The other day, I discovered on Netflix an interior design show that was new to me. I’m not going to tell you which one. Suffice it to say that in the introduction, a fresh-faced young couple mentioned (in a couple sentences or so) an eleven-year journey from self-trained interior designer to internet sensation to having nearly 100 employees, an affluent clientele, and a we’re-working-on-it-still dream house with over five thousand square feet.
All the while I watched the show, at the back of my mind, I wondered, What’s the whole story? Interior design is not a field that I know anything about outside of watching HGTV shows years ago and a few Netflix shows. I’m someone whose friends, out of pity, came and hung their own pictures on my walls because I didn’t have any. So I don’t know how easy or difficult it is for someone to go from friends admiring his or her taste in decorating to acquiring a huge internet following with paying clients willing to shell out huge amounts of money to redo their rooms. Not when I have family members who have done the same thing in that amount of time who have neither a huge internet following nor wealthy clients.
I often think, What’s the whole story? when I hear success stories of any kind. How many times have we heard a debut author say something along the lines of, “I wrote a book. Two weeks after querying agents, ten agents were interested in my manuscript. Seventeen publishers fought to get it. Once it was published, it hit the NYT bestseller list, where it currently rests after being on it for six years.” Okay, that is a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one. I know publishing journeys that fit this description pretty closely. So for some authors, that might be the whole story. But those situations aren’t the norm, even if they make for a good news story.
I will be the first to tell you I have queried a book that was rejected 91 times. You read that number correctly. By the way, I know an author whose book was rejected three times that amount before an agent and a publisher picked it up. So in her mind, I’m just getting started. You might be thinking, “Why would you query it that many times? Why not give up on it?” I mentioned that fact not to get into whether or not I should have continued querying but to let you know that this is my reality. And yes, I have felt the sour grapes sensation when someone has talked of querying for a couple weeks only to land an agent. Please hear me when I say I don’t begrudge people their agents. The point of this post isn’t to gripe about that but to ask, are we hearing the whole story when we’re told about these things?
Why am I asking that? Because many, many people over the years have come to me asking me how they can get into publishing. Many had the idea that they could easily get an agent or a publishing deal because they saw such-and-such a news story describing what seems to be the instant success of someone.
During a school visit years ago, a group of kids asked me if I made as much money as J. K. Rowling, because that was their frame of reference. None of them seemed to know that she had received many rejections. This article tells how many.
I’ve heard several speakers say there are no overnight sensations. One person in particular (Person A) mentioned that someone said to her, “Where did you come from? What an overnight sensation!” because she had been invited to speak in a huge arena. But Person A explained that for twenty years she had been doing what she was doing in obscurity before stepping into the limelight. Twenty years of faithfulness.
Those are the stories I appreciate. I love when authors mention how they toiled at it for years before getting the visibility they later acquired. Like Jill Weatherholt who has posted numerous times of the multiple rejections she received, but persevered through. I’m not suggesting that people have to toil for years, sweating and suffering. But I remember their stories more because I haven’t had an easy road either.
This is not to say that authors who quickly get agents or publishing deals have had an easy road. Somewhere along their road they had to have hit a snag somewhere. But often we only get a quick soundbite, rather than the full account.
Spotlight from clipartix.com. Rejected imaged from clker.com.