Have you ever received an unhelpful rejection letter that says, “Sorry, but this just isn’t a fit for us.”? I have. And I’ve also written more of these rejections than I’d like to admit. In fact, after I write this post, I may just have to send out twenty more.
Some authors write back to say, “Can’t you tell me what I can do better? What suggestions do you have?” I’m sure I frustrate writers when I tell them I can’t comment further. As a published author in my own right, I understand why writers want feedback. So now let me tell you why I don’t feel it’s in your best interest for me to offer feedback when the answer is a firm no.
Lead Me On
When you were in high school, you kept from encouraging people you didn’t want to date, right? Sometimes those people were nice and would make a great match for someone else. Just not you. You hated the fact you couldn’t, in your heart of hearts, be passionate enough about spending time with them to accept invitations for dinner. But how to tell them without gaining an enemy forever? Ouch!
I don’t want make writers, especially my lovely friends, think I’m going to introduce their work to editors if I have no intention of doing so. If I tell you, “Well, I’d like this better if the heroine’s eyes were blue and her name was Sally,” and you changed both factors and sent it back to me, you’d expect me to pursue your work. Now, in truth, I might think your book would be better with blue-eyed Sally instead of green-eyed Sarah, but another agent might disagree. Unless I’m serious about pursuit, it’s better for me to keep my opinion to myself.
Recently, my assistant had a conversation with an author who did not send a complete proposal. The author was referred to our guidelines and gently reminded that we needed more material in order to make an evaluation. But instead of saying “thank you” for the guidance, the author declared they did not have to jump through any hoops, and took the opportunity to aggressively express their complaints about our review process.
What made this all the more frustrating to us is that it happens more often than you’d think.
Why All The Work?
Have you ever worked in an office where you could swear one of your coworkers could find something — anything — wrong with your work so they could get it off their desk and back onto you? Well, that’s not what we are doing when we ask for a proposal. We are not giving you busywork so we can get back to our soap operas and coffee.
You really should meet this author! He knows all the best places to dine. I couldn’t believe the fabulous meal we were served at a hole-in-the-wall place I’d never heard of until I made his acquaintance. He has also been quite generous and charming to my family. My husband and my kids have nothing but great things to say about this wonderful author!
In our meetings both in person and on the telephone, he has convinced me that his book will sell millions! And because of his extroverted manner and considerable verve, I believe it really doesn’t matter if his book is any good or not. His platform isn’t anything great yet, but it will be — as soon as he gets paid your hefty advance so he can travel the country, taking meetings. In fact, he wants to meet with you at your early convenience. Can you fly out to meet him in Charlotte on Tuesday morning?
Of course I would never send this letter like it to any editor, but on more than one occasion, I have found that this is how authors seem to think marketing to editors works.
Some have a hard time appreciating the talent involved in writing genre fiction. By genre fiction, I mean novels that fall into a defined category such as contemporary romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, or cozy mystery. Many of these novels are published by mass market publishers (like Harlequin) and fit in lines they have formed for the sole purpose of selling the genre.
These are distinguished from Trade fiction where there isn’t necessarily a specific line that has been formed to sell a genre, although there are exceptions to that “rule” like the “Love Finds You” series from Summerside Press. In publisher’s lingo “trade” means a 5 1/2″ by 8 1/2″ trim size and is probably between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length. “Genre” or “category” fiction can mean the 4″ by 6″ trim size (also known as mass market) and between 50,000 words and 70,000 words.
Some time ago, I was writing a story and used a variation of the sentence, “He wished he could be fly on the wall when they had that conversation.” This puzzled my critique partner, who didn’t know it meant. She had never heard the expression “fly on the wall” before and didn’t know it meant the character could be an unobtrusive observer. I decided to change the sentence for fear others wouldn’t understand, either.
I grew up in rural Virginia, and we had some unusual local expressions. Consider:
ugly as homemade soap
screaming bloody murder
grumpy as an old sitting hen
bleeding like a killing hog
slow as molasses on a December morning
It is All About Expectations
What if you bought a recording from a music group expecting their usual collection of ballads, only to hear guitar anthems? Or what if you picked up a book with a pink cover that promised a love story but ended up reading a novel where hapless and nameless victims suffered gunshot wounds on every page? You’d be disappointed, right? I would be. You don’t want to disappoint readers, so branding has become a consistent topic.
Your Best Friend
Some writers find the concept of branding to be limiting. When they think of branding the TV show “Rawhide” and Cattle comes to mind. And despite the awesomeness of such a theme song, they want to keep their options open.
Today I’ll give my opinion on a question sent to our blog:
When an author is trying to find the right Genre to write in for a particular subject, is it profitable to listen to only one critique?
The author who posed this question is in the discovery phase. Writers who read lots of books and have developed a love for many types of stories often have trouble deciding what to write. Often I receive proposals from new authors who tell me they have written, for example, romance, women’s fiction, and romantic suspense and want me to market all three. From a statistical perspective, that makes sense. Isn’t it more likely that three proposals going to thirty places will be more likely for at least one to find success than one proposal going to six places? Well, no. This is because authors are better off finding their writing passion and pursuing that with the best book they can write rather than researching and writing across the board. For instance, romantic suspense and contemporary romance have in common the fact that the story’s main plot point is the relationship between a modern hero and heroine. However, a romantic suspense writer must be willing to learn about police procedure and the law, but contemporary romance authors usually don’t because their books focus on different types of conflicts.
So many resolutions. So many possibilities. So many dashed hopes.
In the interest of avoiding disappointment, here is my list of New Year’s Resolutions I am likely to keep:
1.) Watch more television.
2.) Buy more awesome clothes that go with red lipstick.
3.) Add to my collection of black pointy-toed spiked-heeled shoes.
4.) Increase my collection of black high-heeled platform shoes.
5.) Do less housework.
Well, maybe I shouldn’t keep any of these. But my hope for the new year is to show everyone I care about even more:
Yes, more of these than ever before.
This is actually a very selfish resolution. For when we do these things, the likelihood of being rewarded in kind is great.
Happy New Year!
The good news for us in Virginia is that we rarely experience a white Christmas. Of course, for snow lovers, that is bad news. No sleigh rides for us. Not even to a groovy beat. What I love is that winter is cold enough to call for a coat, but usually boots are more of a fashion statement than a necessity.
But here we have plenty of seasonal atmosphere, with an abundance of holly berry scents in candles and sprays, and Christmas music piped in to all the stores. I hope the writers of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” retained their copyrights. Surely they must be billionaires by now.