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True confessions of a girl who writes dirty books--and loves it!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Decoding Disappointment

Ok, I guess I should have expected this. When I offered to use whatever insight I gained as an editor to read between the lines of rejection letters, I should have known that it would be a little tough to get the ball rolling. No one wants to be the first! And no one sent me a letter to translate. So I'm starting with the most common rejection letter I sent out. I know, it's cheating. Cracking my own code! Easy for me, but maybe not as easy for you. I hope this is helpful.

So, why didn't I just say what I meant? As an editor, you are aware of the power you have. You know that every word in a rejection or revision letter is going to be analyzed and picked over for any scrap of information it can impart. And you don't want to be unnecessarily cruel or rude. So you end up with a stilted, polite set of phrases that convey a 'no', and very little else. The first rule of rejection writing is not to give any false hope. Not to give any hope at all, because that stack of slush is so high it's about to topple off your desk, and there's more coming in every day. You can't ever keep ahead of it, but if you see the same manuscript with slight changes over and over...well, that's more than most people can bear.

When the senior editors finally let me start reading slush, I was very excited. They didn't throw me into it right away--contrary to popular opinion, editors don't allow any old monkey who wanders into the office to read their submissions. Once I proved that I could be trusted to give an editorial opinion, however, I became fair game. And the manuscripts started pouring in, and the rejection letters started pouring out. My first draft ran something like this:

Dear Author,
Thank you for sending your historical romance, Title, to us. After careful consideration, we have come to the unfortunate conclusion that Title is not right for our list at this time. Best of luck with your writing, and thank you for submitting.
Best, Louisa Edwards

Do you see what I did wrong there? My boss spotted it immediately. I said that the manuscript wasn't right for us at this time. Big no-no. I was told to delete that bit, or I'd be seeing this same submission again in two months. Once that part was edited out, what remains of the letter above is a fairly standard example of a non-personalized rejection letter. This was what you got if you had no agent, and no cover letter stating you'd met the editor in question at a conference, but if you'd still managed to direct your submission to an actual editor. The scores of mansucripts that were directed to Submissions Editor, or Acquisitions Editor, or To Whom it May Concern--those received an even less personal rejection.

The first lesson is an obvious one--target your manuscript. You have a better chance of getting someone to read it who might actually like it (lots of those To Whom it May Concerns that I read in the slush were sci-fi, or thrillers, and I tried to give them a fair shot, but I'm just not the right audience at all). It seems like a no brainer, but I mention it, because I got about twenty submissions a week that weren't aimed at any particular editor.

The second lesson is that editors are trained in the art of crushing hope. They are aware of what their letter to you represents, and they aren't (or shouldn't be) careless of the feelings involved. When they send a letter that offers no hope, it's meant, yes, to keep them from having to see the same manuscript more than once, but it's also meant to keep you from the heartache of a second rejection. And in turn, what this lesson points out is that any letter you get from an editor that encourages you to make changes and resubmit is to be taken very seriously. I've heard a lot of people on romance boards wondering if they should follow up on a letter like that, if the editor was just being nice, or polite, and let me tell you--editors can't afford to be that nice. They do not have time. That invitation in a revision letter is calculated and heartfelt, and as an author, you should take it as strong praise. It means that although your manuscript isn't publishable in its current form, the editor saw something in your writing that made her want to see more. If an editor asks you to call her to talk about the manuscript, CALL! Don't be coy! We are not dating. She wouldn't say it if she didn't mean it.

So here ends the lesson for this week. Hopefully by next week I will have gotten a few actual rejection/revision letters from writers, so I can stop talking about myself...although this is my blog, so don't hold your breath.


At 7:00 PM, Blogger MariaGeraci said...

Wow. I would never have thought that "at this time" would have made someone think that they should resubmit the same ms later!

At 4:51 AM, Blogger Mel Francis said...

I'm with Maria. "At this time" isn't an invitation for me to resubmit! LOL But, I know people who grasped for any sliver of hope they could find, and those three words would've given it to them.

Thanks, Louisa! I look forward to these.

At 9:13 PM, Blogger Ellen said...

Thanks for the insight, Louisa. :)

I would send a rejection letter to be decoded, but since I haven't finished my ms yet, I'm not quite there. An editor from HQ did critique my 1st few chapters (an auction win), and I really appreciated her brutal honesty (she said some good things, but nailed me on the flaws). I learned a lot from that. Likewise, I'm sure the people to whom you wrote rejection letters appreciated that you didn't give them false hope.

I look forward to your future posts--hopefully folks will get up the courage to get "decoded." :)

At 4:31 AM, Blogger Christine said...

Hello Louisa.

I just discovered your blog, and I'm glad I did. Thank you for taking some of the mystery of rejection letters. It's always great to get a small glimps of what may be going on. :)


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