WORDS, WORDS, WORDS...

PERSISTENCE BY THE NUMBERS

It is inevitable. Anyone who wants to be an artist will hear that it's all about persistence. There will be a lot of rejection, they say. Unfortunately, they can't ever give you an actual number. It would be better if they could. Most prisoners go to jail and can see the end in sight. But when you become an artist, you don't know if you're in for five years or a lifer with no chance of parole.

There are a lot of famous rejection stories. Agatha Christie was rejected for years. J.D. Salinger was told his central character was lacking in Catcher in the Rye.  J.K. Rowling posted her rejection letters online. (You can read more great rejection stories here). We enjoy these stories because they're a great testament to perseverance. But they don't really help us break down the numbers. Agatha Christie was rejected for five years - but what exactly does that mean?

I can't speak for Dame Christie, but I can speak for myself. It took five years to publish my first novel, "The Thunder of Giants". And thanks to my meticulous record keeping, here's what that means:

  • DRAFTS: 12

  • WORDS IN FIRST DRAFT: 135, 504

  • WORDS IN FINAL DRAFT: 81 143

  • LITERARY AGENTS CONTACTED: 87

  • LITERARY AGENTS WHO REPLIED: 39

  • LITERARY AGENTS WHO REQUESTED MATERIALS: 12

  • OFFERS OF REPRESENTATION: 1

  • PUBLISHERS CONTACTED ON MY OWN: 19

  • PUBLISHERS MY AGENT CONTACTED: 20

  • PUBLISHERS WHO REPLIED WITH A REJECTION: 13

  • PUBLISHERS WHO WANTED A REVISION: 2

  • PUBLISHERS WHO PUBLISHED MY BOOK: 1 (thanks St. Martin's Press!)

I've never broken this down with any of my other work - my plays, my screenplays, my short fiction, my freelance writing..... It's probably better that way. If we told aspiring artists the numbers, they probably wouldn't be aspiring anymore. As with love, it might be best not to know how many times someone is going to turn you down. (If I only had a list of how many girls have turned me down over the years....or replied with a request for a revision....what a blog post that would be!)