37. Publishing 201: Rejections
This week Kelly and JJ tackle REJECTION: what it means, why people might get rejected, what to do when you get one, etc. Also, the difference between Gryffindors and Ravenclaws is apparently a matter of external vs. internal validation, and lots of game recommendations this week. We will be on hiatus next week because JJ IS GOING TO SEE HAMILTON, but shall return the following week with an episode about SUBMISSIONS.
Rejection happens at every level of publishing. EVERY. LEVEL. The querying writer, the agent, the sales representative, the consumer, etc. Rejection is not personal. It's hard not to take rejection personally, but the ability to emotionally distance yourself from your work will be incredibly useful (and probably healthier in the long run).
What makes you pick up a book at the bookstore (if you're not looking for a specific title)? Sifting through queries and submissions is a similar process, but on a business level.
Everyone has their Hamster of Personal Aesthetic. The Hamster of Personal Aesthetic is essentially the gatekeeper for your reading tastes; your Hamster may squeak with joy at one thing, but turn up its nose at something else.
Kelly's Hamster of Personal Aesthetic, as drawn by JJ. (Plus bonus White-Harp, who is JJ's stuffed animal friend.)
Reasons why (fiction) manuscripts get rejected:
At the querying stage: just isn't the sort of book the agent feels like reading.
At the requested manuscript stage: the agent didn't connect with the work on an emotional (Hamster of Personal Aesthetic) level.
At the submission level: Aside from all the reasons listed above, there may be business decisions the editor will turn down a manuscript on submission. It doesn't fit with the imprint brand/voice, the editor doesn't know how to pitch it to their ed board, etc. We'll cover this more in depth next week.
"I just didn't connect to the work" or "It's not for me" means just that. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the work or your writing, just that the person reading isn't connecting with the work.
If you are seeing similar criticisms in your rejections, then that is something to pay attention to and work on. However, if the criticisms you're seeing are all over the place, it's a Hamster of Personal Aesthetic thing. Keep on trying!
However, when do you put the manuscript aside? Well...that will depend on person to person, but when you are starting to feel emotionally burdened by the rejections, it may be time to set your book aside. It doesn't necessarily mean the book is not viable, or won't be viable in the future (when the market shifts), but the time and distance away may reveal things about your manuscript you didn't see before. Also, it may free you write something else, since you no longer feel obligated to "see things through to the end" with the manuscript on submission.
How many (agents/editors) is "enough?" Draw up your lists in "rounds." Cultivate your agent list based on their clients and sales (i.e. your "dream agents") and limit yourself to maybe two or three rounds of 15-20 each. BE DISCERNING. Do your research. Reading Preditors and Editors.
Real talk (and this is going to sound mean): you may have to come to the realization that there is nothing about your manuscript that stands out. Publishing (unfortunately) is not a meritocracy; it is not enough to be "good" or competent. You must be memorable.
But just because your book gets rejected, it doesn't mean you will never get published. What appears like overnight success to others often happens after years and years of hard work and failure. Don't give up hope. Keep writing. Keep moving forward.
What We're Reading
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Vienna: 1814 by David King
The Graces by Laure Eve
What We're Working On
JJ is giving Kelly "homework assignments" to write her book, as Kelly (in typical Gryffindor fashion) is externally motivated. JJ is not so much with the coddling; she's big on the tough love.
Y'all know what JJ's working on. That's right: book 2.
Off Menu Recommendations
Heathers: The Musical
Oxenfree (and Life is Strange)
For those of you who've started listening to Disney Princess Deathmatch, here is the spreadsheet where you can input the CORRECT SCORES for each princess.
That's all for this week! Next week there will be no new podcast episode as JJ will be in New York (WATCHING HAMILTON) but when we return, we will be tacking SUBMISSIONS. As always, please leave us a note in the comments if you have any questions!