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The Naked Page

Author Jamie Sobrato's Diary

2.24.2006

So You Think You Can Write

The big gigantic secret no one ever speaks of in the publishing industry is that very few manuscripts submitted to publishers are actually publishable. We like to believe that all our brilliant tomes clamoring for the attention of editors are so top-notch, editors must agonize over which books to buy, torn between a vast array of great stories.

Ask any editor when was the last time they had too many good manuscripts to choose from. They will probably roll their eyes or laugh maniacally.

The truth, plain and simple, is it's so hard to sell a book because it's so hard to write a sellable one. Add on top of that the task of getting your sellable book in front of an editor or agent whose taste it meshes with, and you have a recipe for how to become an alcoholic.

So why persist? Because it's the persistent ones who sell. Most people look at the odds against selling a book and don't even try. Some people try for a while, can't stand the constant rejection, and then give up. And then there are the weathered few. The ones with the dark circles under their eyes, the file full of rejection letters, and the emergency stash of hard liquor tucked behind the rejection file.

It's almost inevitable that if you keep writing, your writing will improve. If you keep improving, your writing will become sellable. And if you keep submitting, you will eventually find the editor who loves your work enough to buy it.

12 Comments:

At 9:31 PM, Anonymous melissa said...

I heard somewhere that writers on average tend to sell their fourth or fifth manuscript--I'm guessing because that's how much writing it takes to work out the kinks and create something sellable. I'm working on my fifth and my fourth is in Toronto (requested...revised...that kind of thing should only lead to good news, people!), so that puts me right on the magic number. Pick me! Pick me! LOL

Well, if I'm going to be rejected, I hope it doesn't happen until after the baby is born. Otherwise I won't be able to break into the stash of hard liquor and that's not fair.

 
At 10:13 PM, Anonymous Theresa said...

God bless you for saying it Jamie! So I only have to write 3 or 4 manuscripts, and maybe something will sell? Ok, I can live with that. But I can't promise I won't hit the hard liquor after the first rejection letter. Or the 2nd or 3rd...........

 
At 7:47 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Melissa, I sold my fifth complete manuscript, so I am right there in the average.

 
At 7:50 AM, Blogger Jamie said...

Theresa, yes, you can do it, and since you are writing fantasy, which is generally longer, that gives you more time to work out the kinks with each book. It's okay to mourn each rejection letter. I've always found it helpful to give myself a day to feel sorry for myself before shaking it off and moving on.

 
At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Theresa said...

I guess there's a part of me that feels as if I am starting late, being 36 and all. But I suppose if I don't start now I'll never get anything published, which would be the worst outcome.

Better to have tried and failed and all that...

But I am envious of those like Jamie who managed to be motivated enough in their 20's to get something done. I was fairly narrow minded and only looked at college at the accomplishment to worry about in my 20's, and now I'm in my 30's going "hmmmmm maybe I shoulda........."

Oh well.

 
At 4:28 PM, Anonymous melissa said...

The question in my mind is, if there is such a lack of good manuscripts, why are there writers out there who get two or three revision requests on a full and STILL ultimately get rejected? There was a writer recently on the HQ boards who waited 18 months or something on a requested full only to get rejected. Someone else got a FORM rejection on a requested full. Talk about ouch and not fair. So apparently there are *enough* sellable mss out there, because even people who catch an editor's attention may never sell. Well, they probably will, but it might take ten years. And that's frustrating, especially if there are so few really good writers out there. Maybe you established authors are hogging the schedule. You need to slow down and leave some room for the rest of us... LOL!

Theresa, the important thing is that you started, regardless of when. I started trying to get published a couple of years ago because I didn't want to be 80 and look back and regret ignoring my dreams--you've still got a few years to go before you reach 80.
:-) There are many many authors out there older than 36. And at least you'll never kick yourself for not trying!

 
At 9:22 PM, Anonymous Theresa said...

There are many many authors out there older than 36. And at least you'll never kick yourself for not trying!

This is true. I remember years ago reading a "Dear Abby" column. A guy wrote in wondering if he should go back to school since he wouldn't get his degree until he was 42. She told him he'd be 42 no matter what; the difference is whether he'd be 42 with a degree, or 42 without a degree.

I guess that's how I feel. I can be 80 with a published book, or 80 without one. ;)

 
At 9:31 AM, Blogger Nancy Henderson said...

What a great uplifting post! I was just thinking how incredible stupid I must be to keep submitting my work amidst a pile of rejections. I will keep trying, and I will succeed. Thanks for telling me what I needed to hear.
Hugs,
Nancy

 
At 5:43 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Theresa, that Dear Abby thing is what I have always told myself too. The time will pass regardless, so why not spend it trying to accomplish what I want?

Regarding starting at 36, that's far from over the hill! You ARE young, you know. Lots of writers don't start until much, much later. It's harder in some ways to start early, because the lack of life experience does color most younger writers' work. At your age at least you can be assured you know enough about the world to know what the hell you are talking about.

 
At 5:50 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Melissa, regarding the whole revised and still got rejected thing, there are a lot of things that could be going on there. I've experienced some of them myself.

I've had requests for revisions where the editor saw some things she liked in the proposal for instance, some spark, but when she read the complete manuscript she didn't feel I'd pulled the story off.

Lots of writers hone their proposal and get it really polished, but that doesn't mean they can write an entire book that well. Or at least not on that try.

I had a few revision requests, before I sold, that were ultimately rejected for various reasons. Also, sometimes the editor might want to buy it but the senior editor doesn't.

Don't take any of this as discouragement though. All I'm saying is, don't be daunted by the possibility of going through revisions and still not getting a sale. You will learn TONS from having an editor request revisions, and you will grow as a writer from the experience, and that growth will help you write a sellable manuscript.

 
At 5:50 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Hey Nancy, I'm so glad you found my post uplifting! I can never tell if I'm being annoying or motivational.

 
At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Theresa said...

It's harder in some ways to start early, because the lack of life experience does color most younger writers' work. At your age at least you can be assured you know enough about the world to know what the hell you are talking about.

This is what I have been telling myself for about the last 10 years. And then I hit 30 and had kids and realized I am no more "worldly wise" than I was in my 20's. Maybe I'm more tired, but certainly not more wise. ;)

 

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