by Ruth Harris

I‘m a TradPubbed NYT bestselling author gone indie. I was also an editor for over 20 years (Macmillan, Bantam, Dell) and the Publisher of Kensington—so let me put rejection into a little perspective.

Let’s be clear: Manuscripts get rejected; not writers. Trust me. (Most of the time) it’s not personal. Let me count the ways.

1. THE BASICS: The reasons for rejection start with the basics, i.e. the ms. sucks. Author can't format/spell/doesn’t know grammar, is clueless about characterization, plotting and pacing.

Maybe, though, it's not that bad and with competent editing, it's publishable. But the days of Maxwell Perkins are long gone. These days, staff editors don't have the time and sometimes not even the necessary skills.

If you need an editor, hire one.

Occasionally, other hazards present themselves. Way back when I was a child working at Bantam, a would-be author showed up at the office, ms. box in hand.

As the least important, most expendable (what if this guy turns out to be a nut & has a gun?) warm body on the staff, I was sent out to Reception to find out what he was offering. Shook hands, introduced myself, he yackety-yacked, blabbity-blabbed about his masterpiece.

Then he opened the ms. box and a cockroach jumped out. True story. Ms. rejected. Politely, I’m pleased to say.

Timely subject, credible characters, good plot, well-executed pacing. Lots of us really like it BUT...

Here’s only a partial list of the buts:

4. OVERLOAD: We have too many thrillers, Regency romances, zombie epics etc. already. We need to trim the inventory so right now we’re not buying any of your particular genre. Sorry. Right now it doesn’t fit our needs.

5. PMS/LOW TESTOSTERONE: The boss (or my secretary or DH or teen-aged kid) is giving me or the editor-in-question a hard time today & I'm/he/she is in such a lousy mood we'd turn down War & Peace. So fuddgetaboutit. You’re Tolstoy? Tough. You’re toast.

The sales dept just informed us that books about trans-gendered pigmy werewolves in Lower Slobovia aren't selling the way they used to so we’re not going to make an offer for your (well-written, scary, hilarious, fabulous) novel about trans-gendered pigmy werewolves in Lower Slobovia. Sorry. Right now it doesn’t fit our needs.

7. SOMEONE YOU NEVER HEARD OF HATES IT: The boss (or his/her wife/husband/best friend/shrink/third cousin) hates (insert genre) so be glad your ms. got turned down because even if we bought it, it would be published badly.

Very badly. You’ll get a crappy cover, miniscule print run, zero advertising, promotion or publicity, positioning spine-out on a top shelf in the poorly-lit back of the unventilated, un-airconditioned third floor next to the men's room. You won’t be able to find your own book. Not even with a state-of-the-art GPS.

Your book is guaranteed to be a floperoo. You’ll be miserable and you’ll blame us and you’d be right.

So frame your rejection letter & be happy.

8. CASH CRUNCH: Of course we’re never going to admit it but the company’s in trouble, maybe even on the verge of bankruptcy & we’re not buying anything. Nada. Not right now and not for the foreseeable future. Not until/unless said crunch passes and the money’s flowing again.

Bottom line: you don’t know it and you never will but your timing sucks. Not your fault.

A major “reorganization” has taken place. The decision has come down from somewhere Up There in Corporate and half the staff (at least) has been fired.

A new regime is hired & they hate all the genres & authors the previous regime loved. The new regime wants to prove that their predecessors were stupid, incompetent and a toxic blight to literacy and that they are going to turn the company around by doing exactly the opposite.

Not your fault, has absolutely nothing to do with you or your ms. but your ms. is going to get turned down.

10. OOPS: Plenty of times editors and publishers are just plain wrong...zillions of examples of that all over the place from J.K. Rowling to Steven King. We turned down your ms.? Maybe we made a mistake. We’ve made plenty of misjudgments in the past and we’ll make plenty more in the future and we know it. Turning down the ms. that becomes a hot bestseller is an occupational hazard. We don’t like it any more than you do but it’s a fact.

11. WE HATE YOU: Once in a while, it is actually personal. We’ve published you before or a friend at another publisher has and we know from experience (or the grapevine) that you’re a whiny, demanding, narcissistic, high-maintenance PITA. No one wants to take your phone calls and everyone who’s had the misfortune of working with you hates you.

We’ve had it with you and your diva-like tantrums and we’re never, ever, ever going to publish another book of yours again.

Except, of course, if you’re making us a boatload of money. Even then, we still hate you and we’ll tell everyone (off the record, of course) that your books “aren’t as good/aren’t selling as well as they used to.” Payback is a bitch.

Just like a lot of things, rejection isn’t always what it seems to be and writers need to put that stack of rejection letters into perspective. Self-published novelist Tracey Garvis Graves, whose debut romance, ON THE ISLAND, was rejected by fourteen literary agents, just signed a two-book deal with Penguin Group's Plume imprint for "seven figures, a good seven figures." We’re talking OVER A MILLION DOLLARS for a book no one wanted.

I once got a form rejection letter for HUSBANDS AND LOVERS while it was on the NYT bestseller list.

No kidding.

Who knows why? I don’t and never will. My agent and I laughed our asses off and I went back to my computer and continued working on my next book.

You should do the same.

EXCEPT if you’re being rejected because your manuscript sucks (#1)—or your behavior does (#11) ...oh yes, and absolutely, positively check for wildlife before submitting (#3). 

In the first case, re-read & re-write with a critical eye and/or hire an editor and pay attention to what s/he says. In the second case, remember the Golden Rule and Do Until Others As You Would LIke Them To Do Unto You. You know, just like your mother said…and maybe get out the Roach Motel?
What about you, scriveners? Have you got a rejection you suspect was for one of these reasons? Have you got an outrageous rejection story to share? Does it help to know it’s not your book, it’s the editor’s hormonal imbalances?

Anne will be out visiting this week. On Tuesday, June 26th, she'll be stopping by Meghan C. Ward's Writerland. Anne will be talking about how to choose the publishing path that's best for you. On Wednesday, June 27th, she'll be visiting Catherine Ryan Hyde's blog to talk about the perils of blogging.

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