Always Act Like a Professional

September 12, 2016

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.


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.


How NOT To Handle a Bad Review

November 12, 2015

You no spamma me...got 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?”

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!”


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 me...got 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:

THIS IS THE FASTEST RESPONSE I HAVE HAD IN YEARS OF WRITING. THE ONLY QUESTION I HAVE IS; DID YOU READ IT?

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.

Guffaw.


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