Knocked Down, Not Out

No one likes rejection—at least I don’t. But it’s part of the publishing world. One of the keys from my view is how you handle such rejection. When you get knocked down, are you out for the count? Or do you get back up and try again?

Crusader's CrossIn the August 21st issue of Publisher’s Weekly, the editors include little pithy comments about various bestselling authors. This note caught my attention, “A rare winner of two Edgar Awards for Best Crime Novel of the Year, James Lee Burke has come a long way since his novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years (and upon publication in 1986 was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize). Crusader’s Cross is the 14th novel in his bestselling Dave Robicheaux series. Burke’s most recent hardcover, Pegasus Descending, is #10 on hour hardcover list. Crusader’s Cross currently has 275,000 copies in print.” Crusader’s Cross was a new entry on the mass market paperback bestseller list at #14.

Did you spot the little detail that caught my attention in this quotation? How do you keep going if you’ve been rejected over 100 times for the same manuscript and over a period of nine years? It is an unusual amount of persistence and belief in the face of incredible odds. I went to find more information so I googled and found an interview with Burke which Christianity Today published in 2004. This article has some great quotes and insight about writing so I recommend you look at the entire piece—but here’s what I found about Burke’s attitude and persistence:

The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times, and that’s when I met my current agent, Philip Spitzer. He was driving a cab in Hell’s Kitchen [New York City], and he took my account. He was my cousin Andre Debusse’s agent and Andre, at that time, did not have the recognition that he has today. But Philip kept the work under submission all those years and Louisiana State University Press published it.”

“I really learned an old lesson that I had learned as a young man: You do it a day at a time. You write as well as you can, you put it in the mail, you leave it under submission, you never leave it at home. I had a rule for myself, I’d never leave a manuscript at home longer than 36 hours. It would be back under submission in a day-and-a-half. But I realized that an artist will never have any serenity unless he accepts the following premise: You write as well as you can, or you create a song or a sculpture or a painting, and then you turn it loose, you turn it over to some power outside of yourself and you don’t worry about its fate. If you do that, success and money and fame, all that stuff, will find you of their own accord, not because you seek them.”

Each us have today—to write as well as we can, then put it into the mail (or email). We turn our work loose “to some power outside of ourselves and don’t worry about its fate.”

7 Responses to “Knocked Down, Not Out”

  1. Cara Putman Says:

    Thanks for the post and highlighting his perspective. The challenge really is to make sure we are writing what God puts on our heart and then releasing that baby to His care as we send it into the world. There has to be a sense of rest rather than striving when we can reach that point.

  2. Jerome Says:

    It just goes to show you that you can never give up. Persistence, persistence, persistence.

  3. Crystal Says:

    This is a great story. I have quite a collection of these type of stories–persistence, continuing knocking on the door, picking yourself up. One of the books you wrote with Vonetta Flowers really demonstrates this principle with a twist(her story as an Olympic bobsledder.) I think the hardest thing to figure out is when should you continue to submit, and when do you stop and do something different with it? (If anything?)It’s a tough call. You have to really believe in what you’re doing. But we love stories of faith and persistence.

  4. Bucktowndusty Says:

    Thoughts captive by shackles of skullen wall within the mind are non-existent.

    This thought pardoned by script exists and is free forever.


  5. owlhaven Says:

    I just finished your book about writing NF book proposals, and dog-eared lots of pages.



  6. R. K. Mortenson Says:

    Two years ago, I shared part of a WIP with a local writers’ group. Afterward, the leader of the group asked if I had submitted it anywhere. “Not yet,” I said. Looking me dead in the eye, she said: “Get it out there. You never know what might happen.”

    Great, encouraging post. To strive to write well, and then to overcome fear and hesitation and “get it out there.” And then — to keep on getting it out there…

  7. Linda Says:

    When I came home from work today, I had an email rejection waiting for me. After I read it,I swallowed my pride, chalked it up to the writing experience and said a little prayer. The very next message I opened up was from a freelancer I met at a writing conference. She listed four current successful ventures, from humor writing to reviewing to how many newspapers feature her column. Talk about salt in the wound! I had to laugh or I’d cry! Next I considered either picking up the Bible or researching how successful authors have handled their rejections. Instead, I opened up “Knocked Down, Not Out,” and had to laugh again. Perfect timing! I’m inspired to submit to another publisher tonight! Great article.

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