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  • Karen Frost

If at first you don't succeed...

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

Whenever an acquaintance asks me about getting a book published, I say the same thing: write because you love to write and because you have a story you want to tell. If you want instant gratification and accolades from readers, write fanfiction. Fanfiction is a great and underappreciated venue by the mainstream! But never put fingers to keyboard with the belief that you're the next JK Rowling who's going to make $1 billion (yes, you read that right) and quit your day job to become a full-time author. This isn't because the acquaintance is a bad writer or has a bad story idea. To the contrary! The problem is that the publishing industry doesn't seem to have quite figured out how to separate the wheat from the chaff. As a result, a lot of... ahem ... substandard work is getting published while a lot of really amazing, fantastic stuff is being passed over.

I submitted my book "Conspiracy of the Dark" to 17 literary agents. Four wrote back to turn it down. 13 didn't even bother responding. An LGBT publisher also turned it down, all before Ylva Publishing took it up with great enthusiasm and gusto. To 18 people, "Conspiracy" was a dud. To Ylva, it was a gem. The lesson is never to take any of it personally, and to not automatically assume rejections are a reflection of your talent, your work, or anything but pure luck--good or bad. Here are two other really good examples of authors who were rejected but still found success:

Lisa Genova, Still Alice: circa 100 rejections (or non-replies) from agents After the query process went nowhere, Genova self-published her book. Eventually, it was acquired and re-issued by Gallery Books and spent 40 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. It went on to be made into a movie that won Julianne Moore an Academy Award for playing Alice.

Frank Herbert, Dune: 23 rejections from publishers Dune was widely rejected by publishers until finally accepted by Chilton Books. It went on to win Hugo and Nebula Awards, and is often described as the best-selling science fiction novel of all time. It's been adapted into two movies and a TV miniseries.

So here's the other bit of advice I tell aspiring authors: when sending query letters, send out as many at once as possible. If you're going to be rejected 18 times, better to have them all in the first three months than spread out over a year. That way you can prepare your next volley! And if you get turned down 100 times, like Genova did, then self-publish! In the 21st century, publishers no longer have an exclusive hold on the literary market. If you have a voice and a story, no one can prevent you from being heard!

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