Of course, as writers we have magic numbers, too, such as the numbers of books we write before we sell. The number of contests we enter before we win. Or, the most painful—the number of rejections we receive before the novel of our heart is published. For me, it was 45—the total number of No’s I heard on A Passion Most Pure before I finally heard one lonely Yes. But as you and I both know … it only takes one.
As an aspiring writer, nothing encouraged me more than knowing my icon Margaret Mitchell garnered 38 rejections on my favorite book of all time, Gone With the Wind. Yep, you heard right—38 publishers who didn’t have the sense that God gave a goat to know that what they held in their hands was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that would go on to be the highest grossing Hollywood film of all time (adjusted for inflation). I mean, come on, think about it—what if Margaret had folded on the 37th rejection while her magic number of 38 waited in the wings? Brrrr … I shudder at the thought.
And what about Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, authors of the multi-million dollar Chicken Soup for the Soul series? Their magic number? How does 140 rejections sound on a book that would go on to become a 65-title series that has sold more than 80 million copies in 37 languages? Encouraged yet?
No? Well then, take a gander at the following list and see if some of these magic numbers and snarky rejections don’t help to take a bit of the sting out of some of your own:
Emily Dickinson, only 7 poems published during her lifetime—"(Your poems) are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities."
Ernest Hemingway, regarding his novel, The Torrents of Spring—"It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it."
William Faulkner, "Good God, I can't publish this!"
D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover—“for your own sake do not publish this book.”
William Golding, Lord of the Flies—“an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”
Norman Mailer, The Deer Park—“This will set publishing back 25 years.”
The Diary of Anne Frank—“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”’
Irving Stone, Lust for Life, rejected 16 times but found a publisher and went on to sell about 25 million copies—“A long, dull novel about an artist.”
Stephen King, Carrie—“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”
John le Carré, The Spy who Came in from the Cold—“You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.”
George Orwell, Animal Farm—“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”
Richard Hooker, M*A*S*H—21 rejections.
Dr. Seuss, first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street—27 rejections.
Jack London—600 rejections before he sold his first story.
John Creasey, English crime novelist—753 rejection before publishing 564 books.
William Saroyan—more than a thousand rejections before he had his first literary piece published.
Whew! I don’t know about you, but I gotta tell you—a long list of rejections are pretty much looking like a badge of honor right about now because to me, they scream something loud and clear. NO … NOT that you should hang it up because you’re a loser, although you will, trust me on this, get those whisperings in your ear more often than not.
Nope, it says you are a do-or-die fighter, a human being who refuses to quit, and one of the few people on the planet who aren’t just TALKING about their dreams, but actually DOING something to try and achieve them. That makes you unique, special, and stubborn as dirt. Because let’s face it, everybody TALKS about writing a book, but few DO it … and even fewer have the guts and stamina to go after publication like a pit bull after a mailman’s butt. Unfortunately in my experience, most would-be writers have a Chihuahua mentality—lots of yapping going on, but too much trembling and timidity to sustain a really good fight.
So, 2010 … your magic number? Maybe … and maybe not yet. But either way, there are some special magic numbers you don’t ever want to forget on your journey to publication. Like the 3 MOST IMPORTANT things needed to ensure success in your writing, whether published or non—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. They are your agents, publishers and publicists all in one—LISTEN to them! Their timing, purpose and plans for you are flawless, something I have had to learn the hard way. In fact, if you asked me to reveal the NUMBER ONE lesson I’ve learned as a published writer so far, I would simply give you the same Scripture that the Holy Spirit gave me as my guidepost for 2010—Proverbs 4:25-27:
Let your eyes look directly ahead
and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
Watch the path of your feet and all your ways will be established.
Do not turn to the right nor to the left;
turn your foot from evil.
Translation? At least for me?
Keep my eyes fixed on God (not on getting published, selling books). Walk according to His precepts (putting Him first, praying for myself and others, keeping my heart free from sin such as jealousy, doubt, bitterness, fear, etc.), not looking to the right nor left (comparing myself to others via contests, sales, Amazon rankings, etc.) and finally, keeping my foot from evil by making HIM Lord of my life … not my writing, not my success and not the affirmation of peers, friends, family or fans. Him, and only Him.
Because I am convinced that only then will I experience the most magical number of all: the ONE way to ever find peace, joy and success as a writer.