Saturday, July 19, 2008

How High Would You Go?

This question popped up on my AOL screen the other day in a quiz about “famous losers”: Which thriller novelist had his first book rejected 28 times? To see the answer, take the jump.

It’s John Grisham. AOL went on to say, “Grisham has been coined by the media as one of the best novel authors alive in the 21st century. However, his first manuscript, A Time To Kill, was rejected by 16 agents and 12 publishing houses before an unknown publisher agreed to publish it.”

I once read that Madeleine L’Engle’s classic, A Wrinkle in Time, was rejected 26 times. She said she almost quit writing at age 40 because her writing career was going so badly. If you search the net, you’ll find plenty of other rejection stats for books that ultimately went on to become best-sellers.

On Verla Kay’s website, there’s a thread called “So ready to concede failure” where writers talk about how many rejections they had on a project before it was accepted by an agent. One writer had a whopping 101 rejections over 15 months before landing an agent. Another, 99 rejections before getting one.

Personally, so far I’ve received nine rejections on my manuscript--four were on queries alone, five were on requested fulls or partials based on reading the first three chapters. At the time it seemed like a lot. After reading about the triple-digit kiss-offs on Verla Kay, however, it feels like I’m just getting started.

I recently got a request from an agent to cut 50 mspp., so I stopped submitting to cut and revise. I’m almost ready to go back into submission mode. Of course, I’m optimistic the agent will want it. And if not, the one after that. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t be putting myself through all of this angst. Still, I can’t help wondering: if this agent passes, and then the next, how much longer do I give this project before I give up? Twenty-six rejections? Or do I go all the way to 101?

My question to all of you is, does anyone have a magic number for this? What’s the maximum number of rejections you’d endure before you tabled a project for good? When is it time to stop telling yourself, “Who knows, maybe the next submission will land me Agent X or a sweet deal at Publishing House Y?”

Your numbers, please.


  1. This question is almost too close to home for me to answer.
    I haven't been rejected anywhere near triple digits. I don't think my ego could tolerate that (and I have a pretty big ego!)
    I don't know what my number is, but I think I'll know it when I hit it.

  2. I'll go with the number 27 - Dr. Seuss had his first book, AND TO THINK I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET, rejected 27 times before having it published!

  3. My answer is that I will keep submitting my work as long as I believe in it. I think that ultimately, if a writer still believes his or her work is ready to be published, it makes absolute sense to continue the quest.

    We've all heard it--it only takes one yes!

  4. In a way there are different sets of rejection numbers for any manuscript because it depends on revisions.
    If you heavily revise after a number of rejections and then start submitting again, you're submitting a different piece of work. In that case, I start the rejection count over again.

    I'd probably stop submitting if I had ten rejections for each of three revisions . . . or I might start over with a new version!

  5. The numbers quoted made me do an ego check, and I failed. My skin is way too thin. I get crushed by one rejection, let alone dozens, and this is something I clearly need to change. So, I found this post quite inspiring. I don't know my number, but I do know it should be much, much higher than my current ego allows for.

  6. I don't think there are 101 places to submit to, if you really do your homework, kwim? I think the window has gotten smaller and smaller in the past decade.

    That said, my magic number doesn't exist. I'm committed to writing. As for different projects, I have a few picture book manuscripts that are collecting dust. So I guess I've given up on them for the moment. But I won't give up on my writing. Nor do I see them as a failure. Just stepping stones.

    The glass is half full today.

  7. GREAT point, Robin.
    The glass is always half full.

  8. Okay. I've thought about this some more. I've had about 15 rejections on my MG--mostly from agents. Of those agents, I've had enough requests for fulls and partials, and enough personal, encouraging rejections, to stay positive about an agent search.

    In submitting directly to editors, I've had even better?? rejections. Of the three editors who have read the full, I made it to a second read with a small house, all the way to an editorial meeting with a large house, and a third editor has held it for over a year.

    I'm reviewing the manuscript again, looking to make it dazzle. But why in the world would I stop submitting when I've gotten fairly close?

    We know the odds are against us, but why give up on a manuscript because of rejections? If you have a list of 25 potential agents or editors and 24 say no, why would you not send it to number 25? What if you had shuffled your list and put number 25 as number two?

    Glass half full here, too.