I was going to call this post “Editors are people too” but I realized I wanted to talk about more than what that title encompassed. I’ve been thinking alot lately about how authors and/or potential authors write to editors. I actually started this post a couple of weeks ago, but decided to let it sit (I was kinda hot at the time) and come back to it.
It starts with queries. I read a lot of queries. Some of them are straightforward. “Here’s my proposal, hope you like it” type of thing. Eh. It’s okay, but I like to get to know an author just a little from a query letter. Some editors don’t care about your background, your organizations, your previous publishing experience (well, most editors DO care about that) your blog, website etc. I kike to see it because I think it shows drive, initiation and how likely you are to be out there promoting yourself and your book, and even your publisher.
What I don’t like are the query letters that promise me I’m going to love their book. Mostly because no one can guarantee that I’m going to love a book and I think it sounds a bit presumptuous to tell an editor they’re going to love your book. Maybe you’re submitting a book about a three-headed woman from Jersey who has super powers and I’ve recently been inundated with submissions feature three-headed women. It’s possible I’m sick of that concept and won’t love it. Or maybe you’ve written a book about a hunk of a guy who works in a chocolate factory, but I can’t eat chocolate because I’m on a diet, so I’m predisposed at that time to hate any book that talks about chocolate. The point is, you have no idea what mood the editor is in, what other submissions they’ve been reading, or what their personal likes and dislikes are so telling the editor they’ll love it, while it shows a lovely confidence in your work, is just as apt to irritate them (at least it is me) as to make them say “here’s someone who believes in their work.”
Next, the response to a rejection. I don’t like to write rejections. I will put it off as long as possible because they’re hard to write. I know I’m giving someone news they don’t want to hear and I’m trying to do it as kindly as possible (aka no “this totally sucks” letters) while giving them hope, encouragement and feedback. Keeping in mind that I read 20 submissions a month at the minimum, and that my acceptance rate is a small percentage of those, I’m writing a lot of rejection letters. I don’t want to use a total form letter (though I do have a letter I use as a starting point, as a time saver) but I also don’t have time to provide a critical analysis of a manuscript I’m rejecting. So I offer one or two items I noted. There are several ways you can respond to a rejection letter.
1) With an angry response. Yes, this happens. It’s usually couched in terms of, well “so and so publisher accepted my book and is publishing it next week” or “I sold this book to another publisher months ago” or “your company sucks and I didn’t want to be published with you anyhow”. Uh huh. Okay then. Do we really need to cover how damaging this can be to your chances of ever working with that editor/publisher again? And some day, you may really want to be published with that company. Guess what? We keep notes on our spreadsheets. Just saying.
2) With a demand for further information about why the book is rejected. Truthfully, I put as much information into the letter as I have time for. My inbox? It’s ready to explode on any given day. I get so many emails each day that require a personal response, it’s impossible for me to answer these emails. I’m not saying it’s completely wrong to ask, but don’t get upset if you don’t get an answer.
3) With an acknowledgement, a thank you for your time, or with no response at all. A thanks/acknowledgement is nice, just because things get lost in cyberspace and it’s always nice to know someone respects that you took your time to read their submission. But no response at all is much better than the others!
The rejection of a contract offer. We get these occassionally. Sometimes the author has decided to go with another publisher, they don’t like the contract, they’ve changed their mind for whatever reason. It happens. But if it does happen, the key words here are “don’t burn your bridges”. If this happens, let the publisher know, they understand, this is business, things don’t always work out. Don’t write a diatribe about how a 2 year old could write a better contract and only a fool would sign it (for one thing, you insult every other author, every literary agent and attorney who’s looked over the contract and approved it. Are you really saying that you have more knowledge than some of the industry’s top professionals?). Don’t go on and on about how much better you think the other publisher is. Just write a professional letter declining the offer. If you offer the reason why is up to you, but how you decline will reflect on your chances with later submissions. And for the love of God, make sure you actually write the letter…
That leads me to my next letter. The one you “forgot” to write. Maybe you were offered a contract, you gave “verbal” agreement (via email) and then the contract never arrives. Months later, the editor writes to see why it’s not been delivered. You reply with an “oops I forgot to let you know I sold it to someone else but I’ve got some other submissions I’d like you to look at.” Ahem. Sure. We’ll get to those promptly.
Other letters you forget to write can include any responses to your editor’s emails, emails to let your editor know you’re going to be late with delivery of something, or other emails with vital info your editor needs. We all hate our email/inbox but the editor isn’t your enemy–they can be your best friend, the one who can “fix” things for you and you should be nice to them because they react well to positive energy 😉
Last, it’s not just the letters that you do (or don’t) write to the editor that are potentially important, but also the letters you write to other people. Yahoo groups, message boards, blogs and yes, even private emails to other people, make sure you’re putting your best foot forward because the internet and the explosion of all of the above formats has made our community even smaller and you never know who’s lurking or being forwarded the post where you bash an editor/publisher/book/community. Write your letters as ones you’d want to receive. And above all, don’t burn your bridges (this is good advice no matter what industry you work in) because the person you were nasty to today might be working for the publisher you covet writing for tomorrow.