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Melanie Benjamin

Melanie Benjamin

Posted: September 29, 2010 02:22 PM

Writers are mad these days. Spittin' mad. They're mad at the world, they're mad at readers, they're mad at agents, they're mad at publishers. And I don't understand it.

Now, I think it's a mad world, period. Etiquette has gone out the window; we tweet our every -- angry -- thought and don't care who reads it. We fire off grumpy emails without thinking about the consequences. Instant communication and instant news have fueled the demand for instant gratification and when we don't get it, we burn.

Writers have always had short fuses. I'm not immune to the love/hate relationship most authors have with publishing in general. We love it because we want to be part of it; we hate it because it's so full of rejection and disappointment.

I have had my fair share of rejection. Many agented books that were never sold; a couple of published books several years ago that I'd rather not think about. Oddly, I garnered more rejection after I was published than I did prior. Or maybe not so oddly; maybe that's the way it is for many authors.

Anyway, this is just to say that I know my way around the blunt end of a rejection letter.

But something is happening these days that I don't understand.

The blogosphere and Twittersphere are full of authors spewing hatred toward publishing professionals. Agents who reject them get a big ol' "Screw you, you don't know what you're doing." Ditto with editors. And the ease of self-publishing is fueling this; it's fueling the rage at the so-called "gatekeepers" and allowing authors to vent without fear of reprisal because they're just going to flounce off and publish their books by themselves. (But always with the hope that a big publisher will read it and offer them a contract -- still the definition of self-publishing success.)

Why give an agent 15% to do what I can do on my own? they ask huffily. What do they know about the quality of literature today? Who needs an editor, anyway?

Well, I do.

This is what is puzzling me -- this knee-jerk reaction from so many authors that they don't need help. That they're ready to be published today. That they know more than professionals who have been working in publishing for decades.

It never, ever occurred to me to react this way when I was a citizen of Rejection City.

When I got nothing but agent form rejections for my first novel, I did not say, "Well, what do you know? I'm going to publish this myself!" Instead, I said, "Hmmm. I guess I'm not quite there yet. I'd better work harder and write something else." Wash, rinse, repeat; I went through this sequence several times before finding an agent.

When I was struggling to publish again after my first couple of books, I never said, "Boy, did everybody screw these books up!" No, I said, "Well, I guess it really is difficult to find readers these days. I'd better work harder and write something else; something bigger, something better."

I'm not saying that publishing is perfect. I'm not saying that mistakes aren't made, that publicity and marketing budgets aren't tight, that every book gets a fair chance out of the gate. They don't, and that's a painful reality.

I am saying, however, that never have I thought, like a rejected lover, "Well, it's not me, it's them!" Always, I have considered how I can improve, how much more I can learn. I have gotten angry, but I have always used that anger to fuel my desire to be a better writer.

The thing is, in a tough publishing climate authors need to push themselves outside of their comfort zones. Having a tough time getting another contract for those cozy mysteries you've been writing for so long? Maybe the cozy mystery genre is getting too tight. Maybe you need to push yourself, stretch yourself as a writer and aim for the bleachers instead of being content with a base hit.

Awash in rejection letters? Maybe all these publishing professionals know what they're talking about. Maybe you shouldn't just throw this up as an eBook and subject the world to unedited, unpolished prose. Maybe you should go back to the drawing board and try again. And again, and again.

I have published three novels, with a fourth coming out next year. I have not published five complete manuscripts and three partials. Why? Well, because they just weren't good enough. Because I had something more to learn. Because in a difficult marketplace, what got an author published five years ago isn't going to today. So I had to try harder.

And you will never, ever see those unpublished manuscripts in any form, because they do not represent my best work. Not everything we write should be published. No matter where you are in your career -- unpublished, just published, formerly published -- you are still capable of being a better writer.

And we all need good editors.

So stop the insanity already. Self-publishing has always been a viable option for certain books, but it shouldn't be a repository for unpolished work written by frustrated authors. Readers just don't deserve that.

The reality is, sometimes it is you. Not them. There's no reason to get angry -- just get even. By starting over again -- and again, and again -- and writing a better novel.

 

Follow Melanie Benjamin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MelanieBen