Saturday, June 6, 2015

Rejections, Schmections, They Often Don't Mean a Thing!

The logo for our publishing company, Barbarian Books.

When my partner and I first opened our publishing company, I figured I wouldn't learn all that much about the publishing world. After all, my career spanned decades and I've sold to/dealt with all sorts/levels of publishers.

Wrong, so wrong. It's different being on the other side, especially in terms of truly understanding what publishers actually mean when they say things like, "Rejections shouldn't be taken too seriously." As an author, I'd think, "Yeah, right." As a publisher I think, "Yeah right."

After recently teaching a class about the publishing world, I realized how seriously most authors take those horrid "sorry, but we won't take it," and how desperate they were for "feedback from the publisher so that they can fix the problem."

There's three reasons authors don't get feedback from publishers. I've loosely ranked them from least important to most important (and you may disagree):

1.  Publishers simply don't have time for personal rejections.
Barbarian Books is a quite small publisher, with a very limited focus as we publish genre fiction in eBook format only. We still get 100 to 200 submissions a month, with about 10 percent of those worth consideration, which is a lovely high percentage, but means we're considering as many as 240 manuscripts a year. 
All submissions, 1200 to 2400 a year, must be processed and responded to as well. As one of my author friends noted, "That's a full time job in and of itself." We don't have an employee who only does this job.
We don't have time for personal rejections. There are a few exceptions when we'll send a rejection with some notes about the manuscript. This is always when the submission needs, in our opinion (see the most important #3), a little tweaking, just has minor problems, because... 

2. It's not the publisher's job to teach authors how to write.
This is a hard one for  newbie authors because of the belief that the publishers are a resource in the process of writing, instead of being where an author sells their finished product. Publishers are businesses, not writing instructors. They are only looking for well-written, well-edited manuscripts to sell.
I think part of the confusion is from the oft quoted, "When you have learned how to write, written, edited, and had beta readers critique your manuscript, then submit it. If several publishers comment on the same problem then perhaps you should address that as a problem in your work." Many new authors only hear: If several publishers comment on the same problem then perhaps you should address that as a problem in your novel.
Now, this doesn't mean that you, as an author, should obsess and try to make your work perfect. (The difference between perfect and done is the subject for another post.) It will never be perfect, even when published. And there are a great many pitfalls to even attempting to do so, of which one of the biggest is...

3. Often, it's a completely subjective rejection and there's nothing to fix.
This harkens back to rejections not being taken seriously. If a manuscript is at the level of being well-written, with a writer who knows all the basics and beyond, then most if not all of a rejection is subjective.
For example, I love mysteries. I've always been a reader of mysteries and now write a mystery series. I have very strong likes and dislikes when it comes to mysteries that are completely personal and totally eccentric. So I have "rejected" some mysteries simply because they are not to my taste!

So dear authors, please try to avoid endless angst over the rejections you receive.

Questions? Comments? I'd love to hear what you think!


J.Q. Rose said...

Rejections--great overview, Conda. You make important points. I've had my share too, but I hate most the ones that tell me how they liked the story but it wouldn't fit in their list. Say what? I do agree publishers shouldn't teach witers how to write, but you are also correct we are hungry for feedback, but hopefully the feedback is complimentary!

Conda Douglas said...

JQ, that kind of rejection is complimentary, very! Remember what I said about my particular tastes? "Not for our list" just means that they have a certain particular type of story that they publish and that there is nothing wrong/to change with yours, it just doesn't fit. And unfortunately, publishers often don't have time to be complimentary specifically in their rejections, sigh, although we'd like to be!

Thanks for commenting!

Conda, going back to saying no.