Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How to React to Rejections

  Every writer who has ever submitted anything written to a publisher or magazine knows about rejection. Usually a form type "we don't want this" notice is sent, leaving the writer to wonder why the work was rejected, what was wrong, or what he can improve. 

   However, most writers lick their wounds in private or share with friends, without thinking of accosting the publisher or editor to complain. Most know that a thick skin is needed if they are to survive the publishing life. Most people know that the major publishers receive hundreds of thousands more submissions a year than they have places to fill. Small presses have to decide from 100 or more submissions which ten to accept. Therefore, publishers MUST choose the best-written of what is submitted: for fiction, the best story and most polished; for nonfiction, the best topic, organization, and most interesting. Submitters need to try to please those publishers, not expect publishers to please them.

   What I have discovered is that more and more submitters have the mistaken idea that their work must be accepted by a publisher, and if a rejection is sent, he has the "right" to accost the editor rejecting his work, to argue as if to prove his manuscript deserves to be accepted no matter how poorly written. I wonder if those writers have the idea that publishers are service organizations required to accept anything and everything submitted.

    4RV Publishing does something that many publishers do not: Our replies to writers, whether asking for a full manuscript or rejecting, includes suggestions and comments from the acquisition editor that allows the writer to know why something is rejected and to know how to improve his work.

   Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, we received an email from an author whose submission was rejected after being evaluated by two acquisition editors, both whom gave reasons for their recommendation that we reject the manuscript. The author informed us that no one could make a decent decision without reading the whole manuscript, that we were wrong, that we were taking the stand we did because the work was Christian based. I usually ignore such unprofessional rants, but I decided to be nice and try to "educate" this person about being professional. What a waste of time. The person shot back a quick reply about how unprofessional I was to send a message on a holiday. Huh? That person could, but I couldn't reply during the same time period? Poor manners, and bad etiquette.

    Let's look at some submission etiquette, especially regarding how to react to rejections.

1. Do not respond to a rejection unless to thank the editor for any helpful suggestions. NEVER argue with an editor or publisher. Never be hateful or vindictive.

2. Remember, the publishing world is relatively small, and word does get around when submitters are poor sports.

3. A particular piece of writing is being addressed and evaluated, not the author. Taking rejection personally does not help you be a better writer.

4. More material is submitted each year than all the publishers in the world could use. Therefore, publishers have the "right" to choose the best submissions and do NOT have to accept all submissions. Remember, publishing is a business, not a public service. 

5. Just because family, friends, and a few others "like" the manuscript does not mean it is ready to be submitted and published. We had one submission that supposedly was pre-edited by a professional editor. It was full of punctuation problems, misspelled words, and lack of clarity. Be sure any "professional" does know what he/she claims.

    The preceding five suggestions are not all that writers need to know, but they are a start. The biggest thing to remember is writers need to first write well, have a polished manuscript to submit, then submit knowing that rejection is a possibility. 


  1. There are a few things I've discovered, to my delight, over the years: If you can spell and write a declarative sentence, properly punctuated, you have just leaped over about 80% of the over-the-transom submissions right there. Getting published is hard, but it is not really akin to winning the lottery. Beginning your cover letter with "Dear [name of acquisitions editor if provided in writers' guidelines]," helps in ways that "To whom it may concern:" never will.

    It is important writerly etiquette to understand that "This does not meet our needs at this time; we wish you success in placing it elsewhere," is a tactful way of saying any of the following, and does not invite argument:

    "Utter cow patties."
    "Is English your native language?"
    "Have you, perhaps, mistaken us for a vanity press?"
    "Do you honestly believe that submitting your 2,145 page magnum opus on scented pink paper will somehow increase your odds of getting this monstrosity published?"
    "You'd understand why I can't eat your grandma's home-baked cookies if you could see how many death threats I get, each week."
    "This doesn't meet our needs at this time."

    Always interpret it as the latter, and everyone can go home happy. You may have a nagging, burning curiosity as to what the editor really thought of your work, but it is, perhaps, best not to know. Knowing is what drives some writers to drink or take drugs.

    The world needs another Miss Snark: http://misssnark.blogspot.com/ (No new posts since 2007, but there's plenty of entertainment and enlightenment in the old ones.)

    1. So true, Holly. I never thought to argue with anyone who rejected my submissions, but I would have liked to know why so I could avoid some mistakes in the future.

    2. We'd all like to know why. Until we know why. :) Not telling an author why saves on time, angst, and arguments. And treats everyone fairly and equally. It's not your job - you're not the writers' teacher and they're not paying you to edit. You are a potential *customer* and *buyer* - nothing more or less. That's the thing writers need to understand - when publishers get so many more submissions than they could possibly afford or use in a year, it's not personal. The competition really does come down to what they need, what they can use, and what they can pay for. I do wish this business of "no simultaneous submissions" would go away - I get the business need, but there should be a strict time limit if exercised. Serial submissions are not a great way to keep cereal on the table, for a working writer.

  2. So sorry you had that unfortunate experience.

    Celebrate you
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  3. Like Joan, I'm sorry you had that unfortunate experience, but it's good to share it and get it out there. It hurts when someone says no to "your baby," but if you don't turn the feedback around and make a positive out of it, then you're only doing a disservice to yourself.

    Holly, I miss Miss Snark, too. She was incrediably entertaining. :)

    1. I'm glad that her blog is still out there to entertain and enlighten! At least it hasn't just vanished, like so many other things we want to keep. (Ironic how "the Internet is forever" when it comes to the embarrassing and mundane, but at the same time, gems such as Miss Snark's blog often disappear.)

  4. I remember about a year or so ago a reviewer posted a rather flattering review of a book on her blog. At the end she mentioned that a grammar, spelling, and punctuation edit would have helped improve the text. The author left hateful comments. Others tried to "educate" the author, stating that the review was overall good, but the reviewer needed to be honest. Oh, my, the firestorm. No, the "fight" wasn't about a rejection, but the mentality of that author is much like some authors react to their submission being rejected. We have become a society where no one is supposed to lose and everyone should be rewarded even for mediocre work. Sad.

    1. Amen to that. I refuse to write reviews for authors who even suggest that they are only interested in positive reviews. That tells me they're too thin skinned and I don't want to deal with the fallout. REVIEWS are not for the author; reviews are for the BUYER. A glowing review of a bad or mediocre work is unfair to the buyer and will lead only to distrust of the whole process. Once you put your "baby" out there for sale, the only review you should criticize is the one that is obviously not about your book, written by someone who clearly never laid eyes on your book. Because that's fraud. But it's none of your business if a reader liked or didn't like your book, once it's for sale. Hope all you like, but at that point, it really is between reader and potential buyers.

  5. Good advice, Vivian. I can't believe such unprofessional conduct by the author who wrote that e-mail. I would've been overwhelmed with suggestions on how to improve the manuscript. That's rarely done, these days.