In an age of instantaneous data sharing and a cultural factoidal fetish, it seems strange that imagination is continuing to flourish. I can understand the need for new artistic minds to draw up concepts for new cars, musicians to compose new soundtracks for the movies made by new-age bohemians, and script writers to offer tantalizing dialogue to keep viewers coming back for more.
All of that makes sense to me, and I think it is a wonderful sort of Petri dish that allows many ideas to combine and grow into something beautiful. Like a large scale work of mixed media that stretches over the continents. Truly, when I step back and really think about how art of all forms is valued by the world, it renews my hope that humanity really isn't that far off course.
What I fail to understand though, is the under appreciation of original thought. Or I guess to offer a more explanatory observation, what is the reason that fresh works of creative output are regarded as foolhardy? Why is the world so obsessed with re-imagining the works of classic rock stars and not in cultivating the new ideas that continue to pop up all over the globe?
Haven't we, as a global culture, learned from our mistakes? Isn't witnessing the sweeping power of almost forgotten or totally rejected authors like J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin enough of a lesson to big publishers that some of the most “out there” ideas are what will shape the future?
I would argue that, yes the big publishing houses are aware of this fact. The big wigs who run these houses are certainly rolling in their beds at night wondering if the author they just turned down is the next Stephen King or Janet Evanovich.
Keep up with Benjamin!
But what about the new ideas? Other than maybe playing Devil's advocate and saying that they are oversaturated with ideas, or maybe being hyper critical and saying that the ideas they receive are no-good, I'd like to maybe paint these publishers in the colours of a wizened tutor. A Mr. Miyagi of sorts.
Even if this isn't true, I've found that it creates in me a sense of determination, rather than being bereaved that I've been turned down from yet another publishing house.
What if (and that's a really strong if, I know) the publishing houses are turning you down, simply to see how serious you are about it?
I know it's a ridiculous concept, and it's probably not 100% accurate, but hear me out.
We know that publishers receive hundreds, if not thousands of ideas every month from aspiring authors. And let's go so far as to say that all of the manuscripts they receive are fantastic pieces of work. As a publisher, how would you go about determining which authors to sign on?
Well, in my opinion the solution is two fold.
First, the publishers screen the manuscripts to determine which already have an established and still profitable market. Selecting those manuscripts, they then sign on those authors with small advances, reasonable royalties, and contracts that guarantee the house will have a steady source of income from the series. This is what I call the “Pulp Phase”. And heck! It's not a bad phase to be in! You're published, people are reading your stuff, and you are putting some bread on the table.
But what about the second step?
Wait, reject them? If they are gold, then why not sign them?
In my mind, they don't sign them for the good of the author. The houses see the potential in these pieces. They can see the glimmer of fortunes to be made, but they still reject them, because they want to refine the author.
Listen. They want to refine the author, not the work. The work is really good, but the work is also a self-portrait the author wrote about themselves. Seeing this idea, the publishers can see where you are in your life, in your professional life, and they want to test you. They want to make sure that this work that you handed them wasn't a mistake, that it wasn't a one hit wonder. If they are going to spend time and money on you, they want to make sure you are as serious about carrying the responsibility of being an author as they are.
But then there is that one that keeps going. Everyone else has given up. Everyone else put their dream to bed, believing it to be a pleasant phase in their life that just wasn't meant to be. But then there is that one writer – that Rowling – that keeps pushing on, that keeps submitting despite the growing list of 'no thank you's'. And at the end of the stretch, when everyone else has given up, the houses open up their doors, shouting praise that they have made it, and that they withstood the fires of refinement.
Yes, I know this is possibly a ridiculous notion, and maybe not a word of it is true. But I still hold onto this illustration, because it gives me hope. Maybe the scenario is false and the houses don't give a hoot about making me a better person. Maybe they don't care at all. But the lesson of refinement and determination still exists.
Whether or not the story is true, the moral still remains. Keep on writing, keep on querying, keep on getting back up after rejection. Just keep moving forward, and then you'll see your aspirations fulfilled.
I'm not telling this to you as a successful, published author. I'm in the same boat as many of you; querying endless lists of publishing houses and agents, just looking for someone to believe in my story the way I do. I've been at it for a couple of years, but I'm not giving up yet. And if you are serious about becoming an author, then you should keep trudging on too.
Every rejection you receive is telling you that your work is gold, but they are also asking if you want authorship as badly as they do.
Make sure you answer, “Yes.”