Wednesday, September 06, 2006

"It's a Tough Business, Kid!"

Much is made in the writing community about the power of rejection—whether by agents or editors or even critique partners. Once published, of course, the rejection continues in the form of bad or seemingly cruel reviews, and if one spends long enough immersed in the publishing world, it’s easy to see that the whole landscape is pock-marked with rejection.

So I thought it might be helpful if an agent stepped out and was totally honest. Even on this side of the desk, publishing can be an incredibly disheartening business. We take on books or projects that we’re passionate about only to discover that the market isn’t quite right, or that publishers don’t share our vision. It leads us to question our supposedly terrific taste… it makes us wonder if we’re even good at this agenting gig at all. The deals we think will make us often let us down; the ones we’re not anticipating turn out to mark our grandest days.

None of us in this business is immune to the discouragement of rejection. Whether it’s a project we love, or our own work, or a book we were sure would hit all the lists, if the stars don’t align like we anticipated, it can take the wind right out of our sails. In fact, by using that turn of phrase, I’m quoting one of my favorite fellow agents.

It IS a tough business, kid, so why do we do it? Why do agents stay in the trenches, fighting it out, day after day? Because of the thrill of seeing authors find their way into print. Because discovering a wonderful project and seeing it make a home at a publishing house is the biggest rush we can ever know. And because we love to see our clients rise like superstars—even when they don’t, we’re still banking—totally cheering them on—for that expected day when they will.

There are nasty phone calls in this business, discouraging emails, and many downturns that you thought might point upward. The book that goes out of print a year after it published, the cover that totally trashes an author’s hopes of breaking out. We see it all on this side of the publishing fence. But we also see days like these: A book that launches with 6,000 copies crosses the one million mark just two years later. The author who begins with 38,000 copies reprints eighteen times to the tune of several hundred thousand. The mid-list, barely noticed nonfiction title that began with 7,000 copies earns roughly $25,000 every single royalty period. The smallish book that never quite hit a homerun is optioned for a blockbuster movie.

“Mama told me there’d be days like this…”

So for every writer reading this, the one who just got a rejection letter—maybe even from us—just know that the trick is holding out for the days when it’s not all a downpour. As surely as someone will pass on you, someone else will see something beautiful in what you’re doing.


Blogger Gina Black said...

You know, once upon a time even the Beatles were rejected. Wouldn't it have been a tragedy if they'd decided to chuck it all and become lorry drivers?

One of the things my life has taught me is that being in the right place at the right time is a key factor in being succesfull. Sometimes that can be controlled. Often not. But always being open to it, staying positive, believing in onesself, and being ready is how opportunities aren't missed.

As you said, eventually someone will see something beautiful in what you’re doing. Thanks for the reminder.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 11:41:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Knitty Yas said...

Being a writer and not having a single thing published is the scariest thing I have ever been through until I faced this market agent-less. Holy Moly! Talk about frightening. I have not read a single article on an author who says that if it were not for their agent, they would be nothing in the literary world. Well damnit, I completely believe that. Sure it's hard. Sure it's going to probably make me cry like a baby. But I can never say that those tears were shed for nothing, and I will never stop submitting.

I do have to say this last thing though, The words in your post, kicked me. Right when that seed of doubt thought it was going to grow into a hell of a tree, your post chopped that puppy down. So thanks for that. :) Know that on the crappiest of crappy days, you are appreciated, even by those you haven't read yet or reject.

Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 12:05:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Deidre Knight said...

Gina and Yasamin, thanks for such great comments. I honestly think that being writers is part of a process that naturally makes us tougher. And being an agent? Makes me personally EVEN tougher. It's all about the long road. And having vision. :) D

Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 12:50:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Brenda Oig said...

My first thought on reading this was, "Did she read my Blog post today?" :-) This was so encouraging when I was feeling pretty low. It was also so neat to see things from the other side of the fence, so to speak. It's a tough business for everyone, not just the writers and I think it would do all of us well to remember we're in this together.


Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 2:33:00 AM EDT  
Blogger bevrosenbaum said...

What an inspiring post--thanks for the reminder that all we can do is the best we can and keep hoping we'll get where we want to go! And you're right, authors rarely think about how agents are equally disappointed when our projects don't go. Will try to be mindful!

Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 8:37:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What a wonderfully generous and thoughtful post.

I truly believe your agency is shaping changes and forging a greater understanding of agents and authors and publishers.



Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 9:01:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the excellent post, Deidre :)

Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 9:27:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Monica Burns said...

We take on books or projects that we’re passionate about only to discover that the market isn’t quite right, or that publishers don’t share our vision. It leads us to question our supposedly terrific taste… it makes us wonder if we’re even good at this agenting gig at all.

Ok, what are you trying to do to me? Knock yourself off that pedestal I have you on?? LOL

I'm glad you posted that you question your abilities, makes me feel not so alone. Thanks for reminding me of that, and thanks for believing in me, especially when I'm totally over the edge, which of late seems quite often. It's your open honesty that I love the most about you! You are da Wo-man, and I'm not gonna let you forget it! Heroine Worship is my speciality! *grin*

Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 11:59:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Pamela Harty said...

Great post, Deidre. Something we have discussed so often. Thank goodness for the highs because they certainly soften the lows.

Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 12:53:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The timing of this post couldn't have come at a better time, right after checking my emails and finding a rejection and wondering WHAT AM I DOING!?!

Thanks for your post and for running this blog, I check in every day!

Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 1:10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Karmela said...

"You talkin' to me?" Karmela says to Deidre in her best DeNiro impoersonation. "Are YOU. Talkin' to ME."

Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 1:40:00 PM EDT  

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