Waiting to hear from a publisher is a mug’s game
I’ve just finished writing the biography of the nineteenth-century Ukrainian poet and songster, Benjamin Ehrenkranz. Yes, he’s totally forgotten today, but back then, his tunes and words of protest drew quite a crowd. Wild, unconventional, itinerant, he was the sort of man who shared with the poorest, squandered the rest, and was usually unable to pay for his own breakfast.
By the time he was in his fifties, Ehrenkranz had tired of the roving lifestyle and constant poverty. He completed his poem, Romanyeh, an attack on that country’s corrupt government and unjust monarch, printed off copies, sent one to Albert Kohn, then in charge of a great Parisian library. Kohn often helped writers, found subsidies for them, presented their work in the highest circles, and Ehrenkranz was certain he’d be helped too.
He waited for Kohn’s response. And waited some more. Time passed. He heard nothing. He was frustrated. Then angry. Then bitter. He ranted, he raved; he appealed to friends to ask Kohn why he was being ignored.
One hundred and fifty years have passed: Ehrenkranz’s work is still there, in that Paris library — I know it is, because I’ve touched it, turned its yellowed and brittle pages — but Kohn never did write back. Why didn’t he? What happened? And… isn’t this the sort of thing most writers go through?
We send off a manuscript and, like any lovesick hopeful in an affair that’s off to a bad start, we’re in a dismal frame of mind. We’re moody, unpleasant; we open our letterbox many times, check our emails a hundred times a day. We wait for the phone to ring. We live in a tragic malaise, ever hoping for the words that tell us we’re wanted, we’re essential, we’re truly loved for our charm, and talent, and wit, and perception, and soul. And every day that passes without a response, there’s more heartbreak. We now begin to doubt our own worth, the value of our message. All that joy and ecstasy we felt when finishing the manuscript has quite vanished.
Well folks, it’s time to accept we’re doing something very wrong. Like a too-charismatic potential mate who is deluged by supplicants, publishers (and agents) receive hundreds of submissions from writers every week. If we’re unlucky, a response never comes. If we’re lucky, it will take months before one arrives, and when it does, it’s usually a refusal letter. And that feels like the end of the world too because, as in unrequited love, we’ve become fixated on one particular person, one publisher. We’ve imagined the meetings, the acceptance, the success story a thousand times over, and now there’s nothing left but the ashes of burnt hope.
Is it any comfort knowing this happens to pretty well every serious and talented writer? And why are we so upset when someone we don’t even know rejects us? Pretty silly, isn’t it.
Here’s how to ease the pain:
1) Submit that manuscript elsewhere, to many, many places. Sitting around, waiting for one or two answers, is a waste of time and energy. The more we send our work out, the more chance we have of success. And when rejections come in, we won’t feel miserable because we know there are other copies out there.
2) For every reject, re-submit elsewhere immediately.
3) Get to work writing something else. Start that new manuscript there was no time to write before.
4) Start any project that will give a feeling of satisfaction: growing vegetables, learning to play a musical instrument, weaving, painting, house renovation, volunteer work.
And never, ever forget there are many potential lovers — and publishers — in the world, not just one. Or two. Or five. Or twenty. Or a hundred.
(First published on Savvy Author's Blog)