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Monday, January 4, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

When first told of Robert Fulton's steamship, Napoleon is said to have told Fulton, "What sir, you would make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her decks? I pray you excuse me. I have no time to listen to such nonsense."

In the years before World War I, Marechal Ferdinand Fock, professor of military strategy at the Ecole Superieure de Guerre in France was quoted as saying, "Airplanes are interesting toys, but they are of no military value whatsoever."

In 1943, in the middle of World War II, Admiral William Leahy, speaking of the atomic bomb, said, "That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives."

Also in 1943, the chairman of IBM said, "I think there is world market for maybe five computers."

In 1962, Decca Records rejected a band, saying, "We don't like their sound and guitar music is on the way out." So the Beatles went elsewhere. Several years later, a band already under contract was assigned to produce a rock version of Dvorak's New World Symphony as a method of promoting the company's new stereo recordings. Instead, the band recorded their own material, bridging the songs with orchestral pieces. When presented with the final product, record executives completely befuddled. Not only was the record not what they ordered, the British director for rock and roll music lamented, "You can't even dance to it!" Despite dire predictions of doom, Decca went ahead and released the record because the money had already been spent to produce it and executives hoped to earn enough sales to at least cut their losses. Released in 1967, the Moody Blues album Days of Future Past did more than just cut losses. It earned a gold record and become one of the most successful albums of its time.

Skip forward to 1977 when the president Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olson, is reputed to have said, "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

The people who made the comments listed above were not idiots. They were knowledgeable people whose imaginations failed to recognize ideas whose time either had come or would come quite soon. The point of this is not to poke fun at any of these people. Everyone makes incorrect predictions at some time in their life.

Heck, I remember the first time I saw the first Nintendo video game machine back in 1985. I turned to my wife and said, "Doesn't Nintendo know video game machines are dead? Anyone who wants to play games uses a computer now!" Not my best prediction of things to come...

The reason I wrote all of the stuff above is to point out that experts make mistakes all the time. They miss out on the Next Big Thing or offer predictions that are completely wrong. This happens to experts in every field, even -- perhaps especially -- the publishing field. I can't count the number of authors who had books rejected by numerous publishers before finally stumbling across a publisher who was willing to take a chance on the author's book. Every now and then those book turn out to be major sellers. Again, if you've been reading for a long time, you're bound to have read about such incidents.

So why did I spend time writing this? To point out that a single negative opinion is not sufficient reason to give up on something. This, I think, is one of the biggest problems beginning writers have. With great excitement, they finish their first story and submit it to their favorite magazine. They wait impatiently for a response, hoping the story will be sell. Eventually, a form rejection letter comes their way. Instead of submitting the story to another magazine, the writer lets the rejection affect his confidence. He puts the story away and doesn't try again.

Now, I'm not saying the writer's story is going to eventually sell to someone. What I'm saying is that the writer shouldn't let a single rejection affect his enthusiasm for his story and for writing in general.

We're at the beginning of a new year. One in which I hope many of us plan on submitting stories to magazines and novels to publishers. I want to start the new year off with a positive note, reminding everyone that a single rejection is not a judgment on your story or on your talent. It's just one person's opinion; an opinion even further restricted by the needs of their magazine. So when you have a story rejected, try to look at it with an editor's eye. Fix anything you think should be fixed then submit it to another publication. Because the longer you wait to submit a rejected story elsewhere, the less likely you are to submit again at all. And that would be a shame.
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