Article by Brooke Warner
Hello, aspiring author. Congratulations on completing your manuscript. You’ve likely worked tirelessly over years, honing your craft and work-shopping your writing. This is a major accomplishment, so take a moment to let that sink in. You’ve completed a book!
Of course, in order to make the leap from writer to author, you need a book. And this is generally where things start to get discouraging. Getting rejected is a rite of passage, so no big deal there—initially. But did you know that certain kinds of rejection are cause for celebration? Yep, it’s true. Let’s take a look at the short cheat sheet that follows to help make sense of the industry’s rationale for rejecting writers—and why there’s a kernel of hope for writers who get this kind of feedback:
1. We don’t think we can sell it.
Translation: The publisher can’t reach your audience, doesn’t understand your audience or doesn’t think your personal reach is big enough to help them do the heavy lifting.
The kernel of hope: The gatekeeper on the other side of this message is cryptically saying that they don’t think they can sell as many copies as they would need to sell to justify the risk of publishing your book. If you know there’s an audience for your book, move on, or do a better job showcasing how you intend to reach your readers.
2. We sold or published something similar to this recently.
Translation: The agent or publisher had a similar kind of project within the last five years and that project didn’t do well enough to merit they’re taking a risk on you.
The kernel of hope: The fact that something like your book exists and was sold is a positive and should give you motivation. There’s a readership!
3. Your platform isn’t big enough.
Translation: You don’t have a big enough built-in audience.
The kernel of hope: This is the most helpful of rejections because there’s something to work with. Building and growing a platform is hard work, but there are also concrete ways to do it. (Start by Googling “how to build an author platform.”)
The question of how long to shop your book to publishers depends on your rejection tolerance. If you’ve gotten positive or neutral feedback on your proposal or sample pages, the good news is that this is not a condemnation of your book. In fact, if you’ve heard back from agents or editors at all, take that as a win.
As for next steps if you’ve reached your rejection tolerance, here are three suggestions:
• Do it yourself. Today’s self-published authors are the industry’s field team, and plenty of self-published books get picked up by traditional houses—as long as they’re done well and sell decently. See how it feels to prove the industry folks wrong.
• Consider a non-traditional publishing option. I’m the publisher of She Writes Press, and our publishing model is part of a growing segment of the industry called hybrid publishing. You might be surprised to discover the number of partnership publishing options out there, and how they allow you to green-light your own publishing experience.
• Double down on your platform. I’ve seen writers refocus all their energy onto their platforms and get book deals as a result. You can do this, but it’s a long process. It will take at least a year, if not more, to grow your platform to something that makes agents and publishers take notice. And don’t lose sight of the fact that a published book opens platform-growing opportunities like nothing else.
Whatever you do, don’t shelf your manuscript. And don’t give all your power to industry gatekeepers whose focus is on your star quality rather than your actual manuscript. Most of us need time to grow into the author we aspire to become. Poet and best-selling author Mark Nepo writes, “When we push ourselves to unfold faster or more deeply than is natural, we thwart ourselves.” Give yourself space to find your way, and keep your eye trained on the long view. There’s no one right path to becoming a creative artist, so take heart and let yourself unfold.
Brooke Warner is the publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching Inc., and author of Green-light Your Book and What’s Your Book?