Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Rejection Taboo (Alissa Grosso)

We've all heard the stories of now famous books that were initially rejected by publishers. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was rejected by 12 publishers, Dune was rejected by 20, A Wrinkle in Time by 25 and Gone with the Wind by a whopping 40. These are the feel-good stories that help to boost the morale of aspiring writers dealing with the sting of rejection. But there are a lot more stories of rejection that we don't hear.

It's not only aspiring writers who must face rejection. Because having a book published, winning literary awards or landing on the bestseller lists does not guarantee that the books you write will be accepted by publishers. Publishing is a fickle business. Books get rejected for a host of reasons. Maybe the author's last book didn't sell as many copies as the publisher hoped, maybe the book they are trying to sell has a similar theme to another book the publisher has coming out, maybe the publisher is concerned that the genre or trope of the work is no longer in vogue. Maybe it's too much of a departure from the author's previous work--Madeleine L'Engle had published numerous books before A Wrinkle in Time, but they were all realistic, contemporary titles.

In the publishing world, there is a taboo in talking about rejection or really any bad news. If you follow authors you like on social media, you will likely see them happily crowing about their latest success, but what you're less likely to see is any news about setbacks they are facing in their careers. It's all about public relations and it's tied into the notion that success breeds success. Talking about rejection of an unpublished project is taboo because there's the not-unfounded fear that this could detract from an author's current book sales or even hurt their chances of selling another book to a publisher.

If you follow an author on Twitter or Facebook, and it seems like a long time since they've said anything about a new book coming out, you might assume that they are simply taking a long time to write their next book or maybe that they've gotten too distracted by other things and aren't writing at all. That could be the case, or it could be that they wrote a book or perhaps a few books that have not yet been accepted for publication.

I know this for a fact, because I've been in this position. Talking about books that have been rejected and remain unpublished is simply not something that's done. It's why for years I could provide nothing but vague answers on social media to friends and followers who asked about my next book. The only reason I'm even talking about it now is because that book has finally been published.

Authors have different options for their unpublished books. They can tuck these manuscripts away and try to sell them again at a later date, they can banish them to the dark depths of their filing cabinet never again to see the light of day or they can take it upon themselves to bring those books to the world through non-traditional means. I have chosen this third option for my book Unnamed Roads, and earlier this month I published this rejected book myself.

Here I am proudly showing off a copy of my newly published book.


Publishers don't usually share with authors the reason a book is rejected, so I can't give a definitive answer as to why Unnamed Roads was turned down. I think there might have been a couple of reasons. The first is that my previous two books, published by a small press didn't sell like gangbusters. There wasn't much of a marketing effort by the publisher for either book and sales were slow for both. Publishers are in the business of making money, after all, and so this sales data would have been considered when Unnamed Roads was being pitched to editors.

The second reason might have been the quiet nature of the book. It's contemporary YA fiction, which tends not to be too flashy. It doesn't center on any hot, controversial topics. It's a simple, coming of age story about a teenage girl who goes on a road trip with her somewhat eccentric grandmother and a boy from her class to track down the mother she's never known. It's not shocking or scintillating, but it's a book I've believed in for awhile, which is why I decided to take it upon myself to share it with the world.

It's been nearly six years since my last traditionally published book came out, so what you might be wondering is, is this all I've managed to write in that time? Well, the short answer is no. The longer answer is: I can't tell you any more about that at this time because of publishing taboos and such, but maybe one of these days I can share with you some good news and I can gleefully tell you my own story of publishers that rejected a book that ultimately went on to become an enduring classic. Well, a writer can dream, and all writers should dream.

So, if you are an aspiring writer and frustrated and disheartened by rejections you have received, just know that it happens to pretty much all writers at all stages in their career and that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.


Alissa Grosso is the author of the books Unnamed Roads, Popular, Ferocity Summer and Shallow Pond. She makes vlogs and podcasts about her Awkward Author life. Find out more and get a free book at alissagrosso.com.

3 comments:

  1. And it's a dandy book that completely captured the hold sweepstaking has on those who do.

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  2. Oh, man, have I been there! I used to think once I published one book, everything would change. The truth is, every single time you try to sell a book feels like the first time all over again.

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