Rejection is part of a writer’s life. Reportedly, Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times; Dune, 20 times; A Wrinkle in Time, 29 times; Lord of the Flies, 20 times; Kon Tiki, 20 times; Watership Down, 17 times; Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, 18 times; Chicken Soup for the Soul, 33 times; James Joyce’s The Dubliners, 22 times; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, more than 100 times; MASH, 21 times. In fact, according to Publisher’s Weekly, the average book sells under 500 copies. Our guest blogger this month has already sold over 8,000 copies of her memoir of how she dealt with her son’s illness and suicide. Madeline Sharples and I were on the staff of our high school newspaper back in Illinois many years ago. The book she refers to is her memoir: Leaving the Hall Light On.
Dealing with Rejection, by Madeline Sharples
After I created my book with the help of workshops and an editor, it was time to get it out into the world. And that was a huge confront. Since I decided to go with a traditional publisher, I began querying agents and presses. Little did I know that process would take two years and a lot of rejection.
Turn a Rejection into a Plus
One agent in responding to my query letter said my book was bland. I asked one of my mentors what that meant, and he was brutally honest. He said I didn’t have a breakdown, I didn’t have an affair, I didn’t resort to alcohol or drugs, and my husband and I didn’t get a divorce after the suicide death of our son. Also, I wasn’t a celebrity. So instead I decided to turn that around. In my revised query letter, I stated that we were a normal suburban family living a full life when disaster – the suicide – struck. I wrote, “No, I didn’t get a divorce. I didn’t have a breakdown. I didn’t have an affair with a beautiful younger man. I didn’t go into years of therapy. Instead I did it the hard way. I picked myself up and relearned how to live fully—not just participate—through each day.” That revised query letter helped me find a publisher—a small traditional press.
But getting published didn’t stop the rejections – now in the form a negative book reviews.
It Hurts Like Hell
When asked how I deal with negative book reviews, I responded: first I crawl under the covers and allow myself five minutes of wallowing time. Then I get back up and keep on working. This is not to say that I don’t take rejection personally. It is very personal to me. And so is my book. But I knew what I was getting into. Someone asked at my first book signing event how I felt about putting such personal stuff out there for the world to see. I told her I was terrified. But I felt that if I didn’t tell the truth of my feelings, the book wouldn’t be good for my readers or for me.
Do Not Lose Total Confidence after a Rejection
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
When a couple of bad reviews appeared, l was devastated. In the first the reviewer attacked me while having very little to say about the content of my book. In the second, someone posted a one-star review after reading only 36 pages. The book didn’t fit the reader’s expectations even though the subtitle clearly states what the book is about.
My publisher and a few author friends told me not to respond to these reviews personally. So, I didn’t—as hard as that was. However, I found I had some true supporters after the first bad review appeared—in fact someone I didn’t know really attacked the reviewer. I also asked a couple of my friends to follow suit and that did the trick. The first bad review silently left the page.
That experience made me fully prepared by the time a second one-star review appeared on my Amazon book page. I got several of my friends to make comments to repudiate the reviewer who hadn’t read the entire book and was dumb enough to admit it. One comment said:
“What’s next – writing a “review” based on what you read on the jacket cover? The cover photo? Maybe just the title? Please don’t waste other people’s time and try to sway opinion when you are not informed enough to actually have an opinion.”
Don’t you just love it? Unfortunately, that review is still on the page.
My publisher also recommended soliciting more four and five-star reviews—even though I’m bratty enough to think my book deserves only five-star reviews. Once they are posted the low-star reviews get pushed down to the bottom of the list. That way a browsing reader won’t have it in his or her face. Of course, getting reviews is not easy, but a necessary part of an author’s marketing job.
Actually, I’ve learned to not stress about it anymore. I have lots and lots of great reviews. I think about those and let the others roll off. It’s not worth the stress. I figure a better review will come along soon enough. And I keep writing. Keeping my work in circulation is one of the best cures for getting over rejection—I always have the possibility of a positive response on the horizon.
I hope none of you have to experience a bad review. But if you do, remember it’s really part of the risk we take in putting our work, our babies, out in the world. And the more books we sell out there, the greater the risk. So, I try very hard to look the other way—stay under the covers so to speak—and just move on.
About Madeline Sharples
Madeline Sharples is the author of, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, in prose and poetry (Dream of Things). She also co-authored Blue-Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press), co-edited the poetry anthology, The Great American Poetry Show, Volumes 1, 2, and 3, and wrote the poems for two photography books, The Emerging Goddess and Intimacy (Paul Blieden, photographer). Her poems have appeared online and in print magazines and journals, and her articles have appeared on the Huffington Post, Naturally Savvy, PsychAlive, Aging Bodies, and Open to Hope websites. She also posts at her blog, Choices (http://madelinesharples.com). She is currently working on a novel.
Links: Amazon, her website/blog, her Facebook page, her Twitter page
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