Wussing Out

If my publisher calls, I’m under the bed…


In publishing terms, I’m a wuss.

(Definition of wussiness: failure to do or complete something as a result of fear or lack of confidence.)

No getting around it. After I finished my first novel, a 125,000-word financial thriller called Sound of Blood, I sent a synopsis off to a slew of agents in New York.

Almost immediately, I was contacted by Cristina Concepcion of the venerable Don Congdon Agency, who asked for the full manuscript. I didn’t send it right away, for reasons that now elude me, and when I finally did, Cristina told me she was worried I was going somewhere else! She quickly agreed to represent me, saying Sound of Blood was superior to any thriller she’d published.

Needless to say, visions of sugarplums danced in my head. The Congdon folks had represented everyone from Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) to Kathryn Stockett (The Help) and scores of award-winning authors in between.

Of course, you can see where this is going.

Approximately 20 or so rejections from publishers later, I threw in the towel. I can read people pretty well. I know Cristina was devastated. She really thought we had a winner. Most of the rejection letters were positive, even enthusiastic: It was not the right time; the industry was in flux; there was no room on his or her list; don’t give up.

But I did, at least in the traditional-publishing sense. Next stop, Amazon and self-publishing.

Is Sound of Blood good? I read and review lots of thrillers. I think it’s better than some and inferior to others. John D. MacDonald I am not. (I’m now reading MacDonald’s The Scarlett Ruse, which somehow I missed, and am feeling very, very humble; I don’t even belong in the same marina, let alone the Busted Flush, his fictional Travis McGee’s houseboat.)

I have written more than a dozen thrillers since, all on Amazon, and have not had the nerve to try an agent again. Thus, wussiness.

Am I being too hard on myself? I’ll let you judge:

  • After five years of continual rejection, a writer finally lands a publishing deal. Her name is Agatha Christie and her book sales are in excess of $2 billion. Only William Shakespeare has sold more. (I wonder if the Bard got any rejections. If so, they were lost to history, and any contemporary publishers who rejected, say, Macbeth, were probably drawn and quartered.)
  • An editor finally agrees to publish an author’s children’s books but tells her not to give up her day job. J.K. Rowling has since sold 450 million Harry Potter books.
  • “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Rejection letter sent to William Golding for Lord of the Flies (15 million sales).
  • Another editor tells an author that he has “no business being a writer and should give up.” Zane Grey ignores the advice; there are now 250 million copies of his books in print.
  • One of my favorites: “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.” Admittedly, it was a controversial book, but really. Buried for a millennium? Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita eventually sold 50 million copies.
  • Jack Kerouac, George Orwell, Sylvia Plath, and Mario Puzo were rejected by the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house. (I think they rejected me, too. Go figure.)
  • An author keeps three years of rejection letters under her bed. The bag is too heavy for her to lift. But Meg Cabot perseveres. The Princess Diaries sells 15 million copies.
  • The estate of Jack London has a collection of some of the 600 rejections he received before selling a single story.

That last is not a typo — it was 600! That’s 580 more than I got. London wrote The Call of the Wild. I think I’ll title my next book Call of the Wuss.

Lawrence De Maria, once a Pulitzer-nominated New York Times reporter, has written more than a dozen thriller and mysteries on Amazon.com. His most recent mystery, TURTLE DOVE, is available at ST. AUSTIN’S PRESS (BOOKS BY DE MARIA). His golfing buddies think he is a wuss, too.

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