My First Rejection Letter!

Originally posted 4/12/14 on, the precursor to


I’m really beginning to feel like a professional now.  Not only have I begun to send out query letters to publishers, but I have even received my first response!  Surprise, surprise, it was a “polite decline.”  I won’t get in the habit of posting all of my rejection letters, but the first one has sentimental value.  This particular letter was, graciously, very cordial and constructive.  The editor wrote,

Dear Scot Fagerland, Thank you for your inquiry to our website regarding your work-in-progress, The Evolution of Human

While I share your sense of the need to think deep and incorporate an evolutionary perspective, my acquisitions responsibilities at Hot Button Press have shifted to a focus on environmental science and I am not able to consider new opportunities in evolutionary anthropology, etc. I encourage you to approach other publishers with your ambitious project but would also advise that you propose a single-volume synthesis, as I don’t expect many publishers would warm up to the idea of a multi-volume set.  I appreciate your interest in Hot Button Press.


J. Edgar Anonymous Senior Sponsoring Editor

Hot Button Press

A few thoughts:

The letter addressed one of my most important concerns, which is my volume of material.  The two chapters that I’ve written already are big enough for a book.  While I will probably keep all of my material here on the website, I have been wondering if I should try to rewrite each chapter 4 – 5 times more concisely so I can pack it all into one print book.  Apparently I should.  Wow, that will be some challenge.  If you thought that writing a world history was difficult, try doing it in 100,000 words or less!  Brahms had something similar to say about composing music:

It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is leaving the superfluous notes under the table.

This letter also brought home to me the real-world, pragmatic character of publishing.  We non-famous people tend to envision the whole world of publicity as a magic kingdom.  Just write something decent, take it to the pearly gates, and it will be exalted to the heavens.  But you know what, the publishing industry is nothing more than individual agents and editors with specific jobs.  One editor might have his hands full with books about apples.  Submit to him a book about oranges, and he just won’t care.  That’s not his job!  As a lawyer, I have to understand that.  My practice area is pretty narrow.  When people call me with questions about custody battles or wrongful termination, I generally advise them to try someone else.  Getting published isn’t just about writing something that your mom would be proud of.  It’s about getting lucky and finding an editor or agent who is actually looking for what you’re writing, when you’re writing it.  Don’t look for someone to do the job for you.  Do his job for him.

It is a tantalizing fantasy to write a “Why Not?” response to a rejection letter.  When I read this one, I thought, “Oh yeah?  I looked you up on GoodReads, and your last three books were about evolutionary anthropology!”  Needless to say, that approach will get me nowhere fast.  I have to take each rejection at face value, learn from it what I can, and make the next query all the more appropriate and focused.


Finally, in my studies of the publishing industry, I have discovered that there is a whole small but inspirational niche of Rejection Letter literature.  All artists have been rejected at some time or another.  We love to read those rejections and laugh at how foolish the agencies were.  “See, they’re wrong!”  Apparently, we all like to be reminded that value is subjective.  It helps us feel a connection with our favorite artists.  We begin to believe that rejections like this one are just a necessary first step in our great career:


The Paradox of Self-Publication

Originally posted 2/10/14 on, the precursor to

After writing a couple chapters of TEOH, I am using early 2014 to set up this website and study the world of publishers, promotion, and self-publication.  Chapter 1 of my book discusses the fast-changing pace of lifestyle and technology in the 21st century.  I have found that the publishing world is caught up in sea changes too.  I started writing TEOH in 2009.  The blogosphere was already well-established but still fairly new and growing quickly.  It also happened to be right at the beginning of the e-book revolution.  The Kindle was launched in 2007, the Nook in 2009 and the iPad in 2010.  The growth of E-book sales has been so dramatic in this decade that some experts are wondering which quarter it will be now when e-book sales overtake the market share of print books.  What does all this mean for a small-time writer?

The obvious advantage to 21st-century authorship is that I am now able to post a blog like this and instantly put my work online for worldwide access.  The disadvantage is that every aspiring writer in the world has the same opportunity!  The result is a flood of drivel.  Lost in the sea of self-published content, I am still just as invisible as ever.  A Google search will bury my blog behind 10 or 100 pages of results, many of which are on completely unrelated subjects.  I’ve heard it said that public attention is becoming the world’s scarcest resource.  This is the paradox of self-publication.  Where this leaves us is that big publishers are still necessary gatekeepers.  Those publishers may be becoming more and more electronic and online, but they are still the few visible channels in this hyper-competitive market.

The transformation to self-publishing parallels the music industry.  Everyone under the sun is able to post their songs and videos online.  I recently heard of the site Forgotify.  It is a gathering place for the 4,000,000 songs uploaded to to Spotify that have never been played once!  The web is becoming a junk drawer for creative projects.

E-book sales are largely driven by commercial fiction anyway.  A non-fiction book like TEOH, especially with numerous references and pictures, is not the kind of work that drives e-book sales.  I’m sure that someday I will consider a conversion to formal e-book standards and a listing with Amazon or Apple.  But, as a published work, TEOH is a better candidate for print.  Meanwhile, of course, I will always have my own online presence here.

From what I’ve read so far, the conventional wisdom is that it takes a few months to attract any attention at all online, and a good year or two to get decent viewership numbers.  That’s a year or two of dedicated web management.  It doesn’t happen by itself.  Pundits recommend having an online presence for at least a year before approaching publishers.  You have to prove that you have the potential to sell well.  That presents a nice chicken-and-egg dilemma, doesn’t it?  You have to be published to get attention from readers, but you have to establish viewership before publishers will do business with you!  It seems hopeless without saving up and marketing out of my own pocket.

With this in mind, I’m glad that I was already dedicated to TEOH as a lifetime project for my own edification and enjoyment!  If I were counting on income or public recognition, I would have given up long ago.  Publication is a possibility worth pursuing, though.  It would add a whole new dimension to this book.  I’ve seen plenty of published books that had very little to say.  If they can do it, so can I!

I’ll use this page of my blog to comment on the world of publishing and my progress toward that goal.  I already have a little secret, a networking lead to a successful author in my field.  Stay tuned!  😛 1