Monday, August 11, 2008

Personalized Rejections from Editors

By popular demand I’m going to address how authors can and should handle personalized rejection letters from editors. Since there was some confusion in an earlier post, let me explain that in this case what I really mean is revision rejection letters, or rejection letters with editorial suggestions. I apologize for the confusion, but I think I’ve used the word “personalized” incorrectly and received some backlash for it so I hope this helps.

So, either you have an agent who has submitted on your behalf or you’ve been asked by an editor to submit your work, and in return you’ve received a very nice letter with lots of great feedback. What next?

Of course you have to know by now that the very first thing I’m going to say is that you absolutely should not make any changes unless those comments resonate with you. Just like a personalized rejection letter from an agent is no guarantee of representation, a personalized rejection from an editor is no guarantee you’ll sell the book. Whether it’s a submission you sent on your end (presumably by request) or through your agent, the editor is rejecting the book because she thinks it needs work, but it’s unlikely that she’s going to be able to tell you everything that didn’t work for her, because that would be a revision letter.

If you have an agent you need to discuss the letter with your agent, and any rejection letters really. There are always options. If the letter does resonate with you and you feel that changes must be made, your agent can always pull all other submissions while you make changes and then resubmit. In many cases, though, editors have as many varying opinions as agents, and you might simply decide to keep moving forward and maybe incorporate those changes into your second work. And in some cases the editor might not be open to a resubmission, that’s something you’ll have to look into.

One reader asked why an author would go through editorial changes without benefit of a contract, while other authors seem to get a contract first and then go through editorial changes. Presumably, every author is going to need to go through a revision process once a publishing contract is in hand. However, as I’ve often said, editors need a book to be perfect or near perfect before they can usually be given the go-ahead to buy it. Sometimes an editor will read a book and think it's really great, but because of this, this, and that she’d never buy it. She’ll write the letter to the author telling her just that, and if the changes are made the rest can be dealt with later.

I suspect that editorial change rejections are less common from editors than they are from agents, however I know that if a client of mine received one from an editor with an offer to resubmit I will certainly put that author to work. Why not? It could mean a sale.



Anonymous said...

Re: "Editorial change rejections are less common from editors than they are from agents."

Maybe so, but they hurt twice as bad. I ripped apart a whole book based on editorial suggestions from an editor (who had reviously bought a book of mine.) She took forever to get back to me, and rejected the whole thing in what sounded oddly like a form letter reject -- without giving me any type of clue if the changes were even good.

I've yet to sell the manuscript, and have suspect some of the huge changes I made for her might be why it hasn't sold.

I wish she would've rejected it outright, frankly, instead of making me jump through hoops and then giving no feedback on what I'd done. I understand editors are busy but when you knock yourself out taking each and every paistaking revision suggestion to heart and revising all hours of the day and night, you do expect a little more than, "thanks, not for me."

Aimlesswriter said...

I would think any comments by editor or agent would be greatly appreciated. After all, those are the ones on the front lines of publishing. If we want our book published, we should listen to the experts.
Most times a suggestion from an agent is an ah-ha moment and opens our eyes to things our story needs.

Unknown said...

There's some great information on eharlequin's forums about understanding your rejection letter. Worth a look no matter what genre people are writing.

Melinda Leigh said...

Since editors are the initial buyers, their feedback shouldn't be ignored. They have hordes of experience with making books better. That said, I don't make changes I'm not comfortable with, and I always keep a file of the original manuscript, just in case.

Anonymous said...

Good useful post. The addition I'd make is that you're free to be creative with your approach to suggested revisions. Once you understand why the editor saw a problem and suggested a fix for it, you can explore other possible ways to address and fix the problem.

I'm working in nonfiction right now, and sometimes my editors have suggested cuts that I don't think are in the best interests of the manuscript. Sometimes my strategy for this has been to explain more carefully in the text why I'm including a particular passage, to tell the reader specifically, "This might seem like a tangent, but bear with me here."

To anonymous 8:50: If you are unsure whether changes you made improved or degraded your book, you should probably take a breather. Set the book aside for a month, trying not to even think about it. Then pick it up and read it. Do you enjoy reading it? If so, then you know it's the book you want to sell. If not, then you've got more revision to do.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I lucked out and received similar feedback from an agent and an editor almost simultaneously. I took the advice and did a significant rewrite. After resubmitting to the editor, I received a contract.

I always take advice seriously.

Anonymous said...

If we want our book published, we should listen to the experts.

Except when the experts disagree. That's what I found frustrating when my former agent was subbing my ms around town. Every editor had a different opinion. What one editor loved, another hated. There was nothing we could do.

I did have the opportunity to revise the first two chapters and the synopsis for one editor. Although she didn't buy the project (turned out my book competed with similar titles on their list--a fact no one pointed out until I'd made the revisions), I was still glad for the experience. What was interesting to me was, the changes were purely tonal. The house wanted a lighter mystery, which meant less sex and swearing and gore.

Jennifer McKenzie said...

I've learned a ton about this through epublishing.
I received a very nice rejection that had extensive changes and NO contract.
But the changes the editor wanted didn't seem to work for me. The ability for me to say "I'll sub it elsewhere before making major changes" is HUGE for me since I have a tendency to accept criticism from an expert without question.
It was accepted at another publisher and is one of my top sellers.
It's MY book. I know it may not be perfect, but when it comes to huge changes, I have to think about it and decide if those suggestions are valid or not.
And Anonymous 8:50am, your situation is not uncommon. I sympathize with your frustration and I hope you can sell the book.

Anonymous said...

My very first manuscript is making the rounds in New York right now. It's the ms that landed me my agent, and I did some revising for her before she subbed it...but I was comfortable with the changes and I think my hero comes across in a much better light....we also lengthened the, now I wait....and hope and pray...and we'll see what the editors think.....

Anonymous said...

"...I know that if a client of mine received one from an editor with an offer to resubmit I will certainly put that author to work. **Why not?** It could mean a sale."

Sure, why not for you, since you're not the one doing the work. It's up to the author to decide if the work is worth it. And if you do it, make sure you keep the original version and the new version separate--you might want to go back to the original if the revised version doesn't sell to the requessting editor.

Anonymous said...

I've revised for a couple of agents -- to no avail, thus far -- and one editor. I'm still waiting for the editor. We'll see what happens, but because of my experiences with the agents (one of whom worked with me for over four months on the revisions), I'm not overly optimistic. Still, they were changes that I definitely feel improved the book(s).

Anonymous said...

Bija and Jennifer Mc --

I'm Anon 8:50, thank you for your kind words and advice.

I also really agree with what Anon 1:05 said. I've gotten rejects from large pub houses recently (with a ms different from my original post) where LITERALLY one of them praised me for an element in the book and the very next editor rejected it for that same element.

What can you do but laugh, I suppose. It's sort of like trying on bathing suits. This editor claims your swimming suit (manuscript) gives them a wedgie, that editor says it makes their chest look flat, and another one says they have fifteen others just like it in their closet, so why would they want yours?

Some days it makes me wonder how anything gets published.

Mark Terry said...

Rewriting on spec, with no promise of anything, is what either Stephen King or Lawrence Block (I forget which) referred to as flogging the dream, that is to say, I'll do damn near anything to get this book published, even rewrite things that don't need to be rewritten.

I agree with Jessica--really think it through. Nobody knows your work as well as you do. That isn't to say the agent or editor isn't right, but it is just one opinion.

And just remember... once you're published repeatedly, you're less likely to rewrite without a contract and yes, although the editor and agent are "professionals in the field," guess what? So are you.

Doesn't mean they aren't right, but you have to trust your own expertise too.

Jessica Nelson said...

Interesting post. I like reading what everyone else has to say.
On one of my first queries I received a partial request and then a personalized rejection with a request to resubmit if I made changes to my heroine.
Boy, was I tempted. Still am, lol.
But based on contest comments and the crits I got from the critique group I belong to, I know half the readers hate my heroine and half love her. (yes, I know that's a super long sentence--eek)
So I want to change the heroine. But I'm holding on to the chance that there's another agent out there who will love her as much as I do.
Getting a personalized rejection is, to me, kind of an honor. Like I'm getting closer and closer. It was very exciting.
The biz is so subjective though, that I feel for some of you Anons :-) It stinks, but you never know when someone is going to fall in love with your story.

Anonymous said...

Everyone will have a slightly different opinion of your book, but I think that it is possible to predict what a certain editor is looking for. Some editors do pod casts and they say with great specificity what they want to buy. We can also study backlists and upcoming releases to gain an understanding of what an editor wants. So, in the case of Jessica, who says her heroine is half loved, half hated by readers, Jessica should be sure to send her book only to editors who have shown a preference for that type of heroine in the past.

Now, all of this seems like it would take a great deal of time from the author's primary job: writing. That's why I'd like an agent. It's their job to know editors and sell my books; it's my job to write the darned things and listen to criticism with an open mind.

This post refers to personalized rejections that don't necessarily contain an offer to resubmit if changes are made. It seems to me that if you resubmit a manuscript to an agent or editor who rejected it and didn't ask you to resubmit, then you're risking a form rejection, and perhaps shouldn't be surprised if you get one. A new agent or editor has no notion of your ability to make changes, and you have to consider the chance that you just didn't do it well enough for their tastes. A form letter may be their way of telling us to move on, and really, we should.