by Robert Gregory Browne
I had my big writing break almost ten years ago. I had just finished writing my first book, Kiss Her Goodbye, and because I had been a screenwriter in a former life, my Hollywood agent was able to hook me up with an agent in New York. So I had an advantage at the start that a lot of aspiring novelists only dream of.
The agent in NY loved the book, took it around to his favorite editors and within a few weeks I had a two-book deal at St. Martin’s Press.
Now, without trying to sound like the egomaniac I am, I like to think I’m a pretty damn good writer. And if that book hadn’t sold at that time, I’m pretty sure I would have kept writing, but it wouldn’t have been with the same fire. I would have been thinking, what the hell is wrong? Why didn’t they buy my book? That lack of validation by the industry I yearned to be part of would have crushed me.
I’ve read manuscripts by other writers that were at least as good as mine, or even better, that just couldn’t be sold. Either agents weren’t interested or, if the script got past that wall, editors turned it down. Those poor writers—as good as they were—just couldn’t get anyone to say yes. And I can only imagine how heartbreaking that must be.
We hear a lot about New York publishers being the curators of great writing. We get the argument that publishers are needed because otherwise the marketplace will be flooded with inferior books and readers need to know they’re getting books of substance.
But this is a lie. What New York publishers curate are books that they feel can make them money. While those books may pass a certain threshold of “readability” that many don’t, the quality of voice, plotting and character development is subjective, and acceptance or rejection of the manuscript really comes down to one thing: “Can we sell this book?”
The answer to which often lies with the publishing house sales department, not the editors.
When that’s your criteria for acceptance, there are bound to be hundreds, if not thousands, of books rejected over the course of your average year. And because of those rejections, there are bound to be many excellent writers who are wondering what went wrong and wondering, even, if they should give up the dream.
That’s one of the side effects of the so-called curators. Because of the curators, we readers have been missing out on those rejected books, some of which may well be masterpieces of fine writing. Masterpieces that, unfortunately, didn’t have glittery vampires or a dystopian setting or a celebrity name attached.
After nine plus years in this business, I would argue that the curators are harming literature more than they’re helping. That it should be up to each individual reader to decide whether a book has value, not some guy in an office whose tastes may not reflect yours.
If you’re one of the rejected, don’t despair. You weren’t necessarily rejected because your book didn’t reach that threshold of “readability.” You weren’t necessarily rejected because you couldn’t write as well or even better than me or all of my friends who have achieved the “dream.” You may very well have been rejected because a salesman (or agent) simply didn’t feel he could sell your book. And those salesmen (and agents) have been proven wrong time and time again.
The good news is that none of that matters anymore. None of us need those “curators” to validate our work. Now, the readers can decide if our work has value.
Don’t let rejection get you down. If your dream is to traditionally publish, keep plugging away and you’re bound to make it some day. And if you don’t—or if you’re no longer interested in letting some stranger in an office decide your book’s fate—the alternative is a wonderful place to be.
Robert Gregory Browne is the author of Kiss Her Goodbye, Whisper in the Dark, Kill Her Again, Down Among the Dead Men, The Paradise Prophecy, the Trial Junkies series, and numerous other wonderfully written and hugely selling books that have made him healthy, happy, and wise.
Back in the days before he so deservedly discovered novelistic gold he was the writing partner of a certain LB – yes, we’re talking about our Beloved Leader, Larry Brody – on the animated TV series DIABOLIK (hey, it was a smash in France, which we think really means something) and SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED.
And before then he, well, he won the Nicholl Fellowship, gang, which is, hands down, the most meaningful contest win a TV writer/screenwriter can have. That’s how fucking good Rob is.
Now if we can only get him to write some more for us….C’mon, dood, what d’ya say?