Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Why Was I Rejected?

One topic that comes up a lot on writers' boards is what to do if your manuscript is rejected. Should you keep working on it and try again or give up and start something new?

I've been in this position myself so I know how frustrating it is to get form rejections. At first they might be worded so nicely you think they are saying something good about your writing, but in time you come to realise they don't mean anything much other than the fact that the agent/editor doesn't want your book. Agents/editors don't generally give feedback because it's too time consuming and often people react badly to criticism. So always assume it's a form rejection unless it mentions specific details about your book.

If you are blessed with a personal letter - and I use the word advisedly because you should always bear in mind that no one owes you anything at this point so they're doing you a huge favour by taking the trouble - it may address possible areas that need improvement. This kind of feedback is like gold dust. Professionals working in the industry know what a book needs to get accepted and published, so you should take their advice very seriously. Of course, you may not agree with it, that is your right. After all, it is your book and only you can decide how you want the finished product to look. But if you want to reach a wider audience than your family, friends and critique group you would be wise to at least consider their opinion.

But what if you get no advice? That's a tough one because there are so many possible reasons for a book to be rejected. Unless someone tells you specifically what the problem is you could be wasting your time and energy on rewrites. Here are some possibilities:

1. The writing isn't good enough
This is the main one. You need to ask yourself some tough questions. Why do you think you can write a novel? Have you ever had any acclaim or praise for your writing from anyone other than your mother? If you're writing in isolation and not showing your work to anyone you can easily fall into the trap of thinking it's great when it isn't. It is painful to face criticism but if you want to go the whole distance and see your work in a bookshop, you have to get used to others critiquing your work.

There are different approaches to this. Joining a writers' group is a good start. You will get free feedback from like minded authors as well as learning a lot about self-criticism by critiquing their work. I've been a member of a few online groups. They also help you network and learn about the industry and perfect your synopsis and query letter. You will make some good online friends that way, which gives you a shoulder to cry on in tough times.
You can also pay for a critique from an editorial consultancy. These don't come cheap so you need to do some research before forking out for one.

Learning to take criticism is basic to being a professional author. Even if every agent and editor loved your book you can bet there will be some armchair critic out there dying to give you a one star review on Amazon, and some of these reviews are eye-wateringly vicious.

If this is your first attempt at a novel the chances are it just isn't good enough. First novels rarely get published because they are the ones we make all our basic mistakes on in the process of learning the craft. Most published authors have a few duds under their mattress. So you need to ask yourself how attached you are to this particular book, whether you want to spend a year or more reworking it or whether you'd prefer to start on something new. Remember it's never a waste though. You have cut your author's teeth on that book and everything you write from now on will be that much better.

2. The Concept is not good enough
Is your story original? Different? Intriguing? Or is it a thinly veiled rehash of a Bonanza episode you once saw? Have you researched what is being published in your genre? Is your book sufficiently similar but with an unexpected twist to capture the reader's imagination?
One of the toughest lessons to learn is no one really cares how well you can write. If you can't hook them with a great story they'll buy something else that does.

3. You are writing the wrong genre
What do you love to read? If it's romance, then why are you trying to write children's fiction? You should be writing what you love to read. And don't fall into the trap of thinking anyone can write a children's book/Dan Brown-type thriller/blood-and-guts horror story. You must know your genre like the back of your hand and then you must write something even better than the ones you love to read. It's not enough to be 'as good as'. There is already a Stephen King in the world so why would anyone want another one?


Lexi said...

Sound advice - except I'm a bit dubious about 'Have you researched what is being published in your genre? Is your book sufficiently similar but with an unexpected twist to capture the reader's imagination?'

Isn't this a recipe for dullness and lack of innovation, even while it's exactly what publishers want authors to do?

Sandra Patterson said...

Good point. It's said publishers want the same thing, but different - whatever that means!

Col Bury said...

Thought-provoking stuff, Sandra.

I think you have to keep the faith if you wanna make it. Good writing isn't 'good' enough. You have to pull that reader in... surprise them. Stubborn old gits like me, just keep tweaking 'n' trying. So I'll either make it, or book me place at the funny farm! :)

Sandra Patterson said...

Absolutely Col. I'll probably be in the next cell!

Leanne Dyck said...

I appreciate your wisedom and your humour. On January 10th, Decadent Publishing published my thriller The Sweater Curse--so, I can relate to all what you wrote. And I will be adding your blog to my blog roll. Please visit me at:

Jen said...

This is great advice, Sandra!

I'm going through the list and hoping it's number 2 for me. Number 2 I can fix, right? Right? (Bite fingernails and makes strange noises) Right?

I'll see you at Col at the Sanitarium. I hear they let us do basket weaving on weekends.

Drew said...

Agree with Lexi. Genre writing is formulaic. Dull, predictable. I'm not writing a story because I'm trying to ape a genre, I'm trying to do something original that I think is important and compelling.

I can't peg my novel to a genre easily. 'Drama' is about as close as I can get.

I guess I'll find out soon though, my novel goes to the Agents this weekend!

Sandra Patterson said...

Thanks for the comments guys.
Drew, I'm not suggesting you should be formulaic - far from it! But if you're not familiar with what people are buying you will find it harder to get accepted. Good luck with your submissions!