Thanks for the Rejection

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We’ve all felt the sting of rejection, whether it’s yet another “no thanks” from an agent or publisher, or a “try again” from a writing contest. Writing is such a personal endeavour that perhaps authors feel rejection more keenly than most.

Every writer who has ever published any writing at all has faced rejection. Even Stephen King, in his 22 lessons on how to be a great writer, includes as his second point: “Prepare for more failure and criticism than you think you can deal with.” In fact, King famously collected all his rejection letters and hung them on his wall with a nail – until he received too many to hold. How we deal with rejection – now that’s where it gets interesting and empowering. Think of rejection as a much-needed kick in the pants.

The only stories about rejection worth retelling are those that have a silver lining. A recent article in The Globe and Mail really made us stand up and cheer: “Hooray! A positive story about self-publishing in our ‘oh so traditional’ national newspaper, in the Saturday edition no less!” They had us at the title: “Meet the self-published Canadian cookbook author who outsold Jamie and Ina.”

Greta Podleski’s latest cookbook, Yum & Yummer, has been reprinted twice since its first publication in 2017 and has sold more than 310,000 copies. It was Canada’s top-selling cookbook of 2018, besting new releases by Jamie Oliver, Ina Garten, and Yotam Ottolenghi. Sales of all her cookbooks together tally more than 2.5 million copies. How did this success story begin? Rejection. Having been turned down by every publishing house she approached for her first book, Looneyspoons: Low Fat Food Made Fun, she and her sister Janet went the self-publishing route. For her latest book, she didn’t even consider working with a publishing house: “In hindsight, being rejected by those publishers was the biggest blessing in disguise of my life,” says Podleski. “If we had landed that big publishing deal we were dreaming of, we’d be right back at our day jobs now. Two authors could never survive financially by sharing a modest author royalty.”

So when you’re faced with rejection, instead of wallowing, use it as a reset button to improve your writing, enter another writing contest, polish your manuscript (or toss it and start a new one), or even publish your book yourself. Know that you are in good company and that rejection just might lead to greater things down the road. Here are a few rejection-to-success self-publishing stories to cheer you up: 5 Famous Books You Didn’t Know Were Self-Published and 11 Books That Prove There’s Nothing Wrong with Self-Publishing.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

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At the beginning of this month, the Whistler Independent Book Awards opened for 2019 submissions, and it got us thinking about how the increasing recognition of self-published books in the awards arena is yet another positive change in the book publishing landscape. The WIBAs recognize excellence in Canadian self-publishing, and two years ago, we sat on the shortlisting committee. The quality and professionalism of the work we judged was undeniable, and last year, one of our client’s novels, Return of the Jaguar, was honoured as a WIBA nominee.

There is no doubt that, whether you’re nominated for an award or, of course, you win one, it’s great publicity that will lead to increased attention – and yes, sales – for your book. And good news: there is, in fact, an extensive list of awards for which self-published books are eligible. The Writer’s Union of Canada has done a nice job of compiling them here. And if you’ve written a children’s book that you feel is an awards contender, check out this list that The Canadian Children’s Book Centre put together. Not included on this CCBC list is the Vine Awards, which our client Deborah Katz won last year in the children’s/young adult category for her book, Rare Is Everywhere (taking home a very welcome $10,000 prize to boot!).

These lists are not necessarily comprehensive, so do a little bit of homework on awards available in your genre – even a quick Wikipedia search for Canadian book awards will bring up a pretty decent list to supplement the ones provided here. And don’t assume that any awards shut out independently published books; check their eligibility requirements (along with their deadlines) regularly to see what doors have been opened. Another one of our clients recently submitted his mystery thriller to the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award, which is open to self-published authors. Who knew?

The opportunity for self-published authors to now be recognized for their work by literary awards is another positive way that the divide between traditional and independent publishing is closing, and let’s face it, being a winner feels good too!

A Writing Toolkit for 2019

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Was your new year’s resolution to fine-tune your writing? Well, even if wasn’t, it’s always a good idea to check in and see if there are any resources that can change your writerly life (and your writing) for the better. So with that, we’ve put together our top recommendations for honing your craft and turning out your best work in 2019:

1.     Invest in Scrivener and ProWritingAid. As we learned at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, if you’re writing your book in Word, you need to stop now and get your hands on Scrivener. This content-generation tool is tailor-made for writing manuscripts and allows you to outline, restructure, write synopses, incorporate background material, etc. while you write, all in the same software. But don’t take our word for it: check it out here. And, want to save some editorial dollars? More and more editors are requiring their authors to run their manuscripts through ProWritingAid before they submit them. This editing tool not only checks spelling and grammar, it also highlights style issues and compares your writing to the best writers in your genre.

2.     Join a writers’ group. There are few better ways to stay inspired and motivated, as well as get constructive feedback on your work, than by convening with fellow writers. Check Facebook for local groups in your city or town; they’re usually easy to join and meet fairly regularly. And/or join a local writers’ society in your community and attend their sponsored events and workshops. Or, check out the list that CBC Books compiled of writers’ groups across Canada.

3.     Stay in the online loop. The Write Life’s 100 Best Websites for Writers is an invaluable resource, year after year. Have a look at the 2019 list here, which is broken down into the following helpful categories: freelancing, inspiration, writing tools, blogging, creativity and craft, editing, podcasts, marketing and platform building, writing communities, and publishing.

4.     Read more! Read more books in your genre, and just read more in general. There may be no better way to improve your writing skills (there’s even science to back that up!). And if you need that extra little push, join a book club. Book clubs are no longer necessarily the boozy, gossipy evenings of yore (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Today, you don’t even need to leave your house to join one. Facebook and Instagram proliferate with book clubs, and even celebrities are “joining the club” with their own groups, like Reese Witherspoon’s “Hello Sunshine” and Emma Watson’s “Our Shared Self.” Sounds kind of inane? Well, according to The Globe and Mail, book culture has converged “with social media and the power of celebrity influencers to become a sexier, more public-facing version of its former self.” And that can only mean one thing: more book sales – and that is always a good thing.

Finally, don’t forget to always have the essentials on hand: a dictionary and a thesaurus. And, to remind you that a) you’re not alone, and b) you’re never finished learning, pick up On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Whether you adopt all of these recommendations, a few, or even none, do this one thing in 2019: write what you love, and you (and your readers) are bound to be rewarded by what falls on the page.