Many books that are now considered classic or canonical literary texts were once rejected by publishers. Most were rejected multiple times. The fact that publishers once considered books we now love and revere to be poorly written, of little appeal, or simply not good enough is encouraging for budding young (or old) writers. But writers aren’t the only ones who can learn a lesson from authors who remained steadfast in the face of discouragement. Once-rejected but now-famous books can teach us a lot about building a social media following.
Four Famous Books That Publishers Turned Down:
Before I explain the relationship between literature and social media, consider these authors whose manuscripts publishers initially discarded:
- Ray Bradbury, author of renowned science fiction novels like Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, experienced his fair share of rejection. Bradbury once talked about the “snowstorm of rejection slips” he received as a young writer, and his short stories were turned down so often by The New Yorker that he joked about holding the record for number of rejections sent out by the magazine.
- James Joyce submitted Dubliners 22 times before a publisher finally committed to the short story collection. Joyce first submitted the manuscript in 1905; the collection wasn’t published until 1914. Dubliners wasn’t too popular upon its first release—it sold 379 copies within the first year, but Joyce purchased 120 of those. Today, Joyce is considered one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century, and you can’t discuss Irish literature without mentioning James Joyce.
- J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was turned down twelve times by publishers, including HarperCollins and Penguin. Rowling got her big break when a small, relatively obscure London publisher, Bloomsbury, decided to publish the book after the CEO’s daughter read the first chapter and told her father it was better than anything else out there. No need to expound on the hundreds of millions of copies Rowling sold.
- The Help by Kathryn Stockett was a number one New York Times bestseller. It was later turned into a movie that received Oscar/Golden Globe/SAG Award nods. It was also rejected sixty times by publishers. Stockett spent five years writing the novel, and for three and a half years, she received nothing but letter after letter from publishers expressing disinterest.
The Social Media-Rejected Books Connection:
These authors offer a great lesson in grit, determination, and perseverance. But, how do these once-rejected literary works relate to building a social media following? Here’s how:
- Building an engaged, relevant social media following takes time. All of the above novels became renowned literary works —after a period of time. Stockett went through over three years of rejection. Joyce went through nine just to get published, even more before his work became popular. Bradbury started sending out short stories to magazines at fifteen; The Martian Chronicles was published when he was thirty. Sure, you can build a large following rapidly online. You can gather hundreds of followers through sites like Twiends and Fiverr, but are these followers really going to be relevant? Probably not. Plus, they will probably drop off after a period of time. When it comes to social media, it’s all about quality over quantity. One hundred engaged, interested followers that are going to converse with you and show you some link love are far better than five hundred irrelevant followers. There are a lot of things you can do to expedite the process of building a social media following (interact with others, retweet great content, tweet great content yourself), but it will still take time.
- Building a social media following involves reaching out. All of these authors went to publisher after publisher (after publisher). Bradbury once said he submitted some of his short stories to every magazine in the U.S. (only to be rejected). It’s the same with social media: followers won’t come to you (unless you’re somehow related to the boys of One Direction); you have to go to them. If someone in your niche tweets something interesting on Twitter, reply to them. Participate in Twitter chats to get your name out there. If you write a blog post citing the opinion or research of an expert, tweet that expert the link to the article. Sometimes these efforts might not work, but, like the above authors, you also might get your big break: a retweet by someone with a massive Twitter following or a mention by an expert.
- Social media efforts involve perseverance. These authors submitted their books countless times. Stockett was rejected, went back and made some changes, and resubmitted. Bradbury papered his walls with his “snowstorm of rejection slips” and then went back and wrote some more. The bottom line: they kept writing. They stayed active in crafting their literary works. If they hadn’t, we would not be talking about them today. It’s the same with social media: you have to stay active. Keep tweeting, keep Facebooking, keep Pinning. Doing so means that you’ll stay on people’s minds.
- Build, and then evaluate. Any successful writer will say that you can learn from rejection. It inspires writers (and all people) to reevaluate, make some necessary changes, and tweak things if they need tweaking. Social media campaigns need the same type of evaluation. There are some great tools out there that track social media influence: Klout is the most popular way to measure it, but there’s also My Top Tweet, which can show you your most retweeted tweets, and Vizify, which can turn your Twitter activity into an infographic. Follower Wonk is also another useful site when it comes to Twitter: it offers a specialized Twitter search and tools to analyze, track, and sort followers. When it comes to Facebook, Facebook Insights is built right into your account. These tools allow you to see what’s working and what needs to be changed when it comes to your social media efforts. They allow you to make the social media version of literary edits.
Novels and new media really are connected. Ray Bradbury probably wouldn’t be too happy with this fusion of literature and the internet (for those of you who don’t know Ray Bradbury’s stance on technological advances like eBooks, suffice it to say he wasn’t too fond of them), but when social media is growing like the line outside a Barnes & Noble before the release of a new Harry Potter book, these lessons are more than relevant.