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Good To Know

Rejection is Inevitable

It's happening again. The day before 2021 and I still get nothing but rejections.


I've been writing and submitting for over 30 years now. My first was in 1979 to Alfred Hitchcock Magazine, and it was all single spaced. I got a better rejection then than I did from that same market just a few years back. Since then, the writing world has changed -- a lot.


I've turned down bad contracts, and put up with bad agents. I've won bad awards. I know there's potential in my work and I love listening to comments and suggestions.  One novel I changed a lot after listening to all the advice—get rid of the alien storyline, rework the past life musings, minimize the personal first person chitchat.  


One publisher, Divertir, asked me to remove the backstory from the beginning and weave it into the rest of the story. Divertir was the first publisher I chatted with over the phone, and because I couldn't comply with ALL his requests, he no longer considers anything I write. It's shame that I didn't understand that one change I couldn't do at the time, because I've since done that. It was published by a lesser publisher in 2016, whose contract I allow to lapse after the three years were up.


Now as a series with a new title, I can't find another publisher. I have the second in the series being read by Story Plant. I don't know if they're any good either, but he did reject Dinner at Marshall Fields because he thought the lead was too boring. I'm doing another intense edit to fix that. He said he couldn't read the one that had been published but might consider putting it out again if the series itself is good. Still waiting for a response, but I think I can trust him. 


The rejection just this morning was on a short story from my Grimm's anthology, where he wanted anthropomorphic animals. Now that I know he doesn't need it to be under 1,000, I could try another one I have.


Do we just sit and wait to be rejected? Of course not. Until I have a contract, I keep circulating. You do yourself an injustice if you just sit around and wait. I know a gal who was also published by ATTMP (my publisher of my other two novels in 2016 and 2017) and she waited for over a year for them to accept her second novel. I told her that's too long to wait, so she contacted them and was told they rejected it six months before. Lesson learned.


I canceled their contracts because they were just that bad. Even if the contract looks good, it doesn't mean they are. But I only reject contracts that look bad, and hope for the best. There has to be some good small presses out there. Right?


Here's the funny thing. The guy at Divertir said that because of my unwillingness to listen to him, he didn't plan to offer comments to authors anymore.  At first I felt guilty about that, but you know what?  If a publisher doesn't want to listen to an author's reasons why such a thing is as it is, then maybe they should just go with things that feel perfect to them right off, and not bother with anyone else. But yes, I do feel bad. I appreciated his help and told him so. I wish we had been able to communicate. But don't work with someone who talks sideways at you. 


I've had publishers who tell me within two days of receiving something that they'll publish it. That's a warning bell, too. ATTMP did that. You need to ask them what they liked about it. You need to ask if they thought the ending was strong enough. You need to wonder what would make them accept it so quickly. Are they that hard up for a book that appears to have proper punctuation?


Rejection hurts. We all know that. And for someone writing as long as I have, it feels like a piece of me goes missing with every one. But if I can continue to learn from them, then maybe someday I'll stop getting so many.


Learn from rejection, from publisher comments, and from your own inner sense of when something needs another edit. Because in this climate of anyone can get anything published, we still need to strive to rise about the hash and spam of so many people thinking they're writers to provide those novels and stories that make reading a worthwhile event.


Learn from comments given. But if a publisher wants you to change everything, is it really the right publisher for you?

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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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