How NOT To Handle a Bad Review

November 12, 2015

You no spamma it?

Seems Richard Brittain in the UK took a review of his book rather poorly. He hunted down the reviewer, traveled 500 miles to Scotland, and bonked her on the head with a wine bottle. This is a man who can’t handle rejection, wouldn’t you say?

I’m infinitely thankful that in my thirteen years as Editorial Director, no one has bonked me on the head with a wine bottle. On the other hand, I have been invited to do the horizontal mambo with the barnyard animal of my choosing…

How To Frustrate an Editor – “Sorry, the rest isn’t written.”

September 29, 2015

I know, irritating an editor sounds like good fun, right? After all, we’re such a tetchy lot, so a good round of watching  editors pull their eyebrows out would be great sport. However, this frustration adversely affects authors, so it might not be worth the risk. Here’s how the scenario goes:

Me: I loved your first pages. I’d love to see the full manuscript. You may send it as a Word attachment at your convenience.

Author: Those pages are the extent of the edited chapters that I’ve written. Perhaps you’d be willing to sign me based on the strength of what you’ve read.

Me: <sighing loudly and demanding The Rescues go pour me some wine> I’m sorry, but we don’t sign authors based on partials.

And here’s why:

Reason 1: On the Fence

This is the most important reason of all. I won’t offer a contract with a partial because I may be on the fence about those first chapters. I need to see if the subsequent chapters turn into something wonderful. I’ve read terrific manuscripts where the first chapters weren’t as strong as they could be, but they finished up with such a bang that I ended up signing those authors. Slow beginning? Heck, I can always take care of that during the editing process.

But I won’t know how strong your manuscript is if it isn’t finished, and I’ll have no choice to walk away. And the author will have no choice but to keep on querying. Le bummer.

Reason 2: Gambling

I’ve been to Vegas many times, and I can’t stand gambling because I always lose. I look at the money the one-armed-bandit consumed with nary a “thank you,” and consider all the cool things I could have used it on instead.

We’ve gambled in the past and signed a few authors based on partials. To date, I canceled Every. Single. Project. The simple reason is that those manuscripts didn’t have the same quality as their first chapters.

And think about it; editors classically ask for the first three chapters, so those suckers get A LOT of massaging and tender loving care. Authors have the luxury of writing, putting it away, coming back later, re-writing, editing. It’s like getting ready for the prom. I remember spending horrific amounts of time primping for the prom. Just don’t ask me to repeat that same process the following day. Or any other day after that.

It’s the same for writing. Your first chaps are getting ready for the prom, and boyo, they look mahvelous. If I sign you based on how you look for the prom, then I’m basically contracting you to primp for the prom every single day until you’re crowned Prom Queen or King, and I’m giving you less time to look just as gorgeous.

Deadlines suck because most authors don’t realize how hard it is to bang out fabulosity while under the gun. Oh sure, you think you’ll be able to bang it out in time. Problem is, it reads like it. All the flavor and magic is missing because you don’t have the same amount of time you had when you wrote those first three chapters.

In my particular case, those canceled projects were victims of two separate problems: Insufficient time to do a proper job and/or the manuscript simply didn’t live up to its previous hype. I think of all the wasted time that could have been avoided if those authors had simply finished their manuscripts.

It sucks to cancel a project, which is why we no longer sign on partials. It’s heartbreaking to us and to the author.

But Aren’t Sales Made on Partials?

Yes, it’s somewhat common for nonfiction sales to take place based on partials, but these usually happen when the author has a solid readership based on terrific sales from previous books. There’s an identifiable track record. But if you’ve written in a different genre, say fiction, then you’re starting over again with no readership or track record in nonfiction.

Other cases where sales happen with partials is if the author has an amazing platform. A lot of your actor/actress/politician/public figure books are usually sold based on an idea: “Actress Debbie LaDouchbague promises to dish out the dirt on her years as the lead in the daytime soap, As The Stomach Rebels.”

But these cases aren’t the norm for the everyday author.

And may I just say that I’ve never quite understood the whole, “I’ll write the rest if I sell it.” I always wonder whether the author is truly committed to the project. “Oh well, if it doesn’t sell, at least I didn’t waste time writing it.” Hmm.

You want a sale? Finish the manuscript!

In the meantime, color me frustrated.

You Rejected Me – Can We Talk?

September 23, 2015

The icky part of publishing is writing rejection letters. I reject projects for all kinds of reasons, and in a lot of cases I try to give the author a very brief reason as to why their work didn’t fit with us. I do this in order to offer some insight, because it’s frustrating to authors to receive the standby form rejection letter.

What authors should never do is instantly assume they’re being rejected because their work sucks stale Twinkie cream. Sometimes a work has great potential, but it’s either written in a crowded category, like Alzheimer’s or cancer, in which case, the author would need a large platform. Some manuscripts would simply be a challenge for me to market because I don’t specialize in that particular genre; like religion. These books have a whole different distribution outlet that we’re not a part of.

Whatever the reason, the one thing that makes me want to chew razor blades is the author who wants to engage me in further discussion.

Last past week I rejected an author and gave solid reasons as to why his project wasn’t right for us. But that didn’t deter him from emailing me twice more to convince me of the error of my ways. He offered statistics about his particular subject and told me how hard he’d work to promote his book. I politely reminded him to please look at the rejection letter, as I felt it spoke for itself. He wrote again with more stats. By this time I figured diplomacy wasn’t going to work. Feh.

A rejection letter isn’t an invitation to open up a dialog. A rejection is a shut-the-door-no-further-discussion-required. This author reminded me of the waitress who was determined to get me to order more food than I wanted.
Her: “How about fries with your sandwich?”
Me: “No thanks. Just the sandwich.”
Her: “Well let me recommend the coleslaw. It’s really good.”
Me <getting testy>: “No thanks. Just the sandwich.”
Her: “Our rolls are to die for. Want me to bring a basket?”
Me <contemplating hari kiri with my butter knife>: “Just. The. Sandwich.”
Her: “Pie for dessert?”


No means no. If an editor wants to further the conversation, they’ll say so, and happily, I’ve done this many times. In fact, I just did this a few weeks ago, which resulted in us signing the author.

But what will quickly tarnish an editor’s impression of you is if you can’t let go. There are many wonderful publishers out there, so don’t waste another second on someone who has said no thank you. Rather, go after someone who will say, Please send me more!”

Rejections – Oh, the temptation…

March 5, 2015

When you receive a rejection, a personal rejection that outlines the specifics as to why an editor or agent is making the pass, it’s very tempting to reply…to justify, defend, or to simply explain.

My recommendation?

Don’t. Just. Don’t. When I reject something – for whatever reason – it’s a signal that I’ve moved on. I’m no longer thinking about that query because, well, I rejected it, and my pea-sized brain doesn’t have enough room to mull over something I let go. I have far too many other queries, chapters, or full manuscripts that require my attention. The last thing I need is for an author to continue a conversation in order to plead his/her case.

To put it succinctly, I’m. Over. You. I’m sure you’re lovely, and we’d have a blast over wine and cheese. But I have a business to run, and your constant emails begin to make my teeth itch.

It’s true that oftentimes I’ll write personal comments in my rejection letters, but I do this in order to help the author improve their query. Whether the hook is missing or I see a serious lack of a platform, I reject for lots of different reasons. A personal rejection isn’t an invitation to open a dialog. I’ve moved on, and so should you.

There are millions of wonderful editors out there, so wasting time emailing me to defend your work doesn’t get you any closer to your objective. Instead, I get a wee bit creeped out.

Be professional. Act professionally. And keep your dignity.

Mr. Grouchy Pants

September 15, 2014

You no spamma it?

It’s frustrating to be judged based on assumptions. Case in point; I received a query this morning at the same time I happened to be going through my inbox. Since my morning was still relatively uncomplicated, I took the time to read the query and a few paragraphs of the work. Right away, I could tell it wasn’t a project we’d be interested in doing, so I went ahead and wrote a polite rejection letter and wished him all the best of luck finding the perfect home for his work.

A couple hours later, another email from the author plunked into my inbox, which said:


Um. Excuse me? The first thought that popped across my quasi-firing synapses was, Gee, would he have felt better if I’d taken five months to reply? Or not reply at all?

Just what is the proper waiting time to send a rejection letter anyway? I’ll have to consult my Emily Post book of etiquette – though I’m pretty sure she doesn’t cover this specific problem.

This is one of those frustrating Damned If You Do/Damned If You Don’t situations. I’ve had nastygrams for not getting back to an author in a timely manner, and now I’m getting nastygrams for replying too quickly. Too early to mainline cheap gin?

I wonder what the author was trying to accomplish. Sure, he’s welcome to take my name in vain (and why not – the Rescue Beagles do it all the time), and stomp about at experiencing the fastest rejection evah, but that and Midol won’t change the outcome. In truth, it doesn’t matter if I read it or not (I did); it’s still a rejection. Does he think sending a snotgram will bring me to my knees and bet forgiveness? Will it make him feel better? The professional simply picks up and moves on.

We are all painfully aware that publishing is a frustrating business, and emotions can get the better of writers. But to lash out before thinking it through will make you look the fool…or the topic of someone’s blog post. This goes for the lousy review, too. It sucks stale Twinkie cream to get a bad review, but the only choice you have is to grit and grin through it. Don’t become known for being a Mr. Grouchy Pants.

So I’m still trying to figure out the proper response time for a rejection, since none of the etiquette sites covers this. As for the appropriate reply, my friend Dodin Oga offered the best one of all: Please disregard the rejection letter. I will send another one in three months. Hope that helps.


Query Letter: There’s Disagreeing and There’s Being Unwise

July 22, 2013

A recent email responding to my rejection:

Thank you for your comment regarding my story, but I have to disagree.  I don’t think my book lacks a plot or specific message.  Please let me know if I can rewrite my query and send it to you. You’ll find that if you read my work, that your conclusions are all wrong.

Um. Here’s the thing; I base my decision to ask for pages on the strength of your query letter. If your query letter lacks pertinent information, then I’ll normally say something so you may consider revising your query letter. I don’t offer critique in order to open a dialog or entertain a difference of opinion, so it does you little good to disagree with me.

It could be that your story rocks the Earth and Moon, and I’d be a simpleton not to immediately sign you. But unless you communicate that fabulosity in your query letter, I’ll be none the wiser. I understand author frustration and the desire to lash out, but rather than blaming me for the fact that you didn’t do your job in your query letter, try standing outside yourself and viewing your query letter objectively. Remember that I didn’t have the advantage of sitting next to you while you wrote your story, so I’m literally blind.

The Art of Objectivity

When authors fall into this trap of “What the heck, Pricey, why don’t you love my query?” it’s usually because they’re too close to their stories. Objectivity allows you to look at your query letter with fresh eyes and answer those pesky questions:

  • Is there a clear intro to my main characters?
  • What situation have they gotten themselves into?
  • What choices are they facing?
  • What do they stand to lose if they don’t take action?

Being too close can get you into trouble. You react defensively rather than taking a step back and allowing your cooler self to take control. This is when you publicly lash out at a bad review, or invite editors to make merry with barnyard animals if they reject you.

Of course there are times when authors have been unfairly rejected, and the editor was simply a cranky pants. But so what? You can’t argue your way back into their inbox, so why bother? Best line of defense is to avoid being like the author above.

Have there been times when you really wanted to bite back? What would you have said, and would it have been right?

How To Guarantee Yourself a Rejection

April 8, 2013


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.


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.


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