Our question today is aimed especially at aspiring writers out there: “How many times does an author typically get their book turned down before getting it published for the first time?”
To get the answer to this question, I decided to poll a number of Bethany House authors and see if their stats matched. Here are some quick facts.
Clearly, everyone’s path to publication is different, but take note, aspiring writers: by this statistic, only about 25% of our authors published the first novel they ever wrote. That may seem discouraging at first, but it’s a great reason to keep writing and keep improving.
I tried to get a count on how many rejections from editors and agents these authors faced for their novel that eventually did get published, but so many of them said “countless” that it was hard to tally up.
Besides just those numbers, I wanted to pull out a few snippets that tell part of the publication story of these authors. Below are stories from authors of many different genres: fantasy, historical, romance, contemporary, and just about everything in between. Enjoy!
Patrick Carr, author of The Wounded Shadow: I wrote three full-length novels before A Cast of Stones was picked up by Bethany House. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Before those three novels there was a veritable parade of unfinished novels extending back in time.
Mary Connealy, author of The Accidental Guardian: I was rejected too many times to count by agents and editors. One year alone I counted 40 rejections.
Connilyn Cossette, author of A Light on the Hill: Counted with the Stars received a number of rejections by agents (one devastating response made me nearly give up permanently because I was told that it was absolutely unsellable) but there was mostly just a lot of silence and not much feedback other than judges in contests that either loved it or thought it was the worst clap-trap ever written.
Leslie Gould, author of A Plain Leaving: In my early years, I sent three novel proposals, one by one, to the same editor. The first two times, she responded with: We like your writing but don’t want this story. The third time, she offered me a contract. I learned so much between writing that first novel and writing the third one!
Beverly Lewis, author of The Road Home: Since I was writing magazine articles and stories for several years prior to ever writing a novel, there were no unpublished book manuscripts in my drawer. My first published novel was actually for pre-teen girls, which turned into a 14-book series (HOLLY’S HEART). My first book manuscript for adults, however, was rejected. So, I went back to the drawing board and wrote The Shunning, which launched my adult writing career.
Nancy Mehl, author of Blind Betrayal: The first novel I ever wrote was never sent to anyone. It’s my “novel still in the drawer.” Thanks to some great writers I encountered through various online groups, I discovered early on that I had no idea what I was doing.
Tracie Peterson, author of In Places Hidden: Before I was published, I also had a file drawer full of stories that I had sketched out – probably over fifty. I always encourage new authors to keep putting together story ideas even if they are published because this made it so easy for me when the contracts started coming in. I didn’t have to worry about coming up with story ideas, because I had files full of them.
Michael Phillips, author of The Legacy: My first series was rejected over 30 times over a five year period before I took it to Bethany after they started publishing fiction. After those thirty rejections, the letter from a Bethany House editor expressing “cautious” interest was the turning point in my writing career.
Debra White Smith, author of Reason and Romance: The company I published my first novel with decided to cancel their line of fiction not long after my book was released. Then, the struggle was on. I got many, many rejections for five more years. Then, finally, I started selling all books that I had written during the five year wait. When the door opened, it was a floodgate that also involved non-fiction titles and a speaking ministry.
Karen Witemeyer, author of More Than Meets the Eye: When my first completed novel was requested by an editor, I received a rejection letter. They liked the writing, but the storyline was too similar to something they had recently published. However, there was one element they really liked: the dress shop. Could I write a story about a dress shop? Umm . . . the dress shop burned to the ground on page four. Ouch. No tweaking could fix this. I’d have to start over from scratch. Should I just try to pitch the original story to someone else, or should I write a new book? I decided to keep my foot in the door that God had cracked open for me and wrote a new story that centered around a dress shop, A Tailor-Made Bride.
In addition to sharing their numbers of rejections, authors also flooded my inbox with encouragement and advice for writers out there who may have had a bad pitch session with an editor or received disappointing news after a conference. Here they are…bookmark this post and come back to it whenever you need a pick-me-up from authors who have been there.
Davis Bunn, author of The Domino Effect: There are a number of crucial lessons I learned during that hardship—and there is no other word to describe what it was like, struggling to find the time and creative energy and determination to forge ahead, in the face of constant rejection. But the most important by far was committing to the creative discipline. Regardless of everything else the day holds, then and now, I must face the challenge of the empty page.
Morgan Busse, author of The Mark of the Raven (coming November 2018): Write the story on your heart. I wrote and rewrote my story a half dozen times because I loved that story; it was a part of me that I wanted to share with the world no matter how long it took or how many times I needed to change it as I grew as a writer. Six years later after my first book released, I still love that story. I love all of my stories, they are my love offering to God.
Elizabeth Camden, author of A Daring Venture: I think a new writer should have at least three manuscripts under their belt before diving into self-publishing. You will be surprised at how much stronger your writing gets after a few years of careful study and honing your craft. Also, rejected manuscripts are normal, but they HURT…no one knows that more than a fellow author whose had that kick in the teeth. Get up, brush yourself off, and study not only your own writing, but other great writers and craft books. Don’t forget the market, either. People often belittle ‘writing to the market,’ but it is a reality, and if you understand how your novel can appeal to the market, you may have a much easier time of things.
Patrick Carr author of The Wounded Shadow: Look at your writing career as if you were learning how to make furniture. Just as it takes time and effort to become a master carpenter, it takes time and effort to become a writer good enough to get published. There’s no substitute for working the craft. Be patient.
Mary Connealy, author of The Accidental Guardian: Success favors the persistent. Write and keep writing—like all skills it takes practice. I don’t think you can be taught to LOVE writing, because it’s a weird activity honestly: sitting by yourself, makin’ stuff up. A lot of people just aren’t suited for it. If you love to write, then everything else is CRAFT and you can learn that with hard work. To learn the craft, I recommend: taking online classes, joining writer’s organizations like ACFW, entering writing contests (this is what lead me to publication, plus you get neutral eyes on your manuscript and a critique from someone who does not love you like your mother), belonging to a critique group, attending a writer’s conference, looking at publisher and agent manuscript submission policies (often on their website).
Connilyn Cossette, author of A Light on the Hill: My advice would be to expect rejection and make a plan of how you will deal with it when it happens. If you go into the experience with an attitude that it will be a marathon and not a sprint and that along the way there will be many people that just do not “get” your work or won’t connect with your writing style, then you can be better prepared to weather the sting of rejection. And planning for and expecting rejection is great practice for when you are published and the inevitable one-star, sometimes extremely harsh, reviews begin to appear.
Julianna Deering, author of Death at Thorburn Hall: Keep trying! I wasted years on discouragement instead of dusting myself off and trying again. It was a bad choice on my part. Keep working, keep improving, keep trying!
Amanda Dykes, author of Whose Waves These Are (coming spring 2019): I wish I had begun from the very beginning with the mindset that none of this is wasted. Not the learning, the rejection, the growth, the struggles, the rejoicing—it’s all a part of a multi-faceted journey in the hands of a God who cherishes us. If the creating is done alongside the Creator, in close relationship with Him, then whether a manuscript is accepted or not, how can fellowship with our God ever be wasted? And if we trust that He truly does know and love our hearts, and has such a breathtakingly personal plan or each one of us, could it be that I could place my heart in a position that it would be just as grateful for rejections as it might be for “yes” answers? Not to gloss over disappointment, but to feel very natural feelings of disappointment or excitement, then ultimately surrender those feelings to Him, thanking Him for whatever has happened. That was a very difficult, but very freeing place to reach.
Angela Hunt, author of Judah’s Wife: Trying to write a novel right out of the gate is like trying to climb Everest without any practice. You may make it, but you’re more likely to suffer extreme pain. Learn the craft first, learn how to tell a story, and establish a reputation for professionalism. I wrote for five years before I ever sold a book, and five years more before I published my first adult novel. Learning—and growing so you have something to write about—takes time. Don’t be in a hurry, but let the Lord open the doors in His time.
Kristi Ann Hunter, author of A Defense of Honor: Get used to rejection. Even once your published, there’s rejection from reviewers and blogs and contests. Really, the hits just keep coming. Write your book for the people that love it and let the rest of it fall by the wayside.
Melissa Jagears, author of A Chance at Forever: It’s much harder and longer to get picked up than you might imagine, but when it happens it’s a whirlwind, so you need to be prepared. I noticed that published authors were all working on several books at once. So I set myself up to work just like them so I’d be ready. I was practicing brainstorming one book, writing another, editing another, and marketing another (building platform). You don’t know which book is going to garner interest, so write them all. The more your write, the better you get, not a single book will be wasted, even if it forever remains “in the drawer.”
Regina Jennings, author of Holding the Fort: Write because it’s what God called you to do and leave the results up to Him.
Ronie Kendig, author of Crown of Souls: Admittedly, it’s tough to stay in the game or even want to stay in the game when rejections are outweighing the acceptance or even positive feedback. Ultimately, rejection comes whether you’re “aspiring” or published, because you’re going to have readers who won’t “get” or like your book. Their rejection doesn’t define you as a writer. Writing does–writing makes the writer. So just keep writing, and trust God with the outcome.
Beverly Lewis, author of The Road Home: It was helpful to me to make a notebook of rejection slips to chronicle the stepping stones to eventual success. Mine was large and very red (for the magazine articles and fiction I was sending out at the time). And whenever I received a “no,” I simply revised, reworked and polished up the piece and sent it back out. Never, ever give up!
Susan Anne Mason, author of The Best of Intentions: My best advice is Don’t Give Up. If this is something you really want, put in the time and effort to hone your skills and keep trying! It will happen…eventually!
Nancy Mehl, author of Blind Betrayal: First of all, learn the craft of writing. You may be extremely talented, but publishers are looking for more than talent. They want authors who are professional, and who know the dos and don’ts of writing. Yes, it means putting your submissions on hold for a while, but in the end you’ll have a much better chance of getting “that call.”
Tracie Peterson, author of In Places Hidden: My advice has to do with how you can improve as a writer. Read—everything and anything. Reading is the best self-training ground for writers. Do your research. Even contemporaries demand accurate research, and speaking from an editor’s experience, I seldom read past the first few research mistakes, because it said to me the writer didn’t care enough to do their job.
Sarah Loudin Thomas, author of The Sound of Rain: My advice is to not beat yourself up for being disappointed or even envious. Of course you feel that way! But you wouldn’t be doing this if you didn’t think you had a message worth sharing. Having something you value rejected is going to hurt. Own it and keep trying anyway.
Becky Wade, author of Falling for You: If you’re receiving rejections, that means you’re doing exactly what you should be doing—taking action toward your goal! Rejections aren’t fun to receive, yet they are badges of accomplishment. Many who want to write a book will never complete a full manuscript. Many will not have the courage to put their work out there or to forge on in the face of rejections. Only those who persevere through those challenges will see their work in print.
Jill Williamson, author of King’s War: No one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can write the stories you have to tell. Write those stories! But sometimes you have to put down the story that is getting so much rejection and write something new. Then write another story and another. At some point, one of those stories will find the right editor at just the right time. So, respect your dream enough to do hard things and keep on writing.
Karen Witemeyer, author of More Than Meets the Eye: Work to develop a tough skin and a teachable spirit that receives criticism with objectivity. Rejection doesn’t end when the book contract arrives. I still have ideas rejected by my editors, face stinging reviews, and every time a book fails to final in a contest, rejection hits again. You can’t escape it, so you need to find a way make it work for you. Let it spur you on to even better craft and more gripping characters. Let it foster compassion in your heart for other struggling writers. Let it keep you humble so that you can be pliable clay in the potter’s hand.
Jaime Jo Wright, author of The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond: When facing rejection, look at the criticism constructively. It is NOT a personal attack. Be cautious of reading between the lines and inserting tone or words that the editor/agent did not include. For example: If the editor writes “At this time, this manuscript does not fit our current publishing needs,” do not read it as “you stink as a writer and until you magically better yourself, you should take up paper mache.” Be encouraged, dear writer! Push on!
If you’re interested in more posts on the craft of writing, next week I’ll be interviewing several of our editors to see what makes a manuscript stand out to them. Follow the blog so you’ll be sure to see it!