Posted by: ranjitratnaike | March 17, 2014

The Manuscript: Rejection and Triumph!

The Manuscript: Rejection and Triumph!

Authors are familiar with the despair and battered self-esteem when a publisher rejects a manuscript. However, the results of rejection should not be abandoning a manuscript, or wallowing in ‘rejection melancholia.’

Many well-known publishers have rejected manuscripts that others have published and made a fortune. Twelve publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  Nigel Newton, the chairman of Bloomsbury Publishing, accepted the manuscript on the advice of his daughter Alice who was eight years old.

Theodor Geisel wrote for The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Vanity Fair and was a cartoonist at The Viking Press. Despite these literary ‘connections’ twenty-seven publishers rejected his first book, To Think That I saw it On Mulberry Street. Never heard of Theodor Geisel? His pen name was Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel).

Twenty-five publishers rejected John Grisham’s A Time to Kill.

These and many other instances of rejection and later triumph suggest that some publishers were foolish, inept and misguided, while others were discerning and visionary.

However, an unanswered question lurks.  Was the same manuscript rejected each time, or did the manuscript evolve with each rejection (with publisher’s comments and criticisms), from poor to mediocre to good to outstanding?  Possibly, as many writers do, the authors returned their manuscript. Perhaps they deleted their ‘darlings’ which may have been an annoying over used word, a graceless sentence, a cluttered paragraph, or an unnecessary scene, chapter or  character, resulting in a well-paced, brisker, crisper manuscript. (I call ‘darlings’ manuscript wreckers. See my May 2012 post,

Knowing the realities of publishing help soothe the sting of rejection.

Publishing is not a genteel, philanthropic industry intent on nurturing new writers. Print publishing (with decreasing margins of profit) is like any other business. A publisher has no more selfless concern for an unpublished writer, than a used car salesperson to a cash strapped first car buyer. The focus is profit, avoiding a loss, not benevolence.

Many publishers search beyond a good or even excellent manuscript for the outstanding manuscript that would sell thousands (if not millions) of books. An example would be a manuscript poorly written and with a fragile plot, but littered with sex and erotic scenes.

Could your manuscript have competed with the sales potential of, for example, Fifty Shades of Grey? Reading this book provides an educational insight into the business of publishing.

Rejection is never one sided. Authors court rejection by:

  • Selecting the wrong publisher. The manuscript must conform in genre to recently published books.
  • Not reading, misreading or carelessly reading the publisher’s submission guidelines.
  • Sending a poorly written query letter that diminishes the potential author.
  • Presenting a manuscript with shoddy formatting, unchecked spelling and wrong page numbering.
  • Bad writing due to problems of style, grammar, and the order and choice of words in sentences, resulting in jarring and distracting prose.
  • Submitting a manuscript with a story that has no beginning, middle or end, a weak plot, poor character development and the pace of the story induces somnolence.
  • Submitting an excellent manuscript with huge sales potential to a not very smart publisher.

Remember what Nathaniel Hawthorne said: ‘Easy reading is damn hard writing.’  To this I add a warning to writers I often reflect on.  Félix Lope de Vega Carpio, the great Spanish playwright, born in 1562 in Madrid, two years before Shakespeare, said:

“I admit that printing has saved many talented writers from oblivion. Printing circulates their books and makes them known. Gutenburg, a famous German from Mainz, is responsible. But many men who used to have a high reputation are no longer taken seriously, now that their work has been printed.” (Quoted from James Michener’s Iberia, Vol. II, pp. 414).

I would like to hear about your experiences.

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