Monday, March 16, 2009

On Writing And Rejection

The life of a writer has to be the most interesting of any a person could have. Not a single moment is ever boring. A person can sit for hours working on a book and write not a single word down. So much of the real work goes on inside the head. A story can be written in minutes, just by thinking. Any particular thing is cause for our imaginations to be sparked: a bee buzzing annoyingly in your ear, a flash of headlights through the nearest window, a person walking by you have never seen before. Any (and sometimes all) of these things can send a writer's imagination into a frenzy and before you know it, the story is written. Or, so it seems.

The downside to that is that the imagination can work too much or not enough. Once, I was in the middle of typing out a story when I got a phone call. I'd been thinking about this story for three weeks, but just because the phone rang and brought me out of the world I was making, it was gone. Just like that, the tale was lost in the recesses of my mind's trash can. It happens a lot. The perfect idea comes in the car or the dentist office and you never remember it again. Then, there are always the ideas that come and, after getting half-way through, you realize that you just saw this on a re-run of X-Files last week, so out the window that goes. Then, there are the ideas. The ones that stick and won't go away, no matter what. And once you start writing, you can't stop. That's the ideas that end up being novels. Some are good, some are bad; no writer can claim consistently good writing and if they do, they lie, they lie, they lie!

Bad writing comes with the territory. Sometimes, it just sucks and no amount of revising can fix it. The best writers in the industry are capable of writing crap. Once you can admit that your writing isn't perfect, that you aren't the new millennium's William Shakespeare, then you are half-way to being professional. Many amateurs make the mistake of thinking that their book is THE BEST book ever written and any publisher would be IGNORANT not to take it on.

Unfortunately, too many professional writers take rejection personally. It isn't. I've never had any publisher contact me only to say "We won't be taking this piece because you are just too young to write a book about the elderly." It won't happen. Three quarters of rejections are sent out because amateurs have:

  1. Sent an unsolicited manuscript
  2. Sent a genre fiction query to a publisher who does not handle that particular genre
  3. Sent a query or manuscript to a major publisher who only accepts such things from an agent
  4. Sent ill formatted work
  5. Did not follow specific publisher guidelines

It may be hard to find out exactly what a publisher wants, and my advice will always be :ASK THEM! I was once told by one publishing company that no question from an author was ever trivial or silly. They would rather you ask questions and be specific than have unwanted garbage on their desk. Answering an e-mail or short note about what their specific preferences are is a lot quicker and easier than sifting through a bunch of crap. As a matter of fact, they won't sift through a bunch of crap. They will look at your cover-letter first. If you didn't send one, immediate file thirteen material. They will go no further. If you send a cover-letter, they will look for a professional attitude, spelling, and grammar as well as something to pique their interest. It had better be one damn-good cover-letter. (The contents of a query and cover-letter will be in later posts, for those who are interested. ) Remember, you have to sell your book to them. They aren't buying, you don't get published. It's as simple as that.

A big problem I had for a long time was a fear of trying to publish. I wrote for fourteen years without even thinking about publishing at all. I didn't want it, didn't need it. Then, I got curious about it and started looking into it. I've come a long way since then, and I have yet to publish any work, but I am thinking of actively pursuing it. Seriously thinking. I've gone as far as to send out a few queries and have had, amazingly enough, some wonderful feedback. I've had no offers, but in the publishing world, a hand-written response with a few comments from the editor who read it is a rarity for rejections. I'm no expert, but I'm learning as much as I can. I'm getting there. I'd like to be comfortable with the publishing part before actively seeking it. I'm almost there. Almost.

Even so, I found rejection a very bitter pill to take once I had sent out a query or two. I did get some good, and much appreciated, feedback from the small presses I've contacted. The form letters stung, and very much so. The first few were tough on me and after the tenth, I wanted to give up. I had been happy before, writing merely for my own love of writing. Then it hit me. It's a simple enough thing, but it's still true.

For the writer, it is art. For the publisher, it's business. Just business. They want to make money. Assuming you have any honesty with yourself, you want to be published because you want money, too. You may long to see your name in print, but if you are trying to publish, you would like to make some money from it. Am I right? I know I am. So, I had to stop thinking of my art as art during my half-assed attempt at finding a publisher. I am selling my book. If they don't want, they don't take.

If, however, you manage to catch their attention with your cover-letter, they will move on to read the sample chapters, if you sent them (and only do if asked for in their guidelines). They look at the title page first. Not having one may be forgivable, especially if the ms (manuscript) is formatted correctly. If the ms is not formatted correctly, it's a no go again. They do things the way they do things because it works. They have been publishing for a very long time and have always done it this way. They have to look for the things that make their lives easier because they just don't have the time to develop a professional author from a talented amateur. Publishers are busy. They have authors who they DO want to publish to deal with, go over revisions, discuss contracts and rights and everything else with. They need professionalism from unpublished authors. It doesn't have to be exactly perfect. A typo every hundred pages isn't going to get your work thrown out, but it has to be good. It has to read easily, be original, and be easy to publish, especially from an unpublished, unagented author. Make them work as little as possible, entertain them, and give them a sellable book all in one, all while being professional and concise?

Your chances go up. That's it. There's no guarentee. Your timing may be off. If that kind of book isn't selling so well, they will probably pass on it. But, if it's got a chance of selling, they might just ask to read the complete manuscript. Maybe. There are other aspects of it that, as of right now with no publishing experience under my belt, that I don't understand yet. Once I do, I'll write about it just so you'll know too. But for right now, I'm done. Peace and love, y'all.


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