Then finally, there is the
Dear Ms Pen Smith,
We were very impressed with the manuscript you sent to us. Please phone me in regards to finding a suitable time for discussing our interest and ideas.
Well, the surprise phone call from the editor or a contract in the mail are all that beat this letter.
Correspondence from publishers can vary in style, content or format but it won’t take long for any eager beginner to notice the difference from one letter to another. Some publishers have replaced the standard form letter with the more personal and informative ‘tick the reason’ letter. Some publishers only include Compliment Slips with work that they return. But regardless of the layout all rejection letters fall into one of the categories listed above.
Occasionally, you may receive a letter where a member of staff has hurriedly scribbled a personal note to you on the paper, this always notches the rejection closer to the top of the list of responses. If this happens try to follow the letter up with another suitable, well-crafted manuscript, making sure you address it to the person who took the time to write to you. Chances are that they liked your work and will be more open than others to future submissions.
Even if a polite return letter contains nothing more than a photocopied signature, make a note of the person’s name so that in future you can address your submissions correctly.
Due to the large amount of submissions sent to any publishing house it is unreasonable to expect a personal critique of your manuscripts from an editor. Unreasonable, but still frustrating. To receive this you need to contact a critique group and assessment agency.
So, when you have finally vented every scrap of annoyance out on your rejection note, uncrumple the singed remains and see what you can learn from the letter. Use it to your advantage, to help decide if your frequently returned manuscript needs a re-edit, a major overhaul or totally refiling to the back of the bottom drawer.
Obviously, if your work comes back to you fifty times with only form letters, you need to reassess something. But what about twenty or thirty times? Some of the most well known books currently on the bookstore shelves were returned numerous times before going into print. In fact, some of those books received so many knock backs that the authors gave up going the standard way and decided to self publish their works. Only then, when the book was in print did publishers show an interest, but it was only the writer’s belief in his/her work that got it out there.
Personally, when I write an article for a particular publication, I make a list of at least two more publishers that might also be interested, that way if my first choice turns down the work I can have the manuscript out the same day to the second on my list. If, however, the third publisher should also return my work with little more than a form letter I know it is time for a reassessment.
If you are at this stage there are a variety of questions you need to ask yourself.
How much faith do you have in your work?
Would you pay the bill for having it published and marketed? If you don’t believe your work is good enough, suitable, or perfect for the market you are sending it to, what makes you think the editor will? Publishing houses of all kinds are regularly swamped with unsolicited manuscripts, and they have to select the works that best suit their needs and that of their readership. Ask yourself, why do you think the public needs to read your article, story or book? What is it that makes your work so vital to their lives? Is there a gap out there just waiting to be filled with what you have written? If you are unsure of the answers to these questions chances are that an editor would be too.
Is your approach of the topic original, interesting, up to date?
Go back through the issues of any long-standing magazine or look along the shelf of any reference section in a library and chances are you will find the same subjects covered and recovered at surprising regularity. How many entrepreneurial magazines continually print articles on becoming a millionaire over seven to ten years? How many books are printed on Australian flora and fauna? If a topic has been written about once chances are it has been covered numerous times. When I was starting out and looking for magazine topics to cover, it was suggested that I should look back through copies about three-years-old because the time would be about right to write on that subject again. I still believe that this is true and an excellent way to gather ideas.
It is important to remember that what makes one article different from another is the style in which it is written, the angle it is written from, how it relates to current trends and so on. The topic might be the same but the reader needs to feel as though the information they are reading is new, relevant and worth spending time on. Try flicking through magazines and compare the different ways the same topic is approached, then think about original angles that you could use to cover the same story.
Does it appeal to the markets you are approaching?
Researching the market for a story is as vital as the research you do for writing the article. This is also where you find the true meaning of ‘writing for your market.’ Magazines survive because they appeal to a market. The public buys that publication over another because they like the way it is written, the topics and how it makes them feel. Editors rely on this and any change away from the magazines form risks upsetting subscribers.
How many glossy women’s magazines can you name in a minute? Close on a dozen? Certainly six. At a quick glance, they might all appear the same but each publication appeals to a slightly different range of women. As writers, we have to be aware of this. There is no point, for example, sending a manuscript entitled ‘Selecting the perfect Day Care for your child,’ to a magazine aimed at women who enjoy being at home, caring for their family. Nor would you forward an article called, ‘50 ways to amuse yourself on the first day of term,’ to a career woman’s magazine.
Editors are continually asking writers to ‘read the magazine before submitting.’ An article sent to the wrong market is a waste of your time, the editor’s time and of postage. Whilst mistakes can be made more often than not it is a case of not taking writing seriously enough to do the necessary research.
Is your standard of presentation high enough?
Whilst less than perfect presentation may not be reason alone for having your work returned there is no reason to disadvantage yourself and your work by not taking sufficient care and time. In the past when typewriters were the only way that most people could print their work it was understandable to have hand corrected errors, dog-eared pages or even spelling mistakes, but these days with the availability of computers there really is no excuse for such things. It may take time to set up your computer and learn the regularly used shortcuts but it is well worth the effort to give your work a professional look and a better chance of being read.
Is your standard of English language high enough?
Most of us studied English in school, we speak it regularly and we get to read it almost as often, but there is a clear difference between speaking it and writing it. Firstly, when we talk we have the advantage of facial expressions, of moving our hands and of vocal tones to make ourselves understood. The lack of these things is something every writer has to overcome by use of punctuation, grammar, dialogue and the numerous other parts of written language.
People accept our choice to use wrong words and incorrect tenses when speaking. And, should the person we are talking to not understand, they have the opportunity to look at us totally bemused and say, ‘I don’t understand.’ In writing, this is unacceptable. Regional dialect for example, is all right in dialogue or writing aimed to that specific geographical area but when the work is to appeal to a wider market its use should be carefully considered.
If you are unsure of your skill in this realm, it is well worth giving yourself a refresher course or going on a refresher course. Most public libraries and bookstores hold a variety of books on English usage. There are also a variety of part-time and full-time classes held at Universities across each state.
Is your standard of writing high enough?
Many writers start out believing that to have a saleable manuscript all that is needed are some words on a page. In essence this is true, but those words need to be the right ones in the right order. And quite possibly drafted, edited, rewritten, edited, corrected and rechecked at least once if not twice, three times or more. A writer needs to take pride in their work and send it out to an editor only when they truly believe it is worthy of being published. If not, chances are that an editor will notice the lack of time and energy used and send out a predictable form letter. After all, if a writer can’t find the time to craft a manuscript why should a publisher find time either?
If, on the other hand, you have put endless time and effort into writing yet still feel your work is not taking the shape or is of a standard you would wish, this maybe the time to look for outside help. NOTE: Family and friends are not always the best for this unless you just want someone to point out misspelled words. As wonderful as these people are few will see your work with the technical eye of an editor. Also, because they are your friends and therefore think you are a fantastic, creative person, there is a tendency for them to be biased. A small group of writers on the other hand are probably more tuned into idiosyncrasies of our language and capable of detaching themselves from your talents. This is why critiquing groups, either communicating by email, by mail or face to face, are so popular and helpful.
Alternatively, a paid visit to a professional writing service offering assessments will give you not only a report on the standard of English, but they will also address your writing skills as regards to the depth, interest and saleability of your work.
To improve your standard of writing on an ongoing basis there are two fun and cheap methods – read more and write more. The more familiar you become with the way of combining words and the effect their combinations have, the easier it will be to produce the work you are aiming for.
Are you following the publishers’ guidelines?
Following the publisher’s ‘writer’s guidelines’ is a great start to showing an editor that you have done your research into their preferences. It also shows you have a professional approach. Guidelines are written to make the job of the publisher easier. Imagine, for example, that it was your job to read fifty manuscripts and every piece of writing was single-spaced in size 10 font, with margins of .5cm. The task is almost enough to give you eyestrain before turning the first page.
So start off with the editor on your side and follow their guidelines, they are for a reason and are for everyone.
Why do you think your work is not being accepted?
When an experienced writer or editor looks at another writer’s piece of work and offers constructive criticism on a sentence, there is a good chance that the second writer will say that they had been concerned about that section too.
It is a fact that after a while many writers have a strong feeling that part of their manuscript needs work although they might find it impossible to say what is structurally wrong with it. So, if a favourite manuscript keeps coming back, why not put it aside for a week, or longer. Try to detach yourself from it and then read the work again as a stranger would. It is quite likely that you will see flaws in it that went unnoticed before.
Famous Rejection Letters
It’s easy to go through life looking at those around us who are doing well then reflect on our own personal struggles. As writers the difference between succeeding and striving can be all too apparent - pictures of best selling authors in the newspapers, large book displays in book stores, yet rejection slips in our own mailboxes.
So here, to set the record straight and hopefully to inspire you in moments of hesitation, are some genuine rejection notices from publishers who no doubt, at some time wished they could go back in time and give their decision some more thought.
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
“It’s impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”
The Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank
“The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception of feeling which would lift that book above the ‘curiosity’ level.”
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
“It does not seem to us that you have been wholly successful in working out an admittedly promising idea.”
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by DH Lawrence
“For your own good do not publish this book.”
Lust for Life, by Irving Stone
“A long, dull novel about an artist.”
Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen
“Nobody wants to read a book of short little stories.”
To Robert Browning from Atlantic Monthly
“Our magazine has no room for your vigorous verse.”
To Rudyard Kipling from the San Francisco Examiner
“I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language.”
Few people are truly overnight successes, in fact, even those that appear to be rarely are.
So if you have a dream, don’t give anyone permission to limit it’s potential. Set your sights, set your goals and keep on track to achieving them.