I just read a wonderful blog post written by a Chicago actress about body image. The advice she was given, nay the “wisdom”–lose weight, you need to get a nose job to get cast, you’re not believable as a love interest (got to love that last one) are all sadly accepted as part and parcel of the acting business.
I often tell people about the rejections writers face. Other than telling us to lose weight or get a nose job, we hear it all.
And unlike with actors where it is usually the women that get this kind of rejection, I think for the most part, it is equal opportunity gender wise in the world of publishing.
I remember it especially with my first novel that didn’t get published because it was too ‘quiet’.
My agent sent me feedback from various publishing houses and editors.
Editor 1. The opening childhood scenes are most compelling. Use more of that thematic matter elsewhere as well. Lose the bit about the Russian girlfriend. She’s not interesting. In fact turn the novel into a children’s book.
Editor 2. The bit about the Russian girlfriend is the best. Lose the childhood stuff. Its all hackneyed and been done a million times.
Editor 3. There needs to be more drama.
Editor 4. There is too much happening in this novel. Reduce the scope of it.
Editor 5. If this is a family saga, we must have more pages.
Editor 6. Open with the last chapter.
Editor 7. Open with the middle chapter.
Editor 8. I have my ethnic novel for the year. Maybe next time.
And on and on and on.
Now the last one about having her ethnic novel for the year I can sort of live with. I tried not to seethe at being slotted into an ethnic novel versus just a family story–although the book was based on my father’s family and we are Indian, the events could have happened to anyone. However that is a battle that will be fought as long as we are minorities, I suppose. I have to come to terms at being labelled thus.
I laughed or cried reading the feedback, depending on the day and as is apparent, altering the novel one way or another was sure to displease someone. It was a game of chance no matter what I did.
The final straw happened when an editor at a major publishing house who wanted more drama agreed to re-read the manuscript. My agent told me that never happened which must mean she liked it a lot to start with. This was my chance so I seized it. I re-wrote the book to be less quiet, added more drama, intrigue. Make it more salable.
The process took me a few weeks. I was ready for the editor to re-read it.
And guess what, she had moved on. And no longer interested in reading the book since she now had different commitments.
I get it, people move on, things happen but there I was stuck with a novel I hadn’t meant to write that I had forced myself to like so I could sell it.
I tried pitching the new version to several small presses but none of them wanted it. Perhaps all that added drama didn’t feel real and I should’ve stuck to the original quiet version. Maybe it just wasn’t a good enough book for anyone to want to put out. I wasn’t ready to self-publish. So that was the end of that.
I have published my second effort and am none the wiser about the vagaries about the publishing business, post putting out a book. It remains a strange, hard to navigate, not to mention completely illogical world. But that’s another story.
I will do this again because I like telling stories. I have learnt a lot about crafting a book, pitching it and once it’s out, marketing it. The greatest thing I learnt given my experience with both books is to remain true to myself. I stuck to my guns with certain aspects of my second novel and am glad I did. It is a work I am proud to call my own.
And so even as I foolishly embark on a third novel, one thing is clear. It will be what I want to write. It is possible that at the end of it, if it is also deemed unpublishable. This time though, given what I now know, I won’t object to self-publishing.