Tuesday again and today I’m going to touch on rejection letters.
So it’s safe to say that writing rejection letters is about the most dreaded part of what I have to do. I’ve been known to read submissions, make my decision, send the acceptance letters and then sit on the rejections for weeks because I don’t want to write them (and if you’re reading this and you have a submission in to me, and it’s been weeks and now you’re convinced I hated your book, stop it. I only read submissions once or twice a month so you’re due a wait no matter what, lol).
At Samhain, we try to say in the rejection letter why we’re rejecting the book, why it didn’t work for us. Sometimes that’s easier to pinpoint than others. Sometimes people just aren’t ready for publication yet, because their writing is still very raw and unpolished and needs much more work than any editor can expect–or have time–to undertake. In these cases, we suggest the authors search out honest and reliable critique partners.
Not just the CPs who will give you the rah-rah and tell you how great your stuff is, but also the CP who will point out your writing weaknesses, gently suggest ways to improve your book, your sentence, your story, your plot, your character development. A good CP is worth his or her weight in gold, especially for new authors starting out, learning their craft and polishing their skills. Later, CPs can still help even the most polished author find plot holes, inconsistencies, and character weaknesses.
In the event that I point someone to a critique partner or encourage them to research the craft of writing, it’s because the manuscript needs more work than I can comment on. And that, as I said, can mean anything. Plot holes, a story that doesn’t work, characters that aren’t likeable or well-developed, writing full of grammar and technical errors. Anything.
But keep in mind, this is only my opinion. Or two people’s opinions in the event that I seek out a second opinion from another editor (it happens once every ten or so manuscripts). It’s entirely possible that someone else, at another publisher, will accept your book and publish it. Does that mean my opinion is not valid? No, it just means your book wasn’t right for me and my publisher and that’s what it’s my job to determine. Not if it’s right for some other pub. Kudos to you for selling the book, but a word of advice–don’t write me an email throwing it in my face. Emails like that never reflect well on the author. Ever. All they serve to do is highlight your name for me and maybe induce me to make a note on my spreadsheet. (At Samhain, we keep spreadsheets on the books that come through us so we can remember them if they or the author resubmits, so we can see if the problems we noted originally are still there.) No editor wants to work in the future with an author who can’t show simple courtesy as well as restraint and a sense of discretion. You might be representing our company some day and we look for authors we hope can be professional and show us in a positive light. A nyah nyah email isn’t the best way to convince me of that.
If you get a rejection letter, keep in mind that editors are busy people. I could list my job duties for you here. Break down the amount of time I actually spend on different aspects of that job, but I don’t think anyone would believe me. But if you do get a rejection letter, and you’re not satisfied with the answer you got think long and hard before you email and ask for the editor to expound on why your book wasn’t accepted.
I don’t like to ignore email but the truth is, I get upwards of anywhere from 20 to 40 emails a day that need a response or my attention in some way. In addition to the group emails I read (Editor group, Business group, Author group, Final Line Editor group, Samhain Cafe which I moderate…) so you see my point. I could spend all day doing nothing but emails (forgetting for a moment the multitude of other job responsibilities I have), so it’s unlikely that I have time to respond. I always try to make the rejection letter sufficient for this reason. Because I don’t have time to exchange emails with every author I send a rejection letter to. I wish I did, that I could offer you advice and guidance, but it’s just not possible. So don’t take it personally if you don’t receive a reply from an editor you’ve written to saying “tell me more, please”.
One more thing about rejections before I wrap this up. A revise and resubmit, at our publishing house, is not a rejection. It gets it’s own column on the spreadsheet, lol. A revise and resubmit means we liked the book, but there were some flaws. And since we know that not every author will be willing to fix what we see–or sometimes able to fix what we see–rather than entering into a contract with an author and binding ourselves to a book that ends up being nearly impossible to edit, or to an author who’s unwilling to do edits. So a revise and resubmit isn’t a rejection, it’s just a way of ensuring we get the best book possible.
I thought I’d leave you with this quote, which I think sums up rejection letters (and bad reviews) in a great way. I’ve stolen this from PaperbackWriter aka Lynn Viehl. At the beginning of July she asked people to share the best writing advice they’d heard, and someone posted this in the comments, a quote from an email that PBW herself had sent them after a rejection.
“You wouldn’t be upset if you were selling a truck and someone looking for a sportscar didn’t want to buy it, right? So why expect editors to adore every single thing you submit, every awards committee to hand you a trophy, and every reader to love you? Isn’t going to happen. Don’t take it personally.”