Rejection bites. Everyone knows this. It brings out the the worst in some – and I’ve been privy to those “worst times.” I don’t like having to write rejection letters any more than you like receiving them. But once they’re written, that’s the end of it for me, because, well, I have a ton more queries awaiting my attention.
So it’s irritating to receive an email from someone I rejected, informing me that my analysis and reasons for rejection are all wrong, and that I’m an idiot. And furthermore, the manuscript won TWO awards and many readers said how much they LOVED the story…and oh, there is a publisher who has accepted the work. I’m truly happy it won writing awards and that readers enjoyed reading the manuscript and that the author has a contract offer. If the author has gotten that contract, then why bother fanning it in my nose? This confuses me.
The fact that it didn’t work for me isn’t a declaration of any lack of talent or unworthiness. That ain’t my call. My call is this: Can I sell it? If there are elements that make me feel it would be a tough sell, then I have an obligation to those who work for me to reject it.
And really, what is the benefit of an author sending me (or any other editor) a letter like this? Is it supposed to make me curl up and cry because I missed the boat? Am I supposed to feel chastised because I was too thick-headed to understand the story’s fabulosity? None of these things happen at my end, and this second-grade nyah nyah makes the author look less than professional.
And that’s the crux of this business – any business, really. Always act like a professional. Rejection hurts, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to fire off a “you suck” email after receiving a rejection. In fact, emails like this make me breathe a sigh of relief that I did reject them. Who needs a loose cannon who flips out at rejection? Can you imagine the fireworks over a bad review? Yikes.
Lastly, it’s letters like this that make me want to return to sending out form rejection letters. Many times I do offer reasons as to why something didn’t work for me as a way of offering the author objective insight from someone who’s been selling books for almost 14 years. Perhaps I’ve seen something the author didn’t, and they can look at their writing with fresh eyes. Or…they can get hurt and lash back.
Either way, authors who write out of anger diminish themselves in a way they don’t even understand. This industry is filled with rejection and tough love. If authors don’t learn that one lesson of grace under fire, then their career will be decidedly short and filled with angst.
Pissed off at a rejection? Eat chocolate.
I rest my case…
Many authors send out their queries and sit to chew their nails. I get that. Done it myself on more than one occasion. “When can I send out a nagmail to the agent/editor?” is the all-consuming question.
Three months. 90 days. That’s the normal waiting period.
Yes, I can hear the screams and groans from here. But there’s a simple reason for this; we’re all inundated. Yours is not the only query/submission we’ve received. We have cyber stacks of them – all awaiting our attention. When you add this to the other jobs that editors and agents perform on a daily basis, then it’s easy to see why it easily takes 90 days (or…gulp…longer) to get through the stack.
And it’s not a matter of simply glossing over them, either. Some queries are easy to figure out that they aren’t right for us…and those can be taken care of quickly. But I have to actually read them first in order to make that determination.
The rest fall into two categories: I Might Be Interested and Totally Interested
Whichever category a query falls into, I take the time to research the subject matter, the author, and the marketing possibilities.When I compound this with the responsibilities I have to my authors, my days/weeks are filled.
So if you’re chewing your nails wondering if/when you’ll hear from those you queried, please remember that our days are stuffed. Instead of watching the clock, start working on your author platform – or improving it. Talk to professionals in your subject matter. Go after blurbs. There are many things you can do to fill the time that will enhance yourself. And these are things an agent or editor of nonfiction will ask for anyway. You become a much more attractive target if you can show how much you’ve done.
So please…give us 90 days. Then send your nagmail. Any sooner, and it makes my teeth itch.
- Use Wild by Cheryl Strayed as one of your book comps.
- Tell an editor that your book will “sell itself.”
- Insist that “My perspective is unique.”
These statements want to make me mainline Drano.
“It’s just like Wild!”
No it isn’t, so please don’t say this or use huge bestsellers.The reason we ask for title comparisons is so we know how to position your book. Wild is an international bestseller that has sold a gajillion copies. It would be lovely if your book enjoys equal success, but it’s unlikely. Title comps are meant to be realistic representations of your book and how your particular subject matter would sell in the marketplace – not stand-outs like Wild. This means you would choose a title that is closely aligned with your story in subject matter.
The more insightful stuff you send, the clearer the picture is for us. And we love clear.
“My book will sell itself!”
No it won’t. There are countless hours and bundles of money that go into selling a book, so this kind of statement makes my teeth itch. Endless promotion is done by your publisher and their marketing / sales teams in order to make readers aware that your book exists. This is not a case of “If you write it, they will come.” They won’t. We have to do a buttload of work to get readers to come to the trough.
Never, never, never say this…unless the intent is to watch an editor spontaneously combust – which could have its own amusement factor…
“My perspective is unique!”
This sentence usually sends me running for my vapors because it’s such a generalized piece of fluff. It doesn’t say anything of value. If your perspective is truly unique, then you better be prepared to defend that in a manner that won’t make me throw good glassware. And you defend this by being extremely well-read in your subject matter.
For example, if you’re writing about a loved one having bipolar disorder, then your viewpoint won’t be unique because there are a million books on bipolar disorder whose perspectives are from a family member – usually a parent. However, if you’ve noticed that nearly all biopolar books have a “grit your teeth” mentality, then a unique perspective would be to highlight how your story sheds a positive light that allows for grace and humility and gratitude…such as Mommy, I’m Still In Here by Kate McLaughlin.
In order to differentiate yourself from books that are already in the marketplace, there has to be some unique element that’s big enough to where we can capitalize on it and make it a selling point…and for that we need specifics from you…which means you need to be well-versed in your competition.
So there you have it; yet another easy way to send an editor off to the Funny Farm for a month-long stay.
I know, this sounds funky, right? I mean, presumably the person who wrote the query is the same person who wrote the manuscript, so why the need for an introduction to each other?
I can’t tell you how many queries I read or pitches I hear that whet my appetite to the point where I scream, “SEND PAGES!” with the same inflection I use when yelling, “Honey, the meatloaf is on fire! Again!“
It would be unseemly to yell about my meatloaf being on fire, and have “honey” discover that it’s really a Bundt cake that’s aflame. Right? First thing you’d utter is “What the hell?”
This is what happens when I get a query that says it’s one thing, but the manuscript says it’s quite something else. For example, if your query states that you’ve written a memoir of friendship built around the love of hot rods (the vroom vroom kind, not the…oh get your head out of the gutter), but your manuscript is really a How To on how to form a Hot Rod club, then my eyes will cross, and I’ll let The Rescue Beagles commence to tearing and shredding.
Because this isn’t what I was expecting.
Don’t tell me memoir, then give me How To. It forces me to switch gears and completely realign my thinking. And let’s face it, my synapses only fire under extreme protest. They’d much rather be sipping mai tais under a cool palm tree.
This just happened to me, and I was in the process of writing a rejection letter, when…shock of shocks…my synapses fired and told me to look at the chapters as a How To – even though it was supposed to be a memoir. I’ve decided to give this another try. This time the author lucked out. Synapses save the day! But when I’m reading a bunch of queries and sample chapters in a day, those same synapses may desert me. I may utter, “What the hell?” and reject it.
I hate rejecting things that sound like amazing concepts.
This requires objective self-analysis on your part. You have to step outside of yourself and read your chapters with an unbiased eye. How do they read? Do they read like a memoir? A How To? A romantic comedy? A horror show? If they read in a definite way, then you need to write your query to match it, so the bleary-eyed editor on the other end will see your brilliance for exactly what they are.
So introduce your query letter to your manuscript and see if they are friends or oil and vinegar.