiring post, Stephen. May your book do well!

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I just saw a thing on Dean Koontz on FB. He wrote for 10 years before his breakout novel hit the NYT list.

lesleylsmith said...

Ouch, Betsy! This is depressing, too. :(
How many years do you have left in your ten-year apprenticeship?
Good luck!

Betsy Dornbusch said...

I don't think of it as depressing. I think of it as a journey. But maybe that's just me...