Thursday, August 2, 2012

Returns vs. Rejections--writing tip

In this YA action adventure yarn, Merlin travels through time to help out
a couple of students in present day England.

Question:  Thank you for accepting my book. Editor after editor has told me, "No Thanks!" I am so used to getting rejections that I almost didn't send it out again...

Answer: Thank the book committee, not me. I don't get a vote. I am a former teacher and could never say no to my students anyway. Besides, if I want to publish my own writing, it has to go through the committee, too. They never know who wrote it until after they answer. They can, and HAVE said no to my own stuff.

You are correct in thinking that in most publishing companies a single editor will read the submission and say yes or no, or forward only the best of the lot on to a higher ranking editor who will then read and say yes or no.  We use a peer review situation where a committee of volunteers will read a portion of the manuscript and vote. Readers never know who the writer is. They see the synopsis and first few chapters only, and decide if it would sell to readers of that genre, not whether they like it personally or not. Committees are of an uneven number and the Majority decides.

Some people think this is unfair. How can we decide if we don't read the whole book?

Well the synopsis should tell us the WHOLE story and we can decide from that whether or not it's a good story. The sample chapters should then demonstrate whether the writer can produce the planned work in a readable form. First and foremost, we are looking for reader-friendly prose. If Great Art happens, that's okay. But it isn't the primary goal. For us that goal is to please the reader and have them understand and enjoy the work.

So we do think it's fair. No one person's opinion can rule out anyone Everyone gets a shot at,  at least three readers.

And remember, Discouragement happens to us all. But keep trying anyway.

Every writer experiences “returns.” But there are many reasons for people “returning” a manuscript other than inadequate writing. A return doesn't mean you've done a bad job.

If your piece is about gypsies, and the publisher already published a book about gypsies last month they will return yours, even if it is better. They have already invested the work and wages to produce that other book for sale. To do another right now would only result in watering down the market for both authors and  competing with their own company's efforts.

If your piece is about dogs and the editor’s dog died that morning (or bit him that morning) he will not be in the mood for dog books. (See in such a case, the committee approach would work for you.) If your novel is 200,500 words it will be too expensive to print for almost anyone. It could be the best book in the world and almost nobody could afford the paper costs to produce it. 

You could submit the best Christmas book in the world on Nov. 1, and it will almost certainly be returned, as the editor will have the Christmas books finished and ready to go into the market by the end of July. The time to market seasonal material is six to eight months in advance. It’s business, not personal and a professional writer learns to look at it that way.

So don't feel rejected or dejected. Just put on your thinking cap and try another company.


  1. I still maintain that "Special Readers" must be separated from "Scholarly Readers."
    "Special Readers" need authors who know how to dumb down a book for borderline readers.
    But let's not forget those "scholarly readers" who, if reading a dumbed-down book, will fling it over their shoulder just by reading the first paragraph! I took the ICL course for Children's Literature, which teaches the writer to write in understandable language so that budding readers will understand. The same is protocol for "Special People." When I write for adults, I DO use dual terminology, such as,
    "Gracias", he said in Spanish.
    "What are you thanking me for, Carlos?"
    This is about as far as I go in condescending to the reader. He/she can always look up my words in a dictionary. I do, when reading.
    Adora Mitchell Bayles

    1. Excellent, that's what I meant to suggest to them to do!

    2. I didn't mean anyone to "dumb down" their prose, Adora. But writing for "scholarly readers" only can eliminate about 90% of the book-buying public.

      I think your solution of making things absolutely clear, as illustrated above, is an excellent solution.

  2. I think your committee idea is great! Everyone has specific tastes so it's good to have more than one person reading the work.