Sunday, April 29, 2007

I'll Show You! I'll Self-Publish!

A post from Rejection Collection:

This happened about ten years ago. I wrote an African folktale which was actually a project for an English class. Since it accounted for 50% of our grade and was a presentation, I made it into a book, very amateurish, but it looked fine and I received and A on the project and an A in the class. I was so proud of myself and encouraged by others in the class, I submitted it to a local publisher that specialized in children's book publishing.I don't remember nor do I think I have the actual [rejection] letter but I will never forget this phrase forever imbedded in my memory."This was a cute little story but we are not looking for submissions of this type at this time".

What bothered you the most about this letter?
The condenscending tone. This left a mark of insecurity on me. True, I didn't know the first thing about queries or submissions policy. Still I felt and still feel that it was a good story with a moral. I think I am going to dig it out, polish it up and resubmit or better yet, self-publish myself.

Yes, that was condescending. But think how much more condescending literate people are capable of being. And, when in doubt (or anger, or despair), refer to the rules of rejection.

What interests me is that the writer seems to be thinking, "I'll show that publisher! I'll self-publish!"
Uh... no.

If you don't care what other people think, then self-publishing is perfect for you. You just want a book to hold in your hands and maybe to give to friends as a gift. You don't care about the book appealing to buyers of books or reviewers of books. Which means you don't care about it appealing to publishers of books. Fine.

But if you are a person who just can't take what other people think, self-publishing is not a band-aid for your wounded ego. It won't prove anything to the publisher who rejected you. Because while you may harass a couple local bookstores into stocking your aspirations-made-manifest, you are never going to sell the 10,000 copies that would make a publisher think again.

I'm afraid that the majority of self-publishers are, in fact, in this latter group. They care what people think of their book, but they only want to hear about it if it's positive. All of the serious writers I know (both published and unpublished), know exactly what the problem with that is.

The moral of today's blog:
Rejection probably doesn't mean that you don't know what you're doing. Self-publishing probably does.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The 8 Rules of Rejections

I've been reading, where people post the decline letters they've received and talk about how the letter made them feel.

"How it made them feel"?! Hoo-hoo!
Thus, today's list:

1. Rejection letters are the opposite of personal. They might even be the inverse.

2. The people who write them are sometimes wrong.

3. Most of the people who write them are nice, and not trying to make you angry or suicidal.

4. The rest are not interested enough in you or your manuscript to offer you any real advice.

rules 3 and 4 mean that

5. Most rejection letters are a long, long way from direct, forthcoming, or meaningful.

which means that

6. Most rejection letters mean nothing. Nothing. (Except that you can cross that publisher/agent off the list.) You need to internalize this fact however you can. Chant it in the bathtub. Write it backwards on your forehead. Listen to a tapeloop of it while you sleep. No matter what the editor/agent says, no matter what words they use, rejection letters mean nothing.

7. The only possible exception to rule 6 is specific constructive criticism.
a. if it is not specific, it means nothing.
b. if it is not constructive, it means nothing.
c. if it is not criticism, it means nothing.

rules 6 and 7 mean that

8. Ignore the flattery. Ignore the snark. Ignore the polite phrases that may be new to you, but trust me, have been repeated so many times by the person who wrote that letter that her boyfriend knows them by heart from hearing them muttered in her sleep night after night. Ignore, in the end, the rejection.

This, readers, is how to approach rejection letters. Absorb this, go forth, and prosper.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pet Peeve of the Week:

Agents who represent themselves.

Every once in a while you see this from legitimate agents, and it drives me up the wall. An agent sends us a manuscript they've written, on their agency letterhead, with a cover letter with all the normal schmoozing. And we're expected to treat that manuscript as agented?

Certainly in the strictest sense, it is agented. But publishers offer agented manuscripts faster turnaround and more personal responses because agents are supposed to be doing some of the slush-sifting for us. That doesn't actually apply when it comes to something they wrote.

So I'm wracking my brain for a professional, polite way of saying, "You can't be trusted to be impartial or discerning about your own writing. Your manuscript has gone into slush with all the other unsoliciteds."

But so far, no luck.

Are children’s books a girl’s club?

Once again, someone in my hearing has been complaining about the lack of good chapter books for boys, and spreading the idea that this is because most children’s book editors are women.


Most children’s book editors are women; but more important is the fact that most children’s book writers are women, and most children’s book readers are girls.

Don’t make that face, it’s true. The natural response to this point is to submit that for just that reason publishers should be reaching out to boys. Maybe if there were more books for boys, we could get more boys reading.

I’m the last person you’ll find disagreeing with this hypothesis.

But publishers don’t create books, and we don’t create the market that is sometimes less gladiator-vs-gladiator and more christians-vs-lions. Most children’s book writers are women, so publishers have thinner pickings when it comes to manuscripts for boys. And because boys don’t account for as many sales, the manuscripts that we do acquire need to have really strong salability.

I do agree that there could be more chapter books for boys. But it makes me want to knee people someplace tender to hear that I might be the problem.

Let me sing the praises of How Angel Peterson Got His Name, which is a peon to the spirit and ingenuity and immortal brainlessness of boys. It is one of the funniest books ever written, and humor may be light, but it takes genius.

And what about Hoot and Flush? What about Holes and the other wonderful (and under-read) books in the Sachar oeuvre? What about No More Dead Dogs and Crash? What about Joey Pigza and Percy Jackson?

All are books about boys, written by men, and all are manuscripts that I would have cried tears of joy to find in my mail. Feel free to say there should be more books like these. Just don’t go suggesting that female editors wouldn’t recognize them in the slush.

Let me point out something that people who complain about children’s books often seem to forget—the thing that is the underlying ill of the industry, the thing that means we don’t have the gender spread we want, or the lean, mean slush piles we would kill for.

Children’s books get no respect. Because children get no respect.

What that basic truth about our society means is that an enormous part of the population doesn’t think of children’s books as real books, and they come to one of two conclusions:
1) I can do that!
2) I’m better than that!

Think about those two attitudes for a moment. It means that a bunch of people who know nothing about writing are convinced that they, too, can be published. And another bunch of people who perhaps do have some sense of the value and difficulty of literature don’t want to touch kids’ books with a ten-foot pole.

Slowly, and owing in great part to Harry Potter, children’s books’ star is rising. A few more people are thinking of them as real literature. Whether or not adults will ever start thinking of children as real people, I can’t tell.