How To Guarantee Yourself a Rejection

April 8, 2013

frustrated

Psst…here’s a hot tip for those of you who want to waste your time and the time of those you query; make sure that you send a very long query letter that mostly talks about your fabulosity…and dedicate one – yes ONE – sentence about your book.

I guarantee that you’ll be able to wallpaper your home in rejection letters.

Actually, I don’t want you wasting anyone’s time – especially your own – because you’ve worked long and hard on your stories. I want you to be successful, and I’m continually dismayed at what you think we blood-sucking editors want to hear. Lots of you include stuff that isn’t important.

For example, if your main character finds herself in Hell and discovers the Devil isn’t as bad as she’d been taught to believe, then it’s not necessary to include the circumstances of your character’s demise. If the manner of her death isn’t the crux of the story, but merely a vehicle to get her into Hell, then don’t include it because you’re wasting time, along with confusing  an editor. We’re fairly simple creatures, and we’re going to wonder why you included it. Stick to the stuff that explains the plot and your character.

I happened to read Query Shark the other day, and I loved this query letter. So did Janet. So did the commenters. It’s a prime example of what works. The author didn’t waste any time on the superfluous, but kept it tight and on point.

Platform

And speaking of platform (was I?), I know many of you are worried about including your platform – or pointing out that you lack one. Platform is important with nonfiction, but it should NEVER be the main dish. It’s a side dish. It’s secondary. You’re trying to sell your book – and that’s where you must put your focus.

Rarely does an editor sit around with her submission committee and say, “I don’t care about her book, she has a platform the length of my legs!” Someone with a great platform can still write a really lousy book. And a lousy book is going to get panned by readers.

So if you’re looking for fresh wallpaper or birdcage liner, then I recommend proceeding incautiously. For everyone else, be mindful because it’s all about being successful, baby.


“Loved Your Book, Can’t Publish It”

December 27, 2012

love-book

A murderous look was spreading across my friends’ face…or I imagined it was, since we were talking on the phone. She has the propensity to develop a tick in her her right eye when she’s pissed off, and her latest rejection letter offered plenty fodder for an entire body twitch.

They freaking loved my story,” she spat out. “The story is well written, characters are well formed, terrific pace, great voice…and they still rejected me? Argh! And here’s the worst part; they say they can’t do it proper justice. What does it takes to get a bite? How can I keep hearing how much agents love my book, but won’t take it on? What am I doing wrong?”

Boyo, she has my sympathies because it’s possible she’s not doing anything wrong. And what’s worse, is that I’ve written those very same rejection letters over the years. I realize how frustrating it is because, believe it or not, I’m equally frustrated. The author has all the right ingredients of talent and story, but I don’t feel confident that I can sell it to a wide enough audience.

Sales are our proving grounds…if we can’t sell enough books, then we’re gonna lose money. So I tried to give her my thoughts from my own experiences in hopes that she wouldn’t toss herself under a garbage truck filled with dead Christmas trees.

Audience

I want the author to know how much I loved their work, but sadly, I don’t think it has a big enough audience. You can write like the wind, but I’m dubious of there being a huge demand for books on whistling belly button tricks.

Or perhaps, you’ve written something that has been written about to ad nauseum…like Dystopian YA, or vamp/romance, or addiction, death and bereavement. I could go on for days. My point is that your writing may be brilliant, but the marketplace simply can’t handle another space odyssey, or a book about midlife crisis – especially if the author has zero platform.

I know it’s little consolation to the author, but I think it’s important they know there’s nothing wrong with their writing…but the subject matter.

And just because I don’t believe I can do it justice doesn’t mean another editor won’t feel differently. The time to sit up and listen is if you keep hearing the same thing in your rejection letters.

Recognizing market trends:

In between beating your head against a wall, you might be wondering how to recognize market trends, and whether that would increase your success for a publishing deal. Here’s the thing; you can’t. If authors paid strict adherence to trends, then it would mean that while you’re busy defining the trends that exist, someone else bucked the system altogether and decided to write something new and different. Look at the Twilight series. Stephanie Meyers bucked the trend by breaking the entire mold.

Then there’s the concern as to how long that trend will remain viable. I remember when Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code came out. This was back when we published fiction, and nearly every query I saw was some sort of DaVinci Code knockoff. Drove me and every other editor nuts. Thankfully, the trend burned itself out. Nowadays, I hear my editor buds groaning over the vamp/romance genre.

Dystopian YA has been really hot, but even now, I see that trend slowing a bit. So how long before it gives way to something else? My point is that once you’ve recognized it, it may be on its way out by the time you find an agent, they sell it, a year or two before it’s published…

Exploiting opportunities to create audience demand:

Okay, so it’s near impossible to recognize and depend on market trends, so the next thing you may think about is creating demand for your book, and how do you go about it. For nonfiction, which is my domain, this is more easily defined. Either you have a ready audience for say, Early Onset Alzheimer’s, or you don’t. There are a million Alzheimer’s books out there, but very few on Early Onset, so we saw a huge opportunity for Barry Petersen’s book, Jan’s Story. The Alzheimer Association got on board almost immediately, and the book just exploded from there. Exploitation to the extreme. Cha-ching.

Fiction is harder. Stephanie Meyers already knew there were huge audiences for romance and vampires, so she ended up blending the two and creating a whole new sub-genre. Fiction takes an editor who believes in your story and feels there is a large enough audience (or crossover, like Twilight) to create a marketing and promotion plan around your book.

But the responsibility also lies with you, the author. You need to be well read in your genre so you can figure out if your plot is a Been There, Done That, or if it’s unique. Think about the kind of reader who would read your book and why they’d read it.

We all know publishing a book is a crapshoot, and we know that our investment may pay off big time, or circle the toilet bowl…no matter how much money we toss at the book.

Financial Restraints:

I often hear authors complain that the reason their work is rejected is because publishers have their eyes on the bottom line. Well, sure, that totally exists. We put tens of thousands into each title, whether it sells or not, so we’d be insane not to worry about our bottom line.

Money has dried up, so large publishers are afraid to take chances on the fringe book – like Twilight was. But that doesn’t mean a really good book isn’t going to see the light of day. It’s a matter of finding that one editor who sees the brilliance in the work and feels it’ll sell well.

Sadly enough, there are no easy answers when it comes down to who gets the publishing deal and those who don’t. We’ve all read books and wondered what the editor was smoking when they signed that book. There’s no formula for an editor having faith that a book is en fuego. We look at the sales of books that fit within that genre, and analyze whether we can adopt a viable promotion plan that will sustain the book.

In the end, I told my friend to pick herself up, dust off her jeans, and keep on keepin’ on because , frankly, the alternative sucks stale Twinkie cream. It does no good to give in to bitterness or paranoia. The system isn’t against you; it’s just trying very hard to give readers what they want to read and make a few bucks to keep the beagle in tequila.


Requesting a partial or full manuscript – do I really read them?

May 8, 2012

Someone asked me this at a writer’s conference after downing a few more shots of tequila than prudent. The answer is yes. And no.

What looks great in a synopsis may pale when reading a few chapters. What looks great in a couple chapters may lose its edge in a 75,000 word manuscript.

But I do read them. I’d be silly not to…after all I did request it. I put the manuscript on my tablet and read on the couch, where I’m nice and comfy, and won’t be interrupted. However, the operative here is do I read to the very end?

Not always.

It’s a hard call – will the story pick up after a few lifeless chapters, or stay lifeless through to the end? If I’m engaged in the plot and the characters are well defined, I’ll probably stick it out so I can get a feel for the kind of editing that would be required and whether I feel the story is marketable.

More likely than not, I read to the point where I’m convinced the story no longer has wings. I get flack from authors when I reveal this at seminars; the thrust of their argument being that the story may pick up a few chapters downstream. And they wouldn’t be wrong to feel that way. On the flip side, I’ve rejected manuscripts after reading the first five chapters because nothing was happening, the plot had yet to find any footing, or the characters were as flat as my attempts at baking.

I’ve received wails of angst upon being rejected; “If only you’d kept reading; the story picks up at Chapter 15!” Chapter 15? If I did this, I’d wrap a rope around my neck and asked the beagle to kick the stool. It’s a matter of diminishing returns, meaning the more time I spend reading something that’s in big trouble from page one and I’m on Chapter 7 means that I’m prevented from reading other fulls that I’ve requested. It’s a gut call; is it worth the time to stick it out, hoping it’ll get better, or do I move on, hoping it’ll pick up after a bad chapter or two.

Because we we pub memoir/biography, my decisions also focus on the story’s marketability and author platform. If I begin to see warts, I’ll continue reading while weighing the message and marketability against the amount of required editing. There are times when a roughly-written manuscript is worth the copious amount of editing required to make it sing.

When Do I Stop Reading?

The quick answer is when I can’t find any reason to continue turning the pages, and that point usually hits around Chapter 4-ish.

Chapter 4-itis:   The first three chapters are usually the best because the author’s To Do list is filled with introducing the characters, the setting, fleshing out the plot; there’s a lot going on. But after reaching Chapter 4 or 5, the To Do list tends to run a bit thin, and I get the feeling the author is wondering “Now what do I do?”

Backstory:  This is when they usually launch into Backstory, which can be a deal killer because I simply don’t know enough about the story or the characters to care about backstory, and your message and platform probably won’t save you.

Backstory can add delicious dimension when used by someone who knows what they’re doing. Unfortunately, many don’t, and they fall into this classic trench and let their backstory become so top heavy that I can’t remember the main story…and I quit reading.

Characters:  If I don’t get a feel for your characters after three chapters, then I’m going to quit reading because I’ve lost faith that you’ll develop them more fully downstream. Your characters are the vehicle that moves the plot along. If they aren’t three-dimensional, then I can’t stay engaged with the story.

Perception:  A query letter can only reveal so much, so if I’m interested, I need to read the manuscript in order to get a better idea of what the story is about. For example, an author’s query letter led me to believe his story was about how he uses alternative medicine in his surgical practice. Given my weakness for this subject matter, I asked to read the full.

The reality was far different from my perceptions. The manuscript ended up being about the surgeon’s foray into studying alternatives for his own fulfillment, not what he uses in the operating room. So I stopped reading because the query letter and the book were miles apart.

Quality:  I’ve seen query letters that knocked me against the wall only to be shocked at the writing quality in the manuscript. And, sadly, that only requires reading a few pages to realize it’s not gonna happen.

The thing to keep in mind is this; if someone asks to read your manuscript, then they’re going to read it at some point. They may not read it all, but they will read it to the point where they no longer feel compelled to continue turning the pages. Hopefully, they will hit the end and cry, “Eureka! We got us a winner.”


“What do you mean?” – Finding hidden treasures in a rejection letter

May 3, 2012

Rejection letters:  No one likes to get them, and no one likes to write them. I’ve had my heritage questioned, along with invitations to make merry with various types of waterfowl or African wildebeests, so I stick with the least offensive…the template rejection letter:

Thank you for your query. Your story sounds interesting, but I’m afraid it doesn’t quite fit our current lineup. Best of luck to you in your literary endeavors.”

For a new author, it’s not apparent this is a template, and they pick it apart in order to discern some hidden meaning or crumb of hope. So they write back:

If you say my story is interesting, then why doesn’t it fit with your house? I read your guidelines and my story is a personal journey about my addictions. How can you like something yet not want to even read a few chapters?

*facepalm* They want decisive clarification for my rejecting them. I find it somewhat ironic that even a form rejection letter is questioned because I try to make it bullet-proof by keeping it one-size-fits-all. It’s not my intent to pound someone’s feelings (I feel receiving a rejection letter is enough), yet I need to get the point across that the work doesn’t scratch my itch.

Of course writers want to know why they were rejected and, rather moving on, some nuance every word in every line in order to derive some hidden clue…even from a form rejection letter.

However, there are certain cues that do incite the imagination to kick into high gear.

“Please feel free to resubmit.”

No guessing with this statement. And I mean it. These are times when I read the entire manuscript and feel the story has real promise. It’s very good and the characters are exciting. However, there are some big problems with the execution. It could be the pacing is uneven, or it’s top-heavy with backstory…big ticket items that would require huge amounts of our time.

So I offer some critique (because it would be crummy to spend that kind of time reading a ms only to leave the poor author hanging, wondering, “What do you mean?”) and off the author a chance to resubmit.

It doesn’t matter who says this, there is nothing vague about it, so don’t question it…just make your edits (where you feel the crits have some validity) and resubmit it.

“You might want to consider hiring an editor.”

So you resubmit, and you get this sentence back in your rejection letter. It’s rare when I offer that advice, but I do it in a few cases where I’ve seen your initial work and now I’ve seen your edited efforts. So let’s say you had serious pacing issues in the first go around; if I see that same problem in your edited piece, then I conclude that you’re not quite sure how to fix the problem. At that point, it makes sense to suggest working with an editor who can help you understand pacing which, admittedly, can be a tough concept to grasp without some hand-holding, and all they need is a bit of a nudge.

Now, I’ll cop to thinking some writers shouldn’t consider giving up their day jobs, but I would never suggest working with an editor because I suspect they don’t know enough to understand what an editor is trying say. If someone can barely put a sentient sentence together, then pacing and POV switches are beyond their capabilities. They need to take some writing classes in order to learn the basics.

Is this a red flag?

You might think it’s a red flag for someone to suggest working with an editor after only reading a few pages or chapter. And it may be. There are scams out there that offers kickbacks to agents or editors if they recommend a certain indie editor. But if this suggestion is made in general, without naming names, then I don’t really think there’s anything insidious about going on.

Personally, I would never make this suggestion after only reading a partial because I don’t know enough about the story to make that determination. But not everyone vibrates at the same frequency, and others may recommend working with an editor after reading only a few pages. And sure, the natural reaction would be to ask, “What do you mean by that?”

My suggestion:  don’t let it put your Victoria Secrets in a bind. You can’t possibly know what’s in someone else’s head, so don’t try. And whatever you do, resist the urge to ask them. Just move on.

Now, if you keep getting rejections and/or the same suggestion to get some outside help, then perhaps it’s time to consider whether your story has sea legs. Editors don’t come cheaply, so you want to get the most bang for your buck.

Be Professional

The biggest gift any writer can give himself is adopting a professional attitude because writing is a business. Anticipate that rejection letters won’t offer you any insight as to why you’re being rejection. It isn’t because editors or agents are soulless creatures (well, they are, but let’s not quibble the point) and love nothing more than squashing writers’ dreams. In fact, we adore writers and are always on the prowl for the right story to make our blackened hearts sing.

But we’re also hideously busy and we’ve learned that personalized rejection letters take time and open the door to some nasty replies. Don’t worry so much about the “What do you mean?” because you’ll drive yourself nuts. A no is a no, and the reasons often vary. One editor may think the character development is insufficient, while another may find it perfect.

Instead, get some feedback from your writer’s group, or the Share Your Work forum on the Water Cooler. There are many tools at your fingertips that are geared to help writers become more successful. And that is where your time is better spent…not trying to read between the lines.


About that “No response means no” thing

September 13, 2011

I read a great response on Janet Reid’s blog regarding those who don’t send rejection letters, but rather abide by the “no response means no” rule…which I think is tacky. I’ve heard the same reasoning many times over at writer’s conferences, and from some of my own friends, and they never cease to amaze me.

“I”m sooo busy!”

One of friends lamented this to me over lunch a while back. Here’s the thing – we are all busy – so none of us can claim exclusivity to this aberration. It’s a given. But are we so busy that we can’t practice the slightest amount of good manners by communicating with those who sent us a query?

This whole “No response means no” thing is about as logical as saying, “If the phone doesn’t ring, it’s me.” Only Jimmy Buffet could think that up, bless his heart, but he makes a point, which is that he can’t be bothered to call, so that silent phone is supposed to be a reflection of his love. Uh huh. I consider it as big a cop out as not sending rejection letters.

We all have to practice effective time management. I reserve one day to reading queries. Same for reading manuscripts, editing, marketing and promotion. If I’m organized, then I’m working efficiently. Does it always work out that way? I wish! But above all else, I reply to every single query.

The only exception is if the author sends something that’s out of our zip code. I don’t publish cookbooks, mystery, SF, fantasy, Westerns, etc., so I’m not going reply to those. My justification is that the author can’t be bothered to read our submission guidelines, so I won’t be bothered replying. Tit for tat, and all that jazz.

Reading queries on a cellphone

Many of us read queries on our cellies. I do it all the time, yet I hear the prevailing excuse that it’s “too hard to respond” via cellphone. I have a cure for that – when I return to my office, I send a rejection letter. I don’t need to re-read the query, I just send the rejection. Takes about a nanosecond.

“Ugh…all that copying and pasting”

The lament is that cutting and pasting is time consuming. I don’t see that at all because this is exactly what I do. I copy my form rejection letter once and paste it into each rejected query. It’ll continue to paste until you copy something else.

Again, it takes a nanosecond.

“It’s all so negative and depressing”

This is when we need to put our big boy and girl pants on. Rejection letters aren’t meant to be things of joy and light, but it’s ludicrous that you choose to avoid basic good manners because the negativity weighs on your shoulders. Our jobs aren’t all hugs and kisses. We rejoice when a book is finished and enters the world to great success. Agents share the same giddiness when they sell one of their clients’ books. But there also exists hardship and disappointment and we have to embrace those realities with the same maturity as we do with the great stuff.

In order to find the prince, I do have to kiss a lot of frogs, so I agree that it is heartbreaking to wade through many queries that don’t tickle my fancy. But I don’t buy that any agent or editor is too sensitive to bear the weight of sending a rejection letter. Isn’t that more honest and fair than keeping an author in the dark, waiting and wondering?

Blowback

Some of the prevailing excuses for “no response means no” are that agents and editors will avoid hearing from those who feel compelled to write nastygrams. We all know there exists a small pocket of snarkies who delight in telling us to go forth and multiply with the barnyard animal of our choosing.

The truth is, you can’t avoid them, no matter what you do, and I don’t think the No Responders still don’t receive a few emails blasting them a new orifice for not have the good manners to at least send them a rejection letter. So what have they accomplished?

Case in point; I had a writer insert dynamite in places where dynamite has no business being placed because she sent me a query 60 days prior and I hadn’t gotten back to her. It turned out that I’d never received it. She was all apologies sprinkled with love and kisses. She had the temerity to re-send her query, which I rejected faster than the beagle can inhale a margarita…about a nanosecond. Who needs rude?

Is the excuse that we can’t handle a weency populace whose brains reside at the bottom of the beagle’s food dish? Aren’t we made of tougher stuff than that? It’s not like these nastygrams make up a large portion of our days, so are we unable to simply ignore and delete?

Why Did You Reject Me?

I wrote an entire chapter on this very topic in Tackle Box so authors wouldn’t write back to agents and editors asking for reasons. The hard, cold truth is that we don’t and won’t reply. Another harsh reality is that we aren’t obligated to state the reasons why. A no thank you is just that. There are times when I might list a quick explanation why someone’s work isn’t right for me, but that’s few and far between. I understand it’s frustrating not not know why authors were rejected – that’s why I wrote the chapter in Tackle Box.

In truth, we won’t remember why we rejected it unless we go back and re-read the query because we read A LOT of queries. It’s hubris for an author to expect that we’ll remember them after reading a one-page query.

But the action is the same – ignore and delete these “why me?” emails.

The 30-day standard…or is it 60 days? Um…90?

Agents and editors who prescribe to this no-response thing help with increasing the size of the confusion zone because they talk about the “standard,” meaning a golden parachute that absolves them of responsibility after 30 days. But others adhere to 60 days, and others, still, go with 90 days.

So which is it, and when should an author assume they’ve been summarily dismissed? Unless it says on the agent’s or editor’s submission guidelines, there isn’t a definitive gold standard. Though, I’ll admit to some impatience to the author who called me after a week. There’s eager, and then there’s holding the reins too tightly.

The end result of all this is to not look for excuses as to why you won’t or can’t send a rejection letter, but to remember that authors take the time to send us a thoughtful (most of the time, that is) and earnest query letter, and it’s our job to be polite and send them a response. We have the time and the ability, so we should also have the good manners as well.


Author repy – *Facepalm*

January 23, 2011

Author reply to rejection: “You have to be kidding.”

Um. Do I look like I’m kidding?

One of these days I will follow my own advice and quit writing the occasional personalized rejection letter. Rude, cluebag authors ruin it for everyone, dadbummit.

 


Do editors change their minds?

June 9, 2010

Kristin Nelson has a happy problem. An editor called her up to offer a contract on a book that she’d rejected a couple months ago. Predictably, Kristin’s flabber is duly ghasted as she asks, “Wha’ happened?”

Obviously, the editor had a change of heart. The question is why? As one who has done this twice, I can offer  some insight as to how our normally steel trap brains can sometimes be afflicted with Swiss Cheese-itis.

Too many cooks in the kitchen

When an editor falls in lurve with a manuscript, she is beholden to a number of people to justify making a contract offer. This means she needs to defend her choices. This happened to me a couple years ago. I HAD to have this manuscript. Loved it to bitsies and piecies. Then I took it to committee. It was the thud heard ’round So. California, New York, and Tennessee. All I could say is,  “whaddya mean it’s not a good idea??”

I had found a literary masterpiece, and all these cooks were telling me that the recipe I’d taken out to cook for dinner was a risky choice. Bah! Well, ok, they’re right on one account – sometimes my dinner choices are a bit – shall we say, unique. Overruled in the kitchen, I rejected it with heavy heart.

Two weeks later, I still couldn’t get that book out of my head. I knew I’d made a mistake. This is also when it’s lovely to be the Queen holding a bloody red editing pen. I told everyone to go suck stale artichoke hearts and immediately contacted the agent – whom I was fairly convinced had already hung me in effigy.  Against everyone’s advice, I bought the book, and have never been happier. I pulled out my cat o’ nine tails and made sure my distributor got that book graced on every bookshelf in the region. The author kicked literary tushy. Me is a happy editor for not listening to the other cooks. Let ‘em burn their own brownies.

Hot tamale

And speaking of food, sometimes a book comes along that I think I can’t sell. Then I sign another book whose author has a very big platform. It makes me think of the previous book I rejected and wonder about increasing our footprint on that particular category. In other words, I’ve got one hot tamale on my hands, why not make it two since they complement each other.

Hot Tamale Part Deux – getting there first

Then there’s the breakout book. Hmm, sez the editor. I see a case where this particular topic is heating up, and I just rejected a very good book that dealt with that issue in a fabulous, unique way. Hmmm, sez the editor again, only now holding a very strong margarita. Mebbe I should see about getting that book back. I now know I can sell it because Big Platform Author is opening that particular door.

Sorry, we’re all sold out

Of course, the big fear of changing one’s mind is that the book was already sold to someone else while playing footsie and threatsie with one’s submission team – or the beagle, who has entirely too big a voice in what we buy.

This happened two years ago. A book came along that I knew was HUGE. The author and story were what I term “a complete package.” She had a terrific platform, drop dead gorgeous, and the story was utterly riveting. The problem? It needed a ton of work. I’m talking complete rework – done probably by an indie editor or a co-writer – or an insane editor who would literally rebuild the work from the ground up. I’ve done this before by taking on the project myself. Thankfully the book sold very well, but it nearly killed me in the process. I wasn’t mentally ready do it again.

While I had some correspondence with the author about rewrites and such, I allowed too much time to pass pondering whether to jump off the fence and make the deal anyway. It slipped through my hands. She signed with a lovely agent who sold the book for mega bucks. I lost out. As much as I like to rib the agent, I’m happy with the way things turned out. She got the deal of a lifetime AND a co-writer. And really, as much as I wanted the book, I want what’s best for the author.

In the end, jumping off the fence comes down to what we feel in our gutses. It means going against the other cooks in our kitchens or questioning our sanity for considering taking on a huge rewrite because we know an equally huge story is burrowed beneath the surface.

And yah, sometimes a rejection comes back to bite us on our lower forty, and we hope the stars are in alignment so we can correct our earlier blunder.

Gad, but I love this job.


I’m a perfect fit, so why did you reject me?

May 31, 2010

I spent some time this past weekend getting caught up with queries and submissions. Out of twenty-five queries that were sitting in my goodie pile, I asked to see full proposals on two, and rejected the rest. Out of three proposals, I’ve rejected one and am still reading the other two.

As invariably happens, someone I rejected emails back wondering if my list is full and whether they’d misinterpreted my submission guidelines. I know what they’re getting at. They were under the impression their work was a perfect fit for us, and are puzzled as to why  I rejected them. And sure, on the face of it, the works do fit our guidelines. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to request pages.

The fact that you queried someone who publishes the type of work you happen to have written isn’t cause célèbre.  I mean, that’s WHY publishers have submission guidelines – to save all of us from wasting everyone’s time. All this confirms is that your reading comprehension skills are spot on. But that doesn’t instantly translate over to the fact that I’m going to be interested in reviewing the work.

Editors reject at the query stage for a whole host of reasons. But the main elements that go into my decisions are:

  1. Am I passionate about this story?
  2. Do I believe I can sell it to the marketplace?
  3. Do I believe the author has a large enough platform in which to help promote the book?

Am I passionate about this story?

Being a small publisher, I have the luxury of throwing my passion into every work we publish. That’s why it’s so hard for me to pick a favorite Behler book. I love them all for many different reasons. And I think this element goes into every editor’s thought process. We have to be passionate about what we choose because we have to fight for it over the lifetime of that book.

We have to convince our sales teams that it’s worthy. We have to convince reviewers why they’d be hoof-sucking bovines for reviewing this book. We have to convince libraries and bookstores that they’d be Butthead’s’ inbred second cousin if they don’t shelf/buy this title. All this takes passion because it’s spread over a long period of time. That’s why orphaned books [books who have lost their editors] often get canceled. They’ve lost their biggest advocate.

So what makes me passionate about a query that’s only one page long?

Communication: This is your story, so did you communicate effectively so that I have a clear view of its foundations? I do own a tinfoil hat, but it often clashes with my outfit, so I let the beagle wear it. Works great when she’s buying lottery tickets.

Many times I reject something and the author writes back stating that I misunderstood their story. Weeellll…until the day arrives when I can climb inside the peaks and valleys of your melon, I’m hindered by what you send me. You gotta say it right the first time, ‘cos thar don’t be no second chances.

Unique: Does the story – be it fiction or nonfiction – have a unique twist that piques my interest? And yes, this is subjective. And no, you have no way of knowing what that is because I don’t even know what it is – not until I see it.

Characters: Do I love the characters? Are they people I’ll fall in love with so much that I care what happens to them? They are the vehicle that makes your story sing. Flop characters = dry rot as far as I’m concerned.

Message: Sure, I want to be entertained, but I also want to learn something along the way. I want my life to be altered and elevated in some manner. So I look for what the story has to say,  the overall message. I want to walk away from a book and feel that I’m a wiser/more thoughtful/introspective/smarter/kinder person for having read it. The stronger the impact, the higher my passion for the project. It’s a good thing if I’m blown out of my chair.

Do I believe I can sell it to the marketplace?

It may be that you’ve presented me with cool characters, some hearty food for thought, and a unique storyline, but that doesn’t mean I can sell it that that fickle mistress, The Marketplace. These are the hard rejections. They have all the elements that get my passionate juices flowing, but I’m unsure if  it will appeal to a wide enough audience to warrant the costs of publication.

Yeah, about that Almighty Dollar: I’ve been embroiled in enough debates that denigrate being a slave to the Almighty Dollar and how it’s the root of all evil because it counts out some really good books. But facts are that I need that Almighty Dollar in order to keep the beagle in designer dog chewies and electricity powering my batcave. That means I have to look for books I believe will sell.

And yes, these are the times when I don’t like my job so much and wish we ran on an economy of designer dog chewies. I have lots of those.

Do I believe the author has a large enough platform in which to help promote the book?

There are times when all the stars aren’t quite in alignment – and I really hate it when the stars don’t play nice. I’m talking about the many topics written in an impacted category – cancer, bipolar disorder, divorce, family issues, Alzheimer’s. I can almost feel my trigger finger caressing the rejection button. But wait, sez my inner demons. Check out their bio.

Cha-ching! Platform.

There are so many worthy books that are written to enlighten, educate, inspire, and soothe. And many of those are in heavily impacted categories and take a big voice in order to be heard above the din of competing titles on a crowded bookshelf. None of those speak more loudly than a big author platform.

Rejection was nearly the end result with Barry Petersen’s Jan’s Story because the first words that bounced off his agent’s query was Alzheimer’s. Whoa babe, seen a gajillion of these. But I was intrigued because it was Early Onset Alzheimer’s. When one does an Amazon check, the number of Early Onset Alzheimer’s personal journeys slurks down to very few. And no one has Barry’s platform. Or his incredible story.

In the amount of time it takes to say, “beagle, fire up the blender,” I knew that Barry’s book would become the Great Yoda of Early Onset Alzheimer’s because no other book adequately expresses the personal journey of those left behind to care for the young victims of this cruel disease. If not for Barry’s platform, his book would probably not bear the Alzheimer’s Association’s logo or be on its meteoric rise as a “gotta have it.”

Yes, rejection blows, and it’s all too easy to scratch your head and wonder if the Cosmic Muffin is agin you. “What’s it take?” you scream. Well, a lot of things, actually.


Maintaining mental health while querying

March 17, 2010

I hear lots of talk about throwing in the towel on one’s manuscript after X number of rejections. The numbers are all over the board. Some say 30-50 rejections, and you should hang it up. Others say 600. EEEK.

I want to know where people come up with these numbers. Personally, I think 30-50 rejections is miles too low. While it’s impossible to know what’s going on in an agent’s [or editor's] head,  throwing in the towel after so few rejections is foolhardy. I’ve bought works that the author’s agent had been pitching for four years. It only takes one fall in lurve.

Research = confidence

Rather than trying to come up with some magic, arbitrary number that signifies THE END, authors can ensure their mental stability by understanding the business. Knowledge is power.

  • Understand the trends of what’s hot and what’s not – if you’re writing in a current trend genre, be aware that you’re not getting in at the ground level, which means you have to be ten times better/unique than your competition.
  • Understand your competition – how many Eat, Pray, Love clones have crossed my desk? Too many to count. Out of the dozens, I’ve bought one – Charting the Unknown – because, well, Kim Petersen’s writing stands up to serious scrutiny and is every bit as powerful [if not more so] than her competition. While the theme has been done in E,P,L and A House in Fez, Kim’s story is unique. Me lurves unique.
  • Be very well-read in your genre – this should be tattooed on everyone’s forehead because this is the single biggest problem with the queries that crosses my desk. Authors well-versed in their genre. I had a guy send me a lawyer story that was very reminiscent to John Grisham’s The Rainmaker. I told the author this. He wrote back – “Who’s John Grisham?” Ok, maybe the guy was pulling my leg, but I wasn’t laughing. Chances are I’m going to ask you how your book stands out in your genre. And even if I don’t, you should know because it gives you the confidence to know that you are a viable fit.
  • Read a book that your intended agents/editors have sold/published – analyze the quality of the writing, the plot, the pacing and see how your work compares. Yes, you’ll be doing a lot of reading, but chances are that if you’ve done your homework, you’ll have already chanced upon a book they repped. If you’re querying an editor, read a book that you feel closely relates to yours and analyze the quality of the story. It could turn out that your story is wrong for their lineup.

My point with all this is that querying blind isn’t conducive to one’s mental health because you’re leaving too much to chance. You should be querying with the confidence that comes from being properly educated about the industry in which you hope to be a part.

Being savvy to the industry is what tells you when it’s time to drop the book and start on something new. It’s that all-vital element that would never allow you to punish yourself with 600 rejections.

Yah, but I get rejected time and time again

I know, it feels personal, and there’s a grieving process. There is no magic bullet to avoid feeling pain. I submit that if you can’t handle the heat, don’t turn on the stove. There is nothing in life that guarantees we’ll win. Life is a gamble – some days you win, some days you lose. And some days you lose a lot more often than you win. But look at your options; if you never try, you’ll never understand a sense of creating balance so that you can deal with the low points.

That’s why I always recommend that authors begin writing a new book during the query phase. It takes your mind off the process and gets you thinking about your future, rather than focusing on things that are out of your control. And to help redirect your focus, the beagle is considering a side business – a bar strictly for authors. She’s considering names at this juncture. Query Hell, Rancid Rejections, and Damn the Adverbs have been summarily tossed out.

Regardless of your mood, it helps to look at your writing as a business and not a reflection on your self worth. An agent or editor rejects your book, not you.

For us, it really is business, it’s never personal. Well, almost never…


A personalized rejection: Can I respond to that?

February 19, 2010

A hand rose up from the audience last weekend at a conference. “I got a personalized rejection saying the editor really liked my story, but didn’t like the subject matter at the end – abuse – which was only implied, not shown.”

Ugh…methinks privately while keeping a smile frozen on my face…me hates, hates, hates works with any kind of abuse and refuses to read it.

“So my question is if it’s ok for me to write back to the editor and tell her that I’d happily change out the ending. Or should I just rewrite it and send it back to her?”

In a word – NO! On both counts.

A personal rejection is not an invitation

I get this all the time, and it drives me buggy because authors want to read between the lines where none exist. There are many times that I personalize my rejections because I feel the work warrants comment. My doing so isn’t an invitation to open up a dialog with the author, but to tell the author what doesn’t work for me.

Yet there are many authors who believe that because I took the time to critique their work that we now have a connection – a relationship. We don’t. I appreciate that many authors believe taking a proactive stance is the way to get ahead in publishing, but it’s also a lovely repellent as well. If you’re all in my business because of some comments I made, my first reaction is to have the beagle call in her German Shepherd thugs.

Don’t assume; trust

You know what happens when you assume, right? Ass-u-me. You assumed that since you got a personalized rejection that you can now contact the editor to suggest changes to your manuscript.

Trust me, if we really wanted that work, we’d have said, “take out the abuse parts and let’s get down to some serious talk.” We’re in the business to grab us the best works we can, and we won’t let something walk on by simply because one faction doesn’t work. We discuss rewrites or other options. But we DO NOT let it escape our grubby little fingers. Trust me.

Don’t make me regret it

There are times when I receive a batch of “if I change this, will you lurve it?” responses, and it makes me almost regret saying anything in the first place. See, when I point out why something didn’t work for me, that wasn’t the only reason for the rejection. Obviously there was more at play here, but I pointed out the MAIN REASON why I rejected the work because it’s quick and easy.

I’m not about to send out a full-blown critique that goes on for a full page. If that were the case, I’d still be reviewing submissions from 2005. Please rethink your decision to write back to an editor who has rejected you. If we really want it, we’ll jump on it – regardless of a few warts.

Keep in mind that a no – no matter how nicely it’s put – is still a no. Don’t try to read too much into a rejection. If the editor says, “Please resubmit to me after you’ve rewritten parts X,Y, Z,” then you’ve been given permission. Otherwise, your uninvited re-submission will more than likely be summarily dumped.

Move on to someone else.


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