Purveyor of Tall Tales.


There has been considerably less blogging activity than I would have liked this week due to the day job being a bit needy at the moment. Anyway, I’ve wanted to post about this for a little while because I continue to be surprised by writers who moan about being rejected.

Now I don’t mean “feeling low because I just got rejected” because that is a perfectly reasonable reaction, although you’re much better off thinking “Rejected? Pah, now I must write the ultimate story to prove them wrong!” – this is a productive reaction. No I’m talking about the: “How dare you reject my masterpiece! I must now tell the world how stupid you are.”

Because to be frank, that last reaction is a sure fire route to never being published at all.

Why? Well, I could wax lyrical about how it’s unprofessional, how it shows a lack of realism around the way both small press and main stream publishing works – I could even tout that really irritating argument that every successful author has been rejected at least once. All this is true. But I fear it misses the heart of the matter.

That being it’s just plain rude to gob off about being rejected.

Why? Well put yourself in the shoes of the editor for just a moment, forget how brilliant your manuscript is or how x-ray like your insights are, and just think of yourself as an editor. Because you’re a successful editor your contact details are listed in a number of places including The Writers and Artists Handbook, a few online directories relating to fiction writing and your publishers site. You receive a few hundred submissions a week, more – it’s fair to say – than you could possibly ever read and a fair few of which can’t be immediately dismissed due to incorrect formatting*.

Now you’re a busy guy/girl. You have stuff to do beyond just reading the slush pile, you have existing authors to keep happy, lists to manage and books to produce – you have no time to waste. Ergo you do this when you have time.

The editor does not know you, does not care that you spent two years on your novel because bluntly most of the people submitting will have spent large amounts of time on their work; they don’t care that your work is good – lots of people are good, their is no shortage of good. All they care about is does your book represent the largest commercial opportunity for their publishing house that happens to be a business and not a public service for writers.

Oh and they have to make decision in the next half an hour because they’ve got wall to wall meetings the rest of the day.

So this person who has so little time, earns less than many public sector workers and has probably gone through many even leaner years on their journey to editor – this dedicated person who does the job more or less for the love of books – reads your stuff. They don’t feel the book has a place on their list at that moment in time and so they reject it.

You explode.

How do you think it feels when the author of the unsolicited manuscript they’ve taken time to read and consider then posts about how much of an arse the editor is for rejecting what is clearly the next literary sensation? Do you really think when you send in your next lovingly crafted creation they’re going to look at it?

That’s my point: context is everything.

Now, some of you will be saying “but editor x was really rather rude and so deserves to be flamed”. I’m not suggesting that editors are saints, like any other field of human endeavour it will be populated by heros, zeros and everything in between. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that what is often mistaken for rudeness is just the bluntness of the harrassed and time pushed in trying to provide feedback for the writer. If an editor is genuinely rude just don’t submit to them again, it’s not hard and if you genuinely have a masterpiece they’ll kick themselves when you’re published by someone else. Especially if you make that other publisher loads of money.

My last point, and it’s one that some people struggle with, is this:

If you cannot place yourself in the shoes of an editor, cannot manage that basic level of empathy around a role that is very close to what you as a writer must do on every story you write, then perhaps you should stop. I’m serious. Writing well requires good characterisation, good characterisation requires insight and insight requires empathy. If you can’t manage it for an editor then what chance do you have of writing convincingly?

Editors, like all the other people who actually produce and distribute the books we read (sales, marketing, production), are not the enemy:

Do Not Abuse Them.

* This does happen but there is a wealth of info online for formatting your work for submission.

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