Skip to comments.The man who turned rejection into a career
Posted on 08/05/2013 5:52:06 AM PDT by afraidfortherepublic
Rejection -- even repeated rejection -- doesn't have to mean defeat.
That, it turns out, is the lasting lesson of the Chuck Ross story.
You may recognize the name; two Sundays ago, I wrote about J.K. Rowling, the spectacularly successful author of the Harry Potter books, and about how she has published a detective novel under the name Robert Galbraith. In the column, I recalled what a young and frustrated writer -- Chuck Ross -- did in the 1970s.
To briefly recap: Ross had written a mystery novel that had been turned down everywhere he sent it. So, as an experiment to see how the publishing business really worked, he retyped a National Book Award-winning novel -- "Steps," by Jerzy Kosinski -- and submitted it to 14 major publishers and 13 top agents. But he didn't put a title on it, and he didn't put Kosinski's name on it.
Every publisher and every agent turned it down. None recognized that they were rejecting a book that had already been a bestseller and had already won the National Book Award. So much for talent being judged on its own merit.
A fine and funny tale, some 35 years ago.
But what happened to Chuck Ross?
(Excerpt) Read more at cnn.com ...
Chuck Ross gained notice when he submitted the manuscript of an acclaimed novel to publishers, who all turned it down.
Bump for career advice.
It never ceases to amaze me just how many people imagine that the way a book is published is simply typing it up or printing it out, putting it in an envelope and sending it out to publishers.
The three critical pieces to getting your work eventually read are: 1) Hire a professional editor. Pay someone to go through your work, find grammatical errors, plot problems, or areas which need revision. 2) Write a good cover letter and synopsis. You have three paragraphs to get across your book, and one of those paragraphs effectively has to sell your book - think of it as how you’d describe the work in one paragraph in a catalog. 3) The sample: The first few chapters of your book. IF someone gets through the cover letter and your synopsis page, they’ll read your sample.
If you consider it logically, this all makes sense. There are maybe ten people in the US who are paid professionally to read entire books, just to read the book and give their opinion of that book. There’s no one sitting in a publishing office who spends their day reading random books that are submitted through the mail.
As for professional editors - again, there’s not a whole lot of them out there, and while they aren’t cheap, they also can be your best advertisers. Even there, they’ll also want a synopsis, a cover letter and those sample chapters. They aren’t going to want to invest heavily in your work without complete assurance that you’re not out to waste their time.
In every business, time is money. You have to use the scant moments of time you get from publishers effectively. That manuscript might be the best book ever written, but odds are it won’t be. And no publisher can afford to sit there and hand out manuscripts to be read on the random chance that it might be great.
Bump for what should be an interesting thread.
Well and truly stated ... you might be a professional editor!
And quite a few people, while they are passionate about their work, aren't passionate about spending money on it with a professional editor. But they'll think about that editor, and start mining friends to do the job they think an editor does. A moderately good idea. Just, again, treat it like you're submitting to a publisher or an editor - cover letter, synopsis and sample chapters. Let those friends request more chapters to go over, talk to your readers, find out where problems are, fix them.
It is most tempting to hand someone an entire book to read. NEVER do that, if the goal is to improve the book. The more you give a person, the more they assume they have to consume, and they'll read it quickly and skip over the problems. One of my favorite indie authors aggravates the heck out of me by using ‘site’ instead of ‘sight.’ I wrote them about the issue and found out that I was the first to say something about it. None of their reader friends had ever mentioned it.
Issues like the improper use of a word will fall to the back of the mind, especially if the rest of the story is a great read. Have your friends ‘pay’ you for the next couple chapters by giving their views on the work, what problems they found and glossed over. The goal is to improve the work, entertaining friends is a secondary goal.
I’ve written six novels and two non-fiction works, one of which is available free over the Internet. I have never tried to get a work published. After years in the industry working for Macmillan, then Random House, I don’t need the hassle and don’t covet the money. The major publishing houses are run by liberals now and are used to funnel monies to leftist, often as a reward for services rendered tot he globalist agenda. If ever I decide to publish, I will self publish along the same lines that Richard Dolan used. ... But your second paragraph (citing three points) was spot on, for those wishing to start the climb.
I have a novel on the shelf that I wrote for my own amusement. Never will publish it, but this topic fascinates me.
Planet killer. How selfish.
Awesome Home Page!
As Elvis would say, ‘Thank you very much.’
I am an avid reader. I prefer science fiction and thriller genres. I read for escape and as a process. I also have a couple of unfinished novels on my computer. Various reasons, mostly plot-related or I get too busy IRL.
However, I am reading a LOT of indie authors recently. I read quickly, so I run out of material if I wait for the *pros*. The indies vary in quality, and yes, many need an editor, not just for grammar, syntax and spelling, but because they often include pages of eye-numbing detail that should be back story and revealed incrementally through action or dialogue. For some reason, retired military logistics officers often try writing as a retirement career and they are THE worst at this sort of listing. It must be because they compiled so many lists in their former jobs.
I think going indie is a viable route. If the novel is truly bad, it simply won’t sell much due to word of mouth reviews. And if it is good, it will rocket to the top via the same.
Indie writers are no different from professional crafters. They create a product and then have to market it. Marketing is more difficult than creating. But the creator will work harder than any publisher and often this makes the difference in success.
Kingu - professional publishers aren’t actually doing their jobs. They’ve been caught before doing this, and this isn’t a one time thing.
You would think that a professional publisher would at least do a search on the book title and name to see if it had been published before.
It’s the same with teachers too. You really think they check your sources? No, they don’t. I had one teacher in 4 years of school care enough to check my sources. If it looks good - that’s all they care about - whether the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed and whether the format is the one that they prefer.
Think about this for a minute - teachers are willing to tolerate, even ignore entirely erroneous citations if they look good. It was depressing. Me and the teacher who did check became good friends.
Exactly what value to their employers are the professional gatekeepers providing?
Would the industry be better if there was a volunteer submissions that people could submit to and people would read the material and the ratings and reviews would signify something that had potential?
If Joe Blow across the street can dig up talent as well or better than me - then I ought to be fired.
I do considerable editing work, and I am willing to edit books at a decent rate if I think the book has potential.
Speak for yourself sir.
A decent rate, once presented with a work you think has potential. I'm sorry, I'm missing how I might have ruffled your feathers. I stated it is expensive, mostly because writers imagine it is done for free.
I've known quite a few who charge an exceedingly reasonable rate of $1 per page; for a 900 page work, just under a grand to edit it, that is very reasonable, yet I've also seen people balk at such a rate as being 'outrageous.'
As it disclosed in the story, the title and author were purposefully left off the manuscript. Hard to do a search for a book title if it is not included. But again, unsolicited manuscripts typically get returned unless it is submitted in the abbreviated form.
I can’t agree with you more on the need for an editor. I recently read an independent book that was a good story, reasonably well told- but the author was clueless on punctuation! He had commas doing the work of colons, semi-colons, and periods, and it really messed up the flow of the story for me.
Publishers don’t read, don’t even open unsolicited submissions, as they are afraid of copyright infringement lawsuits. The way to publishing is through literary agents, and their paid readers of the slush piles, those starving English graduates, and the way to agents is through published authors sweating day job gigs at universities. That’s what I’ve read about the biz. Tough crowds everywhere.
“A decent rate, once presented with a work you think has potential. I’m sorry, I’m missing how I might have ruffled your feathers. I stated it is expensive, mostly because writers imagine it is done for free.
I’ve known quite a few who charge an exceedingly reasonable rate of $1 per page; for a 900 page work, just under a grand to edit it, that is very reasonable, yet I’ve also seen people balk at such a rate as being ‘outrageous.’ “
Depends on the person or the work. I’ve not edited something that long, but for someone that I’ve not worked with before and hasn’t been published before it’ll be 20 dollars an hour, usually capped at something we both find reasonable for length. If it takes me longer, I don’t quibble.
Other clients, other work. I also make a point of not editing for obamaphiles. If I sniff that you’re just parading the usual liberal claptrap, I’ll put it down, and decline the book. If it’s something very worthwhile, I’ve done it for free.
I would encourage the author to repeat the experiment with “Moby Dick”. I would not be shocked if the publisher was not familiar with it.
I’ve helped two people edit their books. For free. One took it to a published writer for further research and editing, its publication is still in question. The other published it through some small press, thankfully gave me no credit (as far as I know), I say ‘thankfully’ because my contribution was minor, and because it is New Age gibberish that I would prefer not to be associated with, and my editing had less to do with the meaning of the text, if there was any, than with the grammar and cliches within it. (Imitating a true professional hack, I kept my mouth shut working with this guy.)
I have no knowledge of the publishing industry. Back decades ago when I was in college and the world was more predictable, I recall being told that there were unpaid readers of the slush pile.
Genre is different, IMO. The readers are addicts. There is no way the established writers can fill the demand. Now that there is the Internet, there are fan fiction sites. These are almost uniformly terrible, but they do illustrate that the readers want more of their favorite characters and backgrounds.
Publishing on demand, especially to the eReader market, sort of fills the niche that the pulps filled, way back in the day. There are no more John Campbells to recognize a talent and nurture it. There is simply the craft fair model of doing ones passionate best and then offering it to the market.
As for the people in the industry, they are notorious for rejecting many writers who are, today, well-loved because someone took a chance on them.
As for the industry itself, I am told by people who have taken their work to agents that the demand is for series of at least three books and there is less chance of acceptance if there isn’t a back store (I don’t know the industry tern for unpublished sequels) available. I have also read that acceptance by a publisher carried with it demands to participate in the marketing that are way beyond those of the past. Writers are not usually salespeople, so this is obviously just another way to reduce the cost to the publisher.
The outlets for dead tree books are diminishing, as are the audience. I imagine that sometime in the next 20 years, the market for dead tree books will be similar to today’s demand for vinyl recordings: a small subset of afficianados willing to pay increased prices for an experience and process which they value beyond others who are acclimated to digital editions.
I’m not sure of your value to your employer because I don’t have access to the numbers. I probably have no experience at all in the genres you buy, as my own reading is typical of the genre addict and I rarely stray from my drug of choice. Just as early adapter foodies will pay for a novel experience within their own areas of taste preferences, genre addicts will take a chance for $4 or less to sample an indie writer via a digital reader. I will add that I read all the time about indies who hit it big in online publishing and are suddenly picked up by established publishers and then optioned by film producers.
So, it seems evident that even those within the established publishing and media industry take note of successful indies. They must realize that there is some value to the talent-finding abilities of Joe Blow.
The indie phenomenon is not limited to publishing. It is now standard in music, film and in craft markets, both the street and the juried trade variety. In every instance, it appears that the professionals became out of touch with the culture and the consumer and risk takers organized to fill the gap. Often, these gap fillers were originally just unsatisfied consumers.
The experience I do have is in the hand manufacturing, production crafts market. 30 years ago, I invented a product for an intense, if limited, market of about 10M that grows each year. For 18 months I sold it retail at street fairs. By the end of that period, I was approached by one catalog and several small retail shops and I was almost exclusively wholesale to every major distributor in the industry within another year. Every one of those distributors, including the initial catalog account, today is just a small part of a large conglomerate that is anchored by sewing machine manufacturers who control their market right down to the suppliers of pins,needles and thread.
With the exception of the initial account, every one of my present day accounts informed me at the outset that they were only adding my product because of customer demand. This begins with the individual consumer who pesters her local retailer who then advocates with the distributor. There is some degree of pride in knowing that it is the end user who influences the large companies to add and to retain my product. Interestingly, when one distributor slows down their ordering for whatever reason, I am inundated with individual requests for the product and the other distributors always show an increase in their orders to take up the slack. Over the past three decades, I have outlasted more buyers than I can count. The distributors themselves are bought and sold like any other commodity and still retain my product, all because some portion of 10M Jane Blows request it and will buy it from me if they cannot get it from a retailer, as the retailers will buy it from me if the distributors are out of stock. It is the product that is important, not whichever industry gatekeeper du jour decides to stock it.
BTW, this is not a consumable product. Some customers have over a dozen and keep buying more as gifts. I have individual customers who have been buying directly from me for 30 years. They buy multiples and every unit out there sells more in the future. I also do zero advertising and zero trade shows and haven’t had to since 1998.
I maintain that no industry can ignore its individual end user base and thrive.
I agree. My main source of income is education, not writing, but I find my history curriculum to be in demand from homeschoolers. The nice part is that all my contracts trade security for lack of restraints. My current employer is permitted free use of my curriculum while I teach there, and I am free to distribute the curriculum to anyone who wants it.
I could have sold an exclusive version of it for considerably more, but then I’d not have the options that I do. I think there is significant room to meet the demand for personalized education that is currently not being met. And again - it all comes down to the end user. I’ve worked for one of the big boys, Pearson, but I would be shocked to see them try to pick me up.
As for e-readers, everything that I do can be formatted well online. I really think this is the future of education. The one school room with 30 children in it is going to die and be replaced with some sort of online model and homeschooling where possible.
The advantages of this format are staggering.
As for the actual instruction, I’m pretty old school. I try to stay away from the gadgets while teaching as I find that they are a distraction and contribute nothing to the process. I go with the full lecture where I ought to be able to speak for several hours without consultation for notes. As a result my lesson plans are very different than most other teachers. As a way of distributing things - the internet is very good, but it’s not so great at the actual teaching process.