Rejection Hurts: A Cautionary Tale

April 26, 2017

I’ve just had a Wut. The. Hell? moment. Hasn’t happened in a long time, so I guess I was due. What am I talking about? The suckosity of rejection, and how authors choose to deal with it. The struggle is real, and it’s biting my butterks right now.

Lashing out over rejection. I’ve talked about it a number of times over the years. After a refreshingly long drought from nastiness, one came barreling down to the Price Batcave with enough force to roust The Rescues from their undeserved nap (after all, there is filing to be done!). Le sigh. Why, why, why do authors do this?

Here is the exchange:

Me: Thank you for writing. I’m afraid there are many, many books on ….. already on store shelves. Minus a unique hook and well-established author platform, I don’t see the qualities that make this a “gotta have it.” Best of luck to you.

This is a fairly standard rejection. It’s brief and offers my thoughts on why I rejected it, because I don’t like to leave the author wondering what elements were responsible for the rejection. When I have a hundred other queries to read, brief is my champion. Needless to say, I was shocked when the below email came blasting into my inbox:

The Author: I usually don’t bother with this kind of stuff, but really, how many of your published titles are “gotta have it” books.  How can anything you’ve said possible be of any importance to me.  If this book is not for you, then just pass on it and leave it at that.  Be an adult about it and have a little compassion for the authors who submit to you.  Seeing your titles I would think you would be a pro at turning someone down without covering your own behind.  

I am old, but what you’ve written could be devastating to a young person.

“Covering my behind”? I’m not quite sure what this even means, since I’m not obligated to justify a rejection letter. The author inquires how many of our books are “gotta have it.”

Srsly? How to answer that. Do I go for tongue-cheek?

“Well, none of them are ‘gotta have it’ books, dear author. We just publish any ol’ crud that crosses our desk.”The mind boggles.

After some thought, I decided on honest enlightenment.

Me: All of our books have “gotta have it” qualities. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have published them. My comments to you were offered as an explanation as to why it wasn’t right for us. I give these in order to help authors figure out why they’re receiving rejections, or how they may improve their query letter so as to be more successful in the future. Only in rare instances do I receive a response such as yours, because most authors want to know the reasons behind their rejections. It’s impossible for me to know who is going to take offense at constructive critique or be appreciative. But my aim for the past fourteen years has been to help authors wherever I can. Rejection hurts, but lashing out and being acutely rude to me for the shortcomings of your query letter is hardly appropriate or professional. May I offer a bit of your own advice, and act like an adult?

Considering how some editors and agents have fired back at snot-grams such as these, I felt mine was a reasonable response to someone who has an obvious aversion to rejection.

Dear Authors…we know rejection sucks stale Twinkie cream. Don’t forget, we suffer rejection as well when an agent or author decides to take the other publisher’s offer. No one is immune to the effects of, “Ah crap, lost out on that one.” But the guarantee is that the sun will continue to rise, the birds will sing, and authors will continue their search for the perfect publisher. And hopefully, there will be a love match. If not, then write something else. The trick is to remain true to your passion, and not let passion overtake your desire to punch out an editor’s lights. Because, really…it’s just plain stupid.

 

 

 

 

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Comp Titles: How to Take the Jam Out of My Jelly Doughnut

April 25, 2017

Is there anything worse than getting a doughnut that doesn’t have enough jelly? It’s one of life’s tragedies, and the struggle is real. If I order a jelly doughnut, then please make sure there’s all sorts of gloppy, oozy jelly in there. So much the better if it dribbles down my chin. Pure. Bliss.

How to take that jam outta my jelly doughtnut? Well…

Tell me that your book has no book comparisons. Continue the blight by insisting you’re breaking “new ground.” Bless your heart. Maybe you are breaking new territory, but I can assure you that someone has done it before you…to some degree…which would be a title comparison.

I don’t ask for title comps for my health. I need them when I’m talking to my sales teams, bookstores, book fairs, basically anyone with a pulse. I. Need. Them. All publishers do, in fact. It’s a part of navigating this nutty biz.

Failure to do your part in providing important info pegs you as a Noob (someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know…and doesn’t care), or plain lazy. It tells me that you aren’t in touch with your competition – and yes, Mrs. Wigglesnort, there is always competition. Worse, is that I won’t take you seriously. If you insist you have zero competition, then I have to wonder about the veracity of your manuscript. It’s a matter of dominoes, and once they start to fall, it’s hard to win the game.

Competition is tough, tough, tough in the lit world, and you’re looking for reasons to engage us, not repel us. Make sure you submit a winning jelly doughnut. Know your competition. Read your competition.

 


Hello, Query? Meet Your Manuscript…

August 8, 2016

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?

Well…

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.


Avoiding the Terrible Awful

August 3, 2016

Whenever I go to writer’s conferences, the question usually arises; “What’s the absolute worst thing an author can do?”

Oh. The mind boggles.

I’m usually the one on the panel who urges my synapses to fire more quickly so I can go back through the many years of some of the more interesting WTF-ery that has flown across my desk. And truthfully, my brain rebels because I’d rather concentrate on all the right things to do.

However…

There is one little thing that busts my chops every time because it’s just so absolutely horrible. It’s the query letter that doesn’t tell me anything about the manuscript, but instead asks for advice. Could I please talk a bit about my company and what we’re looking for? Could I please state how I want the query to look? Then I’m told the author “isn’t really a writer,” but, oh gosh, the story is JUST SO GOOD, that it’ll sell a bajillion books. Everyone who’s read the manuscript says so.

Um.

There is the “new writer” and then there’s the “hopelessly lost, out-of-the-zip-code writer.” It’s so achingly incredible that anyone in 2016 can be this lost. This goes beyond living on Writer’s Island. This is more like living under a rock.

I realize this is an extreme case of the Terrible Awful (thank you, Minnie Jackson) – but the fact that it still happens is worrisome. And of course, there are varying degrees of the Terrible Awful, and there is a very simple solution: Pretend this is a job interview.

The gods would toss down lighting bolts if you went into a job interview and ask the boss to tell them about their company and their guidelines…all the while telling them absolutely zip about you. It would go back to that getting laughed out of the zip code thing. If you want a job, then you make sure to put your best foot forward.

There is no reason for me to reply to a “query” such as this, so the author has blown the one chance they had with me. So think about your own query; is there a compelling reason for an agent or editor to reply in the positive…let alone reply at all? Does your query detail your main character? Does it focus on the heartbeat of your story and highlight what’s at risk? Does the tone of your query match the tone of the writing in the manuscript? I’ve seen any number of queries that insist the story is a comedy, yet the writing is somber and the storyline is anything but amusing.

Most importantly, have you written your query then walked away from it for a while? Did you let others read it and ask them if it’s written in a fashion that makes them want to read more?

Don’t be the Terrible Awful. Be the Holy-Margaritas-I-Gotta-Have-This!


Authors Who Need a Binky

July 22, 2016

There are authors who believe their writing comes from the hand of God. Hey, maybe it does and I’m too dumb to realize it. But I do know what works for us and what doesn’t. For instance, when Kristin Adams pitched her manuscript about the amazing friendship between her son and his chicken, Frightful, to me at the PNWA in Seattle last July, I knew I had to have her on board.

But not everyone rocks my boat, and they receive a rejection letter…which affronts some the point of striking back. Instead of doing what you should do: M.O.V.E. O.N. the aggrieved author writes me back in a fit of pique, accusing me of everything from global warming to acne.

Let me invite you into my world for a second:

I read a manuscript and sent this rejection letter:

Thank you for writing. There are some problems with this that prevents me from considering this further. First, I can’t find anything about XXX on the internet. If there’s no proof this place existed, and thereby impossible to verify, then I don’t see where the compelling components for this manuscript exist. Lastly, your query letter lacks editorial finesse. If I’m forced to re-read sentences two and three times, then I have to assume the manuscript would be of the same quality. This makes things quite untenable for us. Best of luck to you in your endeavors.

I received this back from the author today:

I had my proposal letter edited and found out that even though it needed improvement it was not any where near as bad as you claim it is. My manuscript was reviewed by a professor when I took a course with her and she has found it to have what a creative fiction that is auto-ethnographic needs which is clarity and believability. I do not accept your feedback as valid in fact it was very insensitive. I now believe  your or or publishing company just wanted to discourage me because of being scared. I talk about powerful women and that can scare some people. I also think that even though y’all claim to focus on such things as conflict and resolution in truth y’all are just wanting to stop social progress and keep socialization as it is now so you have to discourage people who think and act outside of that oppressive box, take good care

Oh dear.

This is never a good idea. EVER. I can’t say it enough. Conduct yourself as you would at a job interview, because basically, a query letter is a job interview. All I could think was that this poor author is in for the shock of her life when she has to experience the editing process. And reviews? Oh, the horror.

Publishing is a tough, competitive business, where only the best are chosen. If you need a safe place to suck your binky over what you perceive as “insensitive,” then I posit that you ain’t ready for the Big Leagues, yet. There is a huge difference between making professional critiques and telling someone their writing sucks stale Twinkie cream (which I would never do).

So why do I bring this up? Because I see so much of this idea of “I deserve this, and screw you if you reject me!” And you know what? You don’t “deserve this.” You earn it…and you do that by acting like a professional and having an amazing story that is clearly outlined in your query letter. The characters and plot should be so real that they leap off the page. This is exactly what Kristin Adams did when she pitched to me during breakfast in Seattle last year. By the time I’d slathered the butter on my roll, I knew I had to see more. Kristin earned it. And so have all of our authors.

Over the years, I’ve seen more and more bad behavior, and I don’t understand this. Is this the general coming of things, or is there something in the water that’s making everyone put on their Crabby Pants? Regardless of why it’s taking place, there is one constant, and that is that editors and agents won’t put up with rude behavior. You want to throw a hissy? Fine. Go do it in your safe space. And don’t forget your binky.


The Query Game – Are You Bantha Fodder?

September 27, 2015

Of late I’ve collected a lot of query letters where it’s obvious the authors lost sight of its actual intent – to the point where all I can do is shake my head and utter, “Wow.”

And not in a good way.

“Everybody Wants Me”

One query named every editor and agent who had asked to see pages. I understand the desire to make oneself look like they’re in demand because sometimes it actually works. That’s the stuff auctions are made of. However, they have a topic that’s worth fighting over because they know what the story is about. The one sentence she expended on her book had me looking around my office wondering if The Rescues had played another trick on me.

If she’d sent the same query to all those people clamoring for her work, how were they able they draw enough of a conclusion to warrant asking for pages?

The icing on the cake is that she never actually mentioned she was querying me. It was merely an email telling me about everyone who wants her. Her reply was that she “forgot” in all the excitement. Forgot. To. Tell. Me. She. Was. Querying. Me.

Alrighty then. I think I’ll let all those other agents and editors duke it out.

Wow.

“I Did This and That”

One author offered up accolades from a play performance and being featured in the local newspaper twice, and only included one teensy sentence about the topic of the manuscript…which is in a very crowded category.

One short sentence. I’m pretty good, but the reception on my tinfoil hat doesn’t extend to reading author’s minds.

Wow.

Humor

Humor is a tough thing because it’s so subjective. What the author may find utterly hysterical may put my teeth on edge. If you’re tempted to use humor in your query letter, ask yourself whether it fits with the flavor of the manuscript, and whether you’re trying too hard to be witty rather than simply telling me what your book is about.

One author’s query letter made me belly laugh – and I’m a very hard sell. So, of course, I asked for the full. Her manuscript is a humor piece, so the humor in her query was appropriate. She had me at hello, as the line goes…

Another author wasn’t as lucky, and had me dropping Pepsid OTC. Her first line begged me not to eat her. Eh? I’ll admit that I can have a bit of bite to me on occasion, but to actually consume another human being is beyond my capacity or desire. I’ll leave it to the bears ‘n gators. There was also an odd reference about hair-pulling which still has me scratching my head. But the ultimate killer was that her subject matter was of a serious nature, so the use of humor  fell as flat as my efforts at baking.

Wow.

“I Thought the Manuscript Was Attached”

Another query was long on the braggy stuff – “I’m the coolest thing since sliced bread.” – and short on detail; also one short sentence. The kicker is that the author thought he’d attached the manuscript, which he hadn’t. But that wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was the author’s assumption that the manuscript would speak for itself, thus making up for a vague query letter.

The truth is that an incomplete query won’t compel me to open up an attachment…even if it is attached. Well, okay, yah, in truth I’ll open it and read a page or two. But if it isn’t even attached, thar be no way I’ll carry the conversation any further, other than to reject it.

Wow.

“To Whom It May Concern”

This is always a favorite of mine because it instantly makes my intestines do a backflip. I know, I know, maybe it’s petty, but I view query letters like a job interview, and my mama always taught me that when job hunting, you always know the name of the person to whom you’re talking, and you’re familiar with the company. It shows due diligence and professionalism.

Wow.

“How Much Do You Charge?”

This is another favorite of mine for the sheer humor of it. That simple question tells me buckets about the author’s knowledge of the publishing industry. And hey, what better compliment can one have than to be assumed as being a vanity publisher? Cracks me up every time because there are so many responses I’m tempted to write:

“A quart of your blood and any beagles you have stashed around.”
“If you gotta ask, then you can’t afford me.”
“I don’t charge, I lollygag. Slowly.”

Oh dear, the list of possible replies goes on and on…

Wow.

“I Have an Agent”

Now this confounds me every time I read this – and yes, over the past 13 years, it’s happened more than I care to count. For the love of all that’s holy, why, why, why would you write a terrible query letter that’s on equal footing with bug repellant when you Have. An. Agent? Isn’t that why you have an agent?

I know of some authors whose agents will only query the Big Guns and permit their clients to query us “less worthy” sub-humans. This offers up its own roadblocks because I find it arrogant and offensive. So if those Big Guns don’t bite, and the author does all the dirty work of querying us peons, then how has that agent earned their 15%? Uh uh. Not in my book.

Double wow.

Do It Right or Go Home

The long and short of The Query Game is this: If I have no idea what your story is about, then it doesn’t matter how funny, popular, forgetful you are, who your unnamed and absent agent is, or how much money you have. Send a query that’s short on giving me the goods, and you’re bantha fodder.

A query letter exists for one purpose; to attract an editor or agent to the point of uttering “Wow” in a good way. My particular needs are the following:

  • What is your book about? – this means details about your personal journey and how it impacted/changed your life.
  • What makes it a “gotta have it”? Is there an identifiable audience? If so, what are the unique elements of your story that make it stand out from the herd? If you don’t have something unique and revolutionary to say, then I probably won’t bite.
  • Who are you and what kind of platform do you have? Furthering that idea of a unique message, you need to have a platform to back yourself up. This doesn’t mean how many people you know, but how many people know you. And how do they know you? If you’re known for being a painter, then I’m leery about whether your book on manic depression or cancer will carry much weight. Reason being, there are a jillion books on those topics, and the thing you’re known for doesn’t impact the subject of your book. Nonfiction is funny that way.

Conversely, Erika Armstrong, author of our upcoming release A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT, is known for being a pilot and writing amazing aviation articles in many mags. However, the fact that she’s a pilot is the compelling hook for her personal journey. Given the vast numbers of pilots, this is going to be a hot seller because her platform supports her book.

This is how you Wow an agent or editor. Don’t be bantha fodder. Go out and be fabulous!


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?”

Argh.

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!”


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