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.
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.