Re: RARA-AVIS: Are unpublished novels best left unpublished? YES!

From: Sandra Ruttan (
Date: 16 May 2007

Kevin¹s made some very valid points, although there are different angles to look at in this equation. A recent article in the NY Times suggests that publishers often don¹t know what will be marketable (as in the case of a title that was rejected multiple times and didn¹t get a lot of backing behind it that went on to be a NY Times bestseller).

Stating that books that don¹t find a publisher aren¹t very good because the ones that have been self published aren¹t very good is hardly a fair basis for evaluation. What percentage of unpublished/rejected writers turn to self publishing? Someone get me a stat that says 90% of rejected authors self publish their books and I¹ll shut up right now, but I bet that not even a third of rejected authors self publish.

In reality, most people I know who have a manuscript that¹s been rejected have it in a drawer.

Let¹s take a different example. The Derringers were announced today. SPINETINGLER submitted one story we¹d published last year that I really thought would make the short list. It didn¹t. But the writer used the story as a platform and wrote a full-length manuscript based off of it and entered the Debut Dagger. And it made the shortlist.

Another story didn¹t make the Derringer list but made the South Story list.

Did the fact they didn¹t make one list mean they weren¹t that good? That the authors couldn¹t write? No. That¹s how subjective awards are, and sometimes publishing is no different.

Harry Potter got rejection letters. Come on, who knows what will be a breakthrough? Sometimes, it seems, nobody. An author told me recently about sending in the first chapters of the second book they were under contract for. The editor came back underwhelmed. It was Œmeh¹ bordering on
Œbarf¹. They wanted changes.

Next week they contacted the author and said they didn¹t know what the hell they were thinking, they¹d re-read it and loved it and gushed and were all enthused.

Imagine if you¹d been a query passing that editor¹s desk on the first day. Tossed with no second chance. It takes a committee to buy, but only one person to reject.

Almost every author I¹ve interviewed has talked to me about the luck involved in their success. When I interviewed Laura Lippman ( ) she said,
³ I've also had one of the strongest lucky streaks anyone can have in this business and luck should not be under-estimated as a force in anyone's career.²

People would do well to remember that George Pelecanos, Ian Rankin, Ken Bruen ­ none of these guys were an overnight success. I listened to George talk last year about struggling, feeling ready to give up, how hard it was in the early days. I¹ve interviewed Ian about what helped him break through
(on my blog last summer). There¹s no formula on it. I personally know authors who¹ve built successful careers after tallying up hundreds of rejection letters.

It is incredibly hard to get published and authors who haven¹t let success go to their heads know how much hard work, luck, timing and circumstances have contributed to their career.

If it was all down to marketability there would be no books that tanked, no authors getting dropped, nobody struggling to pay their dues. And sometimes those books are award-winning titles ­ Elaine Flinn springs to mind as someone who won an award and still had to go looking for a new publisher.

I bet a survey here could identify a lot of exceptionally talented authors we all think write better than some big-name bestsellers... Success is not always directly related to quality writing.

I¹m not advocating conspiracy theory. I¹m just saying looking at some self published books isn¹t a basis for saying all or even most rejected works are crap.

And which of us hasn¹t seen a book lately that falls under the crap category? I¹ve had one this week I¹ve thrown multiple times. I think it¹s behind the couch now, where it can stay and rot. Some stuff that gets published IS garbage.

Just my 2 opinionated cents, Sandra

On 5/16/07 2:28 PM, "Kevin Burton Smith" <> wrote:
> Yes, a few good books don't find a publisher, or otherwise slip
> through the cracks. That's nothing new. And the oft-repeated stories
> of this "masterpiece" or that "classic" that almost wasn't published
> will be -- predictably -- trotted out again and again and again in
> this thread.
> Yada yada yada.
> But those exceptions are few and far between (which is why the same
> old examples get trotted out again and again and again). It may be a
> poor business decision or a glaring lack of judgement on the
> publisher's part, but it's not "unfair."
> For every alleged "classic" that finally makes it to print, there are
> thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of books that sink without a
> trace. Usually with good reason.
> And, coincidentally, hundreds of great books -- real classics -- that
> do make it to print. Chandler, Hammett, Cain, Leonard, Block,
> Westlake, Bruen, Pelecanos, Mosley, Parker, Macdonald, MacDonald,
> etc., etc. They all survived and thrived in the literary marketplace.
> Is that fair?
> Having worked as an editor in the tiny corner of the literary
> marketplace that is THRILLING DETECTIVE, and having read a slew of
> self-published books for reviews over the last nine years, as well as
> hearing horror stories from other editors and slush pile readers,
> I've come to the conclusion that must books are rejected by
> traditional presses for one simple reason, and one simple reason alone.
> They're not very good.
> They may be preposterous or inept, hackneyed or incomprehensible
> gibberish, clumsy or poorly structured or any of a multitude of other
> sins, but most rejected works share one thing in common. They're not
> what the publisher is looking for, or not good enough to put in the
> editorial time to make better.
> There's no big conspiracy.
> The clarion call of "unfairness" is just a balm to soothe untalented,
> frustrated writers looking to blame someone -- anyone -- for their
> lack of literary of success. Anyone but themselves.
> Talk about pathetic. Boo hoo hoo.

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