Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Basics: Rejections

No one likes to be rejected. At all. Ever. To be a published writer, you have to get yourself ready to be rejected. Over and over and over. All authors have their favorite rejection stories, "I papered my walls of my office with them." "I only kept the good ones." Etc.

Wait. Good ones? What on Earth is a "good rejection"?

Sending out your work and having people judge it is very hard. Especially when you first start. I'm hoping I can develop a thicker skin someday. Maybe, maybe not. When they reject you, it can make you want to quit. I have quit a few times. "I'm not doing this to myself anymore." "I'm worth more than this." Statements I have on occasion heard myself say. I always sit out a game or two and then head back into the fight.

I have found that for me, rejections come in at least four forms. No Rejection. Form Letter Rejection. Good Rejection. Great Rejection.

The No Rejection: This does not mean you got accepted. This means that the people who got your submission didn't even like it enough to send you word that they don't want it. I find it to be a very unprofessional way of doing business. It is becoming more popular with publishers putting up on their website, If we don't want your submission, you will not hear from us. If you don't hear from us within three months, then it is not likely you will hear from us. Miserable. You wait, knuckles white, to hear your fate. And nothing. It's impossible not to hope that maybe someday, you'll hear something. It's like being in limbo. I've had a few of these.

The Form Letter Rejection: A letter that a publisher or agent shoots out to let you know your work has not been accepted. Well, at least you know. It's kind of like getting broken up with via text but at least you don't find out you've been dumped when you read your boy or girlfriend's wedding announcement in the paper. That's what the first one is like. Usually the wording on this one is a coldly polite, professional brush off. Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately it does not fit our list at this time. Yours etc. The first time I got one I was disappointed. Then I got two places that sent me nothing. Suddenly the form letter felt more friendly.

The Good Rejection: Any sort of personal comment is included in the form letter, whether scrawled along the bottom or included in the text. Something that says, this was good. And a reason for the rejection that doesn't sound like they're saying "please never darken our door again." "The market for this kind of fiction is down right now." "We just bought a book just like this." "We don't do science fiction," or whatever genre you are submitting. When they take a moment to personalize it, they liked it at least a little.

The Great Rejection: The whole letter is personal. There is a compliment and an invitation to submit something else. People who are not writers do not understand when someone runs into the office and announces "I just got the most wonderful rejection letter ever!!" This happened to me today. I got my first great rejection letter. And went to work and tried to explain to all my coworkers what a great rejection letter is. It feels wonderful.

Now, what to do when you get any kind of rejection letters. From no to great.

1. DO NOT WRITE BACK EXPLAINING YOUR GENIUS. If it has to be explained, they aren't going to change their minds.

2. DO NOT WRITE BACK DEFENDING YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS. They don't like it. It's like arguing with the person breaking up with you. They're out the door. They have little patience for an argument.

3. DO NOT WRITE BACK TELLING THEM WHAT IDIOTS THEY ARE, HOW YOU'RE GOING TO HIT IT BIG AND THEY WILL BE SORRY THEY DIDN'T BUY YOUR BOOK. If it's true, then just go do it. If it turns out it isn't true, you just look stupid.

All of the above will muddy the waters for any future working relationship with this agency.

4. If the publisher or agency compliments you and asks you for changes, and you are willing to make those changes, make them and send them BACK to the publisher or agency. Don't take their ideas and send to someone else until you send to them first.

5. If the publisher or agency doesn't suggest changes, it's best not to ask for that feedback. I broke that rule and wrote back indicating I would be willing to do rewrites and unsurprisingly, they didn't suggest any. If you do break a rule, make sure it isn't any of the first three and be polite. Always be polite.