An article in the paper the other day pointed out that the way numbers are conveyed can influence what they seem to mean. For instance, a doctor might tell a patient that the odds of contracting a life-threatening disease will be halved if the patient takes a particular drug. This sounds pretty exciting. Who wouldn’t sign on?! But, the article went on, if the doctor points out that the chances of getting the disease are only 2% to start out with, and by taking the drug, the patient’s chances drop to 1%, the patient might re-think it (especially if she or he watches the TV ads that list every possible side-effect). The doctor could also say, with equal accuracy, that only one out of 100 patients is likely to benefit from taking the drug. Again, the patient might think, “Forget that!”

In Michelle Ray’s clever and revealing post on May 30, her numbers told a story—one with a much happier ending than medical statistics. There are certainly times when I wish I could play with the numbers. But, it’s hard to figure out how to turn the 18 months that it took to sell my debut middle-grade book into anything other than a long trek. Since it was turned down by about (I’ve lost track) 18 publishers, I could try saying that I got, on average, only one rejection per month. But, at least one publisher rejected it more than once, so that doesn’t work.

Or, since the book is about four kids, I could try saying that I only got 4.5 rejections per person. But, the book is nonfiction; so, these are real people, and I wouldn’t want them to feel bad. They’re heroes; it’s certainly not their fault the book took a year-and-a-half to find a home.

Now that it does have a home (Peachtree Publishers), I realize that the revolving door of submission-rejection/submission-rejection is not just irrelevant: it turns out to have been fortunate. I can’t imagine getting more careful editing or more support for my book than I have from Peachtree. (More on this in a later blog-post.) I hope all of us writers feel that way. It’s not that one house is universally better than another. But, one house can be better than others for particular writers or for a particular book.

Goldilocks had to reject only two chairs, two mattresses, and two bowls of porridge. Maybe she was lucky. But, even though I was the rejectee rather than the rejector and even though I was bounced 3 times as much as the combined chairs, mattresses and porridge bowls, I ended up in the just-right place, too.


Filed under Publishers and Editors, rejection and success

5 responses to “PLAYING WITH NUMBERS

  1. Michelle Ray

    That’s awesome. And let me be frank: there was some careful editing of the heartbreak in my post. Though the happy ending (or the beginning of it) came quickly, there was so much upset before, and more has come after. I’d hate to do the math of the hours spent doubting and failing, and the hours of work on other manuscripts that haven’t been received as well. And yet, to carry on your metaphor, at least there was one “just right” and hopefully many more for each Goldilocks or little bear reading these posts.


    • Cynthia Levinson

      I’m really sorry to hear about the upsets. Maybe, after eating all that porridge, Goldilocks had an upset stomach, too. Maybe upsets are inevitable.


  2. Cynthia, you’re so right about numbers needing context. I’m thinking that holding our books one day (for Michelle, that day is now, at least in ARC form!) will provide new context for any and all dismal numbers that came before.

    With my next manuscript now officially out on submission, I’m bracing myself for new numbers….


  3. Lynda Mullaly Hunt

    Terrific post, Cynthia! Thank you! Looking forward to your more detailed post on your publisher.

    Natalie!! That’s fantastic–congrat’s!! I, also, vote for short time frames and big print runs!


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