Most of us writers want to be published, but more than that, we want validation as a writer. If our book is accepted by an agent and then by a name-brand publisher, we achieve some validation unless the reviewers ring in with a different opinion.
The harsh truth is that agents are confronted by hundreds or thousands of queries a week. They may have a toothache or feel particularly jaded the morning yours arrives, or they might be looking for the latest trendy possibility, a quick sale, a young genius that will have a long life in their stable, or dozens of other reasons that have nothing to do with your book but result in refusal, nonetheless. Agents have been wrong many times—and publishers even more.
So what is left for the author? Self-publishing and then looking to reviews and reader comments for validation. Still, launching that first book is a time of sweaty palms for the self-published author.
All of my books go through critique groups, editors, readers, numerous drafts and revisions before I’m ready to launch, and that’s when the fear hits.
Is it good enough? Will it sustain the reader’s attention? Are my characters well-developed? Does the plot flow and make sense? I am a worse critic of my own writing than the cruelest jibe expert.
That’s when it’s time to get out my copy of Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections, edited by Bill Henderson and André Bernard. The book is packed with nasty comments reviewers gave to such famous authors as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and many other authors whose works have endured. Of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, George Brimley in the Spectator said: “More than any of its predecessors chargeable with not simply faults, but absolute want of construction…meagre and melodramatic.” William Winstanley, 1687, said of John Milton: “His fame is gone out like a candle in a snuff and his memory will always stink.” The San Francisco Examiner rejected Rudyard Kipling with: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the New York Herald Tribune called it “A lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.”
A review of one of Laura Lippman’s mysteries said her latest book showed her development as a novelist. I, too, am developing and growing as a novelist. Each book is the best I can do at that moment. I hope the next will show stronger character development, more intricate plotting, a greater sensitivity to the human condition, and even sprightlier writing. But with each book, I grow better.