This isn't one of those posts where I talk about all of the very famous (or merely famous) writers that started out with tons of rejections. No, they weren't really "tons," but any rejection is a heavy load, and, when they start piling up, they certainly seem to weigh tons. If you want one of those posts, there are plenty of them out there, so go find one somewhere else.
This isn't a post that is supposed to make you feel better. Make you want to work a little harder. Make you want to try that one more time. That one more time that will be the time. I'm not really much of a cheerleader, so, if you want that, go look at any of the dozens upon dozens of cheerful blogs that are all about making you feel better about yourself as a writer.
This post might do some of those above mentioned things but not because that's the plan here. It's not what I'm setting out to do. This post is about making you think. If, in making you think, it prompts you to work a little harder or to apply yourself in new ways, well, good, but that's not what I'm trying to do here.
Yeah, I know. I can be kind of a jerk. But, really, I'm just not here to make you feel better about your writing goals. Not that I won't give you advice (if you ask) or tell you what I think about... well, whatever, but I'm not emotional support. I'll help you get the job done, but I'm not going to make you feel good about doing it.
So... here's the thing:
We all know about the subjectivity of the publishing industry. At least, we think we do. Emotionally, however, we are still invested in the idea that traditional publishing is the Gatekeeper of who is and who isn't a writer. That, somewhere, they have some secret measuring stick that they apply to manuscripts to see if they measure up. We know this isn't true, but we don't believe it. If we would come to believe that the "professionals" don't know any more about what's good or what will sell than, say, the troll under the bridge down the path from my house, we would ALL abandon traditional publishing forever. But we cling to this... idea... that we can't really be writers unless the publishing industry bestows that title upon us.
And it will... if we just keep at it long enough. As Jim Butcher says about getting published, "You don't have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the guy next to you." I have to say, though, that getting published doesn't make you a writer. I don't care who's dubbing you "Sir Author." Have you seen some of the crap that's being published these days? And not just these days. Have you seen some of the crap that has always been published? And why is crap published? Because publishers don't know crap from gold. Nor do editors. Nor do agents.
See, I was thinking (and that's the phrase that generally causes my wife to say "uh oh")... Wait a minute, before you think any of this is about me, it's not. You'll kind of have to follow my separate trains of thought to where they collide in a crash almost as spectacular as the one in Super 8.
I had just come home from reading The House on the Corner in my younger son's class (6th graders), and I was out taking the dog for a walk. [Note: I read in some class or other every morning of the week.] They had been upset when it was time for me to stop. They feel like I "always end on a cliffhanger." The thing is, I wasn't reading from one of the "exciting" parts. But, whenever I have to stop, they don't want me to. I'm in the middle of something happening even if it's just exploring. Or a game of hide-and-seek. And there are groans every time.
See, kids have a different way of looking at books than adults do. And I think kids have it right. The publishing industry is really big right now on starting in the middle of the action. Why? Because they say you have to do that to grab a child's interest, but that's just not so. Kids actually have the patience to allow something to unfold in its own time and enjoy it. It's adults that want to just get right into things. Adults who sacrifice story for action. Sacrifice empathy with the characters, knowing the characters, for immediate thrills. It's adults that want to just jump straight into bed and skip the getting to know the other person and the making out. That's not how kids are.
Hold on... I'm going somewhere with this. See! You're all out there thinking, "just get to the point!" Where's the blood? Where are the explosions?
Another thing: kids are pretty honest. This is not to say that they don't lie, but they're not going to come up and tell you they like something that they don't. If you stick a pile of spinach in front of them, they're going to tell you how they feel about it. Even if you are a guest at someone else's house. They don't have the whole lying for the sake of politeness thing down.
Kids like my book. The closest I've had to any of them not liking it is one boy (2nd grade) asking me when I was going to make The House on the Corner into a movie. I asked him why, of course. Didn't he like the book? Oh, yes, he likes it very much, but he likes movies better than books.
This is where I was in my head when my thoughts strayed over to Tolkien. Did you know that The Hobbit and, by extension, The Lord of the Rings only exist (as published works) because of a child? Before I go on, let me state that I've read numerous biographies about Tolkien and C.S. Lewis including one about the two of them together and how their friendship influenced their writings. However, I don't have any of these books available to me at the moment as they are still in boxes in the garage [Yes, only unread books have been unpacked, at the moment. >sad<], so I'm going off of memory here. I'm not remembering exactly why Tolkien was seeking publication for The Hobbit, but it probably had to do with Lewis. Lewis was the impetus for pretty much all of Tolkien's fiction getting published, so it was probably Lewis back there saying, "You need to get this published." However, no one wanted The Hobbit. I don't mean there were a lot of rejections and, finally, someone said, "Yeah, I like it." No one wanted the The Hobbit. It was too different, and no one believed there would be an audience for it. Kind of like with the whole home computer thing.
At any rate, after no one wanted the book, the manuscript was sitting around someone's house. A big someone's house. Like the owner of the publishing company that eventually published The Hobbit. They had already said no to it. But something happened then. Something unexpected. The man's son got a hold of the manuscript, and he read it. He told his dad he should make it into a book. I think there was some discussion involved, but the son was firm in his opinion that The Hobbit be published. So, more to mollify his son than anything else, The Hobbit got published with a small print run of only 1500 copies. That was all. It has never been out of print since.
So here we are at the point. The climax, as it were. Traditional publishers didn't want The Hobbit. At all. It was a child. One boy who believed in a book with a father willing to humor him. The Hobbit is now considered the most influential piece of children's literature of the 20th century, and it almost never was. And this is why you shouldn't trust traditional publishing. The truth is that they don't know what they're doing. They don't know what's good and what's bad. They're not reading the books; they're just comparing aspects of them to what's popular and making judgements on what they think will sell. Any time anything slightly different comes along, they don't know what to do with it, and they tend to just say "no."
Kids should be reading through the slush pile. At least through the piles of things that are age appropriate. Kids don't care about what's popular (they do in that they are attracted to those things, but they don't evaluate new things based on the popularity of other things, not until they're teenagers, generally); they don't care about "how things are done;" they enter each new thing just as it is, a new thing, and they form their opinions based upon their interactions with that thing. It's unfortunate that, as adults, we can't enter into each new experience with those same sets of open eyes. That ability to not pre-categorize everything. That ability to not have made up our minds before an experience as to whether or not we'll like it.
As Yoda says, "Truly wonderful the mind of a child is."
So, really, don't take those rejections the wrong way. Even after the success of The Hobbit, the publisher (the same publisher, mind you) didn't want The Lord of the Rings. The wanted The Hobbit II. Tolkien really tried to give them what they asked for, but he just couldn't do it, and they kind of just published The Lord of the Rings because they knew they weren't going to get anything else, and they demanded severe changes in the text before even that happened. Like dividing it up into 3 volumes, which Tolkien hated and had to do extensive rewrites to accommodate. Of course, The Lord of the Rings is now considered the most significant piece of fiction of the 20th century. So, really, what do traditional publishers know?
It makes me wonder what pieces of literature the world has never seen because there was not a child available to advocate for it. It makes me sad.
[Note: In similar situation, none of the Hollywood studios would support Lucas' new movie Red Tails, which I really wanted to go see last weekend but didn't get to. Several of them completely snubbed the screening and didn't show at all. Lucas said they treated Red Tails the exact same way they treated Star Wars back in 1976. It's something different. Something that hasn't been done before. Even though it's Lucas, they won't support it. Fox grudgingly agreed to act as the distributor but only if Lucas footed the entire bill. What's the point, at that point? Hopefully, I'll have a review of this one soon, as Lucas says it's going to be his last "blockbuster" movie (other than one more Indiana Jones (if they do it)).]