Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rejection letters are a part of life

Now that the new year is underway, it’s time to get serious about submitting your work.

Sending your baby out into the mean publishing world is never an easy thing. Writers have to have a thick skin. It’s hard to hear that editors may not consider your work the utterly most brilliant thing every written. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but one writer to another, it always hurts to receive a rejection on something you worked so hard on and means so much to you. It’s very hard not to take it as a personal slight.

But if you keep at it, eventually you get used to it. You have to come to terms with the fact that a rejection may have very little to do with your actual writing. It may be a matter of taste. Perhaps it’s just not something the editor or agent that reviews it is into. Perhaps it’s bad timing; the editor/agent may have just acquired something similar. It may truly be a great story but the company may feel it may have trouble marketing it or it isn’t something that jives with the what the publishing company is looking for. That’s why it is really important to read submission guides. No point in sending something to a publishing house that they clearly state they do not want. That’s just setting yourself up for an automatic rejection.

Submissions and rejections are just part of the life of a writer. You’ve all heard the stories over and over. For every “magically discovered” talent, another best-selling author spent years being rejected by nearly every agent and editor before someone took a chance on him.

The hard part is learning to look at rejection as a fact of life.

As an editor, I can say rejection is not personal. The majority of the time, I don’t even know the name of the person whose submission I am reading. I just jump right to the summary. If that sounds remotely interesting and fits with our publishing philosophy, then I give the first few pages a read. If the summary and pitch is poorly written or it is a story that doesn’t fit with our current or emerging imprints, then I have to pass. And it has happened that I have come across some great stories that just didn’t fit the project for which they were submitted. Unfortunately, I had to reject them, but that doesn’t mean they would be a fabulous fit somewhere else.

I can also say that as an editor reading submissions, I am looking for stories that really appeal to me as a reader. The fact is, I will closely read every manuscript I acquire a minimum of five times. Most times, the editing process is a back-and-forth dialogue with the author, requiring even more passes. That is why it is important that every book I pick up is one I am completely in love with and want to spend months poring over, because that is the reality of what will happen. That is why I can never take on a book that I just like or think is so-so. I have to be utterly besotted with it.

And as a writer, that is what you want: an editor who is in love with your book as much as you are. They are the people who are going to go to bat for you within the publishing company. They are the ones who want you to succeed as much as you do.

That’s why sometimes it is good to be rejected. If you end up with an editor who isn’t totally invested in your work, you aren’t going to have the best experience. It’s better that they pass than do a half-hearted job.

Most rejections are typically a form letter. This, again, isn’t personal. It’s often times due to the sheer volume of submissions an editor/agent have to wade through. An editor usually knows within the first 20 pages if something needs to be rejected for whatever reason. That is when the standard letter is issued. Personally, I started reading stories that I knew weren’t right, but I continued to read anyway. Sometimes, I can argue why that manuscript should be picked up, even though it might not be something the company normally publishes. Sometimes, it doesn’t work and the stories have to be rejected. This is when I try to add a personal note with the rejection.

Personal rejection letters are desirable, but rare. Good or bad, these letters offer insight to what the editor is thinking. The best rejection letters are the ones that state something along the lines of: "While this piece is not right for us, we’d love to see anything else you’ve written." That’s an editor/agent that you want to tape to your computer and follow up by sending them the next thing you write or rewrite that might be appropriate (remember to reference what you previously submitted and that they encouraged you to send more work). Do not, however, follow up by burying them under everything you ever wrote.

Even brutal rejection letters can be helpful. These are the hardest to receive, because they take aim at your work and, sometimes, it is really hard not to take it personally. The best of the bad rejections are those where the editor points out why your piece was rejected. This is usually related to a major structure or writing flaw that needs attention. If the editor takes time to do this, it is because he/she sees potential in your writing skill. He may not think your work is polished enough for publication now, but believes you have talent that needs to be developed more. Give these types of rejection some thought. This doesn’t mean change everything to suit this editor (unless the editor says he would be interested in rereading a revision), but it means seriously consider what the editor is saying and what you can take away from his criticism.

Sometimes an editor can just be nasty, and there isn’t much you can do or take away from it. Maybe the editor had a bad day or maybe he is just a horrible person (it happens). Those are the ones that are best to take your vengeance out on by burning or keeping in a special folder so that when you become a famous author, you can send them a copy of your best-selling book, with a personal inscription.

So while rejections aren’t fun, they can be useful, and they certainly cannot be avoided. One new writer recently posted: “I just got my first rejection letter. I guess this means I am a real writer now.”

She’s right, of course. Rejections are just part of the growing pains of becoming that great best-selling author.

Just keep in mind that for every rejection you receive, you are narrowing the field for finding the perfect home for your masterpiece. I truly believe there is a publisher for every piece. You just may have to accept some “no thanks” along the way.