Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rejection Backlash

Cathy in the comments mentioned rejection backlash, and this made me think of a post over on Angela James's blog a week or so ago. Angela was asking about the too-fast rejection, and how fast is too fast? It always shocks me when writers complain that we rejected them too fast. I've seen several backlash emails from authors who assumed the fast response meant we hadn't read the proposal. But all it really means is that you happened to submit right around the time when we were knuckling down on the slush pile. We sail in like pirates with red pens clenched in our teeth, looting and pillaging until the slush pile is a smoking remnant of its former self. Swash, swash. Buckle, buckle.

So if you get a fast response, thank your stars that you submitted on pirate day, and try to avoid writing back some snarky comment along the lines of, "Thanks a lot for the abundant time you spent reading this. Next time, try opening the attachments before rejecting them." (Yes, people really write things like that.) You know, sometimes people have to wait months and months for answers. And sometimes you get lucky, get a fast response, and can move on to the next submission target a little more quickly.

Another really poor choice for the rejected author is to email the boss with a complaint. These complaints usually land on my desk, and go something like,

I recently submitted a story to Ellie Editor after meeting her at a conference. I'm a serious writer and go to conferences and stuff. All my friends say it's good. So why did I get rejected? I think maybe Ellie didn't notice the part where my hero says she deserves a spanking and she says I dare you and he tries and then it gets really good. I know you publish stories like this. Except mine is better because the heroine has red hair. Ellie Editor didn't even say why she rejected it, and my mom said that I should write and ask for more information because we all think Ellie might have sent me the wrong letter by mistake. So could you check with Ellie. And also, how much do you pay?

Well, that's actually a fairly nice interpretation of a common "write the boss" letter. We'll call that one Exhibit A, a Rejection Backlash From a Clueless Newbie. More commonly we see something else, something that an agent once confessed she had dubbed Bitch Mail. I give you Exhibit B,

Ellie Editor had my manuscript for four months and rejected it, and I know it was a form rejection because it didn't even have my name on it. What the fuck? I waited four months for this? You need to know your employees are treating people like this. Plus, she was stupid for rejecting it. Either that, or she got lazy and didn't read it. She needs to get fired before she drags down your whole company. Also, I'm attaching my manuscript so you can see what I'm talking about. Please assign it to another editor who isn't stupid or lazy.

Now, what do you imagine that I do with letters like these? Our editorial and production team is small and intimate. My authors are topnotch people, and frankly, I think they get along better than just about any group of authors you could find. Do you think I want to drop a poisoned apple in that barrel? Do you think I want to expose my company's most precious asset -- its authors -- to this kind of attitude?

Of course not.

I don't reply in kind, because there's no point in that, but I do send a politely worded email explaining that my editors are empowered to exercise their judgment, and thank you for submitting, and so on.

Now that I've given you a glimpse into the horror show that sometimes unfolds, let me share a story about the right way to question a rejection. I was introduced to an author at a conference, and she pitched a book to me. I liked the sound of it, and I knew the author's name because she's been knocking on our door for a while. After I had already invited her to submit her new project, we started talking about her other interactions with our authors and staff, and she mentioned a manuscript that had been rejected by another editor at our house. She didn't complain about the rejection, but it came up in the course of conversation, very casually and without anything resembling a nasty edge. She told me a little about that rejected story -- and it's a type of story that I know our publisher adores. So I prodded a bit to see if I could find out what happened there. I mean, this is someone who we know can write, with a story type we are actively looking for.

So she sent me the rejected story with a very polite cover letter thanking me for the second look. She never once complained about the editor who had rejected it. She seemed to understand she was getting a second bite out of the apple, and she treated this as a good thing. Another author might have thought of it as payback to the rejecting editor, an "Aha! I'll show her!" moment, but this very smart young lady knew better than to go down that path.

Consequently, I've spent a fair amount of time reading and thinking about this book, and talking to the other editor about it. We've reached a consensus opinion, and this polite and professional young author is about to get detailed feedback from not just one editor, but two.

The moral of the story? Be nice, and you get double what you need. Send me Bitch Mail, and you get a pirate's curse.


ps. I'm on facebook now. Friend me if you wish.


Ian said...

Theresa, I'd love to friend you. How do I know which one is you? I'm Ian Healy in Denver. Friend me!

Edittorrent said...

You're on Facebook? You have been assimilated, huh?

Edittorrent said...

I just friended you, Ian. My profile picture is of the view out the window next to my desk. Currently snow with a hint of tree bark and brick courtyard wall.

Yes, Alicia. Resistance Is Futile. And if you join, you can read my exciting comment about calling the cops on some nasty meat salesmen a/k/a thieves and vandals today.


Riley Murphy said...

Facebook? Are you kidding me? I just freaking figured out this blog thing. I'm beginning to feel like the redheaded stepchild with a limp. Just when I think I’ve caught up with the cool kids they leave me behind in their dust! Oh well, such is life! (insert sigh here):)

Sylvia said...

I recently complained about a too-fast rejection (only to my friends, not to the editor!) but my issue is pretty specific.

I hate submitting and so I pick one day a month where I go through the stories / articles that I have (new and returned) and I bolster myself up to spend the time to try to find them good homes.

If you reject within an hour or two of receiving my email, I'm still in the process of submitting and trying to stay positive!

No, I'm not particularly serious - and it did mean that I could send it right back out. But it did throw me a bit - I'm used to editors giving me some time to obsess before dashing my hopes! ;)

Cathy in AK said...

I've gotten 5 minute email rejections (yes, I questioned whether the thing was read, but only to myself :) and a form rejection on a requested full ms that took almost two years to reach me.

But wait! Over a month after receiving the rejection on the full, I received a rejection note from the same entity without having submitted anything to them since the previous proposal. I emailed the obviously harried assistant and asked, tongue firmly in cheek and making it perfectly clear I was joshing her, if this meant I was now on their pre-emptive strike list of wannabe authors. Luckily, she had a great sense of humor. She apologized, saying they were clearing up some files and my note went out by mistake. I think we were both left with a good feeling about the exchange.

Edittorrent said...

Murphy, I'm with you. All I need is another labor-intensive thing that doesn't pay me any money. :)

Cathy, I once got a rejection letter on a book that was in the stores already (another publisher). I think back on that editor fondly because no matter how slow I am, I'm never that slow!

Jody W. and Meankitty said...

Pirate day! Arrrrr, thanks but no thanks, matey! I like that image :)

Edittorrent said...

Exactly. Arrrr. :) If I reject something, I route it for rejection with a single letter in the cover email: R.

So it's R, R, R, R, and all I need is an eye patch and a parrot to complete the pirate picture.


Riley Murphy said...

Yo, ho, ho! Shouldn't there be a bottle of rum to complete the ensemble? I’ve heard that it comes free with the eye patch in some dens. Personally, I think it lowers the risk of den/store liability. “I swear Harbor Master, it wasn’t the rum that caused me to beach my ship on this island! It was the eye patch that hindered my vision.” And if that doesn’t work, I suppose you could always pin it on your navigator - the bird.;)

It’s nice to know you are enjoying your work...even if some of us may be on the receiving end of your aggressive plundering.:-)