I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing, publishing, and the importance of taste.
Many of my friends are in the trenches of querying agents and submitting novels. They’re racking up long lists of rejection letters and wondering why they aren’t good enough. They’re asking: Why doesn’t this agent want my book? Why didn’t they connect with the material? What am I doing wrong? Should I give up writing?
Rejection seems to be a constant in the world of writing and publishing. The long-desired moments of praise and acceptance seem to be temporary and fleeting. Yet, rejection is something we writers deeply internalize, having spent hours, and months, and years creating our novels. We want people to see that effort as worthwhile.
But too often we believe that the rejection of a book is also a rejection of the writer. Slowly, brutally, I’m learning that it’s not that simple. In fact, I’m learning that a rejection has very little to do with me, and everything to do with the book. Or more accurately, sometimes it isn’t even about the book, it’s all about taste: the taste of the agent, the taste of the editor, or the taste of the market.
Let me take a moment to share three examples that have changed the way I look at submissions and rejection. Hopefully these will help you to see there is hope, lots and lots of hope.
1) My Editor Didn’t Want My Second Book
Last week my current editor (the one who adores my first book and bought it within two weeks of submission) just passed on my new novel. She said she “didn’t connect with it.” That’s the agent/editor kiss of death isn’t it? It’s a generic statement of rejection that won’t let me know how to move forward to what to change. Only – here’s what’s empowering about that statement. All it means is that this book doesn’t match my editor’s taste. Sure, I want my editor to love my books – all of them – but that’s unrealistic. This rejection doesn’t mean she doesn’t adore my writing. She would never have bought the first book if she didn’t think I was talented. All it means is she didn’t connect with this story. And after rejecting this book she promptly asked what else I’m working on. The rejection of one book is not the rejection of every story I will ever write.
2) Agents Want to Feel Goosebumps
A colleague of mine is the assistant to a top-tier agent at a large agency. Recently, I asked her what causes her boss to pass on a project or decide to represent a writer. She said: It’s all about taste. The book has to give the agent goose bumps. But here’s the part you need to hear: She also said that they pass on great books all the time, beautifully written books, books she knows will sell, books that she is certain another agent will scoop right up. So why doesn’t the agent scoop it up herself when she knows it will sell? The answer is simple: it didn’t give her goose bumps. It wasn’t something she loved. Finding an agent is all about finding the best advocate for your work, and that can only be done when both you and your agent adore the book. Would you really settle for an agent who doesn’t love your book?
3) I Don’t Care if You’re a Bestseller
My last story is about a friend who is a New York Times bestselling author. She’s sold multiple book series, speaks at conferences around the world, and has had large publishing contracts. In all the traditional measures of success – she’s made it! But guess what, she’s currently self-publishing her next series. Why you ask? Because the market is scared. Her new series is a paranormal romance and well … we’ve all heard that market is dead. It doesn’t matter that she’s a bestseller. None of the publishing houses want to take the risk. Again, it isn’t about her or her writing, it’s about the book, and how scared the publishers are about the taste of the market. So what has she done? She’s taken the power back and is self-publishing the series on her own. She believes in her work and that the book will find an audience that loves it too.
Ultimately, we can only hand over so much of our power to others. You love the novel you’re writing and submitting. Have faith that it will find the right agent, editor, and reader that loves it as much as you do.
Yes, there are lots of gatekeepers on the road to publishing. But remember that gatekeepers are only taste-makers. They don’t determine what is great, they pick what they like. They pick what aligns with their own taste, and they gamble that others will have a similar palate.
Keep writing. Keep submitting. Write the next book.