Rejections

Rejections

Imagine offering around a plate of homemade Anzac biscuits at a morning tea. You might have spent all morning baking them, but there will always be a guest who will say ‘No, thank you.’ They might refuse your cooking because they’re on a diet, because they only eat choc chip cookies or because the biscuits look a bit burnt around the edges to them, but either way you’re unlikely to take offence at their refusal. It’s more likely that, next time you invite your guest to visit, you will remember which biscuits they do like and how they like them cooked.

So, it is with writing. You will offer your writing to a publisher and sometimes they will say, ‘No, thank you.’ Just as with guests, they might turn down your creation because it isn’t what they would prefer or because it doesn’t suit their needs. The refusal isn’t meant to offend, it’s just honest.

Think through your average day and estimate how many times somebody has responded, ‘No, thank you,’ to an offer you have made.
    ‘Can I get you a coffee?’
    ‘Do you need a lift to the station?’
    ‘Do you need a hand with that?’
Or it might be in the form of an acquaintance walking blindly past you, or a child refusing a helping hand. These, or other events like them, can be common occurrences. Rejections we take graciously.

So, why is it that they, unlike manuscript rejections, don’t tempt us to throw ourselves down on the ground, arms and legs flaying, verbally emitting sounds more commonly heard from tempestuous two-year-olds? Possibly because we each have such high hopes for our written work. Possibly because we put so much of ourselves and our energy into our manuscripts. Possibly because we can’t understand how anyone would not see the value in our personal creations.

But either way we, as writers, must learn to accept this form of rejection as we would any of the other little knock backs. Just as with the guest refusing the Anzac biscuits, we need to respond with a smile and offer our creations to the next person around the table. At the same time, making a mental note of why the person before them turned down our offer.

Accept it, learn from it and move on.  

There is, however, one major advantage when it comes to rejections that writers have over salespeople, religious doorknockers and telemarketers - we are able to accept our ‘No, thank you’s in the privacy of our own homes. Even behind locked doors, away from family and friends if we wish. Only we have to know how well or how badly we deal with the knock backs.

I have no doubt that, in any group of writers, if you asked how they first handled (and maybe still do) returned manuscripts you would be surprised by the responses. It would have to range from the more standard:
‘I hid the letter under a pile of scrap papers.’
‘I swore at the faceless and obviously illiterate publisher, and binned the letter.’
‘I jumped up and down on my carefully self addressed, and returned, envelope.’
Through the:
‘I screwed up the letter to the size of a magpie’s egg then threw it repeatedly into the recycling bin.’ (An action which is, incidentally, my personal favourite.)
To the extremes of the:
‘I nailed the offensive letter to a fence and threw month-old tomatoes at it.’
‘I put the letter were it truly belonged, at the bottom of the bird cage.’
Then finally the:
‘I built a bonfire, complete with effigy of the editor and burnt him whilst he held his letter.’

Some writers even seem to be spurred on by an editor’s letter of rebuttal. Overtaken by the, ‘I’ll show you,’ attitude they are filled with renewed energy to discover a more open-minded publisher.
As writers, and readers, we all know the power of words and I suggest you try this out for yourself. Instead of using the word ‘rejection,’ when referring to any work sent back to you, try ‘returned.’ Or another word of similar meaning. The mere change of word seems to soften the blow or in some cases eliminate it all together. It is as if, for many of us, the word rejection comes with built in pain to be inflicted on our self-esteem and self-worth.
Remember the well quoted story about Edison and his invention, the light bulb. He said he came up with nearly 2000 ways that the filament wouldn’t work and each discovery brought him closer to discovering the way it would. He didn’t believe in failures any more than writers can believe in rejections.

It would seem that everyone but the extremely relaxed writer has to find their own way to deal with rejection. Sadly, returned manuscripts and form letters/emails are as integral a part of being a writer as receiving contracts - especially when starting out. Learning to accept them and learn from them is vital; otherwise we may find the dreams of becoming a financially secure freelance writer or author disappearing as quickly as the effigy on a mound of kero-soaked wood.

Now for the good news – when I first began writing I was told that, ‘I would be able to paper my room with rejection slips before I had anything accepted.’ This statement, I am pleased to announce, I have absolutely no substantiating proof for. Whether it is because rooms are larger or rejection letters are smaller, I don’t know, but I have never knowingly met someone so unlucky in their choice of words or publishers.

From my experience, there appear to be levels of rejections letters. First, you have the traditional form letter:

Dear Writer,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to view your manuscript. Unfortunately, it does not fit our current needs.
We wish you luck in finding a publisher elsewhere.

Yours sincerely

This letter, with the impersonal wording, means that you and your manuscript were nowhere near the mark. It could have been returned for any number of reasons. Maybe you didn’t research your market well enough, maybe your writing lacks originality or isn’t of the quality they are after or maybe their desk is just so swamped with manuscripts that the editor didn’t have time to glance over your work.

Second in the list, but only slightly higher is:

Dear Miss Hope Full,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to view your manuscript.
Unfortunately, ….. it does not suit our current needs.
        ….. we have just published a similar piece.
        ….. we are not accepting manuscripts at this present time.
        ….. other.

We wish you well with your future endeavours.

Yours sincerely

This letter rates higher in the list because the editor not only went to the trouble of including your name in the introduction but also ticked one of the preselected reasons. And, as any emerging writer will agree every scrap of insight on why work is returned is valuable.

Third is the:

Dear Mr Penman,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to view your manuscript however, after serious consideration we have chosen to return it to you.

We wish you well with your future endeavours and would be only too happy to look at any further manuscripts that you feel would suit our requirements.

Yours sincerely,
This letter is a real pat on the back. The editor liked your work enough to think about publishing it although he finally chose against it. His choice might have been swayed by other staff involved in the selection process, by the public’s interest level in your chosen topic or by previous experience regarding the topic’s commercial viability, either way this is a letter that should be followed up. Hunt out, rewrite or create another piece of work that is perfect for this publisher and send it off soon, referring to this letter.
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.

Yours sincerely,

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.
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