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Good To Know

Taking No For an Answer

Writers write what they know.  Editors reject what they don't know.  How do the two manage to find compatible ground?  The answer might be in figuring out when they're not rejecting you, but testing your response to criticism.  Maybe sometimes their 'no' is checking your passion.


I used to accept rejection. I'm sure I don't know anyone who's been rejected more than I have.  I once thought that if someone said no to one of my novels or queries, that's the end of it.  They said no and there's no bargaining anywhere.


They would say things like "not for us," and I'd say, "Hey, but I studied the market and I'm sure you take this kind of stuff so what gives?"  And then I started to think that they were only saying nice things so that I didn't shoot back one of my dreaded "you're an idiot" emails -- you know, the one frustrated writers can't resist sending, especially after the coffee pot breaks and the computer eats their latest Pulitzer worthy article.


Yeah, I used to send angry email responses. But I have evolved into a more compliant being --just shed a few tears, file the rejection and move on.


And along the way I've learned to notice the potential "yes" embedded inside the "no."


Sometimes editors write nice things.  Sometimes they mean the nice things they write. It's up to us writers to become confident in our work as professionals so that we can see the difference.


Here's my suggestion: Find encouragement in every kind word used in a rejection, and follow up with a nice thank you specially worded to give them a chance to reconsider, even if you don't believe there's a chance they will reconsider.


Because there's a chance they might.


Recently I got a rejection on a novel that ended with how they liked my writing but didn't feel they could do the marketing that would guarantee its success.  I immediately responded with "Tell you what -- publish the book and I'll do all the marketing."


This brought them back, encouraged by my passion, to request the novel. They were confused by the genre, or the way I had positioned it, and with their response I realized I may have been marketing the novel wrong all along.  

Of course, I still want help marketing.  More on that in a minute.


Does this mean you should follow up on every "no"?  I wouldn't.  A lot of rejections come in the form of form letters, and that means the submission had nothing for them.  


Once I asked one of these if they could share a reason for the no.  One publisher happily responded with:  "I don't like your writing."


We know writing is a subjective business.  But there is always the possibility that some rejections that are nicely worded came really close to being acceptances.  I had another publisher request a series of six changes to my novel, and five of them I agreed with.  He rejected it again because I didn't agree with the sixth. That's okay, too. There's only so far we can go when changing our vision to match someone else's, after all.


Another publisher that responded to my "passion" may ask for changes. They may still reject it.  I had a rejection recently that "the main character was boring." Okay, fine. I told them maybe I should make her a reflection of  me, and I offered him my vampire series. He's now looking at that. As writers we have to be open to change, to realizing that we are sometimes too close to our work to see its flaws. That boring character is getting some shots of adrenaline.


But we also have to be sure enough in what we've written to know when a suggestion crosses the line.  

Once I got a contract for a novel that said that I was going to allow them to make so many changes that the book's copyright could be taken from me.  I had another contract that said that if I backed out for any reason (i.e. didn't like the cover), they would expect me to pay them $1,000 for their trouble. Both contracts were rejected.


Once I signed with a publisher for my second novel with them and they proceeded to put out a badly covered novel -- one guaranteed to keep its readers away. I didn't criticize the cover of my first book with them enough. Now both books are unpublished.  


A contract I signed for a nonfiction had a clause guaranteed I'd have an editor in six months. Then he said he couldn't find an editor for such a large task. So yeah, that got cancelled, too. 


All kinds of things can go wrong with a yes, but getting that yes and finding out if you can work with them is 3/4ths of the submission battle.  Maybe this new publisher for my vampire series won't do any marketing.  But maybe they do.  I'll never know until I get a yes and see a contract. And I'll never get anywhere, in my mind, if I'm just a self-published author.


Taking "no" for an answer keeps a lot of fledgling writers away from traditional markets.  Most self-published authors I know could not bear up under repeated rejection, and did not recognize the slightest encouragement.  One did not realize that they could have been testing her when they told her not to set her novel in Brownsville because it wouldn't attract a big enough readership.  Had she responded with all the reasons it was the perfect location, she might have ended up with the contract.  She could have said: "But I wanted to write what I know and love passionately.  And Brownsville, so close to Mexico, really is an exotic location."  She could have made her readers love Brownsville, but first she needed to make an editor love it.


I'm going to be making that big change in my 3rd vampire book. It'll be set, not in a fictional town outside of Madison, but in Sauk City. It'll bring a lot more realism to an already realistic vampire.


Be realistic.  Following up on a query like this might help, and it might not. If it doesn't, just cross them off your list and move on. There is not harm or foul in the follow-up, if done with respect and care. You can sense if it was the wrong market. Don't pester, because someday they could be the right market.


Publishers like to see if we're going to be an author they can work with. They test our passion.  Rejections can be part of that test. So if there is any kind of personal note in the rejection, more than just a form letter, respond.  You have nothing more to lose.  


Your goal as an author should be to find someone who believes in you.  Take every rejection seriously, and be proud of yourself for putting your work out there.  


The end result is a better book.

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