Boo! Getting past the scary part of publishing

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In offices across America this morning, debates raged about the best Halloween costumes – and Blurb is no exception. Personally I’m a fan of the conceptual Halloween costume: a guy wearing a lacy slip with a picture of Freud on it, or the pregnant woman in black with a yellow line across her bump carrying a sign that says “Caution: Slow.” But the Blurberati generally agreed that Halloween could do with a few less sex kittens (too predictable) and more really scary costumes.

Now I don’t know about you, but the scariest thing I can think of is a walking, talking rejection letter. Zombies and mummies I can handle, but not form letters chasing me while droning, “Thank you for your interest in Acme Publishing House. We reviewed your submission, and we regret that at this time…” Eeeeeeeeahhhhhhh!

No one is immune to the terrors of rejection – not even Mr. Scary himself, Steven King. As he recalls in his indispensably instructive memoir On Writing, “By the time I was fourteen … the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

Before his first book was published, King cleaned locker rooms, did laundry, and taught part-time, struggling to pay the phone bill and feed his kids. His first draft was rescued from the trash by his wife, who saw potential in the story of a persecuted high school girl with supernatural powers. You might say she was right: the paperback rights to Carrie sold for $400,000.

Not all terrifying tales of publishing rejection have such an upbeat ending. In a recent blog post, Carol Hoenig reminds us of the tragic tale of John Kennedy Toole, whose brilliant satire A Confederacy of Dunces was published 11 years after his suicide with the support of National Book Award Winner Walker Percy. The title was taken from a Jonathan Swift quote, which seems to apply to the many publishers who rejected Toole’s Pulitzer-winning book: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

But aside from the odd mummy or zombie, few of us actually relish the thought of posthumous Pulitzers. As Hoenig points out, many authors have opted to self-publish rather than counting on validation in the afterlife – Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, John Grisham and The Joy of Cooking author Irma Rombauer, to name a few. Now we have Blurb, and the wait to get good ideas into print is even shorter. Some author friends of mine are using Blurb to improve their chances of acceptance by showing publishers exactly the book they have in mind. Others are skipping publishing houses entirely, and planning to sell their books in the Blurb bookstore (more on that in November).

If this keeps up, my rejection letter costume may not be so scary after all. Got any other creepy costume ideas?

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