Tag Archives: publishing

Beating the Rejection Slip

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Writers fear them, yet they are inevitable: rejection slips. I’ve seen many a one in my life as a writer. (That’s what good about blogs. You never have to send yourself a rejection slip.) They can be cruel. They can be perfunctory, mass-produced and not even signed by a human being. An actual rejection slip may never arrive at all, leaving a writer to wait in anxious hope forever.

Rejection slips can be devastating. They can be empowering, too, in a strange sort of way. I’ve known writers who’ve defiantly papered their walls with rejection slips until they got a book contract. Once in a while a rejection slip comes that makes it clear the editor or agent has actually read the proposal or sample chapters. He or she may even provide helpful comments that can lead to improving your writing. Or the editor may say that your writing is good, although the book is just not for them. Those desperate for validation (most writers) treasure the first half of the evaluation.

Short story and nonfiction article writers and certainly poets get rejection slips, too. But the book rejection slip can be the most devastating because you may have spent literally years preparing your manuscript.

But here is a tale that may give you hope: I just beat the rejection slip. I have been offered an author contract.

How did I do it? I followed the rules. I gave up. Then I got lucky.

Since my book was a memoir (non-fiction), I knew that I had to prepare a proposal with sample chapters. (Fiction requires a completed manuscript, not just a proposal.)

Then I combed the Internet for agents that were accepting new clients and publishers that would accept proposals directly from authors. I sent out my query letters or proposals. I was very careful to send each recipient what they preferred and to make it meet their specs: query only, proposal only, proposal with three sample chapters, or ten pages, or whatever. I attached my proposal or pasted it into the email, whichever they wanted.

I tried to be at least a little sensible. I looked for people who wanted the kind of writing I was doing – nonfiction or memoir or mental health. I looked over their websites to see if there was one particular agent/editor who was more interested in my genre and addressed my query to that person. I never sent a “Dear Agent” or “Dear Editor” query.

I did this dozens of times. I kept a list of where I sent each and crossed them off when the rejections came.

And after a number of years and rejections, I gave up. I decided to abandon my book (by that time it was completely written) and move on to another book-length project in another genre.

While I was struggling with that manuscript, however (I still am), I noticed a new independent publisher who was looking for nonfiction books on mental health issues. So I said, what the hell? I was pretty much inured to rejection by then. I sent a query letter.

And I got a reply, within days. Did I have a proposal or a completed manuscript? Encouraged, I said that I had both. They asked to see the manuscript. And within a week, I had an offer. Given the length of my rejection list, I jumped at the chance.

I was a little wary of throwing in my lot with an indie publisher, and a start-up at that. But the founder was someone I had heard of, someone who was a noted expert and activist in the field of mental health. It was not a vanity press.

And now I have signed my author contract and been assigned an editor (I look forward to many fruitful conversations with him). They also introduced me to the intern who had picked my manuscript out of the slush pile, to whom I am eternally grateful.

I’m not a novice at writing. In addition to these blog posts, I have written and published nonfiction articles and children’s stories. But being a BOOK author is the best! The day I get my 25 printed copies I will indeed squee, long and hard.

Say hello to the next author from Eliezer Tristan Publishing – me!

 

What I’ve Learned About Publishing From Lack of Success

I have been an editor. I have rejected lots of manuscripts.

I have been a writer. I have been rejected by lots of editors and agents and magazines and ezines.

Right now I have two books in the works: a memoir based on my other blog (bipolarjan.wordpress.com) and a mystery novel hovering around 40,000 pages (60-75,000 would be a reasonable length).

Here’s what I’ve learned.

BOOKS

I’ve learned one queries nonfiction with a proposal and fiction with a completed manuscript. However, I spent so long contacting agents and publishers about the memoir that I actually finished it while I was waiting to hear back.

At some point, you will reach the “This book is crap” stage. Do not give up. This is natural and to be expected at least once or twice. The thing to do is pause. Go read a book about how to plot or write description or whatever it is that made you say “This is crap.” Or work on another project for a while. You do have at least two going, don’t you? Or at least a great idea for another one? Or you could join a writers’ group and see if any of them can figure out the reason for the crapitude.

Note: The first draft is not a manuscript and should not be submitted. That’s why it’s called a first draft. You will need at least another draft or three before it’s ready to release into the wild.

Yes, you need an agent. Probably. Only a few publishing companies look at proposals and manuscripts that don’t come from an agent. There used to be editorial assistants who had to read those submissions, but budgets are tighter than tight in the publishing industry. You don’t need an agent to submit smaller pieces of work like short stories and articles.

Which brings us to:

EZINES and MAGAZINES.

I write blog posts of 600-1000 words and, if appropriate, submit them to online magazines. (Most of this applies to print magazines too, if you can still find one.) A large part of the time, it’s like dropping my writing down a proverbial well. But again, I’ve learned a few things.

First, a heresy: You will have to write for no money. At first, anyway. People who say not to write for free are coming from a position of privilege. They are at a stage in their careers when they can get actual money (at least a little). If you’re just starting out, you’re not. There are reasons for this.

Some editors will want to see work that you’ve had published, just so they can tell you can write, meet deadlines, and be professional. The other reason is exposure. Yes, I know starving artists die of exposure. Yes, I know that exposure doesn’t pay the rent. But it does help in other ways.

An agent or an editor will look at a query more seriously if it says, “I am a regular contributor to X website and have been published on Y and Z.” Or “I have had short stories printed in Publication A and B.” Even if you only got six copies of the magazine as pay, or a byline and a bio, these are credits. They indicate that you’re more than just a wannabe. After you’ve got a few credits to your name, you can start pitching to sites that pay.

Do you really need to pitch? Or can you just send a story or article? Publications differ. The website will have a page helpfully called “How to Submit” or “Submission Guidelines.” Follow these instructions exactly. If they say query first, do that. If they say send completed story, do that. If they say paste it in the body of an email, do that. If they say attach your file as a Word doc, do that. Whatever they want, give it to them. It takes longer than blasting out a flurry of identical query letters or submissions, but it increases your chances of getting favorable attention.

I have either made all of the above mistakes or seen them made by people who submitted work to my publications. I can’t guarantee that any of this advice will get you published. This business doesn’t come with guarantees. But you can piggyback on my failures and those of others on your way to becoming a success. Good luck. Even if you’re a terrific writer, you’ll still need it!

 

 

 

Writing Advice From an Editor

Want to know more about the writing and editing process? I’ve been a writer and an editor for most of my life. Of the two, editing is easier – looking at a piece of writing and seeing what it needs, rather than producing something worthwhile from scratch.

I’ve learned a lot about editing from other editors, but I’ve also learned a lot about writing from them. Here is some advice, primarily about writing for magazines, which is where I spent most of my career.

Every piece of writing needs editing. Without exception. There is nothing that cannot be improved. I don’t care if you’re Hemingway (who said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.”). Many times pieces of writing don’t get the editing they need, whether because the editor is too lazy or the writer is too famous. I cringed when I heard that an unedited version of Stephen King’s The Stand was going to be released. The original version was seriously overwritten and needed a good editing. I gave up reading King after that. Every piece of published writing gets edited. Or should, anyway.

There are different kinds of editing. Many people think that editing is all about putting the commas in the right place. They’re right, but they’re also wrong. Editing comprises several levels: acquisitions editing (choosing or commissioning pieces of writing for publication); content editing (preparing a piece of writing for publication, including additions and deletions, errors of fact or grammar, and more); copy editing (correcting grammar and punctuation errors and making suggestions regarding style). What most people think of as editing is either proofreading or copy editing. Of course, at a small magazine, an editor may perform more than one of these functions.

There are many reasons a piece of writing gets changed. Not all of them imply that the writing is bad. The editor is not your enemy. Sometimes editing makes a good piece of writing better – or more in line with what the publication needs. A piece can be edited because it’s too long or too short for the space allotted. Cuts may be a word or two here and there, or entire paragraphs.

Work with your editor. If he or she requests revisions, it’s best not to argue. Magazine editors won’t have the time for much back-and-forth. A request for revisions means the editor trusts you enough to fix your own work. Most of the time the editor just goes ahead and makes the changes. If you’re difficult about revising, you likely won’t be asked back.

The first and last paragraphs of a piece of writing often need the most editing. Too many writers write “In the beginning” first paragraphs that start too far in the background. The first paragraph should answer the question, “Why should I read this article?” The last paragraph should tie back to the first paragraph, ask a relevant question, or do anything but say, “Time will tell.”

Your own work is the most difficult to edit. It’s hard to gain enough distance from your own writing to analyze it. One thing you can try is to put the piece away for a day or two, or at the very least a few hours. Work on something else, preferably something entirely different. Then come back to the first piece with a clear mind and more perspective. You could also try reading your writing aloud. If a sentence is difficult to say, if it rambles, or if you lose the thread of it, it probably needs shortening or rewriting.

Don’t spend too long trying to fix a stubborn sentence. Make it into two shorter sentences, or reframe the thought and write it a different way. There’s always more than one way to express a thought. You can express a thought in many ways. Thoughts are adaptable to many grammatical forms. If a sentence doesn’t work, find some other way to say it. Your first attempt at a sentence doesn’t have to be your last. Stay open to alternate modes of expression. Your sentences aren’t chiseled in granite.

(See what I did there?)

Editing is a process. If you edit your own work, you may want to make more than one editing pass. The first time, read for meaning. The second time, read for grammar and style. Then read for punctuation. If you try to do all of them at once, you’re sure to miss something – especially if you’ve already found an error on a page.

Do not trust spelling or grammar checkers. A spell checker can’t tell whether you meant “form” or “from” and accepts either as a valid word. You may have used a sentence fragment on purpose, to achieve a particular effect. That’s why you need a human editor as well as a machine.

Love them or hate them, editors are not going to go away. They are the gatekeepers of published writing and, at their best, they are resources to help you make your writing more effective, more correct – and more publishable.