Writers experience a lot of rejection. In fact, an author can experience rejection at every level of producing a book, a kind of mirror image to my little peroration on when a book becomes a book. Like so many circles of hell, these levels of rejection just keep on going.
The first rejections come in search of an agent, a hurdle that has become almost insurmountable for many aspiring writers. Agents as a rule are too fearful of their reputations with editors at the publishing houses to take risks. Plus, since it's something of a closed shop, there are too few agents and they are overwhelmed with manuscripts.
Even with an agent, the next level of rejection is right there -- editors reject your manuscript on the basis of the 50 pages you send them. It would be nice to think they read all 50 pages, but it's not too likely.
Suppose you're luckier than 99% of aspiring novelists and you get past both these hurdles, there is a whole new set of rejections waiting for you. The publisher's marketing team can reject your book for a promotion budget, the sales team can reject it as part of their pitch and Barnes & Noble can reject it because it's on the ropes and wants only authors who have proven successful. The remaining few independent bookstores and other chains can reject you.
Reviewers, rapidly dwindling in number, can reject your book for review. Even a bad review is much better publicity than no review -- at least readers know your book exists and can reject the reviewer's opinion.
And, sadly, readers can reject you. They are busy -- so many books, so little time and so forth. They never heard of you, and how good could you be if you're not in the paper or on the radio.
I had a friend who published a book of fiction and worked very hard on a novel she couldn't sell. After several publishers rejected it, she fired her agent, but eventually just gave up. "I couldn't take any more rejection," she said.
Perhaps this rejection is "deserved." There are undoubtedly some books that don't belong in print and are pretty much of a waste of time for anybody. But there are too many stories of books that turn out to be bestsellers going through their own saga of rejection not to have the feeling that it is mostly just the luck of the draw as to which books get published and end up on the bestseller lists.
My new book, The Grand Mirage, has had its share of rejection already, and self-publishing it may just set it up for more. But I think it's a good book. I enjoy reading it and I'm hopeful that through digital publishing I will find other readers who agree with me.