Monday, November 28, 2011

Manuscript Rejections from an Editor's Viewpoint

As an editor and a writer, I get the opportunity to experience rejection from two very different, very distinct viewpoints.

On the one hand, I pour myself into my stories, working for hours and days on end emptying myself into the worlds I create. Reading and re-writing sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. Surrendering myself to the long and tedious project of writing novels. Putting in the sweat, tears, and even blood (if paper cuts count!), only to send the completed work out and see it rejected.

I admit I have crumbled under letters that briefly stated, “This work does not meet our criteria.” The words are a simple rejection, or form letter, yet they had such far-reaching consequences. It left me feeling like my work wasn't even good enough to warrant a second glance.

To date, as an editor, I have had to send out a dozen rejection letters. This was painfully done. Perhaps because I am so new to the process, I couldn't help but wonder what damage rejection would do to these writers. After all, rejection letters are still sometimes enough to make me want to quit, forget I ever knew how to write and never look at pen or paper again.

I will always remember the first two submissions I had to refuse. Not so much because the submissions themselves stand out, but because of the time I spent considering these books and the emotional turmoil I went through knowing that my opinion, my words of rejection (no matter how carefully I crafted them) could forever impact a hopeful writer. But I rejected them for a reason.

One submission was underdeveloped. The plot was sketchy and the story never really came together. The other submission wasn't bad at all. The children's story was cheerful and sensitively handled a difficult subject, death. I liked the piece, but I wasn't looking for a full-color illustrated book. It simply didn't fit the publisher's needs.

From these experiences I have come to understand a little about what takes place when a writer submits their work, unsolicited, to an editor. There is a formal process that a submission goes through not just when being reviewed, but when being created, too. It is important to remember that your submission is the first impression an editor has, not only of your book, but of you as an author. In order to succeed in your submission efforts, it is necessary to abide by a few standard “codes of conduct.”

First, manuscripts/illustrations that come without a formal query seem like a social misstep. The query letter, an overview of the proposed story and the author's credentials, is as necessary as saying hello to a new acquaintance. As an editor, I typically don't know the author who is submitting their work, and when the introduction begins as such, “I'm submitting three stories, and sixteen illustrations. You don't know me, but I hope you'll publish my work,” I feel like an important step has been skipped. A query letter is of the utmost professional importance when submitting your work.

Also, it seems that many writers who approach me this way don't realize that there are submission guidelines listed on the website that outline what I expect to be included in the submission and how I would like to receive it. These guidelines make the submission process a little easier for me, but more than that, they help me to determine who can follow directions, and who can't. Or who won't. It's not pleasant to work with authors who won't work with me, and therefore, I'm likely to lean toward rejecting any submissions that ignore the guidelines.

If you can research and follow submission guidelines and take the time to polish your submission by including a well-written query letter and any other requested materials, you are already a step ahead of many other writers. Unfortunately, not following guidelines is not the only reason I turn down submissions. Sometimes the story just isn't marketable as it. It could be the writing, it could be the plot, it could be the subject matter.

As a writer myself, I have learned that rejection slips rarely come with any advice on how to improve the work. Editor's suggestions, while they are just that – suggestions, are worth their weight in gold. Should you happen to receive any advice on bettering your writing, take it and learn from it. However, should you find yourself rejected with no advice to help you along, consider finding help elsewhere.

Now, keep in mind, if you submitted a fiction piece to a publisher who only publishes nonfiction, there may not be anything wrong with your writing at all. Failing to place your story before a publisher who handles your kind of work will draw a rejection for sure.

That being said, joining a writer's group in your area could be a wise move. Collaborating with people who are dedicated to the craft can include a number of benefits. Other writers will be more familiar with what works and what doesn't. You may have an opportunity to read your story aloud to the group, or submit pieces of the work for closer inspection by individuals. They will be familiar with grammar and punctuation problems, and they will check your piece for clarity and cohesion.

Once you have revised your manuscript and researched publishers who are looking for works such as yours, try submitting again. Remember, follow their submission guidelines and be professional. Respond promptly to any questions or a request for the full manuscript. Doing this will allow the editor to see that you are dedicated to your craft, and that publishing your novel is an important project to you. Remind yourself that no one wants to get excited about a book that doesn't even motivate its creator. So get excited in a professional sort of way, and don't let those rejection slips pull you down.

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