Monday, May 19, 2008

Debra- The Art of Rejection

None of us like rejection. One of my favorites was the time my editor rejected something because it just wasn't Debra Dixon enough.

That's enough to make you go bang your head into a wall.

Another head-banger is the ubiquitous "not right for our list at this time."

Writers slave alone in a room for the most part. Feedback is critical to the process. Feedback assures you that you've made contact with the outside world and, if you're lucky, gives you a springboard from which to jump back into the fray with a stronger manuscript.

These days the rejection shoe is on the other foot because of my expanded role into the editorial side of Bell Bridge's horror/fantasy list. I'm the one sending rejections (instead of getting them) and sending the occasional request for more of a writer's work. This is why I'm pondering the art of rejection. Mostly I've concluded that I should apologize to every editor who's used that "not right for us" line. Never was a truer cliche created.

There is rarely enough time to give any rejected unsolicited submission a proper critique. Often the work is so obviously not right for us that saying anything else might send a writer into a rewriting frenzy with no guarantee that the rewrite will make the book any more marketable.

I've noticed writers have a very flexible idea of whether their work is right for a publishing house. "You want demons? Let me slap a demon in this title and send that sucker in!" Uh...no. But in rejecting the writer, I don't have time to point out the obvious (that I'm not stupid and they'll be published sooner if they work smarter). The time I have should be spent on writers who are right for our publishing house, who have had work requested, who might come through with a revision that can work for us. So, my rejections are normally a couple of lines.

"We appreciate the opportunity to look at your work. Unfortunately, your manuscript isn't right for our list at this time."

But the writer in me wants to say more. The common sense portion of my brain is screaming that I only have so much time in the day to give. I compromise and add that third or forth line giving more guidance as to why the project isn't working for us or at all. But only occasionally.

What's your best rejection? Your worst? Do you think it's best to say nothing rather than something brief which can be only the tip of the iceberg and ignore the more serious problems?

20 comments:

lois greiman said...

Hey Deb, as someone who has received more than her fair share of rejections (a friend once told me I had to quite sharing the number because it was too demoralizing) I think I speak for everyone when I say, "thanks for being kind." I actually understand the term 'good rejection' because as new authors we often have to wade through so many nasty ones that when we get one that the slightest bit encouraging it's time to celebrate.

That said, I'd have to say my most interesting rejection was the one I got for a book my publisher had already published, forgotten they published, and later rejected. Hmmmm.

Cindy Gerard said...

Lois - you have GOT to be kidding. I don't think there's any way I can top that one - but I had my share of rejections too before I finally got that call.
I really appreciated it when an editor took the time to tell me why the book didn't work. They are so horribly busy (like you don't know that, Deb) that any time at all means a lot - unless it's something like you suck, go jump off a bridge and don't ever send me anything again. No, I've never received that kind but I've had buddies who came close.
I guess my best rejection was my first one. It was three pages long :o). Actually that was a good thing because that editor took the time to tell me what was right, what was wrong and even offer encouragement. It kept me writing.l

Michele Hauf said...

I used to alphabetize my rejection letters. Yeah, I had a lot. The most common being, "We don't do France." Sigh...

I used to put 'no need to return; please recycle' on the manuscript because I didn't want or need it back. But when the publisher 'still' returns it to you, it makes you wonder if they didn't think it was even good enough for their garbage. Another sigh...

I do like the rejections that first praise you for good writing and then mention it wasn't right for them. Pat me on the back first, before kicking me, and I'll toddle away with a smile on my face.

Playground Monitor said...

Since I only write short stories, my rejections have been short. ::grin:: My best one was from Playgirl magazine. Totally loved my little erotic fantasy, said the writing was terrific, it didn't work for them at the moment but feel free to submit other works. I haven't cause I haven't had another erotic fantasy pop into my head. Well... I have, but I don't think they want to hear about me and Hugh Jackman. LOL!

Marilyn

Debra Dixon said...

Lois! ROFLMAO! They'd already published it??

Yes, now I see the slightest encouragement given to writers in a whole new light. The editor really has to see something to spend time saying something nice, adding information for the author, etc.

Debra Dixon said...

Cindy-- A 3 pager makes me think the editor hated that he/she couldn't work with you on this book and was hoping for another chance down the road. That is such a huge amount of time to spend on an author.

I had one book I had to reject and it bothered me so much I emailed the author and said, "You're back in the mix. I'm still not certain what we can do with this but the voice is compelling. Let me know if you place it elsewhere, but also know that it's back in my stack."

Debra Dixon said...

Michele-- You're so green! LOL! And I don't mean naive. Someone once told me never to put that on a manuscript (don't return; recycle) because it would give the impression that the manuscript wasn't important enough to be returned.

I do occasionally praise something as well, when there is something obvious I can say. Like, "Your voice is unique and draws the reader in but unfortunately we aren't publishing suspense books at this time."

People really don't read guidelines. I can tell you that!

Debra Dixon said...

Marilyn-- Hey, that's great if Playboy asked you to submit more fiction! They have pretty high standards and I mean that seriously. Years ago I took a creative writing course (the kind where they don't write genre) and the professor spoke highly of the quality of fiction in Playboy.

Betina Krahn said...

My strangest rejections have all been via phone. . . a women's fic proposal I had out brought the comment "loan sharks are so overdone." IN WOMEN'S FICTION? Boy, things have really changed in the WI-FIC world.

But one rejection (for a book under contract, no less) came via phone from my agent. It was followed up with an hour-long chat with my editor. She said she didn't like the setting, the plot, or the characters. . . none of them worked for her. Stunned, I said I'd withdraw the whole thing and find another idea. (It had been a ten page synopsis!!)
"No,no," she said," we want this one." Huh? I asked her what about it they DID like. The idea in the title.
They loved the idea in the freakin' title! So I went back to the drawing board and came up with a whole new book to go with the idea in the title: The Princess and the Barbarian. Which became my first genuine bestseller.

Talk about your painful rejections.

And I still hate the photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy I got years ago. . . not even addressed to me. No name at all.

Debra Dixon said...

Betina! You'd think they'd start with "We love the idea. Just love it, and we love your voice and writing, but..." LOL!

I think we all hate the crooked-on-the-page-dear-no-name-author rejection letters.

I do like email because it makes the process faster.

Helen Brenna said...

Deb, I empathize with you. Anyone who doesn't think an editor has a tough job is kidding themselves. I'm sure you'll find a way to be compassionate in your rejections.

My worst was a rubber stamp on my query letter. That just stung.

My best was really more like a revision letter that turned into a sale, but she was very clear there was no offer on the book. Thank goodness I got the edits done right!

Playground Monitor said...

It was Playgirl, not Playboy. I don't think their standards are as high. But it was still a nice rejection.

M

AuthorM said...

My best have been the ones that were "close, but no cigar." Made me think I was getting close. The worst was the one that came back with a red rubber stamped NO across it. No, I take that back. The worse I got was the one where the editor had scrawled "you wasted my time."

Ouch.

M

Michele Hauf said...

Yeow! You wasted my time? Talk about hitting the editor's desk on the wrong day at the wrong time while she had a migraine and was PMSing, and all that other stuff.

I do believe in luck. And you must hit the editor's desk when she has just lost ten pounds, has a brand-new face slimming haircut, just got engaged, and perhaps even won a couple hundred bucks on the lottery. Any other day? Well, that's when we get those nasty rejections.
:-)

Helen Brenna said...

M, sounds like we queried the same STAMPER!!!

Debra Dixon said...

Helen-- Yeah, a sale really eases the sting of rejection. LOL!

M- OUCH! "You wasted my time" ??? Yeah, that one certainly puts ordinary rejections in perspective. Makes a stamped "no" seem positively charming by comparison.

AuthorM said...

Michele -- haha, yep, but it was a dude who rejected me, and maybe I did waste his time. I think I was in high school.

Helen -- The STAMPER strikes again!

Debra-- I saved it for a long time, though, to remind me that no matter how bad a rejection felt, it wasn't as bad as that one.

M

Nathalie said...

Rejection... must be hard after writing a whole manuscript, it must be like your own little baby!

I consider all my rejections saddening, however, it is a great to learn and to surpass ourselves!

Helen Brenna said...

Nathalie, I think you hit the nail on the head there. That's why rejections can hurt so much. It seems as if someone's calling your baby ugly, right?

Anonymous said...

How do you keep going!? Please do keep going though. I admire all of you! Hat's off to everyone of you who has stayed in the ring long enough to have something to say here about rejections.

I'm touched by your strength, endurance and humor.