The “I’m Sorry Your Book Was Rejected” Thing


I meant to comment on this when it happened but I’ve been pushing like crazy on the book and it’s been the holidays and excuses excuses excuses. So I’m just going to do it now.

Last week John Scalzi hosted a debate on his blog about whether publishers think of customers as readers. Now, as I said in comments, I come down on Scalzi’s side in this as I’ve already said on my blog. I’m also highly amused by how quickly the comment thread there turned into All The Usual Comments About Ebooks, which means it was incredibly boring.

However I did want to comment on Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s comment, which Scalzi himself posted, specifically this:

I observed, not for the first time, that IMO the default answer to someone who’s ranting about the Big Six, the evilness in general of NYC publishers (who only promote bestsellers and anyway are only interested in books by celebrities), the coming selfpublipocalypse, et cetera et cetera yammer yammer yammer, is “I’m sorry your book was rejected.”

There’s a fair bit of outrage over this in comments, and I wanted to discuss it briefly because I think it’s interesting.

A few years ago, Ms. Nielsen Hayden’s comment was pretty much universally true. If, starting in about 1998, I received a dime for every time I had to read an online whine like the one described above, but I had to pay a dollar for every time that rant came from someone who was not a writer suffering the sting of rejection, I’d be typing this from the deck of my yacht right now.
It was incredibly common.

But an interesting thing happened in the years since self-publishing through ebooks took off: self-publishers who had been echoing these arguments for years began to get a larger audience, and they ate it up. People who had never tried to publish a story started talking about “gatekeepers” and “dinosaurs,” spreading some of the most pernicious myths about publishing you can find on the internet.

The non-writers spreading these memes come from all sorts of groups: Some are Kindlegarteners, who expect to pay next to nothing for a book. Some consider themselves iconoclasts, and hate anything that smacks of elitism (and for many of them, if you live or work in New York City, you’re an elitist). Some have transferred ideas about piracy, artists, and corporations directly from the music industry without alteration, acting as though publishers have their own RIAA (or will have one soon). And some just like to consider themselves ahead of the cultural curve, latching on to whatever meme sounds like it might come true.

So I’ll say that “I’m sorry your book was rejected” is an outdated response but an understandable one. I mean, “Publishers don’t consider readers their true customers” is a dumb idea, the sort of thing people tell each other because it seems like it ought to be true, but the people saying it aren’t all writers any more.