Posted in Book publishers, Pitching books, Publishing

The ‘Dreaded Rejection’: Scourge of the writing-publishing cycle

[The following piece is an excerpt from my upcoming book Who Will Read Your Book?: The Unknown Writer’s Guide to the Realities of Writing & Publishing]

rejectionWe’ve all been there: we’ve all been rejected for something.  Perhaps you didn’t get into your first-choice college or university.  Perhaps you tried out for a play and didn’t get the part.  Maybe you applied for a job and didn’t get it – even after a fantastic interview.   But that’s life, isn’t it?  Why then do writers seem to feel especially slighted when agents or editors pass on their work?

My own work has been rejected numerous times by agents, publishers, and I suppose by readers who decided not to buy the books for whatever reason.  But I’ve also had successes – that first publisher said ‘yes’, I received the odd royalty cheque so some readers have said ‘yes’.  What do these rejections look like?  And how do you cope?

In my view, rejections come in three packages: the total-lack-of-response rejection, the form-letter rejection, and the almost-form-letter rejection. Let’s look at each one in turn.


The total-lack-of-response rejection

I think this is the most frustrating kind of rejection – because you’re never sure when it has kicked in.  In my experience, this happens most often with literary agents.  Publishers will usually at least send you a form letter.  When a publisher’s or agent’s web site says, “If you haven’t heard from us within three months, you can consider that we’ve passed on your project,” I see red.  Although it is true that publishers are swamped with queries and manuscripts from wannabe writers, it seems to me that the writers who took the time to contact them at least deserve a form-letter rejection.  After all, if you’re a publisher or a literary agent, you signed up for this.

Providing even a form rejection would allow the writer to move on.  This kind of rejection is especially galling when they have also asked that you not submit to more than one publisher at the same time: the multiple submission.  The time it then takes to move on is unacceptable.  This is just disrespectful.


The form-letter rejection

The form-letter rejection is so ubiquitous that some writers paper their walls with them. In the old days (and still today for some dinosaurs of publishers and agents), the submission requirements would indicate that you were to provide a SASE (self-addressed-stamped envelope) with your submission so that they could send you a photo-copied form rejection.  Not for a single moment did I believe that if they really intended to accept my manuscript they would object to footing the bill for a stamp, or even better, a telephone call.

These days, the form-letter rejection is really in the form of a form-email.  It goes something like this:

“Thank-you for your query.  While we feel that it might be a worthwhile project, we don’t think it is right for us.  Good luck.”

What’s interesting about this, is how when tweaked a bit, it can make you believe you have received a personal note of rejection, when it’s really a form. But don’t kid yourself.


 The almost-form-letter rejection

Just a tweak here and there, and you have the and the almost-form-letter rejection, which sounds like a personal note, but is what the agent or publisher always says to soften the blow.  In fact, that is the purpose of this kind of a rejection: to make you feel less bad about being rejected.  Here are several I received from agents about a current book project:

“Dear Patricia Parsons: I appreciate the intention of this work but regret I simply don’t think I would be the best match. Best of luck. Sincerely, RR

Or how about…

This isn’t right for me, but thanks and good luck. Best regards, MH


Dear Patricia, Thank you for the opportunity to review your project. While I appreciate that you thought of me for your work of nonfiction, I’m not sure that this project is the best fit for me. Thank you again, and best of luck in finding the right literary agent for your work. Best, Maria

So, the work just wasn’t a good fit.  I feel better now.  Not really.  There is nothing in any of these to suggest that the work is good, bad or indifferent.  And I wouldn’t expect it to say that.  What you need to understand about these rejections is that they do not reflect any kind of assessment of the value or quality of your work whatsoever.  They simply mean the agent doesn’t want to represent you.

Occasionally, you do receive a much longer letter from an acquiring editor whose interest was, at least, momentarily piqued.  These are much longer letters that often even suggest other publishers or agents that might be a better match or who might actually be looking for your kind of work.  If you don’t receive a note that is longer than three or four lines, understand that it is what they always say – even if the work is a piece of crap and they think so.

So, you might wonder why editors and agents do this.  Sometime editor Jenn Glatzer put it this way: “…when…we…would like to be honest with the writer, some of us bite our tongues anyway. The reason? Not all writers know what it means to be a professional. And not all of them can take criticism.  Whenever I sent constructive criticism with a rejection, I knew there was about a 75% chance I’d hear nothing back (which was fine), a 5% chance I’d get a quick “thanks for your consideration anyway” (which was nice), and a 20% chance I’d get an argument (which was not fine).[i]

It would never occur to me to respond to an editor in any way – especially not in an argumentative one.  In the future, I might want to submit a different project for one. The second reason I wouldn’t is that it would be a waste of my precious writing time.  Just don’t do it.  (Go to the endnote and read her entire blog post – it’s worth it.)

If you want some more information and another perspective on interpreting what publishers and agents really mean in their rejection letters, you’ll enjoy reading the Writer’s Relief online post titled How to interpret rejection letters from literary agents and editors.[ii]

If editors or agents are truly besotted by your work, they’ll say so, and they’ll ask for more.  Continued rejections, however, should make you re-examine your work before running screaming into self-publishing.  Once you’ve determined that it’s truly your best work,  then go for it — take control and self-publish.


[i] Jenna Glatzer. Why you get form rejection letters.

[ii] Writers’ Relief. How to interpret rejection letters from literary agents and editors.


Posted in Book publishers

Do publishers really care about a writer’s life on Twitter?

I’ve been doing a bit of research lately on book marketing.  This will come as no surprise to my blog readers who have been with me through various book launches.  At every such juncture, I dig out my research skills to see if there is any actual hard evidence on what really works to sell books.  Lately j0316779there’s been an inordinate amount of material on the need for a (huge) social media presence.  Indeed, it seems to be the collective wisdom that publishers won’t touch you with a ten-foot pole if you don’t have thousands of Twitter followers, huge numbers of Facebook ‘friends’ or ‘likes,’ and more than a foot in the door of Google+.  And it’s not only the traditional route to publication that seems to beg for this: there are more blog posts for indie authors on this topic than perhaps any other single current issue.  But now, as it was the last time I tried to find real numbers, there doesn’t seem to be any data.  I need data, people!

This search for evidence comes at the juncture of three events in my life: the release of my most recent business-related book Beyond Persuasion by the University of Toronto Press, my search for a new agent, and my foray into fiction.  Add that to a media story I read last week (tweeted by a fellow academic) about the usefulness (or more specifically the uselessness) of current Twitter metrics, and I’m seriously doubting the collective wisdom.

Since publishers don’t seem to have the data, let’s start with an industry that has done their homework here.  The story tweeted by my colleague focuses on a study of the use of social media by charities.  Facebook users give their ‘likes’ — but not their dollars — to charities: study reports gives me some evidence.

A PhD student at the University of British Columbia studied the correlation between someone ‘liking’ a charity and actually being moved to volunteer or donate.  What he found might come as something of a surprise to the more naïve among us.  The more likely someone is to click like, the less likely that person is to actually give money.  The researchers characterize these people as slactvitists – a new breed of individual who likes the feeling of publicly supporting a good cause but then feels no need to actually do something about it.  So, if this is the case in the non-profit industry, can we not extrapolate to the book buying industry to theorize that the more likely someone is to follow you on Twitter, the less likely that person is to buy your book?  It’s an interesting argument.

Okay, let’s take this argument a step further.  Wait a minute, you say, even if that’s true (and maybe the book’s not for them), if they are active tweeps, then at the very least they’re more likely to tweet it.  This is actually unlikely if they follow more than a few hundred people (studies do show that if you follow numerous peeps on Twitter, you cannot possibly follow their tweets with any degree of regularity), but for the sake of argument, let’s say they do tweet it, and then someone else re-tweets it and on and on.  If our original premise is correct, none of this matters.  Your book will be tweeted all over cyberspace and still not a single person might buy your book.  Indeed, many indie authors would be millionaires (or at least making a luxurious, regular wage) if this were true.  So, we’re back where we started.

It seems to me that the notion of a platform and a social media platform are two different but related concepts that need differentiation.

Just as I’ve always thought, a non-fiction author still needs a platform – and that doesn’t necessarily mean thousands of Twitter followers.  That means the credentials and expertise to actually write the book.  You can rest assured that neither the UTP editors nor the reviewers cared a bit about my online presence for the new book mentioned above.  What they did care about was my background, education and experiential credentials, and my ability to write authentically, clearly and correctly.

Those thousands of Twitter followers might also be impressive, but they are at the lower end of what’s needed at least initially.  According to one agent, this is the kind of platform you need for non-fiction and for fiction, well, it is just as I suspected, unnecessary.[1]   Interestingly, though, she does indicate that when she looks at a potential fiction client’s tweets, she’s looking for the unique voice.  She further considers blogging and what it might mean if you have a blog that is outdated and never used.

Literary agent Carly Watters says, “Twitter is a place for authors–who live a very solitary existence–to engage with other writers going through the same experience, follow industry veterans, follow writers they admire, and learn about how the book business works.”[2]

In her very good post A Definition of Author Platform, blogger Jane Friedman give us this useful advice: “Your platform should be as much of a creative exercise and project as the work you produce. While platform gives you power to market effectively, it’s not something you develop by posting “Follow me!” on Twitter or “Like me!” on Facebook a few times a week.”

So what might your social media presence be good for?

  • Finding beta readers far afield.
  • Doing background research and getting tips.
  • Finding support from like-minded, unknown writers.

And as for this last bullet, I’m reminded of the phenomenon of co-dependency – next blog post.