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.