Sending out rejections is one of the most difficult things I have to do as an editor. The hardest, I think is dealing with authors who have a bad attitude. Thank God, "divas" are few. Contrarily and unfortunately, rejections are many. But, here's the thing about rejections: They don't have to be a negative. While I realize rejections are painful to receive, if they contain constructive, useful information, rejections can be a valuable tool (even if they do make you want to bang your head against a wall and throw your laptop into the ocean).
In looking back through the decade I've been evaluating Christian fiction, I've seen authors who take their rejections and become belligerent (Ms. Editor, what do you know anyway? I have a doctorate in English. I think I know how to write!). I've seen authors who were polite, but secretly self-deprecating (Thank you for your response. I appreciate the input [I just got another rejection, I’m a terrible writer; I might as well quit].). I've seen authors who expressed the intention to resubmit the manuscript, but never did (Thank you for your suggestions; They're great. I'm going to rework and resubmit…not!) None of these scenarios is especially healthy for the career of an author, and I have a few words of advice for each of these author types:
Mr. Golden Words, PhD
There's an old idiom that states, "A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client". So, to the authors who think their words are golden, I say: An author who thinks he doesn't need an editor is a fool. Period. Every writer needs an editor. Editors need editors. Since we're all human, since we all can be too close to a story, since we all can become distracted while looking at a piece of writing; we're all prone to making mistakes. Go figure, none of us is perfect. Being imperfect is not a crime. Nor is it something of which to be ashamed. It's just a fact. Rather than getting defensive (because, believe me, editing suggestions are not a personal attack) get over it! Analyze the advice. Use what's useful; discard the rest. Hone your skill. To be hard-headed and closed-hearted doesn't hurt the editor. It also doesn't garner you respect or a polished manuscript. It hurts only you, Mr. Golden Words.
Ms. I'm Not Worthy
The hard truth is that maybe your writing does stink at the moment. It's important, however, to separate your person from your ability. You do not stink even if your writing does. Take a deep breath, step back and evaluate the advice you've been given. If you're receiving only form rejections that give no insight, don't sweat it. Hang in there. Hone your skills. Every author has received rejections. The only authors who continue to reek, are those who refuse to learn. Writing is an art. Yes, some writers have a greater natural talent than other writers, but that doesn't mean writing can't be learnt. It can be. If you don't quit.
Obstacles in all forms must be overcome. Sometimes that obstacle—the greatest obstacle, in fact—is our own mind. We tell ourselves it will take too long, that we'll never be able to learn "it"; that if we were any good, we'd have mastered it by now…the list goes on. If you want to stop writing because you don't enjoy it any longer or because your life goals have changed, or for some other reason that is not negative and self-deprecating, then OK. But, if you really want to become a successful author who pens awesome stories, then don't take rejection as an answer. Learn. Hone. Try again, and again, and again, and as many agains as it takes.
Mrs. I-Will-I-Won't, Professional Vacillator
We all get distracted. "Time flies" isn't a cliché for no reason. It really does have wings! What we perceive as a week often turns out be a month, a quarter, a year. Saying you're going to edit and resubmit, and then not doing it, is sometimes just that quick passage of time catching up. And once a considerable time has gone by, it's easy to tell yourself that the editor probably won't remember, anyway. Well, I'm here to tell you, that while editors may not remember specifically, we do keep excellent records. If we've taken the time to give insight and to ask to see a revision, it's because we're interested. We'll remember, even if it's just when we're reviewing past submissions. Don't let the passage of time stop you from resubmitting. Jog our memories! We're much happier seeing a "late bloomer" than when we think we wasted our time by giving advice that (to our knowledge) was ignored, scoffed at, rejected (editors don't like rejection, either). Editors look at a lot of manuscripts. Not every one of them gets the extra time it takes to give an author specific instructions.
Plus, what does it say about one's character if there's no follow-through? I have experienced an author say they will rework and resubmit, and then they don't. But, they do submit a different manuscript later on. Hmm. What's an editor's incentive to give constructive criticism on the subsequent manuscript? If that manuscript is contracted, what will edits be like with Mrs. I-Will-I-Won't? Will she say she'll turn in edits, but then not? Be true! Do as you say. It's a small world, and you never know how your lack of follow-through will affect your future.
Let me be clear, however. I'm not saying you're obligated to resubmit a manuscript just because an editor asks you to do so. Your work is your work. You can do with it what you please. Just don't ever go back on your word. We don't need platitudes, we need good attitudes. (Yeah, corny, I know, but it's the truth.) Approach your writing career with a professional attitude. Don't say you will when you won't. Lip service doesn't help anyone. If something changes in the meantime (even if it's just your mind), shoot the editor an email and thank them for their time and let them know that while you said you would resubmit, your situation is changed. While it's true that some editors won't remember the particulars of you or your submission, we will appreciate being treated with respect and consideration. And you know what that will do? The next time you submit something, we will remember!
Successful Authors Have One Thing in Common
On the flip-side of all these seeming negatives, are authors who flourish, and they all have one thing in common–well, two things. A willingness to work (aka humility) and an honest heart. I've been privileged to see a fantastic metamorphosis in authors who were willing to do edits. When it happens, it's beautiful to see.
We have authors in the Pelican Book Group family who started out by receiving multiple rejections on the same manuscript…and then getting a contract and going on to multiple contracts. We have authors who had immediate success as far as "getting in the door" and then received rejections on some subsequent stories as well as acceptances. None of these authors are failures. They are all infinitely successful and write fantastic stories that have won awards, garnered critical acclaim and fans worldwide. But what would have happened had those authors not been willing to accept direction? Would they have self-published stories that weren't ready for general consumption, as Mr. Golden Words, PhD probably would? (That's not a knock at indie-pubbing, by the way. Some indie authors are professionals who put out great stuff. But I think we can agree there's a bunch of not-ready, mistake-ridden titles being published as well.) Where would these successful authors be if they had just given up instead of trying again, as Ms. I'm Not Worth probably would have? Or if they'd dinged their reputation by being a professional vacillator?
Great things come to those who are patient and work hard. That is the heart of what I want to say to authors who are staring at a pile of rejections as tall as the Eiffel Tower or looking at edits so heavy it feels as though you might not recognize the story when you're done. Next, we're going to hear from a couple authors who have both received some difficult advice—from me, personally. They are not the only authors with similar experiences. I hope their stories help to illuminate the value of being patient and being willing to work hard to bring a story to its full potential.
Marianne Evans started her relationship with Pelican in a good way: she won a contest and received a contract. She went on to receive multiple contracts (to date, she just signed her 30th with us! I'm hopeful there will be many more.). But, Marianne experienced the red end of my track changes when she turned in one particular manuscript. It wasn't easy for me to send those edits; it wasn't easy for her to receive them. You'll hear in her own words about how she handled it, but I want to let you know that from an editor's perspective, the experience was the epitome of AWESOME! The re-edited story is some of Marianne's best work. The book isn't out yet, but it is going to touch readers–make them smile, make them cry, maybe even make them angry a little at times. That's good writing! Marianne did all the work. She had it in her the whole time (which I knew because of all the previous great stories she'd written). In this instance, she just needed a little guidance. Thankfully, she was willing to accept it.
For me, working through the editing process is all about mutual faith and trust.
In the twenty-plus books I've published with Pelican Book Group, I've had manuscripts that require 'light' edits and manuscripts that require 'heavy' edits. A word of seasoned advice here: No matter who you are, or how great your writing is (and it must be great, or it wouldn't be placed under contract) you're going to have to contend with edits.
For me, working through that process is all about mutual faith and trust.
First comes faith. I take my editor at her word when she says 'I contracted your book for a reason. The reason is, it's good.' That assurance and encouragement helps keep me grounded when the edits come in, because I'm the type of overly-sensitive author who cringes at red ink. Why? Because, instinctively, I feel like I've somehow missed the mark. Failed. I realize now that's not the case. I've also learned "light" edits don't mean the story is any better or worse than the one that required more finesse, and finesse is a key word here. "Heavy" edits simply mean the story can be enhanced, nourished, shifted into something even more powerful via the gift of a supportive and talented editor. And make no mistake, just like great writing, great editing is a gift.
That's where trust comes in. My upcoming release, Forgiveness is a multi-layered story about recovery from alcohol addiction and the impact of addiction on three interconnected lives. The story I delivered was good–but upon reading it cold, and beginning the process of polishing the manuscript, my editor helped me hone the focus of the plot, intensify the emotion of the characters. She loved it enough in its original form to work hard and establish an even deeper polish and shine. Doing so required quite a bit of reworking within the context of my overall story, and remember my editing instinct is to cringe and curl up in a corner and hide. Sure, that reaction kicked in. Sure, I felt heartache when I cut and trimmed and tweaked. But, here's the thing. I trust my editor implicitly. In turn, she trusts me to make my book even more powerful. End result? The editing process became exciting to me. I saw the diamond emerging at twenty karats instead of just ten. Once I turned in final edits, I wasn't discouraged, I was thrilled, and so was my editor.
My editor and I are a partnership. We're in this together, lifting each other up in order to send great books into the world. Readers deserve nothing less. To me, that's the end goal. A book that resonates, a book that impacts and entertains.
Meet Sandy Nadeau
When Sandy Nadeau first submitted to Pelican, I recognized the potential in her story, but it was rough. Because I could see the potential, I gave her some pointers and asked her to resubmit. I didn't know anything about Sandy, I didn't have a rapport with her, as I did with Marianne when I had to send a heavy edit letter, but I sensed something in Sandy that told me: help her figure this out. You'll hear in Sandy's own words about her experience with receiving this rejection, but I want to let you know that from an editor's perspective, the experience was the epitome of AWESOME! (Sound familiar? That's because even though Marianne and Sandy started at different places, their hard work and determination garnered the same awesome result.) Through multiple rejections, Sandy was open, grateful, kind, and deserving of multiple chances. What came was an eventual contract on that story, and a subsequent contract, also (and I hope many more to come). Sandy's book touched readers, garnered high praise and set her career on a path that I'm sure will not dead-end any time soon. All she needed was a little guidance. Thankfully, she was willing to accept it.
Seemed like the story of my life. I wasn’t new to being rejected by editors/publishers. I have been rejected by the big houses, small houses, it didn’t matter. It makes you feel a bit worthless as a writer. It takes a little encouragement, which fortunately I received from several people, to pull myself up out of the PLOM (Poor Little Old Me) party I held in my heart and mind.
When I wrote Red Gold, it took a long time to find it a home. And even then, it took some time. I had submitted it to several publishers. All rejected. I kept wondering what I was doing so wrong in my writing that it just kept getting turned away. It wears on your confidence.
I heard all the rote comments: It just wasn’t right for them. It doesn’t fit for our catalog. It’s not LIKE anything else. If you could just… WHAT? Just what?
After a couple of rejects, I did some rewriting. That is quite a process. Study the craft more. Change some things. Have other writers read it and offer advice. (It’s hard to find those people.) Change some more. Submit.
And, get rejected.
Not sure if it’s my heritage or the way I was raised, but I am really stubborn. I felt called to writing a long time ago. I managed to get a couple of magazine articles published, and I wrote a column in a newspaper for twelve years, but that book contract was so elusive. I knew I could write, I knew my writing could be ministry, but if no one ever read it, how would I ever be able to minister.
Then I found Pelican Book Group. I went to an ACFW conference and garnered an appointment with one of the editors. (They are not as scary as you think.) I was thrilled when she took my One Sheet (that wonderful, impossible to write sheet of paper used to sell your book) with her. WITH an invitation to submit.
Cool! Someone sees my vision of this story. Adventure, mystery, love, compassion.
When I got home, with a very deep breath, I prepared the submission form. And waited. I’m not sure my heart beat during that wait.
Then it came in the email. Rejected.
BUT, this editor, was kind enough to point out my areas of needed improvement. Two, count them, two pages worth of improvements. I felt as if I’d been given gold! Okay, I can do that. I also asked if I could resubmit. (That required a large gulp to ask even though it was in email.) She invited me to do so, as long as I did the changes.
As I worked through them, some of it made sense, other parts were like cutting my thumb off. I resisted, walked away, probably crying, went back (because I’m stubborn) and edited some more. Cut my little darlings up. Removed and disposed of them. Read through it and realized, Hey, that’s better! Go figure. Editors DO know what they are doing.
I resubmitted, reminding her of the invitation to do so, and guess what? Rejected. Never had I groaned so much in my life. And cried. When was I ever going to be good enough? I believed in this story. I felt strongly that it could help people and that they would enjoy it. But WHY could I not get published? Am I so bad at this writing thing?
Maybe I should give up. Maybe it’s just not meant to be. Maybe they’re telling me something. Maybe I’m worthless at this thing I thought I had been called to do. And then that stubborn perseverance raised its head. With her suggestions again on what still needed to be done, I buckled up and went through the story once more. Man, I was getting sick of it. As I worked, I continued to drill myself about whether I should just give up.
But I wanted it bad. I looked over her suggestions, applied them, attempted to learn from it, and resubmitted to her.
Yep, rejected. AGAIN! With more help and suggestions. Who does that? I’ve never heard of an editor offering so much help without a contract. None of my writer friends had seen it either. I’ll admit, thoughts of being strung along went through my mind. Okay, do it again. Time number four. How on earth can there still be that much wrong? How on earth can more still be cut or changed in this story to still have the story?
Persevere. If you want it so bad, I told myself, you have to do it. This was the closest I had ever come to an editor showing interest. And certainly one that cared enough to help me. Worked hard again, submitted again. Guess what?
I was offered a contract! As long as I was willing to allow them to edit it more.
I laughed. I sort of stared blankly at the screen. My husband was out in the other room. I’d always had visions of doing the Happy Dance through the house and screaming with joy for all the world to hear when getting a book contract. But I stared. I was exhausted and could only stare, rereading the email over and over. I forwarded it to my daughter and asked her if this really said I was being offered a contract. Surely I’m reading this wrong. Surely not reality. I tapped my fingers on the desk until she wrote back excitedly moments later saying congratulations.
I numbly printed it out, walked into the other room and showed my hubby. He was elated. I was in shock. There was no happy dance. Yet.
I went through the contract, the welcome packet info, toiled over whether I needed to find an agent. I didn’t. I had a friend look over the contract that has dealt with those things and he said it was pretty straightforward, so I signed it, sent it back, and then I did the happy dance!! It felt so good.
I soon received the edited version of more changes to make. And here is my Norwegian heritage: Uff da! How can I be so bad? I kept telling myself they were making it better and they know what they’re doing. But it was painful. Scenes I loved and had worked so hard on, were red lined completely out. Gone. Ones I cried while writing, or laughed. But, but, but… I had to walk away a few times. Think on it, then go back and hit the dreaded delete key.
As I went through the edits of two editors, I reached a point of, just delete it, just do what they want. I was stubborn on very few points, and trusted. The Lord and I had a lot of talks about this process.
One of the things I appreciate about PBG is that I can ask anything. They are so helpful and willing to make a writer the best they can be and I felt comfortable about asking. I reached a point of almost embarrassment and sent one note to the second editor apologizing for all the work she had to do on my manuscript. She responded saying mine wasn’t as bad as some. Wow, that was a glimmer of hope. But in reality, it had already been heavily edited after 3 rejections. But I held on to the fact that I’m not the only one that gets their manuscript butchered, er…improved.
So time went on, a couple of years from that first rejection. Galleys arrived. I got galleys! Seeing how this long-suffering novel would actually look was a thrill. I printed the whole thing out to fold it “like” a book to go through that one last time. We had a trip to Texas lined up, so as we drove, I read the book aloud to my patient husband. He hadn’t read the whole thing yet. It helped so much to read it out loud. I had a deadline for it, so as we traveled, I got it done.
You know what? Those editors are really good. The book was polished and clean. Granted I did find some errors that got by in the galleys, so those were noted, fixed and then the wait was on for the release date. March 2013. When Red Gold arrived on my doorstep, that happy dance came to be again. It was beautiful. It was real. My book, that I wrote (with a whole lot of help), my idea, my efforts, my answer to prayer, here it was in my hand.
I learned that you don’t do this alone. Writers need to trust their editors because they really do know how to improve that story of yours. They want it to be successful as much as we do. If they don’t make it better, it won’t sell, so they have motivation to make our work the best it can be. Now that my second book has released with PBG, I feel like I have a happy home. I’m seeing the care they take to make my writing better. It feels like family and I’m thankful.
For all you authors who are struggling with rejections or heavy edits, if you're thinking of indie-pubbing because the other route is taking too long, if you're thinking of giving up completely; Have a second think. Rejections and edits are not personal. They merely mean there's more work to be done. Indie-pubbing is not the solution to impatience. Indie-pubbing should be what you do because it's the best thing for your manuscript. Giving up shouldn't be the response to receiving rejections. If you decide to quit, it should be because you know it's the right path for your life, not because you're dejected at how long it's taking to get published.
Take it from one editor who prays daily to contract great authors (not great manuscripts. Although ideally it'd be a package deal), and take it from a couple authors who have found success and who had to work through some rejections and tough edits and advice in order to make their stories shine like a jewel. You can do it!