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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rejected Authors: Silence is not Golden

Neither is being the north end of a southbound rejected author, as Commander Berryman aptly demonstrated a short time ago. But I digress.

Recently I spent a couple days digging through the slush pile, thumbing through reader reports, talking with manuscript evaluators, and making one of the key decisions every publishing house must make: which manuscripts to accept (or at least see more of), and which to reject. That never pleasant activity let to the emailing of twenty-one rejection notices.

As some of you know, I do not simply send a one-line "Unfortunately, your manuscript does meet our editorial requirements at this time," response and leave it at that. Instead, I tailor suggestions to each author about potential publishers, social networking, how to find an agent (if appropriate), and so forth.

Thus far--and it has been several days--a grand total of two authors have had the courtesy and decency to respond and say thank you. Two. As in one plus one. Out of twenty-one. For those of you keeping score, I am not including Cmdr. Berryman, since his "thank you," though certainly heartfelt, was not the sort of reply I am suggesting.

Author Lesson: Always, and I mean always, respond to an acquisitions editor with a "Thank you for taking the time and trouble" letter, card, or email. Why? Let's count three obvious reasons.

First, you never know when one might have a change of heart. I recall a kind reply from an author that triggered a conversation, which led to a second look at his manuscript, which led to my helping him place it with another publishing house.

Second, you never know when you will meet that person. Publishing is a small world. If you have reached the age of 25 and have not yet realized it's mostly about networking, stop reading (and writing.)

Last, thank yous are so rare that these editors will remember. When you submit another manuscript idea a few months or a year later, and you mention your rejection--I can almost guarantee the editor will recall your graciousness.

One of our author's, Nick "Gunny Pop" Popaditch (www.onceamarine.com) told me the story about how the Marines teach new recruits the "Message to Garcia" lesson: It means when you are told to do something, you don't ask a lot of questions, but simply figure it out for yourself. (I use this at home quite often on my son, to his dismay. "Pop, where is my math book?" "Demetri--message to Garcia." He really hates that, but it works.)

So I am creating a new lesson, and we shall call it "The Berryman Rule." It goes something like this: Treat acquisitions editors (and everyone you meet in the publishing world) with respect and graciousness.

It will pay off in the long run.

There was a silver lining in that Berryman fiasco after all.



Anonymous said...

Rejections, like intel data, should be analyzed closely. Form messages are what they are.

There should be a number on every one: 1, 5, 32, 65, 356 ---How many pages the decider made before the verdict.

Authors complain: "But you didn't read the WHOLE story."

"You didn't MAKE me," is the reply.

Robert said...

This just seems like such a basic thing to me. Have these people ever read Writer's Digest magazine or thumbed through Writer's Market? Not everything gets published.

I don't have a manuscript (yet) but I can't imagine treating a publisher who has gone out of their way to try an help in such a manner. To each their own I suppose. Personally I've already done what you have suggested in your prior post just in case I actually get through my idea. If I don't, what have I lost?