Saturday, November 8, 2008

James Lee Burke, the Pulitzer, Nietsche and Me

Yesterday evening, I went with my wife to her Friends of the Library book sale. As we’re in the midst of re-ordering our library at home, I did not plan on buying anything. What do they say about the best laid plans? This plan didn’t get laid at all.

Right away I found a copy of James Lee Burke’s The Lost Get-back Boogie. I’m a great fan of Burke, have read most of his books, but not this one. Nevertheless it has an odd kind of importance for me.

I was at Bouchercon in Las Vegas where Burke was guest of honor. He said that The Lost Get-back Boogie was rejected 111 times. He thought it was an industry record. When it was published, it was nominated for a Pulitzer.

Now my book, Pilikia Is My Business, had been rejected 74 times, so, when Burke said 111, all I could think of was, wow, I was 37 short of a Pulitzer. Another year, two at most, of rejections and the prize would have been within my reach. You see, my view of rejection is that, in a Nietsche-esque way, rejections only make your book stronger--that is, if you’re like me and don’t send anything out without revising first.

The comparison between Pilikia and Boogie breaks down when you consider that Burke’s agent made those 111 submissions and they were all to publishers. I did my own submissions, most of which were to agents and only about 20 were to publishers. Taking that into account, Pilikia was actually 91 rejections from a Pulitzer. That put the big P pretty much out of my reach.

I decided that with my next book, I would be more like Burke: I would not give up on submitting to agents. Then, when I got one, the agent could do the submitting and collect the rejections. So that’s what I did. The Law of the Splintered Paddle was rejected by 83 agents before being offered representation. Eighty-three! If rejections do make your book stronger, ala Nietsche, Splintered Paddle is a superman.

So now, my Pulitzer counter stands at 101 rejections away from the prize. Meanwhile, I have The Lost Get-back Boogie to read while I wait.


Anonymous said...

Well I didn't keep track of all the rejections my first book got (couldn't count that high) but it was a near Pulitzer prize number, I can assure you! lol

Jean Henry Mead said...

Keep on submitting, Mark. I've heard of writers who, when they got to the bottom of their list, started submitting again to names at the top, and were accepted. Who know what lurks in the minds of editors and agents. :)

Morgan Mandel said...

Let's hope some of your submissions are through e-mail, with the price of postage these days! Most of us writers need to be persistent, but it does pay off eventually.

I've got to get back to submitting my manuscripts again. I've been tied up with promo a bit too long.

People keep asking when my next book is coming out and I don't know.

Morgan Mandel

Helen Ginger said...

I love your attitude Mark. Seriously.

Go for that P!

Earl Staggs said...

As I've always said, Mark, rejections are only a test of your resolve to be a writer. You've passed the test and it's only a matter of time till you make the right connection.

Dana Fredsti said...

My friend Jess Lourey (she writes the Murder by the Month series) was rejected...I want to say 125 or 150 times before finally getting a publisher. And while she hasn't won a Pulitzer, she has got five books out there and another in the pipes.

I like your way of looking at rejections, Mark.

Vivian Zabel said...

Your view of rejections is refreshing. I used to put all my rejections in a drawer, thought about papering my office with them so they wouldn't be just a waste of paper. Finally, though, I recycled the paper.