Rejections are subjective. I know that. I only have to think about books I loved that a friend didn’t like or one they loved that I didn’t like. We all have our own tastes and even moods. But when our manuscript is rejected it often doesn’t feel subjective. We often feel as if we’ve failed.
When those feelings strike me, I have to remember how many published books I read where the story didn’t grab me. Or something turned me off. And these books were loved by an editor willing to spend a lot of time with the manuscript. They’ve been supported by a publishing company as a whole. So if published books can fail an individual, why I am I surprised when my own unpublished manuscript does?
At first page and roundtable critique sessions, I’ve seen how editors and agents just haven’t connected with the writing of a specific piece. One person might “get it” and the others not. Or the panel is split on whether they’d read on.
Ever had rejections that said, “I just didn’t love it enough.”? I have. Some agents/editors have told me things to work on; others haven’t. They are a reminder that I need to keep trying. If you’re getting personal rejections, keep on.
But what if you aren’t getting any personal rejections? That means it’s time to step back and look at your writing.
Many years ago at the SCBWI LA Conference–2009 to be exact–Editor Wendy Loggia shared “seven 7 reasons why your manuscript is declined.” They included:
- nice writing, but no story
- too similar to something else she’d edited or in the market place
- unclear who the audience would be
- can’t connect to the voice
- book submitted too early before it was ready
- project would not stand out on the house list
- the author is difficult to deal with (Yes, many editors and agents check your social media.)
What she concluded with was “If I can’t give a book my heart and soul, I won’t acquire it.” But note how many of the reasons above are something we have control over: a good story, a clear audience, a professional manuscript, a good attitude.
Here are some tips garnered from a variety of agents and editors that deal with what we control:
- put your best foot forward – fix those typos and grammar errors
- have a good hook
- show, don’t tell
- Editor Nick Thomas says, “Don’t make the first chapter too long.”
- have an intimacy with your characters
- remember cliffhangers make good chapter endings
- don’t write to trends
- be passionate about your project
- got voice? “Always it’s the voice that gets me… The way it makes me feel,” says Editor Christy Ottaviano.
- make sure your plot is solid
- share big truths
- provide opportunity for emotional engagement
And for the querying itself:
- research the agent(s) you are querying
- follow submission instructions
- get the agent or editor’s name right
- write a good query/cover letter
- provide good comp titles – this is one of my weaknesses
- keep your letter to one page
Also, don’t forget that you aren’t alone in getting rejections.
“At times the rejections did get to me, but the will to write always triumphed over the disappointment of rejection.” – Karen Hesse
Shannon Hale said, “I’ve published 20+ books, the last 10 or so of which have all been best sellers, and I still get rejections. All the time.”
“Rejection isn’t a sign of failure. Rejection is a reminder that there’s always room for improvement.” – Ana Hart
Kathryn Stockett said, “I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected.”
Let’s not be ashamed. Let’s press on.
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Image courtesy of morguefile.com
I’ve know authors who have done it well and many others who have not. You’ve heard that a bad apple can spoil a whole barrel–often in the self-publishing realm it’s the opposite. Finding the one good apple may be difficult.
The first impression for a self-published book is the cover. If the cover is not professional, it won’t matter about the rest of the book. There’s a snarky site called LOUSY BOOK COVERS that has a tag line that says “Just because you CAN design your own cover doesn’t mean you SHOULD.” The site shows what it claims–embarrassingly poor covers.
In the traditional publishing world, Art Directors often go through multiple cover designs for one book before everyone involved (including the marketing department) is happy. I suggest that authors self-publishing get honest opinions on their covers from booksellers, librarians, other authors, illustrators, etc.
When I open a book and see a typo, a misspelling or grammar error on the first page, it makes me doubt the overall quality of the book. Traditional publishers use copy editors as well as editors who work on content. If you want to self-publish, or the new term “indie publish,” please consider finding someone who can copy edit your book.
The biggest deal is content. I’ve found stories/books with these kinds of flaws:
Not Being Realistic
• It couldn’t happen like that
• It doesn’t make sense
• Where did that skill/ability/tool come from?
Main Character Not In Charge
• She is swayed by the winds of circumstances
• He doesn’t make any decisions
Problematic Word Choices
• Overuse of adverbs
• Week adjectives
• Weedy words
• Misplaced modifying clauses
• Passive verbs
• Intricate details of clothing probably don’t add much, unless it relates to the plot in a specific way
• Taking forever to get to the point of a scene
• Burying action with description
• Overdone dialogue tags/attributions
• Too many characters
And none of those issues deal with the overall storyline. Traditional editors and freelance editors help with both. If you’re self-publishing, you’ll probably want to hire a freelance editor.
The other thing I see is people who write books but don’t really understand the market. It could be a children’s book that either talks down to kids or covers information that children aren’t interested. One self-published writer told a friend of mine that she didn’t see why a children’s book had to be “all about the kids.” Um, because that’s who your audience is?
Here’s an article called “Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know” by David Carnoy.
So, say you write a great book, get it edited by a professional editor, get it copy edited, have a great cover, now what? Marketing!
It’s not easy. Several sources I saw listed an average of 100-150 books per year in sales for indie authors. Here’s one link.
Getting reviews is difficult. The Horn Book editor, Roger Sutton, wrote an article on why: “An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed.” Now he’s opened a contest called “A challenge to self-publishers.” Deadline is December 15, 2014 and it is only open to printed books.
Self-published authors can pay for a review at Kirkus–that’s not paying for a positive review, but paying for the chance to BE reviewed.
Getting into bookstores can be difficult. Here are some helpful articles:
“Getting your self-published book on the shelf (i.e. Bookstore Dating 101)”
“How to get your Self-Published Books into Bookstores”
“How To Sell Your Self-Published Book in Bookstores”
Selling books at conferences may not be allowed by the hosting organization.
Awards can help sales! Did you know there are specific awards administered by the Independent Book Publishers Association for indie published books? Go here to read about the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards. SCBWI has a Spark Award that recognizes excellence in a children’s book published through a non-traditional publishing route. James Minter posted an article called “Writing: 50 Book Awards Open to Self-publishers”
I’ll end with a link to this article by someone who has done it: “Chris Eboch on Self-Publishing and Middle Grade Novels: Should You or Shouldn’t You?”
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Photo courtesy of pippalou on morguefile.com
A number of years ago a speaker at a Writers Conference motivated me to quit my part-time job to dedicate more time to writing. I had to decide how to save that new free time just for writing. I started with one accountability partner. We promised to meet twice a week and each work on our own projects. We met in a library in the morning to write, would chat over lunch, followed by several more hours of writing. The progress we made was exciting.
Here’s what I learned through that experience.
I’m easily distracted when writing at home. It’s too easy for me to start checking email, or to look up “one” thing on the internet, get involved with social media, do volunteer work, do critiques, or even play a “quick” game. Plus there’s the obvious distractions of others at home, the phone, piles on my desk to sort, oh, and shouldn’t I at least start a load of laundry, or pay bills? Before I know it the day is gone and the only writing I’ve done is email, twitter and maybe facebook. Sigh.
However, knowing I have someone who is expecting me to show up to work makes me commit. It makes me sit down and get serious when I arrive. It helps me focus on the task at hand. Partners, times and locations change, but the progress in my writing doesn’t.
I’ve even gone to the writing location when no one else could. I’ve also found that taking my laptop into another room in my house away from the desktop where I do everything else can help.
Are you too easily distracted from your creativity time? Here are some other tips that might be useful.
• Be prepared. Have what you need to create at hand, so writing time isn’t wasted in preparation. I have a bag that goes with me that has critique notes, research books, etc.
• Schedule. Set aside a regular time and place. Show up whether you want to or not.
• Be accountable to another writer or two. Not only does it help you show up, but it helps keep you on task. We knew if one gal was giggling, she was probably on twitter, so we’d tease her about it. If I started making comments about stuff I was finding on the internet, they’d ask me if it was related to my wip. Oops. Back to work. Accountability works even if you don’t meet face-to-face. You can report to each other about the day’s goals, such as I’m going to write two pages or work three hours. Knowing you have to confess to “not trying” makes you work.
• Snatch stolen moments. You woke up early? Too wide awake to go to sleep? Your kids took an unexpected nap? Write.
• Get away from your time stealer. TV, computer, internet, phone, that social or volunteer commitment you agreed to do out of guilt…
• Cut back on commitments if you can.
• Tell others about your writing time. If friends or family call, they aren’t offended when I remind them I’m writing and offer to call back later. My family has learned about those scheduled times and try to avoid them.
• Helps for writing in public locations.
- Libraries often have private study rooms and are quiet. They may have a time limit.
- Coffee shops can be noisy especially near the espresso machine, but headphones and your own music can block that and other patrons’ talk.
- You may want to bring a surge suppressor power strip as power outlets may be limited.
- Some public locations are very cold. I wear layers or have an extra wrap in my writing bag. My daughter made me fingerless mitts to keep my hands warm.
- Don’t leave your laptop unattended to go to the restroom or get food. A friend did and hers was stolen. Writing partners can watch your stuff.
- If using a laptop, either backup your work onto a usb drive or use a service such as dropbox or carbonite.
I’ve found that the habit of writing regularly makes it easier to write regularly. I get motivated by the pages and projects I complete. The sense of accomplishment makes me want to do it again, and again. This writing habit makes me not so distractable after all.
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First rights, all rights, simultaneous rights–what do they all mean? Let’s talk about these terms and others in relationship to magazines. First, the eight terms below refer to North American serial rights, which includes the United States and Canada.
1. all rights – the rights to those words in that order. You may not resell or reuse this piece. Some magazines who buy all rights will sell the piece elsewhere and split the proceeds with you–usually those resales are to a market most of us don’t have access to, such as an assessment test or inclusion in a textbook. Decide if it is worth sending your manuscript to an “all rights” magazine, knowing it can’t be reprinted by anyone else without the publisher’s permission. Some high profile magazines buy all rights.
2. first rights – the right to print those words in that order first. You may resell it to someone else, who accepts reprint rights, second, simultaneous, or one-time rights. Sometimes first rights include limitations such as “first rights for 60 days following publication.” Make sure any succeeding publishers are aware of any limitations if it will affect them.
3. one-time rights – the right to print those words in that order once. Again, you may resell. A lot of religious magazines are open to this option as their audiences are very separate.
4. second rights – the right to print those words in that order once, after it has been printed one time elsewhere. Reselling again is permissible.
5. reprint rights – the right to print those words again and again. Except for the initial printing, you may not know when they use the piece again. It’s okay to sell elsewhere yourself.
6. simultaneous rights – similar to one-time rights–it doesn’t matter when someone else is using it.
7. first and nonexclusive reprint rights – the right to print those words in that order first, and to print those words again and again. This is an alternative to all rights that some publishers are offering. The author may resell the piece as well.
8. regional rights – the right to print those words in that order in a specific area of the country. You’ll often see this with local parenting magazines or newspapers. A parent in San Francisco won’t likely be reading a Boston parenting magazine, so editors of noncompeting magazines might be interested in the same article. However, these often have sections or sidebars with strong local focus.
What rights do magazines buy? It depends on each individual magazine or magazine publishing company. This is why it is vitally important to check market books and each magazine’s current writer’s guidelines.
What if a magazine accepts a variety of rights? How do you decide what to give them?
1. Most magazines that buy all rights only buy all rights. If they offer more than that, different rights may change your pay, so it will depend on what you’ve already sold or are willing to sell.
2. If they buy first or one-time rights, they may pay more for first rights. If you haven’t sold the manuscript elsewhere, offer first rights.
3. If a magazine buys one-time and simultaneous rights, offer the latter if you plan to submit elsewhere now. You may offer one-time if you don’t plan to submit again until an acceptance/rejection comes from this magazine on this manuscript.
4. If first rights on a piece have been sold, offer second rights or one-time rights before offering reprint rights.
How do you let those magazines who accept different rights know what rights you are offering? In your cover letter and on your manuscript below your word count. If you’re not offering all or first, it is common courtesy in your cover letter to let them know who published the article or story and when.
But what if you want to write another article on that topic and you sold all rights? Can you do that? Of course. Above I mentioned “the rights to those words in that order,” it doesn’t mean they bought the ideas, only this particular piece. You could take the facts you learned when researching or interviewing and write an article with a different slant. You won’t use any sentences from the original piece. Your paragraphs won’t look like the original piece. It’s very doubtful you’d use the exact same quote.
For a short story, you can write the same theme with a different aspect of the same problem. Of course, you’d use a different main character. Or perhaps you’d choose to write about a younger or older or opposite gender character who has a similar problem–it would be a different story. This new story or stories might also be in a different setting. i.e. instead of a city, a rural location.
One final question I’ve heard: But what if you want to use that character in a book and you’ve sold all rights? This isn’t likely to happen, but if it does, you can always ask the magazine for permission. But remember, a magazine character isn’t as fully developed as a book character. Neither is the setting in a magazine. Your character will change and morph when you give her a book length problem. Your setting will likely expand as well. Don’t limit yourself by being stuck on only one name and personality.
Thanks to heirbornstud of morguefile.com for the above image.
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You’ve started reading a book and just couldn’t get into it, right? It could even be a well-recommended award-winning book, but it didn’t grab you. Sometimes you try the book later and this time you’re hooked. Other books, later comes and they still don’t do it for you. That’s subjective reading.
So why then are we surprised when an editor or agent isn’t hooked by our writing? Yes, our query got their attention but responses vary from “I didn’t love it enough” to “This isn’t right for me (I just personally don’t like…)” to “I simply did not connect with the voice here enough” to the “we only respond if we’re interested” no response. If we pin our hopes to much on one person’s opinion, it’s too easy to be heartbroken.
I experienced the subjectivity effect on the other side of the desk recently. I teach a correspondence course for writing for children’s magazines. Student lessons either come by email or regular mail. One response to a student got lost and I had to re-edit the lesson. The first time, I looked at the lesson and basically said “not in the right format, please redo.” The second time, yes, I still noticed it was not in the right format, but I also noticed a paragraph that would make a good opening. I spent more time the second time on the positives and less on the negative. Why is that? It’s that subjective thing again. Perhaps the first time I’d had a number of students not following directions and so was pre-set to be irritated. The second time it was the first lesson of the day, so I was more open minded. The student got a better response…on the same material.
So, back to editors and agents and their subjectivity…
- Their responses can be influenced by what has happened that day. Agent Jenny Bent shared how agents can feel like losers on a March 2010 blog post. Here’s the link.
- They can be influenced by personal taste. Agent Suzie Townsend said on her blog, “Here’s the thing. Reading is subjective and it’s a matter of personal tastes. I don’t read business books. I don’t really find them interesting and I wouldn’t pick one up off a shelf in a store, which means I wouldn’t request one from my slush pile either.”
- The responses can be hindered by what else they’ve said “yes” to.
That means we can’t take one “no” too much to heart. We need more responses.
And then we need to look at those responses not subjectively (oh, poor me, another no), but objectively. We need to see the big picture. What are they saying? Are there any common threads in these responses? Perhaps a number mentioning character or voice? Or maybe several say it’s an overdone topic? Whatever it is we can learn from a consensus in feedback. It points out a problem with our writing that we can address. Here’s a blog post on Good Rejections–Deciphering Notes from Editors and Literary Agents by another writer Althyia Brown–you might find it helpful too.
We can also take heart from any positive comments and use them to help us move on to rewriting, making our book better, so that one day, someone subjectively says, “yes.”
Thanks to godidwlr on morguefile.com for the above picture.
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