Monday, February 22, 2010

11,000 Rejections on the Wall, 11,000 Rejections

We've talked about the long odds in this industry from time to time, bros and she-bros, and so I thought I'd use this Monday morning to 1.) give you a realistic idea of how difficult it is to get your work published, and 2.) relate an inspirational, true story of one man, his 100+ published short stories, and his, uh... 11,100 rejections.

Meet Jacob M. Appel. Dude is a doctor lawyer astronaut bounty hunter spy with seven degrees—an AB, two AMs, an MPhil, an MFA, an MD, and a JD, from places like Brown, Columbia, NYU, and Harvard. How he somehow fit thirty years of elite schooling into his life by the age of 37 is a mystery to me. (Incidentally, yesterday was his birthday. Happy birthday, Jacob!)

Sidebar: I actually don't know Jacob in real life, so I suppose my wishing him a happy birthday is somewhat creepy. Hopefully he won't be freaked out when I friend him on Facebook.

The point of this story, though: Jacob has published short stories in some of the most prestigious literary journals and magazines in the country, but he also garnered over eleven thousand rejections in the process. How many have you acquired, gentle reader? One? Ten? A hundred? If so, keep at it, because until you top Jacob's high score, I don't want to hear about you quitting the writing racket. When you're a fancy published author one, two, five, or fifteen years down the line, you can use collages of your rejection slips as the endpapers of your book, or at the very least give it a delightfully snarky title. No self-publishing, though; we all know how I feel about that.

If you've got any uplifting stories of literary success despite myriad rejections, feel free to share them in the comments!

40 comments:

  1. How many for me? More than I'd care to admit, but (holy crap) not 11,000! Yet...
    Incidentally, I read an article of Jacob's in Writer's Digest a few months back (and enjoyed it), but I didn't realize he was so widely published. Writing. Machine.

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  2. Wow, 11,000???? I think that must be a record.

    Rejections and how writers react to them always fascinate me. Some people are terrified to submit because they fear rejection. I wrote and submitted for years, collecting many rejections along the way, before I landed an agent and later, become published.

    Some rejections hurt more than others, like the ones where you're close and in the end, it doesn't work out. But I think of them as part of the journey. Some of them spurred me on to try harder. In some ways, I'm not sure I'd be the writer I am today if it weren't for the rejections I've received.

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  3. I've never understood the collecting of rejections. I read them, consider what they have to say if they say more than "Dear Writer..." then in the bin they go. I once read that every manuscript gets on average 16 rejections so every rejection I see as whittling away at the 16. But unpublished writers shouldn't think once you're published you stop getting rejections- I'm just about to have book 10 out and I get my share of rejections. It's just part of the game.

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  4. He must have enough rejection letters to wallpaper the walls of his study. Or the floor. The deliciousness of walking on rejection is rather appealing.

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  5. My best story? A rejection on a full three weeks after signing with my dream agent.

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  6. I once heard of an author who rolled her rejection letters into beads and wore them as a necklace to her book signings :). I'm thinking about stealing that idea..

    Thank you for this, Eric! I just got back out into the querying game, and this was very encouraging.

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  7. Ok this may be very selfish of me but this post made me happy. It lifted my spirits. Nothing against Jacob mind, but I recently received 2 rejects in one day and that was kind of depressing. I found this uplifting because it tells me there is nothing wrong with collecting rejections as long as one is collecting some acceptances along the way.

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  8. That guy drinks too much coffee. He needs to stop writing and studying and just take a nap once in a while.

    Eric, on an unrelated note, do you have any idea how the Apple iPad is doing? Haven't heard a thing about it since its debut.

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  9. I admire his perseverance, but I have to admit... if he had spent some time targeting his work to editors who would be more likely to be interested in his work, he wouldn't have had to send out 11,100 queries!

    As someone who has to write rejections (for illustration) on a regular basis, it is certainly frustrating to have mail come in that has clearly been mass-sent to everyone in Literary Marketplace. I'd be much more likely to take a second look at/pass along something that was clearly meant for my imprint, and not waste my time writing another rejection to someone who could've figured out that they "weren't right for our style" on their own.

    Still, it's true... rejections do NOT mean give up... just that success may be coming down another road!

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  10. Wow. 11,ooo--I can't even imagine getting that many. But more power to him for keeping-up the work and trying again...

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  11. Wow. 11,000. Not telling how many I've received, but...less than 11,000. Go, Jacob Appel!

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  12. I've collected my share of rejection slips before selling a novel and two sequels to Avon. But the book I sold was not the same as the books that garnered the rejections.

    Submitting the same rejected book over and over in the hopes that someone will love it rarely results in a sale. You have to look at the rejected book with a critical eye, figure out what is wrong with it--and don't kid yourself, something IS wrong with it, and keep writing.

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  13. At least he got the rejections - these days many agents don't even bother to respond AT ALL to the query letters they actively solicit - seems rather unprofessional to me... what do you think?

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  14. 11,000? I hope he emailed those submissions, otherwise that's a whole lotta postage!

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  15. Seriously! I mean if we wimp out over 10 or even 100, sheesh maybe even 1000... Well, there's no excuse for self-pity after this I guess.

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  16. Oh man, that would mean 11,100 submissions, or worse, queries.

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  17. When I signed with my agent last fall, I dug through my records,figuring it would be interesting to see how many rejections I'd gotten up to that point.

    How many? 210 from editors and 75 from agents. Now that I have a piece on submission, I can add four more.

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  18. Could we please ask Jacob to take a few days off and solve the problem in Afghanistan for us? I think this guy could do it.

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  19. Eric: I was in the mood to feel sorry for myself today. I went through the rejection thing and pasted them behind the comode in the bathroom...the kids loved it. I am back at it after two decades of doing other things like supporting those two kids and often worry about running out of time. Jacob is an inspiration, even if he is younger than my children.

    Thanks for this post, for me it came at the right moment. Yes, by the way, I am sending and have garnered a few rejections. One came in thirty minutes. I think I might have broken the record for the fastest rejection.

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  20. For most people, world records are good, but not for this guy! I once heard of publishers which reject stories which SHOULD be published, like Upton Sinclair's the Jungle. WHOA. I liked your blog. Hey, would you like to come to mine? Mine is at http://inkladendiary.blogspot.com/ Of my creative musings and such. Come follow and comment! I’d appreciate it and I am trying to get my voice as an author and artist heard!

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  21. All I have to say is, geesh I hope that's not going to be me.;)

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  22. Seven agents before I sold my first novel. Thirteen novels before I sold my first novel. Not eleven thousand but certainly hundreds of rejections, along with some stories published in literary magazines, an award that came with money, imagine. Now three novels later, I get to do it all again. Nothing feels as good as waking to one of those lovely emails, "" is a very talented writer but this isn't right for our list . . .

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  23. This reminds me of the story that you need to lose 500 chess games before you can be an adequate player. If 11k is the benchmark for writing, I need to step it up.

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  24. I love Rebecca's contribution about rolling rejection letters into beads and wearing them as a necklace to book signings. Great idea! I only had a few rejections before I decided to back away from the process and do some more writing and revision. I'll soon be querying again and don't doubt I'll see my share of more rejections. It won't discourage me. But 11,000? I desperately hope not!

    Carol

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  25. Roseduncan. Persistence and talent does win out. 7 agents, 13 novels rejected. Who cares! Bottom line is you have three published novels! That's a success story. You've proved them wrong!

    Here's a link to an article I wrote on that very subject directed to all those who had entered a short story contest when I was one of the judges. (We've all felt this way -- I know I have!) It's my battle cry for success: Prove Them Wrong!

    http://borneoexpatwriter.blogspot.com/2009_10_01_archive.html (*scroll to second article)

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  26. Well persistence does win out for sure, thanks for saying it. We must persist, I renamed my blog after the book I'm writing but before I did I titled it "my parents always told me not to be a writer." Still I hope I've proved them kind of wrong. Good luck all.

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  27. as somebody who is just about to hawk my wares around... this post has my eyeing up the razorblades!

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  28. 11,000?!? That is really encouraging and depressing at the same time.

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  29. 11,000 rejections and 11,000+ query letters. Ugh...I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

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  30. That man should appear in the dictionary under perseverance!

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  31. I pull my short stories from submission if I get more than three rejections. I choose who I submit to with care, so if I get one rejection -- the poor guy in the slush pile was having a bad day. Two rejections - my voice didn't fit the magazine. (Unlikely. I check.) Three rejections -- something's wrong with my work. Usually I'm right, correct the problem, and send it out again.

    I expect to get a few more rejections with my novel. I love the plot line, I've got a solid critique circle, and I've even developed a readership through my noveling blog, but novels are a new game for me. I don't know if I'll be able to stick it out through 11,000, but I'm game enough to try. ^^

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  32. Back in the late '80s I spent several summers at sleepaway camp with Jacob Appel. Nice kid, I was fond of him. Even at the age of thirteen you could tell he had an unusual mind--eccentric but brilliant. And he lacked that self-doubt gene that most people have. Nothing I just read on his website surprises me in the least.

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  33. I've never been rejected.

    Okay, so I've not sent any queries yet...

    Details!

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  34. Well, as a writer, I can say that getting your work published is very hard. Sometimes it's easier to publish a viagra online without prescription book than any other type of REAL Literature!

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  35. Thanks for this post. I have been rejected a couple of times and I was feeling dejected. Now I can see I have a lot of work to do.

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