Rejecting Old Business

The easiest part about trying to get a novel published is actually writing the damn thing. You have complete control. You can craft the story however you want with no one’s interference and without need of their approval.

The hell begins once you finish and seek out an agent or publisher who will put your manuscript into ink. You send out hundreds of query letters and get rejected long before anyone actually reads your manuscript. I’m learning all about this as I struggle to get my book ‘The Plum War’ printed. It is a fictional account of the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square and the events leading up to his standoff with Chinese soldiers.

I’ve sent out more than 200 query letters for 'The Plum War.' Of those, I’ve received responses from two publishers and one agent who asked to read the full manuscript. None have agreed to print it or to represent me. I document the prolonged failure on my blog

Personally, I never understood the query letter. It’s like a ballet dancer having to give the director a lap dance to prove she can tip toe to ‘Swan Lake.’ I understand though, why publishers use the format. It gives them an idea of what the book’s about. If they’re not interested, why bother reading the manuscript, right?

It’s a grueling struggle. Every step of the way you become a little jaded and despite the fact you expect rejection letters, each one still manages to sting.

Rejections are nothing new to writers. It’s part of the process. Kathryn Stockett was rejected more than 60 times before her book ‘The Help’ was published. Stories like that is what keeps most writers going. That and every rejection letter always has a paragraph at the end saying something along the lines of, “Keep in mind that this is a subjective business and another publisher/agent might feel differently about your work.” This is usually followed by “we encourage you to submit your manuscript elsewhere.”

There are a lot of writers lately who are bucking that cycle and are opting to take their book directly to readers through digital format. And readers are following them.

The Association of American Publishers issued a report showing that e-book sales increased 41 percent in 2012. E-books also account for 23 percent of publishing revenue.

After almost 100 rejections, I’m now considering that I, and my book, will likely have a better chance published with liquid crystal than with ink.

Sci-Fi writer Hugh Howey released his novel ‘Wool’ as an e-book and it has since been downloaded 300,000 times. It was so successful that Simon and Schuster has done everything short of begging to get the print rights to it.

Stories about writers like Howey are growing. E.L. James, the paragon of e-book success, wrote sexual thriller ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and put it out as an e-book first. When it caught on, well… I need not elaborate.

The best part about going the digital route is control. You don’t have to rely on an agent to find you a publisher. You have say-so in how the book is packaged, edited and ultimately disseminated. Thanks to Amazon and a host of other electronic publishers, there’s no need to have some stuffy publisher on Fifth Avenue dictating how the book is marketed or sold.

Another ancillary benefit is subsidiary rights. If an e-book becomes popular enough and there’s a chance a film director might be interested in taking those electronic words and transferring it to celluloid, the writer again has control.

That control also is profitable. Really profitable. I mean profitable enough to make someone hesitate to put it between a hardcover. Howey had a long, documented struggle with Simon and Schuster to print ‘Wool’ because it was completely successful as an e-book alone. He recently relented however and the publisher now has the rights to print it. Howey kept the e-book rights though.

Despite the growth of e-book downloads, print is still the ultimate pot at the end of the rainbow. Howey, James and others had success digitally but did go on to put their books into print.

That’s the dream I think and the ultimate win for the writer.

So the decision to put ‘The Plum War’ on the e-book market or continue the slaughterhouse of the query process has been difficult. I very much would like to hold the book in my hand and thumb through the pages.

But flipping through it on a Kindle wouldn’t be so bad either.