The one thing I was looking forward to least with being an acquisitions editor was the fact that I would need to give rejection letters. I know how it feels to get that big fat “NO!” in letter form with no explanation or encouragement. Even if the letter is a form one what I hear is “You suck as a writer.”
The truth is, when I first started, I probably did! I’ve learned so much over the years of writing and now editing. Now that I am on the delivery end of rejections I have to say a few things.
1. I read every manuscript with the hope and expectation that I will love it. I don’t look at that first page and set a high bar. I just want to get pulled into the story.
2. I don’t give up quickly. I had one manuscript that I struggled to read -but I read it anyway. As time goes on I won’t be able to read full manuscripts if they don’t grab me quickly.
3. As I told writers at a recent conference, I don’t send a form rejection letter. If I reject you I’m going to try to tell you why and if I can figure out how to guide to what you could work on to improve your writing, I will. Who knows, maybe in time you will come back and be a blockbuster hit!
4. Some stories don’t grab me personally. Unfortunately this is reality. I don’t like every NYTime’s best seller out there and neither do you. However there are other editors I work with and I’m thinking that down the line if a story looks good but doesn’t appeal to me, I might just toss it to one of them and see if it’s more up their alley. See, if I am going to contract an author, I need to love that manuscript because I’m going to be spending a lot of time on it.
5. Even multi-published authors have to have their work edited. No manuscript is ever going to arrive perfect and ready for me to just pass on to be published without some work. It’s the nature of the industry and our own humanness. So even if you get a contract, that only means your really hard work may have just begun!
6. I try to remind authors too that every editor is going to have their own opinion. I read the work of others and think I would have done things differently with the editing. How audacious is that? The fact is, no novel is ever perfect even though an editor tries to help it sparkle and shine. Most authors look back on earlier work and cringe because they’ve learned so much since then. But you don’t learn unless you put yourself out there, and you don’t grow unless someone helps you and gives you feedback.
7. I’ve had to do manuscript critiques – on the fly and also with a little more time to process. It is not the favorite part of my job because I realize I’m human and make my own mistakes too when I write. I cringe when I have to give negative feedback because, well, I imagine myself on the receiving end of it and I’ve got a bit of a sensitive side when it comes to stuff like that. Many will say “Grow a thick skin” but I think many authors are sensitive souls which is what allows them to write and create and yes, maybe a few tears will have to be shed and some chocolate or potato chips imbibed to get through those low spots, but it really is in feeling that pain and hurt that we strive to do better. If no one lovingly pointed out your weaknesses, you would never have a chance to improve.
I hope that helps. Many people who pitch at conferences will never submit their manuscripts to the editor or agent because they are afraid of rejection. I get that, but you can never move forward if you don’t put yourself out there.
Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep learning! I pray that you all have helpful rejection letters in your future. You are going to get them so they might as well benefit you! And when you do, please let the writer of that note know you appreciate it if they give you feedback. They are the hardest part of my job and more than anything I want to encourage another author, not tear him or her down. Be nice regardless of how you feel. The world of editing/publishing is not a large one. You don’t know how your gracious and teachable spirit could help you make a connection down the line. Don’t burn your bridges because you’ve been stung by a nasty letter.
This was an important topic to cover and I can tell you have put a LOT of thought into this. Thanks!
I know a wonderful editor who stopped working for a while because she couldn’t handle sending out rejections, and she was discouraged by some of the rude replies she received from writers in response.
I can tell by your post that you handle the submissions you receive with respect, Susan. It’s woven through your entire post. I wish you the best as you continue in your editing work.
Thanks Lori. Being an author myself I know how much courage it takes to submit and I feel it is an honor to get to read someone’s work and I do want to treat the work and the author with respect because I know how hard it is to do this “writing” thing!