Home » Big Publishing, Joe Konrath, Self-Publishing » I want to wish all of those editors who rejected me a very Happy New Year

I want to wish all of those editors who rejected me a very Happy New Year

27 December 2011

From Joe Konrath:

Just went through some of my old rejection letters. As readers of this blog know, I garnered more than 500 rejections before getting published.

One of my unpublished books was The List.

. . . .

Book Description:

THE LIST is a bit of a departure for Konrath. It’s a technothriller about a group of ten people who each have tattoos of numbers on the bottoms their feet, and don’t know why.

One of them, a Chicago Homicide cop named Tom Mankowski, has had one of these strange tattoos since birth. When he investigates a violent murder and discovers the victim also has a tattooed number, it sets the ball rolling for an adventure of historic proportions.

To say more would give away too much.

The above description was, more or less, the query letter that my agent sent out to over a dozen top editors.

Here are some of the rejections The List received:

Here is The List. I’m returning it to you. Sorry it didn’t work out at Ballantine, hope you’ll place it elsewhere soon. – Ballantine Books

As discussed, The List by Joe Konrath isn’t a book for me. Thank you, and I’m sorry. – Penguin Putnam

Thanks for letting me see The List by Joe Konrath. While it’s certainly not a plot I’ve seen before–at least the cloning part–it seems very familiar all the same, plus the humor in the storytelling seems a little forced and sitcom-ish, and finally exhausted my interest. So it has to be a pass for me. Despite my reservations about The List, I suspect the originality of the concept will prove a lure to someone, and I wish you all the best with it. – Simon & Schuster

. . . .

I shared The List by Joe Konrath with some colleagues here. Several found it amusing but ultimately we felt it was a bit too odd and were concerned about the audience. So I will be declining. William Morrow


I certainly give Joe Konrath lots of credit for trying to put forth a most creative and different kind of thriller involving clones of famous people. And for the most part his wise-cracking dialogue held my attention, too. But int he final analysis, I just thought he tried to hard in this over-the-top novel. I just think it would be a very difficult thriller to sell to our sales force in a major way. The credibility factor is strained a wee bit too much. As such, I’m returning it with my regrets, but with my thanks for the look. – Warner Books

. . . .

In April of 2009, I self-published The List.

As of this writing, December 26, 2011, The List has earned me over $100,000.

Right now it is in the Kindle Top 100 again (it has cracked the Top 100 four different times since I published it.)

What does that translate into sales?

The novel, rejected by everyone, is right now selling over 100 copies an hour, currently earning $3.50 a minute. That’s $210 an hour, $5040 a day. And it seems to be picking up speed.

. . . .

So I’d like to take this opportunity to send warm holiday cheer and sincere thanks the editors at HarperCollins, Bantam Dell, Hyperion, NAL, Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, William Morrow, Warner Books, St. Martin’s Press, Ballantine, Penguin Putnam, Talk Miramax, Pocket Books, Little, Brown and Company, for rejecting The List. And thanks to Grand Central for rejecting Trapped.

Much success to you all in 2012.

And just to show my story isn’t unique, my friend and writing partner, Blake Crouch, recently had a similar experience with his novel Run. It was shopped during the fall of 2010 to a dozen major publishers, all of whom rejected it. Since Blake published Run himself in March, it has sold over 40,000 copies, and is currently ranked at #92 in the Kindle store. In the last 48 hours alone, it has sold over 2000 copies.

Blake and I want to wish all of those editors who rejected us a very Happy New Year.

Link to the rest at A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

Big Publishing, Joe Konrath, Self-Publishing

20 Comments to “I want to wish all of those editors who rejected me a very Happy New Year”

  1. I’d love to know what books those same editors bought instead. I’m sure they were all smashing successes!

  2. Every single one of those rejections is valid, as far as I’m concerned. Publishing is, ultimately, a very subjective business. Agents and editors take on writers whose work has met at least two conditions: (a) they *like* the work, and (b) they think it will sell. (There used to be a (c) condition, works that could be considered *important* but ultimately had a small audience, but those have migrated to specialty presses for the most part.)

    There isn’t a checklist to determine who agents will represent or what editors will buy. That’s largely a gut feeling. I doubt any one of the editors who penned the above rejections would think they made the wrong decision if they read this post today. Just because the book is selling for Joe doesn’t mean it would have been a good fit for them. They have to believe in and be behind the books they are publishing. There are only so many books they can put out in a year, so they need to go with books that fit the two criteria listed above.

    I’m not defending the current state of publishing, which I emphatically believes needs a shake-up (and is going to get one whether the Big Six want one or not). But this post strikes me as a bit of a “neener neener, I’m going to rub your faces in your big fat mistake,” which strikes me as kind of childish. *Everyone* gets rejections. That’s part of the process. It’s pretty obvious from the editor’s notes to Joe’s agent that there wasn’t anything malicious in the rejections, and a couple spoke encouraging words of finding a good fit elsewhere. Whether you take those words at face value or see them as standard publisher BS is up to you.

  3. You make reasonable comments, but in a publishing world in which 90% of the books the publishers choose fail to make money, overlooking a significant number of books by Konrath that have sold quite well seems to be a serious business mistake.

    The whole “not a good fit” line seems like an excuse for failure when 90% of the books that were a good fit were financial failures.

    • Yet publishers, overall (and at least for the moment), still make money. How else do you think they should choose books? No one can know before a book is published if it will succeed or not. It’s easy in hindsight to point to Joe and say, “See! They blew it!” But even in the self-publishing world, Joe is an outlier as far as success goes, so I’m not sure there’s any credible data to be drawn from it.

      • David – Publishers are managing a serious decline in their businesses. They make paper profits by continually down-sizing their staffs and cutting costs (including, in some cases, short-changing authors on their royalties). I don’t think anyone would call big publishing a healthy industry.

        There are many more authors than Joe, including several who regularly visit this blog, who were formally published by large houses that are making much more money self-publishing than they did with traditional publishers.

        • PG, I don’t disagree with anything you said. I agree publishers need to change the way they operate. I was merely commenting that the posted rejections seemed perfectly reasonable to me *based on how publishers currently operate.* I’ll ask again, what is the alternative for how to discover new talent? I’m really curious what you (or others) think, because that’s a really important question.

          They absolutely need to change a lot of their business practices or be completely devastated by upstarts who see the way the winds are blowing (and doing a lot to create those winds in the first place).

          Sure, there are self-publishing success stories. But let’s face it, right now they are few and far between when compared to the sheer volume of self-published work. And as you just said, many already had some kind of an audience built in from traditional publishing.

          • I think what it boils down to is that self-publishing is a business model that is much easier than traditional publishing. You can make money off something that costs 99 cents. You can make money off something that doesn’t sell a gazillion copies. You don’t have to make impossible predictions about whether something will become popular or not. Amazon can make money without having to do any of the hard stuff.

        • Not schilling for publishers here, and I’m loving the new opportunities in digital publishing, a few points, because I like to argue :-).

          The statistic that 90% of traditionally published books don’t make money is not true. The original statistic is that 90% of traditionally published books don’t earn out the advance, and that somehow morphed into the false meme. The publisher still makes money on books that don’t earn out their advances. Joe mentions this in the comment thread of that blog entry. In fact, advances are often calculated so that they are unlikely to earn out based on projected sales.

          Also, it’s not valid to point at the decline of the publishing industry today and say that therefore, it has always had problems. Big publishing is having problems today because of disruptive changes. But before the disruptive changes came, their sales were growing — they were doing quite well for themselves (Some writers weren’t happy about how they were treated, but that’s from a writer’s point of view and not from the publishers’ shareholders’ point of view). So it’s conflating things to point at Joe’s rejections 10(?) years ago and say that since he’s earning so much money now, all those editors back then were idiots. Different time period, different business models, different world. If you really want to argue that those editors were idiots, you have to prove that if they had taken his book instead of another book for that season’s lineup, they would have made more money.

  4. I agree with David on the “neener neener” tone; taking the high road, this is not.

    Nonetheless, the whole idea of a few high-powered editors determining what the public should see or not is short-sighted. Nobody can accurately predict what people will like, even if you have tons of market research and years of experience in sales. Any parent will say they know their kids better than anyone, but it’s still a gamble whether Suzy will love her new pink tea set or shun it for the cardboard box it came in. Many modern companies have just stopped trying to guess; Apple said the hell with user testing and Google just seems to throw stuff to the wall and sees what sticks (which, lately, not much does).

    Personally, the idea of a 100-year-old vampire making goo-goo eyes with some mousy chick in Washington doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. When I read the back cover synopsis for Harry Potter, it sounded uninspired. An 11-year-old finds out he’s a wizard, and everyone in the magical world worships him as the chosen one to defeat the Big Baddie? *Yawn.* If I were an editor and had said that in writing, those billionaire authors could now post my opinion gleefully on their websites and wish me a Happy New Year eating ramen in my tiny apartment.

  5. The question that came to my mind when I read this is why don’t the big publishers have an e-book only (or e-book + POD) imprint? Surely, all the editors who rejected that book for traditional publishing can’t be idiots, so lets assume that the book was too big a risk to publish the usual way. Why don’t the big publishers take the “not quite good enough for ‘real’ publishing” manuscripts, put them through a low-cost assembly line (copyediting, cover art, etc.) and sending them to Amazon and B&N? They could charge a lower price for these ‘inferior’ goods and make a ton of money. I am increasingly convinced that if you are a stockholder in a traditonal publishing house, you should be suing the company for corporate malpractice (that’s a joke, I know our host is a lawyer).

    • In the example you cite, what’s in it for the author that the author can’t provide for himself — and at a higher royalty?

      • The value-add that an established publisher’s e-book only imprint can provide is marketing and reviews.

        • I’ll tell you what my Big Six publisher is doing for my e-books: pricing them way out of the market while providing zero publicity. Reviews? They’re left by readers on Amazon.com, not the result of anything my publisher did to get them. Meanwhile, I’ve sold somewhere between 50 and 60 self-published books today — and at a far bigger royalty than my publisher pays.

          • Patricia, I didn’t say that’s what they are doing, I said that’s what they can–and should–offer as their value proposition in the future.

            • I understand what you’re saying. My point is that it’s too little, too late (for publishers, I mean). Authors have learned they don’t need them.

    • I love William’s idea of e-book only imprints. Though the standard publisher stance at the moment is that it’s not that much cheaper *for them* to do e-books since only 25%, or thereabouts, is tied up with the actual physical media.

      That’s what needs to change. Publishers have to *dramatically* lower some of their so-called “fixed” costs so that they *can* create e-book only imprints that can get books to market in weeks to a month or two rather a year to a year and a half. Time will tell if they realize this before Amazon and others eat their lunch.

      • If the publisher want to lie to themselves and say it isn’t much cheaper to publish e-books, there’s not much that can be done, but as our host points out, publishing is not a healthy business. The slush pile is an asset that can be converted very easily into a brand new revenue stream.

        Remember, an editor has read these manuscripts and should have a fairly good idea which ones can be turned into a decent quality e-book for $5,000 or less. Pay no advances, but give the authors a 50-50 royalty split ($3 on our $6 e-book). If you figure the distributor (Amazon, et. al.) gets $1, that leaves $2 a copy for the publisher. If these editors can’t pick manuscripts that will sell 3,000 copies in a year, why do they have jobs?

        They should be able to do this with essentially zero risk. They need to start now while their name still means something.

        • Do the publisher’s names or Brands mean anything today?

          Look at a few random book covers on Amazon or a local book store. You will find Author Name in bold on one book, Title in bold on another, New York Times Best Seller in bold on yet a third,.. but where is the Publisher Name in bold? None of the books. You know the Publisher means something because you’re “in the business”, readers don’t do that. They care if “King”, “Best Seller”, or “Gripping Title”, or even “Interesting Cover Artwork” is present.

          Traditional publishers are in massive trouble. For them to survive, they have to move offices to a low cost of living city, cut salaries on the few people they keep, and delayer their organization to a whole bunch of editors and one guy that oversees it all. That’s it.

          • Brand may still mean something in ebooks. The self-published slush pile still is full of, well, slush with dubious copy-editing. Some readers undoubtedly look at the Publisher listed for an ebook and move on if they don’t see an official-looking, or familiar, name. A big publisher who copy-edited could trade on that minimum level of readability.

            I know one niche publisher who absolutely does the “we aren’t sure it will sell enough to kill trees for it, but we will do a PDF version.” And if the PDF pays for a dead trees version? Then and only then do they print it. Which does happen now and again for a breakout supplement.

    • There’s definitely room for publishers to add value in ebooks if they want to do so. One new publisher that seems to be doing a good job of this is Open Road Media. I believe they do 50% royalty split, and they put a lot of muscle into marketing. Here’s an interesting article from Patricia Wrede, one of their authors, on working with them.

      http://pcwrede.com/blog/learning-about-ebooks/

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