Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Propper Comeuppance

When you began to believe your writing might actually be good enough to be published, you were determined to do everything right: you read writing books and blogs, went to conferences, found a critique group, polished your novel, researched agents, and sent the perfect query letter. And in return you got nothing but silence punctuated by the occasional rejection.

You did everything right and you weren’t asking for special treatment, so why didn’t you get any kind of positive response?

Even if you understand publishing is subjective, as time, rejections, and silence wear away your enthusiasm, it’s hard not to suspect agents and editors of conspiring to suppress your genius or being willfully ignorant.

Vengeance and vindication make a powerful motivational cocktail. Like many intoxicating substances, a little might help but a lot is a recipe for trouble: a desire for vindication may be good if it motivates you to finish and polish your project but leaping into artisan publishing because you’re going to show all those shortsighted publishing professionals how wrong they were is a recipe for frustration and failure.

To begin with, the people who rejected or ignored you will probably never know that your project has been published because there are simply too many things being published for anyone to keep track of it all. Should they hear of your project they will likely give it little or no notice: agents and editors are looking for new material to sell.

The only thing guaranteed to get the attention of the gatekeepers is to release a book whose sales go off the charts. But even that won’t convince an agent or editor she was wrong. Beyond subjectivity, there’s so much serendipity in the process of producing and selling a book that having different people involved could produce wildly differing results: a different agent—your dream agent—might have sold the project to a different editor whose sensibilities might have colored the story just enough to miss striking a popular chord.

At a practical level, the slow, laborious path of artisan publishing means that you must invest a tremendous amount of work and patience into something where the odds of it making a big enough splash in the market to cause the gatekeepers even a twinge of regret are extremely small.

But the deeper truth is that artisan publishing is about love and devotion, which makes it fundamentally ill-suited for revenge.

Image: Simon Howden /

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