Pre-Rejection, Two Ways

Ah, when two points of view clash and yet both are correct! Always an interesting moment.

Here is Chuck at Terrible Minds:

You wrote something. Maybe you edited it. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you didn’t even finish it. Then, you concoct a series of reasons inside your head why nobody will give a hot wet fuck about it. Nobody will wanna read it. Nobody will wanna buy it. You’ve got your reasons — maybe one reason, maybe a whole catalog full of them. And frankly? They all sound good. This isn’t the one, you tell yourself. It’s not yet right. And soon it becomes smart because, hey, you don’t want that thing you wrote out there. This is a sound business decision. This is a practical creative decision. Not everything you write is going to be aces. And so you open a drawer and you chuck this manuscript into it. It lands on top of five, ten, twenty others. A cloud of dust kicks up like an allergenic mushroom cloud — poof. And then you close the drawer.

That is pre-rejection.

You have killed the thing you created because you imagine its inevitable rejection.

I trust you get the gist of Chuck’s opinion from this snippet.*

Now, here is Joshua Bilmes of the JABberwocky Literary Agency, responding:

If I as an agent look at three or four bad books by an author, I am not likely to sign up to look at another. I’m not saying “never.” It’s possible to see that an author’s on a growth and learning curve which I want to encourage. But even for that to happen, the books do need to get to a point where they look interesting. It can’t be 60th percentile work or 20th percentile work. You need to be in the 80th or 90th or 95th percentile.

You can’t count on sending me everything you write, even the things that not even you think are good enough, and expect me to be around for long enough to get to the thing that’s finally good. . . . Sometimes, there is nothing I hate more than the OK first novel. There’s an ill-defined boundary between selling an OK first novel that is good enough to have people saying “this is only OK, but I’m really eager to see more” and “this was OK, but I was hoping for better.” In one of those scenarios, the OK first novel can launch a career which the first novel never comes to define. In the other scenario, the OK first novel can kill a career at birth.

So, dueling perspectives. I think both are right. What makes the difference, I guess, is self-awareness on the part of the writer — “Is this actually good?” — which requires objectivity and distance from your own work. I would suggest that shelving a novel for a year would not be too extreme.

Also, beta readers! Who are widely read in your genre, analytical, and willing to be honest. I don’t think the former two characteristics get enough attention, because I think both are very important indeed; but the “willing to be honest” may be even more difficult to find. I, for example, find it basically unbearable to tell someone that I don’t think their book works, even if I know why I think so, which I don’t always, because I am not a great editor. When friends or strangers ask, as occasionally they do, “Can you just look at this and tell me what you think?”, I do my best to say no, because I am a terrible choice.

Anyway, it’s good to see both these perspectives, I think.

* I should add, if you read through the comments at Chuck’s post, you see he does have a more nuanced opinion than the one implied in the post, and definitely believes in the beta-reader thing.

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