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February 2, 2004

Slushkiller
Posted by Teresa at 06:00 AM *

1. Basic rejection

I’ve been contemplating a site, RejectionCollection.com, which is a sort of shrine to the rejection letter. A major portion of it is devoted to writers anonymously posting rejections they’ve received, and commenting on how it made them feel. I do understand their need to vent, and some of their lamentations made me feel genuinely sympathetic. Others didn’t have that effect.

What would I know about it? Simple. I’m one of those evil SOBs who rejects their manuscripts.

What I find weirdest about their take on rejection is that it’s all completely personal. I don’t just mean the rejection itself, which they’re bound to take personally, being writers and all. They take things personally which have nothing whatsoever to do with them, viz.:
The letter:
Thank you for your recent submission to Prominent Science Fiction Magazine. While your story showed some very strong writing, it just didn’t hold my interest.

Thanks,

Editor
What bothered you the most about this letter?
It disturbed me that the letter’s implication was that very strong writing is not of interest to them. Also particularly rankling was the implied insult that I wasn’t even worth a full sheet of paper—the rejection was printed on a half-sheet.
Right. I can just see the staff at Prominent Science Fiction Magazine doing the slush, with all their different-size rejection notes stacked up in a little row in front of them. If your story really sucks, you get a rejection note that’s mimeographed on a sheet of paper the size of a large postage stamp. If you’ve got strong writing but defective storytelling skills, you get a half sheet. Acceptances come on foolscap. And so on.

Of course, all of PSFM’s rejections will be on the same half-size sheets. It’s a standard stationery size. Rejections, being short, look less brutal on a smaller sheet, and it does save a lot of paper.

At times their unselfconscious hostility, and the malignity RejectionCollection.com and the authors ascribe to the editors, can be breathtaking:
The letter:
The manuscript you gave (a mutual friend) arrived today. I read it at once and am really sorry to have to tell you that I am afraid it is not something we can add to our list. I absolutely believe that your children love it, but there is a real difference between a told story and a written one. And I am afraid that PRINCE JASON AND THE MAGIC STAR is just too slight and too sentimental to make a successful book. This is, of course, just one opinion, and I wish you every success with the project.

All the best wishes for the holiday season.

Sincerely,

(name)

cc: (our mutual friend)
How did this letter make you feel?
Although I received many other rejection letters for this book (all from only the finest of publishing houses), this is the only one that got under my skin. My initial reaction was, “This bitch has probably never written anything in her life,” and my second reaction was “and she’ll probably never have children, either.”

I have never had any interest or desire in becoming a children’s writer. The book was just a story I made up to tell to my son. But two children’s buyers at a major bookselling chain told me to submit it, so I thought it might have some merit.

Reading this letter now, years later, still hurts. I think this editor may be right. The book may really suck. But she didn’t have to be so nasty about it!
Additional Comments from the website editor:
I love the good wishes for the holiday season! This high-ranking editor obviously felt pressured to look at the book because of the 1-degree-removed personal connection, and is eager to get brownie points for reading it right away. But in my opinion all her points get taken away for her use of the words “absolutely” and “just”. I guess she wanted to make sure to deflate the petitioner enough to keep him from coming back for more.
That’s just nuts, from the maximally nasty interpretation of, like, everything, to the bizarre belief that editors have any desire to either deflate writers, or to keep them coming back for more for its own sake.

2. Appropriate disinterest

What these guys have failed to understand about rejection is that it isn’t personal. If you’re a writer, you’re more or less constitutionally incapable of understanding that last sentence, if you think there’s any chance that it applies to you and your book; so please just imagine that I’m talking about rejections that happen to all those other writers who aren’t you.

Anyway, as I was saying, it realio trulio honestly isn’t about you the writer per se. If you got rejected, it wasn’t because we think you’re an inadequate human being. We just don’t want to buy your book. To tell you the truth, chances are we didn’t even register your existence as a unique and individual human being. You know your heart and soul are stapled to that manuscript, but what we see are the words on the paper. And that’s as it should be, because when readers buy our books, the words on the paper are what they get.

This all becomes clearer if you think about it with your reader-mind instead of your author-mind. Authors with books are like mothers with infants: theirs is the center of the universe, uniquely wonderful, and will inevitably and infallibly be loved by all who make its acquaintance. This has its good aspects; books, like infants, need someone to unconditionally love them, and champion all their causes. On the other hand, it can be a form of blindness.

Your reader-mind has a different understanding of the whole book thing. Your reader-mind knows what it’s like to walk into a bookstore, or a Costco, or a Target, and confront a wire rack the size of your living-room wall, with slot after slot filled with books. At that moment, standing there in front of that rack, you don’t much care about encouraging new writers, or helping create a more diverse literary scene, or giving some author a chance to express herself. You want a book that will please you, and suit your needs, and do it right now. Dear reader, you are many things, but “gentle” isn’t one of them.

You may be a tired middle manager who just wants some fast-moving entertainment, or a teenager who wants entertaining, non-embarrassing books that tell you how the world works, or a language-sensitive reader hoping for a book where the sentences and paragraphs don’t hurt. You could be looking for something more specific—a Regency romance, a sexy vampire novel, or the numinous landscapes and significant personal actions of genre fantasy. Your single likeliest choice, statistically speaking, is a book by an author whose other works you’ve read and enjoyed, because you know it’s a good bet that you’ll enjoy this one too. But whatever it is, it’s all about you.

Thus the reader-mind in action. If you-the-writer can catch that reader’s attention with an intriguing premise, and further seduce them with well-written prose as they go flipping through the pages, there’s some chance they’ll buy it. If they like the book, next time around you’ll be one of the author names they’ll be looking for. And if they really like the book, or if they’ve read and enjoyed two or three of your books, they may begin to wonder about you as a person. But not before.

3. The context of rejection

If you’re an author, the arrival of a rejection letter is a major event. If you’re an editor (or an associate editor, assistant editor, editorial assistant, or intern), 90% of all rejections are something you do on a quiet afternoon when you don’t have something more urgent breathing down your neck. O Yawn, you say, O Stretch, there’s that catalogue copy finished. I’ve got—hmmm, about two and a half hours left in the day. Nothing else urgent? Okay, it’s time to blight some hopes and crush some dreams. You grab a stack of slush envelopes and start going through them.

Unless you’re a senior editor with intern-like beings below you on the food chain who open and process the slush for you to look at—a splendid luxury!—a substantial fraction of your time is going to go into opening the packages, logging in the name, title, agent/no agent, genre, and date rejected, and then repackaging the rejected manuscript with a form rejection letter and a copy of the Tor Submission Guidelines.

Manuscripts are unwieldy, but the real reason for that time ratio is that most of them are a fast reject. Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:
  1. Author is functionally illiterate.
  2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
  3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
  4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
  5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
  6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
  7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.
  8. (At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)

  9. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
  10. Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
  11. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.
  12. (You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

  13. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
  14. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
  15. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
  16. Buy this book.
Aspiring writers are forever asking what the odds are that they’ll wind up in category #14. That’s the wrong question. If you’ve written a book that surprises, amuses, and delights the readers, and gives them a strong incentive to read all the pages in order, your chances are very good indeed. If not, your chances are poor. But enough with this natter of successful publication. Let’s get back to the rejections. Most days, the slush will divide up into books you reject immediately, and books you feel guilty about rejecting immediately, so you read further in them, and perhaps assign them to an intern to read, and then you reject them. Open, log, examine, repackage, shlep down to mailroom. What RejectionCollection.com sees as someone getting bent out of shape
The letter:
In the future, to receive a reply from us you must enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope with your submission.
Additional comments from the web site editor:
I can’t believe how bent out of shape people get over the SASE issue!
Or snootiness
The letter:
Inasmuch as no return envelope was provided we will recycle the ms. pages.
Additional comments from the website editor:
Forgive me, but why was this such a big deal? I’ve been told a million times by editors at conferences that a SASE is a must, but if the poor ignorant misinformed slob er author doesn’t include it, is this crime worthy of such a snooty response? Really?
—is the bored irritation of someone who’s processing a very large stack of rejections, and is having to deal with a submission that has ignored one of the most basic requirements in the guidelines. To render a more accurate translation of the two messages, the first one reads, “I’ve replied just this once even though you didn’t enclose a SASE. Try it again and I’ll do to that submission what I should have done to this one.” The second one reads, “No SASE, no return, and we don’t want to hear any complaints about it. That manuscript is pulp.”

If these guys are so smart, why can’t they learn to include a SASE? That takes less time than putting together multiple pages of complaints about how irritated editors sound when SASEs are left out of submissions.

4. Confusion runs deep and wide

I swear, sometimes I think the main reason agents exist is to tell authors when they’ve gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick entirely. This poor soul, for instance:
The Letter:
Thank you for sending your publishing proposal to (publisher). After consideration I’m afraid we’re unable to make you an offer to publish as it is unsuitable for our publication program. We appreciated the opportunity to consider your work and wish you well in finding a publisher. I am returning your material with this letter.
How did this letter make you feel?
That they were going through the motions. Their list might be closed but they had fed this invite for unsolicited manuscripts out to a writing group’s newsletter to be peverse.
What bothered you the most about this letter?
The second sentence, because it inferred that an offer was available if I understood some rule that I don’t, and she (the editor) wasn’t about to explain what it was.
This is a remarkable amount of very strange theory—publishers spend their copious spare time headtripping writers’ groups for the sheer perverse joy of it?—to squeeze out of one ambiguous passage in the letter. What went wrong? Look at the word “it” in the second sentence. The writer thinks its antecedent is “mak[ing] you an offer to publish.” In fact, the intended antecedent of “it” is “your manuscript.” I’ll grant the sentence could have been clearer, but its author probably thought it was sufficiently clear as it stood. After all, what could “it” possibly refer to besides the manuscript? A writer who signs herself “Writing and living in Kansas City” also misunderstands the editor’s intent:
The Letter:
Dear (loser), I’m sorry, but I must say no. Your manuscript is too didactic, too wordy, and too lengthy to engage most young picture book readers.
How did this letter make you feel?
like crap…basically surprized she didn’t return the manuscript as confetti, along with the note!
What bothered you the most about this letter?
Her tone…I would have preferred the standard “not suitable for our needs” rejection slip, any day! This was a handwritten note from the editor.
Additional Comments:
I’ve heard it suggested that you send a THANK YOU note to publishers who reject you, for takiong the time to look at your manuscript! I thought about it, I really did…then decided, no way, with this one!! I took another critical look at the manuscript, and sent it anong to the next publisher — who, hopefully, will reject me gently, instead of flat out telling me the book sucks!
The writer has mistaken didactic, wordy, and lengthy for condemnations, when in fact they’re descriptions. The editor’s telling her how the manuscript needs to change if it’s going to have a chance of selling in the picture-book market. It’s good, simple, useful advice: keep the story, pare down the didacticism, and lose a whole lot of words along the way. On the other hand, if all you want are affirmations, go to an AA meeting. This one is just painful. In it we see an aspiring “poetry parodist from Texas” completely missing the point of what I have long thought was the coolest standard rejection note in the literary magazine constellation:
The Letter:

(On a little card with the magazine’s name[Very Prestigious University Located in Central USA Review])

This is just to say we have taken some plums
we found in our mailbox.
You were hoping they would be
yours. Forgive us,
others seemed
sweeter
or colder
more bold
or whatever.
How did this letter make you feel?
Miserable. Suicidal. Wondering “What the @#!$ is that all about?” What does produce have to do with my poems? And that “whatever” part. How specific. How to the point. I think I’m going to go torture myself now.
What bothered you the most about this letter?
It’s a rejection card. How impersonal. Most places at least scribble something with a pen like “Good, but we’re out of business” or something. This was just a stupid card with some little ditty about plums.
Do I have to explain that they’re riffing on what is arguably the most famous short modern poem in American literature? (For those of you who know it pefectly well, here’s another splendid riff on the original.)

How can you be an aspiring poet and not recognize that one? Or, how can you do that much suffering over a mysterious rejection notice without running it past a high school English teacher, or googling on plums, sweet, cold?

5. Remembrance of louts past

As I said earlier, reading some of the lamentations posted by rejected authors made me feel genuinely sympathetic. Others had a different effect.

An eon or two ago, when I was a girl and occasionally went on dates, I observed that there was a species of young man who’d be perfectly pleasant right up to the point where I declined to go to bed with him. Then he’d turn nasty and angry—all bridges burnt, not even minimally polite. It was clear that the sole thing that mattered was whether I’d put out.

I haven’t thought about those boys in decades. What brought them back to memory today was reading Frustrated novelist from Calgary’s comments on a wonderfully kind, generous editorial letter:
The Letter:
Dear Novelist:

Thanks so much for sending the complete manuscript of Your Beloved Novel. It’s a wonderful novel, with a memorable central character and details of setting which are remarkably authentic, but ultimately we are unable to offer you publication. Primarily, this is because we are a small press and only publish about seven titles each year, and this year we have had an abundance of first-class submissions. I feel certain your novel will be published in the near future, and look forward to seeing it in print.

Best wishes,

Literary editor person
How did this letter make you feel?
Frustrated. Angry. Skeptical.
What bothered you the most about this letter?
She looked forward to seeing it in print?! Yeah, well, me too, baby! And if it’s such a wonderful #!#@#! novel, then why did you reject it? Hey, I’ve been dumped before — I can handle it.
The writer had submitted her novel for consideration. What did that publishing house and that editor owe her? Exactly two things: the return of her manuscript, assuming she’d sent a SASE with it, and an answer, yes or no. Everything else was a gift.

The editor didn’t have to tell her how much she liked her book, nor why, though she obviously liked it a great deal. The editor didn’t have to tell her the cheerful and sustaining fact that the book went unbought only because the editor has a strict limit of seven books for the year, and had had a real run of luck with her submissions. (These things happen, you know. Happy the house that has cashflow enough to buy all the books it wants at the time they’re offered.) Did the author not understand this? “Someone is undoubtedly going to publish your book” and “I would publish your book if I could” are not things editors say lightly.

What she’s telling the writer is that since she can’t buy this book this year, and she’s convinced that someone will buy and publish it, it would be unfair for her to hold on to it. Consequently, she’s honorably letting it go, and wishing both book and author well.

In the author’s place I’d have written back to say “I’m undeniably disappointed, but thank you for your kind comments. If I haven’t settled in at another house by the time I finish my next manuscript, I’ll certainly think of you.” One of the better things you can say in a cover letter is, “Remember me? You said you liked my last book.” And if my rejected book still hadn’t sold a year later, I’d rewrite it, send it to that editor again, remind her that she’d liked it before, and explain that I’d rewritten it. An editor who’s had an extraordinary run of submission luck one year might look differently at a rewritten book that came back to her in a sparser year.

Or rather, she might welcome it if she hasn’t seen that writer’s comments here. I don’t know who that editor is, nor that writer. What I do know is that if the editor finds out about this site, which is not unimaginable, she can’t fail to recognize her own letter. It’s a distinctive piece of work. She’ll find that this author she was at such pains to be kind to has been sneering at her candor and fairness, and casting doubts on her character. Anyone would feel hurt, whether or not they were identified by name. This is someone the editor had reached out to personally. She may or may not continue to be this candid and open with authors in general, but she certainly isn’t going to risk it again with this one.

The “Read ‘em and weep” area is full of writers complaining that they didn’t get told why their manuscripts were rejected, and that they were treated coldly and impersonally. Here’s an editor doing everything an author could wish for, and she’s still the target of scorn and spite. Why? Because she didn’t buy the book. That’s why reading it put me in mind of those long-ago jerks whom I dated once apiece. The writer’s dropped the pretense that there were any other human values that mattered to her in this interaction. The bitch didn’t put out, and that’s that.

6. The skiffy-writing kid

The one from “Teen science-fiction writer from the West” was a goodie, though excusable on account of her age.
The Letter:

(at the top is scribbled my name and the title of my book in blue ink…actually spelled correctly, I will give them that)

Dear Writer,

Thank you for giving us the chance to read your submission. We are sorry to say that we don’t feel it is right for (Big-time New York sci-fi publisher who probably thinks that everyone that lives west of the Mississipi is a cow-poking hippie) at this time.

Due to the volume of submissions we receive, we are unable to reply individually to each author, however, please be assured that your work received a careful and fair evaluation.

We wish you the best of luck with your writing career; thank you again for thinking of (stupid publisher from New York).

Sincerely,
The Editors
How did this letter make you feel?
Pissed off. This form letter is a blatant lie, and I can’t believe it came from such a reputable publisher, one that I trusted.
What bothered you the most about this letter?
The manuscript wasn’t even touched (except for the first few pages that got mangled as they were shoved so violently into the mailbox). How is this a sign of “careful and fair” evaluation? These guys don’t even look at anything submitted to them—their play of “fairness” is a facade.
Additional Comments.
Perhaps my age had something to do with the very casual dumping of my manuscript (erk, just the first three chapters, even!). But my age was what qualified me to write this book—it’s main character is a teenager!

The subject was also perhaps to touchy for someone living in New York, trying to please everyone (it was a sci-fi tale on another planet dealing with the overthrow of a government, and god forbid anyone even thinking about such things in a time like this :P).

F—- them. Most of their books are terrible, anyway, contrived and formulaic dribble. When I’m a famous, rich author, I’ll send them back their letter with cat feces (I promised myself I would get a cat, even if they rejected me).
If that’s the publishing house I think it is—and there aren’t many that fit that description—there’s a good chance that the person who rejected her book grew up west of the Mississippi. Also, if she’d been paying attention to the “about the author” bits in that publisher’s books, she’d have noticed that their authors are scattered all over the country and points beyond. In fact, if that is indeed the publishing house I think it is, a couple of their authors are living in the wilds of the intermountain West, getting by on subsistence hunting and royalty checks. They do write good books, though, which is the important point.

The idea that her subject—the overthrow of the government of another planet—might somehow be a touchy one for people living in New York is mysterious. Theoretical happenings on distant planets don’t meet current NYC standards for “difficult subject,” and anyway that theme’s been used scores of times over the years in SF. Speaking generally, I have yet to see a work of science fiction be rejected on the grounds that its ideas are too daring and challenging. That’s like rejecting a romance on the grounds that its characters are too engaging.

Onward to the matter of the manuscript evaluation, which raises a number of standard author frets and wails. For instance, she’s sure her submission wasn’t touched, though she doesn’t say how she knows. If she pulled one of those stunts where you turn page 27 upside-down, or put one of your own hairs in between the pages at the end of chapter two, what she needs to know is that editorial staffs know all those tricks. If I notice the author’s doing that, I always try to remember to turn page 27 upside-down again, and put the hair back in at the end of chapter two, before returning the manuscript. Scraps used to turn page 27 right-side-up, but turned two other random pages upside-down.

That’s assuming we got to page 27. I don’t, always. Nobody does who knows what they’re doing. I frequently see denunciations from writers who say an editor can’t possibly judge their novel from three chapters and an outline. Sure we can, even if the chapters are short and the first one’s atypical. In many cases, three pages are enough. You don’t have to drink the entire carton of milk in order to tell that it’s gone bad. And in any event, three chapters are certainly long enough to tell you whether you want to look at the rest of the book.

But let’s assume the author’s right, and the reader didn’t get all the way through the submitted material. Is that a fair evaluation? When we’re publishing books that readers are going to glance at, briefly browse, then either buy or put back on the shelf, you bet it’s a fair evaluation. Again, when you think about this with your reader-mind instead of your writer-mind, it all comes much clearer.

I don’t hold any of this against the kid. Good on her for writing and submitting a book. And if only she’ll skip the part about the catshit, we’ll be delighted to congratulate her on becoming a rich, famous author. We’re entirely in favor of happy endings.

Comments on Slushkiller:
#1 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:57 AM:

Here's another angle on the whole thing: there have been one or two threads on rec.arts.sf.fandom which have covered in passing the weird tricks teachers can play on children.

I wouldn't be surprised if there is something on the reactions that can be traced back to what a teacher might have done.

(And, yes, I've had a few rejection letters. You're right about the emotional involvement of the author.)

#2 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 03:04 AM:

The valley plums are sweeter
But the mountain plums are colder;
We therefore thought it meeter
To plant them in our poulder.
The catalogs of gardners
Wherein the plums are listed,
Said in zones three through seven
At night plums should be misted.

#3 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 03:31 AM:

What you've posted here could be considered "Case Studies in How to Be an Oversensitive Git". I've known for a long time that us writers get attatched to our work and any rejection can sting badly, but really. After reading this I will definitely ensure that once I'm submitting manuscripts and collecting rejection slips, I will take a few deep breaths and a day away from thinking about the rejection letters I get before I make any sort of public reaction.

But then, I'm looking forward to collecting those letters [almost] as much as I'm dreading them - I'd like to think that the only sorts of letters that could really damage my ego would be a slip of paper with only the word "No." :)

#4 ::: Stephan Zielinski ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 04:19 AM:

'Twas Friday, and the slush heap grows;
It rocks and teeters in my glare.
All hopeful, as the sheer height shows
Are the writers out there.

Beware the editor, my son!
With pens of red and eyes of pearl!
Beware the mail room glitch, and shun
The non-SASE-ed transom hurl!

I take the first sent screed in hand:
Long time the gibberish I scan--
I've never seen prose this damn bland;
Must answer; must make plan...

But as in weary thought I stood,
The bean counter, black tie on blouse,
Threw red spreadsheets, dodge though I could,
And cried for more cash cows!

I quit. I quit. My heart won't sing
I'm here to read, not to crush dreams.
I'm a lit geek, not marketing;
This underside's all seams.

But I have bills, and New York's cold;
Send no-thanks note, and move along.
At least he tried, his heart is bold;
Sign name to standard song.

'Twas Friday, and the slush heap grows;
It rocks and teeters in my glare.
All hopeful, as the sheer height shows
Are the writers out there.

#5 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:55 AM:

I'm currently applying for teaching posts in creative writing, and if I ever get one I'm going to make it mandatory for my students to visit a Real Publisher, the smaller the better. There's a huge difference between knowing intellectually that the editors don't hate you, and seeing for yourself that the center of the main floor is awash in 900 poetry manuscripts submitted for a single competition, and having to delay manuscript returns for an extra six months because you're cleaning up after the office gets flooded, and reading cover letter after cover letter that screams PLEASE DON'T HURT MY FEELINGS in the nicest possible way.

Being an intern allows me to play God (we get to reject manuscripts ourselves, it's that small an operation), but it keeps me humble. Best of all possible worlds!

#6 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 06:55 AM:

I don't just mean the rejection itself, which they're bound to take personally, being writers and all.

If I took rejection personally, I'd never submit anything at all, least of all to people I actually know socially.

Since I substitute a conviction that I'm incapable of writing anything of commercial utility, I think I'm still up to my quota for character quirks.

#7 ::: Jaquandor ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 07:26 AM:

On a tangential note, may I suggest that sometime you post a picture of the slushpile? I've always wondered what it actually looks like -- the great mound of manila envelopes, shot through with whatever neon-colored ones their authors think will "draw notice".

#8 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 08:09 AM:

I laughed, I cried, I damn near peed my pants. That, my dear friend, is a classic and must be put into a
chapbook and handed out like bon-bons at writer's conferences and sf cons.

Signed,

ex reader of slush piles

Jane

#9 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 08:31 AM:

I once, briefly, helped out with some slushpile reading
for a publisher of erotic fiction, and you're right: you know
you're going to reject a good 80% or more of manuscripts within
the first two or three pages. It was depressing to discover
just how few would-be authors can string prose together
well enough to hold your attention for even that length. The
additional wrinkle with erotic fiction is that it has to be
arousing, of course, which much of the stuff submitted just
wasn't. Also, those who attempt to write it should have at least
a passing familiarity with basic human anatomy. I still remember
my surprise on encountering the line: "then he parted the twin
nodes of her clitoris". That one made me wince, and I'm not
even female. As a way of signalling the protagonist is having
sex with either an alien or a mutant, the line has possibilities,
but this was meant to be a physically normal human woman, alas.

I'm firmly of the opinion that every would-be author would
benefit from spending some time slushpile reading. It's both
a sobering and a humbling experience. It gave me an appreciation
of what models of restraint most letters of rejection are.

Oh, and if I ever submit a manuscript to anyone myself, I'm
doing so under a pseudonym.

#10 ::: Jeffrey Kramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 08:50 AM:

Ah, Bartleby, Ah, humanity!

#11 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:02 AM:

Graydon, you're right. If you don't want to be rejected, don't submit.

And Rob, I think it would be humbling to read the slushpile. And instructional. But I just about fell out of my chair at the porno 'detail.' Yikes. Maybe if you write porn, you should get laid first? At least pick up an anatomy book or something? Yikes.

I had a journalism education and an editing professor who looked like I imagine Jehovah might, very tall, curly white hair and beard, ruddy complexion..... and he yelled at us if we screwed up.

The only time I've ever gotten upset (I read it and started crying, it also upset Jim because he doesn't like seeing me cry) at a rejection notice was a nastygram I got from MZB, but I'd also had a really rotton time at work that day.. The story she slagged ended up at Eldritch Tales after being rejected by all the magazines that might have published horror or fantasy -- I got lots of letters saying, 'it's a really nice story but we only publish fantasy, not horror: or the inverse. I kept thinking "if it's a really nice story, why don't you just publish it?"

#12 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:04 AM:

I love reading this sort of thing. It's helpful and encouraging in the oddest of ways. (BTW, I read slush for a very short period of time because I knew some people on the staff of the Leading Edge at WhyBeYou, AKA BYU, and they were kind enough to let me help them weed out said slush pile. Well, kind in the sense that they knew they were slaking my curiosity about the whole publishing process. I'm not sure if letting me read some of the manuscripts I read was precisely kind, but it was informative.)

Rob: Twin nodes??? I'd wince too....

I must read this more when I'm not at work.

#13 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:05 AM:

Entitlement is bizarre.

All the same, rejection is a slap in the face.

Submitting a manuscript is like a combination of applying for a lifechanging job and going down on one knee to propose marriage; when it's rejected after a looooooooooooooooooong wait, I think it's a natural human impulse to want to lash out at the person rejecting, because otherwise they're all alone with the fact that they're not good enough.

Even that nice rejection that hopes to see the book in print elsewhere is saying the book isn't good enough. And that woman is going to have to wait while it sits in the slush for another year elsewhere. It doesn't start higher because it's been almost accepted. So near, and yet... back to the bottom of the slide again, still inadequate.

It's rejection. Your work is being rejected for not being good enough. This does objectively suck and people can't be expected to enjoy it.

They're not hurting the editor by bitching about it online, surely -- if they sent the cat-shit, yes, then! Bitching isn't productive in the way working to make their writing better would be, but I expect it gives them a support structure and helps them feel less suicidal.

Useful advice for people who have trouble submitting anything because rejection feels like someone stamped on your head -- don't submit something until you have the next thing after finished. That way when it's rejected, you can think, well, maybe that one sucked, but I have got better already since then. And if you get rejection 12 above, you can email right back and say "Ah, OK, well, how about this one". With a novel it suffices to write a new one while the old one is waiting in the slush, if the old one is any good at all, you'll certainly have time.

#14 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:19 AM:

This kind of behavior is caused by 'entitlement gnomes,' little fae creatures that whisper in writer's ears at night and tell us that we deserve to be published.

Which always makes me want to quote Bill Munny from Unforgiven: "Deserve's got nothing to do with it, Kid."

#15 ::: Jennifer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:22 AM:

I wonder what they'd make of this one:

"We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity." (a rejection from a Chinese economic journal)

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:22 AM:

Jane, if I've made you laugh that hard, my week is made. Feel free to use the piece ad libitum wherever it seems good.

Paula, the normal first reaction to reading slush is to get slushdrunk -- giddy, unbalanced, amazed in its full original sense. I know I've told this story here before, but the time I left Cory Doctorow, Jim Macdonald, Debra Doyle, and Lawrence Watt-Evans sedately reading manuscripts (they were in the office the afternoon of the annual SFWA Authors' and Editors' Party, a.k.a. the Mill and Swill), and came back later to find them sprawled, helplessly giggling, upon and amidst what had previously been tidy if superannuated heaps of unread slush, was a wonderful moment. I wish I'd gotten pictures.

The second reaction to reading slush is to realize that you're a much, much better writer than you'd previously appreciated.

#17 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:49 AM:

What these guys have failed to understand about rejection is that it isn't personal. If you're a writer, you're more or less constitutionally incapable of understanding that last sentence ... Obviously, you've never met a writer in your entire life. You should have stopped that sentence right there.

#18 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:51 AM:

Actually, I can tell you the best way to have writers understand the editorial process of rejection (not to mention the editorial process of editing): Have them become editors themselves. I was the editor of a humor site on AOL serveral years ago, at which I ended up rejecting 98%+ of the material sent to me, and a fair number of hours massaging the less than 2% of material I accepted. After I was done with that gig, I pretty much went back to every editor I had worked with up to that time and apologized for being a jerk (they were usually tolerantly amused). It's also saved me a great deal of internal angst regarding rejection, since, having rejected thousands myself, I no longer worked under the illusion that the rejection was personalized venom.

It's not practical, of course, to have every writer become a submissions editor, but perhaps what need to be done is to create a site that has 20 examples of writing, most bad, but some really good. Have writers go there and say to them "You're the editor. You can choose only one to accept. You have to reject everyone else. Choose, and then write the rejection letters as well." And then tell them for that the full editor experience, they'd have to do this every day with a new batch of submissions -- except that they would be able accept only two pieces in a full week.

You might get *some* writers who would be willing to write 138 personalized rejection notes, but I think most of them would finally get the idea of what rejection means from the editorial side. It's not personal because among other things, really, who has the time?

#19 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:01 AM:

"Yes" to everything Jo said, which leads me to ask why does rejection hurt people? I suspect a big chunk of the reason is to do with the way people think of writing as an expression of identity. If you write and sell books, you are not someone who writes and sells books for your day job, you are a writer. It's an issue of self-identity. People who write think of themselves as being writers; thus, to have their writing rejected is to question an aspect of their identity.

In these cases, it's an aspect of their identity that needs to be questioned. "Being a writer" is about receiving rejection letters, shrugging, filing them, and going on. "Being a writer" is about walking a tightrope strung between the twin pillars of what-the-readers-want and what-I-want-to-say, above the abyss of obscurity. "Being a writer" is frequently a tedious, exhausting, isolating, financially insecure existence. Franz Kafka was no less a writer for never seeing a rejection letter for a novel (almost all of his works being published posthumously): why, then, the need so many people exhibit for their status of "being a writer" to be publicly acknowledged?

The whole issue of why so many people harbour romantic misconceptions about the literary lifestyle is one that needs to be examined if we're to understand why so many people respond badly to rejection letters. And here I think other writers are partially to blame, for in all too many fictions about writers we see them presented as free, and wealthy, and fulfilled ...

Wish-fulfillment, anyone?

#20 ::: K. Feete ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:28 AM:

I collected about fifteen agent-and-editor rejections on my first novel. Two of the agents hadn't bothered with a rejection form, but had just scribbled "no thanks" across the bottom of my own query letter and sent it back. This threw me into an absolute snit at the time - although, reading them over a year later, I can't quite see why.

Rejections suck. Form rejections really suck, because they suggest that you didn't even make it to #11 on Teresa's list. A certain amount of directionless anger is to be expected. Turning it into directed anger is, however, not a good idea... especially on the all-searchable, all-remembering Internet. I try to remind myself that, if I ever do become published and famous, every stupid rant I've ever posted on a listserve, messageboard, blog, or, well, comments thread, will be fair game to everyone, including my biographers.

#21 ::: K. Feete ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:29 AM:

I collected about fifteen agent-and-editor rejections on my first novel. Two of the agents hadn't bothered with a rejection form, but had just scribbled "no thanks" across the bottom of my own query letter and sent it back. This threw me into an absolute snit at the time - although, reading them over a year later, I can't quite see why.

Rejections suck. Form rejections really suck, because they suggest that you didn't even make it to #11 on Teresa's list. A certain amount of directionless anger is to be expected. Turning it into directed anger is, however, not a good idea... especially on the all-searchable, all-remembering Internet. I try to remind myself that, if I ever do become published and famous, every stupid rant I've ever posted on a listserve, messageboard, blog, or, well, comments thread, will be fair game to everyone, including my biographers.

And no matter how hurt, frustrated, angry, and rejected I feel - a year later I probably won't be able to remember why.

#22 ::: Nick Douglas ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:29 AM:

Wow. AOL turns down submissions. To look at "hot or not" you could never tell.

I'm a violent (yes) proponent of the amateurization of communication and entertainment, especially on the web, but I must admit that it hasn't helped editors when every schmuck thinks he deserves "The Atlantic Monthly."

Humor is the worst. I'm about to kick off an independent college zine, and I want to hire a stranger to tell kids, "You are not funny. If you were just a bad writer, I'd be comfortable telling you, but this is personal. When you suck at jokes, you suck at life."

Then again, as an editor who uses "suck" in business communication, I shouldn't set my standard too high.

#23 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:44 AM:

Nick Douglas writes:

"Wow. AOL turns down submissions. To look at 'hot or not' you could never tell."

I'll thank you not to mock AOL too mercilessly, as even now they pay me to blog, so I like them. But suffice to say that this particular area was run like a small magazine, while most of AOL is designed to elicit member participation, and the two, while individually worthwhile in their own ways, do not have the same selection process involved.

K. Feete: Don't read too much (heh) into form rejections. I used them often, even with material I liked but couldn't use, most of the time because I had several other things I needed to be doing.

#24 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:44 AM:

Having been author, agent, editor, and head of a company that owns a magazine, I can see the slush pile matter from four sides.

All the horrors are as Teresa says.

Setting aside the normal protocol of rejection slips, which are intended to be self-explanatory, strange things happen.

However, the crushing effect of even an enlightened and talented author comes from the total contradictions in rejection letters letters for the SAME specific manuscript.

I have had the same short story described as "too long", "too short", "too downbeat", "too techno-optimist", "too boxy" [whatever that means], "too many metaphors and similes", "great use of language", "too much sex", "too much science"... and so forth.

At a high point, I had over 300 mss in circulation at once (including many poems), and kept track by the computer system at Boeing (this was 1979-1980) which one of what characteristics had gone where, when, to which editor, of a market with what self-description, with a described response time of what, and should therefore be re-queried when. I also had my own evaluation of my perceived quality of each manuscript.

The results of statistical analysis of roughly 1,000 submissions include:

* There is no correlation whatsoever between how good I think a manuscript is and how many submissions it takes to sell

* There is an optimal number of poems to send in a single envelope. More than that peak increases the chance of rjection without comment. Less makes suboptimal use of the postage, overhead, and delay.

* As Heinlein preached, once you have written it, finished it (correct format and spelling), and submitted it, the optimal thing to do is resubmit again and again until sold. Do NOT waste time on unsolicited rewrite. Do NOT delay starting to write the next, independent, manuscript.

What I learned on interpretation:

Don't EVER take a rejection letter (let alone slip) personally. Tell yourself: "the editor had a bad day, unrelated to my manuscript; great, now I can submit to an even better market" -- and resubmit within 24 hours.

Somewhere (very incompatible software over25 years) I have many pages of the data, especially the utterly absurd key words and key phrases on the mutually and internally inconsistent rejections.

Yes, 90% of PUBLISHED science fiction is crap.

Yes, 90% of everything is crap.

BUT: 99%+ of science fiction slush is crap.

AND: 90% of science fiction rejections are crap.

This does not automatically mean: 90% of science fiction editors are crap.

#25 ::: Leah Bobet ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:47 AM:

Wow. That was entertaining and educational.

I think Charlie is onto something here, though. There's a definite image associated with "being a writer", and "being a writer" often has very little to do with the actual act of writing. It mostly seems to involve angst and sitting around in public attempting to look creative. I'm not sure what it accomplishes for the people who do it, but hey, whatever gets you through the night.

I think the problem is that the public does not perceive writing to be a business or occupation: they perceive it as an art form. And artists are apparently allowed to be moody, sulky, tempramental, nasty, unprofessional, childish brats in our society. So those who are busy "being a writer" will emulate this behaviour, in order to appear more writerly and thus impress those around them with how artsy they are.

Writers, on the other hand, tend more towards polite and professional, because writers understand how much work goes into this gig. And maybe that's the way it should be left. After all, we need some way to seperate the men from the boys... ;)

#26 ::: Becky Maines ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:51 AM:

I think Charlie is right on the money about the romantic-identity thing. I've never read slush, but I've evaluated resumes and job applications in quantity...it's the job applicant's livelihood at stake, and yet they don't as a rule get nearly so worked up about rejection. (And, incidentally, it's pretty easy to weed the vast majority of resumes, too, for many of the same reasons one rejects manuscripts.)

In American culture, a lot of weight is ascribed to what one does as a living, so a job might be called an identity. But work is then about who one is, whereas the "being a writer" notion is about who one wishes to be.

And deny people their fantasies, and oh my will they get touchy.

#27 ::: John Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:57 AM:

An editor who’s had an extraordinary run of submission luck one year might look differently at a rewritten book that came back to her in a sparser year.

But are there really sparse years? I realize only a small proportion of stuff that goes into the hopper makes it past all those hurdles you cite, but with SO much stuff coming in, is it really possible to go a year and not get, what was the number for this small house, seven manuscripts that you want to publish? Wow. I can't decide if I find that encouraging or discouraging.

#28 ::: Nick Douglas ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:03 AM:

Heh, sorry John, that was knee-jerk of me. Thanks for telling me about the user-participation vs. magazine-style divide; should've seen that.

Is there a chance I can copy this and use it as my rejection form letter? I'm talking under 100 submissions a year, so this page has seen more eyeballs this morning than it will for my 3-year (assuming I do graduate from college) editing career.

And the third bird for the stone: Any of these writers could splurge for a "Writer's Market" copy and save themselves all this pain and suffering. In fact, most publishers could merely send the Library of Congress info for "Writer's Market," followed by the words "Buy this," as their rejection slip.

#29 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:14 AM:

I've logged a grand two rejections in my two-month-old endeavor to get my book represented. The only reason the second one bothered me was because Satan had spent a decent amount of time constructing my day before I checked the mail. He must've been sitting back with a cold beer, waiting for my expression upon finding that letter at the end of that day. Hats off, Herr Teufel, that day was a grand piece of work.

I haven't had to read through fiction slush, but I have had to read through science slush. I've graded eighty "essays" on geologic eras by high school freshmen, and I've graded thirty "reports" on various scientific investigations by college freshmen. I'll never forget one pre-med student, upon receiving his C paper, working his mouth in shock and finally getting out, "But, but, but I've been published!" Because this punk had been irking me for the entire semester, my Polite Check failed me and I returned, "That paper wouldn't have gotten published." The other grad student TAs and I came up with a drinking game for grading these papers: for every time you have to scribble in red "figure legends go beneath the figure, table titles go above the table", take a shot; for every time you have to write "referenced figures not included with paper", finish the bottle; etc.

No matter what you do in life, "Read the instructions and follow them" should be a mantra when you are submitting anything to another person. Right along with "If at first you don't succeed" and "It's up to me".

#30 ::: Kim Wells ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:23 AM:

The other thing that I think applies here is this. If you're an editor, chances are you are a reader (and probably writer) who LOVES the stuff you're editing. And after a while, the piles and piles of unedited, terrible, identical to the last one you rejected junk (because SO MUCH of it is junk) are really, really disheartening, and depressing. I just can't stand to look at poetry sometimes because I have to read the stuff people send my website, which is straight out of the teen angst "oh why does the world not recognize my genius" department. But if I am too gentle in my rejection letter, sometimes the same author sends me MORE stuff, and it's JUST AS BAD. So the rejection letter has to be polite enough for them to not write back and tell me what a raging bitch I am, yet firm enough to let them know I really don't want any more of whatever it was they sent.

The standard "doesn't meet the editorial needs of the magazine" is a bit formulaic, but it really catches so much. Why doesn't it meet the needs? It sucks? It's about killing women violently yet pretending to be by a woman? It's porn you want to try to sneak past me on my nonporn site? Or maybe it's some other subject matter we don't publish.

And I guess one thing about this is that it isn't actually personal, in a way. I don't have anything against those people who tried and sent me something and just don't realize it's not so good. But in another way, it's personal in that I have a limited amount of time in my life to read and I wish all of them WERE geniuses-- it's personal to me, and I just don't have to time to figure out the perfect way to not hurt your feelings. ESPECIALLY when I read these rejection letters that were really nice, and they read "being a total bitch" into them. I just can't win, so why NOT use the standard form rejection? When you take the time to write a nice note, it just gives people all the more to obsess over.

#31 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:26 AM:

Actually, under the circumstances described--a submission via a friend in common--I thought this rejection letter was a tad too harsh.

It's these lines that got to me:

> I absolutely believe that your children love it, but there is a real difference between a told story and a written one. And I am afraid that PRINCE JASON AND THE MAGIC STAR is just too slight and too sentimental to make a successful book.

#32 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:28 AM:

For some reason, only part of this posted the first time . . . trying again.

Actually, under the circumstances described--a submission via a friend in common--I thought this rejection letter was a tad too harsh.

It's these lines that got to me:

> I absolutely believe that your children love it, but there is a real difference between a told story and a written one.

This is true, but I can smell a faint whiff of condescension here on the part of the editor. I think it's in the phrase "your children."

> And I am afraid that PRINCE JASON AND THE MAGIC STAR is just too slight and too sentimental to make a successful book.

I'd keep the "slight" but lose the "sentimental." Actually, I would try to find another way to say all of this . . . .

"I think storytelling is a wonderful skill, as much about the performance as it is about the story itself. Perhaps because of the performance aspect, it's always seemed to me to be very difficult to turn a told story into a written one. I think you've made a noble effort with JASON, but I don't think it quite works on paper.

If I'm rejecting something that came to me through a friend, I want to do my best to ensure that the friend isn't going to get slammed by the submitting author. I also want to make sure that my friend doesn't wind up angry at me.

Posted by Melissa Singer at February 2, 2004 11:26 AM

#33 ::: Lisa ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:38 AM:

There's the chiastic rejection from Samuel Johnson: "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."

He is also said to have rejected a manuscript with "I am in the smallest room of my house, and your manuscript is before me. Soon it shall be behind me."

Now that's harsh.

#34 ::: farklebarkle ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:39 AM:

Hi, someone linked me to this. I also read and reject (and very occasionally accept) manuscripts.

You're right on the money about reasons for rejection, especially #1 and #2. It's amazing how much pain and heartbreak (and wasted paper) could be avoided if writers simply did their frickin' homework or used a spellchecker.

Anyway, thanks.

#35 ::: Jess ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:45 AM:

I needed to see this today. It was exactly the sort of bitch-slap I needed to get me back behind my writing desk and actually submitting things again rather than whining about how I'll never be a real writer because I can't take rejection.

Even though I actually work with editors and should in fact know better, it was so important for me to be reminded that I'm not personally being rejected, my work is (and if it's at all good, it won't be rejected forever). I think I'm going to go write "they don't hate you, they're just doing their jobs" in Sharpie on my monitor so I never forget again.

So thanks for that.

#36 ::: Kat ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:56 AM:

For a fairly good picture of the hell that is slush, SFRevu has a series of shots of the Tor offices from 2002 here.

My favorites are the latest in slush furniture and the slush of Isengard.

#37 ::: Ivy Blossom ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:58 AM:

Oh man. Thanks for writing this. I find myself having a variety of responses to it:

1) I'm horrified that people say those things about editors in public, pointing out to all and sundry that, at the very least, their reading comprehension skills are so very weak;
2) I'm terrified that I will respond this way when I finally get around to submitting my dearest darling manuscript, the one I've been editing for the last year and a half;
3) I'm pleased that I have not yet submitted my manuscript before it is the very best story it can be; and
4) I'm heartened to see how many fuckwits are trying to publish novels, which can only make the rest of us look brilliant by contrast.

#38 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 12:14 PM:

"All the same, rejection is a slap in the face."

No, it isn't.

Jz, y wld thnk tht nn wh sbmts smthng t cmpn tht chrgs mn fr thr pblctns wld tmtcll knw tht pblshng s BSNSS. Ths mns th NL rsn th wld vn cnsdr pblshng yr wrk s bcs th thnk t cn b sld fr prft. Thrfr, vn th thght tht th r smhw jdgng th thr s jst hbrs n th prt f th wrtr snc th thr s nthng mr thn th "gnrtr" f th prdct bng ffrd fr sl.

mgn tht y r jwlr pckng dmnds. Y rn't mkng vl jdgmnt b chsng sm vr thrs, y r smpl ttmptng t fnd stns tht wll SLL t yr cstmrs t prc y cn prft frm. Th fct tht sm dmnds gt sd t mk cttng tls nd thrs g n th rngs f rch y-cnd s bsnss dcsn, nt "slp n th fc" f th ppl wh mnd th gms, r th ppl wh ct thm, r th ppl wh sld thm t whlslrs. t's jst BSNSS ppl.

Gt grp.

#39 ::: Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 12:23 PM:

Brava, Teresa. I laughed, I cried, I drank a cup of plum tea. I think I recognize a couple of those.

Melissa, have I mentioned lately that I love you?

#40 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 12:44 PM:

The more I look at the grumbles of "a poetry parodist from Texas", the more suspicious I get. The complaint about produce looks just a little bit over the top. And that "whatever" part:

And that "whatever" part. How specific. How to the point. I think I'm going to go torture myself now.

feels, in this more cynical light, kind of self-congratulatory. "Hey, what if I wanted to parody a poetry editor rejecting someone? Wouldn't adding 'whatever' at the end of a riff on William Carlos Williams and Kenneth Koch be just perfect? How specific! How to the point! Score!"

Then again, human cluelessness is a powerful force in the world. But I am still suspicious.

C. -- no relation to WCW.

PS The link highlighted by "completely missing the point" has two conjoined URLs.

#41 ::: Catie Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 12:57 PM:

A couple more Tor slush pile pictures from September 2003, immediately after Patrick's Noble Assistant had Slaughtered The Slush Pile, are here and here. (Also note our gracious hostess' (is that the appropriate apostrification?) right hand in the second picture.) :)

I have a file folder in my, er, file cabinet (clever, wot?) entitled 'Rejection letters -- the fools, the fools!' I usually keep rejection letters on my desk for about two days, which is enough time to get over the breath-taking OW of it all, and then putting the letter in my FOOLS! folder makes everything much better. :)

I can't imagine going online and ranting endlessly about the vicious heartless nasty bad awful publishers who rejected me. The publishing industry's an *awfully* small pond to be pissing in. Besides, it's much more fun to go around the house yelling, "the fools! the fools!" Well, for me it is, anyway. Possibly I'm a little odd. :) (But full of smiley faces this morning, apparently.)

-Catie

#42 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 01:11 PM:

Lisa: "I am in the smallest room in my house." etc. is actually from the German composer Max Reger, in response to a negative newspaper review of his music.

#43 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 01:22 PM:

Somebody signing themselves only "John" quotes Jo Walton's observation that "All the same, rejection is a slap in the face," and responds:

No, it isn't.
Jeez, you would think that anyone who submits something to a company that charges money for their publications would automatically know that publishing is a BUSINESS.
This means the ONLY reason they would even consider publishing your work is because they think it can be sold for a profit. Therefore, even the thought that they are someohow judging the author is just hubris on the part of the writer since the author is nothing more than the "generator" of the product being offered for sale.
Imagine that you are a jeweler picking diamonds. You aren't making a value judgement by choosing some over others, you are simply attempting to find stones that will SELL to your customers at a price you can profit from. The fact that some diamonds get used to make cutting tools and others go on the rings of rich eye-candy is a business decision, not a "slap in the face" of the people who mined the gems, or the people who cut them, or the people who sold them to wholesalers. It's just BUSINESS people.
Get a grip.
Leaving aside the fact that with four novels in print and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, Jo Walton clearly has a grip and probably doesn't need to be hectored by "John," there are several interesting distinctions to be made here.

Teresa was writing as a human being who works inside the publishing industry, and reflecting on the various different ways people in different roles see themselves in relation to the literary submissions process. Jo was adding her own note of personal perception--pointing out that although, as Teresa pointed out, editors don't mean a rejection personally, nonetheless for the writer it's probably going to feel that way.

"John" isn't adding anything to this except a bullyragging insistence that the values of business--excuse me, "BUSINESS"--must be paid tribute to at every stage of the conversation. For Jo to reflect on how the transaction feels to her as a human participant is impermissable--she must be shouted down. "It's just BUSINESS people. Get a grip."

This is the kind of culture we're turning into: a culture run by people like "John."

#44 ::: Sandra McDonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 01:22 PM:

Very entertaining and educational post, Teresa!

I let fear of rejection stop me from submitting for many years. But then at Necon a few years back (this would have been right before VP) I realized that the only thing holding me back from being a published writer was my own fear. So ta-da, off to the post office I went, and though it took a little time to toughen up, I can honestly say that most of the time I now shrug rejections off as just part of doing business. It helps, perhaps, that I don't read the rejections too closely before I toss them into a shoebox under my desk. People who obsess over every little word and phrase, who think or write vile thoughts about editors, who nurture every real or perceived slight--these people, I think, need to get some perspective. Basketball players don't worry about the baskets they *don't* make, unless it's to use that knowledge to help improve their game--and rejections come in so many shapes and colors, and for so many reasons, that I think they're useless as far as telling you how to improve a story, if that's in fact what the story needs.

If a rejection does hit close to the heart, which some invariably do, oh well. It's why they invented Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough Ice Cream. You get over it or you don't, you stop writing or you don't. Simple.


#45 ::: Alexander ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 01:31 PM:

As an interested third-party with experience of neither editing nor authorship, I wonder if the disconnect might be more related to different codes of language. The Editor is writing in the code of her profession, into which the Author has yet to be initiated. The words simply don't mean the same things to the different readers.

For example, when an editor calls a submission 'sentimental', that's professionally a note on a specific dynamic in the writing that needs changing, in effect saying "ease up on the mush, and it might be a better work. Rewrite it." The hapless author, however, understands it to mean "Your writing is mawkish, and nauseatingly saccharine. Give up writing, now, and never ever consider yourself an author again. Try Hollywood."

It's not just the differing context of writing and reading the rejection, but the very words themselves that provoke such bile. What fun.

#46 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 01:32 PM:

Jo: Bitching isn't productive in the way working to make their writing better would be, but I expect it gives them a support structure and helps them feel less suicidal.

Makes sense. OTOH, it also reinforces misconceptions about the publishing industry and gives people the opportunity to publicly display their lack of reading comprehension, in a forum that might well be read by the people they are slagging, or acquaintances thereof, whichever (see the teen writer).

Your advice is much more helpful than mine, which is: don't do the bitching in public.

(Wading into fanfic archives, btw, has to be much like reading slush. Except on screen.)

#47 ::: Erica ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 01:36 PM:

I normally get into a panic state just thinking about the moment when I have to send the baby out the door into the cold cruel world, but this was actually rather encouraging, if only because I'm sure I can get at least to step #8 and quite possibly as far as #11, and I'm very good at things like SASEs. And I may stand rejection, as long as there's clearly a human being on the other end. (Some day, we will all be rejected by computers. Will we feel better or worse?)

#48 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 01:37 PM:

Oy.

I understand why people would not like to receive rejection letters (after all, what's to like?), it's just the... disconnection with reality that gets me.

It occurs to me that the experience may be somewhat different for writers who have actually published something, or for writers who hang out in places like this, than it is for the people posting on RejectionLetters. If you have some inkling of what actually goes on at publishers - and anyone who reads this blog should - you have context, so your anger at a rejection isn't likely to go off in silly directions.

And if you've been published, you are less likely to be wildly overestimating your abilities (the Particles link from a few weeks ago about people not knowing their weaknesses is desperately relevant here).

I myself have spent very little time reading slush. I was on the non-fiction editorial review board for my college's literary magazine, but we didn't get anything entertainingly bad that I can recall - nothing below an 8 on the list (of course Sarah Lawrence has a strong emphasis on writing).

What this really made me think of was resumes, from back when we had open job postings and I'd also troll Monster with keyword searches. Resumes obtained through these processes can be quite slushy. I recall one which included a lengthy section about how the job hunter was planning to run for the United States Senate (complete with platform), one handwritten on yellow lined paper which at some point started discussing the job seeker's desire to be dominated by women (actually my wife found this one), and the one which I treasure for the classic simplicity of the Monster title - "SENIOR QAULITY ENGINEER."

This is why so many companies use recruiting firms. They're agents.

#49 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 01:52 PM:

Fascinating, Teresa. And if you think it's bad in fiction (most of my work and experience on the other side of the manuscript is with serious nonfiction publishers)...

Scrivener's Error: Marvin the Misunderstood Manuscript

#50 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 01:59 PM:

What a great post. I think there's just something about rejection relating to story that sparks extreme reactions. I don't think it's just writers, maybe it's rejection itself. I don't know.

I've never read slush, but I did work as a used book buyer for a time. Otherwise normal customers used to behave in the oddest ways when selling their books.

I still remember one woman, who brought in a box of books that reeked of cat urine; it was sticky and dusty and scary. I asked her, politely, to take her books out of the box and place them on the counter (we always asked everyone to do this, as boxes hide many nasty things.)

The woman refused, saying the books had cat pee on them, and she didn't want to touch them. I explained that it was our policy not to remove books from boxes and that if she didn't want to touch them, I certainly wasn't going to.

I asked her, nicely, if *she* would buy books with urine on them, and she said, "No!" She still had a hard time linking that reaction to her books.

Our head book buyer had a variety of rejection softening techniques. The one I remember the best was the way he'd start his rejection with the word "yes". "Yes, thanks, we don't need any of these."

Reading the editorial letters, it sure looks like the editors are trying to soften the blow. Not sure it will ever succeed, really. Maybe that's just the nature of the game?

#51 ::: Ilona ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:04 PM:

A friend of mine, probably in a moment somewhere between the blue form of death from ROF and the didn't grab,hold, work from JJA, has commented that if she ever became a slush editor, she'd buy twelve packs of colored paper, shuffle them, and use them to print rejections, thus forever bewildering the writers, who'd spend countless hours trying to compare and figure out what each color stood for.

The only cure from rejection is the realization that one's identity is separate from one's product. Unfortunately, easier said than done.

#52 ::: Holly M. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:10 PM:

Reading these makes me feel downright well-adjusted. I barely even glance at rejections anymore; update the records, file, and move on. Occasionally I post a positive one on the desk for a while: a little egoboo.

The coldest rejection I ever got was from a rather important, well-known, SF-oriented agency. They sent back my original letter with "NOT FOR US" rubber-stamped on it. Gotta give 'em points for brevity.

#53 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:17 PM:

Beth wrote: >Melissa, have I mentioned lately that I love you?

um, well, gosh, she said, blushing.

Always nice to hear.

I learned at least some of that sort of thing from you, you know . . . .


#54 ::: Katherine Farmar ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:18 PM:

My first ever rejection letter was... interesting. I had sent some poems in for a competition, and received a pleasant, polite letter informing me that, however good my poems were, they weren't quite good enough. What got me was that the letter was addressed to "Mr Farmar". I realised that I'd signed the cover letter "KR Farmar", and one of the poems was a love poem addressed to a woman. Naturally, the editor assumed I was a man...

I kept that rejection letter pinned up on my bedroom wall for years afterwards, as an encouragement to doing better in future.

Since then I haven't sent out much, but my rejection letters have been getting steadily less discouraging, from the agent who said my novel was "very odd... we don't think it's a strong enough story" (it wasn't) to the magazine who said "the story ends too abruptly" (it did) to another magazine who didn't say very much at all (but having reread the story and taken a look at the calibre of writing they normally publish, I'm more relieved than surprised -- it would have been an embarrassment if it had been published; as it is it can moulder in a drawer until I'm dead and my executors publish it as "juvenilia"), to an almost-an-acceptance-but-not-quite from Marvel Comics. (And I know for a fact that Marvel were undergoing internal problems at the time, which lessens the sting of their refusal to publish my script as it stood. Plus, the editor said I was talented. Just thinking about that gives me a warm glow.)

Of course, I've worked for my parents' publishing company off and on since I was 14, so my attitude is somewhat different from the norm...

#55 ::: Moira Russell ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:22 PM:

This is very off-topic. But:

"On the other hand, if all you want are affirmations, go to an AA meeting."

Have you ever been to an AA meeting? I'm just curious. I've never gone to an AA meeting wanting only affirmations, and I've never experienced one as being only affirmations, either.

#56 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:31 PM:

I'm doing slushkilling right this moment - well, I mean, doing business hours - as an intern in a small small publisher. Today I got a manuscript I was really, really sorry for - I mean, my heart really bled for the poor kid. She didn't have clue one about writing. And it meant so obviously f***ing much to her.

While I was crooning my sorrow for her, quoting choice passages from her manuscript, I became aware of the other interns looking at me - those who agonize for one whole day over one manuscript, read all of it through, take notes, and write long rejection comments on the manuscripts received log.

One of them was looking at me with something between admiration and terror and told me: "If I ever write something, I never, never want to be read by you."

Well, somebody has to play the villain, I guess. It does get the slushpile down in a hurry.

It's true though: slushreading makes you realize you're a far better writer than about 95% of them. It made me want to get back to writing for a while, even from the deepest depths of depression. Didn't last past office hours, but it's a start.

Mostly, when I read slush, besides feeling sorry I feel a sense of admiration for the poor bastards. They may not have a clue or a good command of the language but by God they did sit down and hack out the thing letter by letter. That's a hard thing to do. It's this admiration that made me finally sit down and finish my first novel. I wish there was a way to convey that admiration through a "Thank you, but no" letter, but the sorry fact is, sometimes you really don't want to encourage them.

What those people at the site don't realize is that sometimes the polite form rejection is a lot nicer than what goes through your head reading the stuff. There's the ones you feel sorry for but there's also the ones you'd like to smack.

Then again, I can't throw stones. I got really mad at my first rejection.

#57 ::: ChrisO ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:31 PM:

Thank you for that entry. I see myself stalling around #8 or #9. My insurance doesn't cover psychotherapy, so I guess I'll have to keep writing until my prose and psyche improve.

#58 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:39 PM:

Rejection letters are like war medals. I have half a dozen or so at this point and in some ways would feel a little betrayed if I didn't amass at leats a dozen. From the tone, I get the feeling Most Agents and Editors find my MS to be a catagory 13, which is heartening as it means I simply haven't found the right publisher yet.

I get miffed for all of about thirty three seconds and then realize that it isn't personal. These people don't know me. I'm a stranger asking an impertinant question of a busy profeshoinal. I'm lucky they don't send howlers.

#59 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:48 PM:

Elizabeth -

I think it depends a lot on the nature of the blow.

I'm completely unpublished; I expect that I'm going to stay that way. The point of trying to get published, sending things I've written off to publishers, is to give myself an opportunity to be wrong about that. (Since I'd rather live in the universe where someone is willing to bet money that something I've written is widely entertaining than not.)

I find that having manuscripts rejected still sucks rocks, in a 'yup, I'm cursed' sort of way.

If the manuscript had gone out in a positive hope, instead of a negative one -- wanting to be right about being a good writer, instead of wanting to be wrong about being an inherently noncommercial one -- it would, I think, hurt rather more.

I don't think it matters that the decision by the editors at the publisher is fundamentally commercial; while that's true, there isn't any change in the personal consequences.

Which is where I think the impulse to soften the blow comes in; one doesn't want it to be a blow, and has no idea how hard it will fall (since that depends so much on the author's state of being), and one has to do it anyway. The preference for doing it as delicately as possible under the circumstances makes a lot of sense.

#60 ::: Bacchus ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:53 PM:

Interesting. In high school, before I came to the realization that I just wasn't good at thinking up new and interesting plots, I wrote and submitted a few science fiction short stories. (And, I blush to admit, rhyming poems, not good ones, including one in re: Challenger that began "you toil aloft on triple tounges of flame....") The rejection slips I got back neither suprised nor dismayed me. In fact, I rather treasured the one that appeared to be signed by Stanley Schmidt his own self.

But then, I'm not a writer.

#61 ::: KimGonzo ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 02:57 PM:

I laughed so hard, my husband asked me what was so funny and spent the next twenty minutes listening to me read your comments! I'll echo Holly's comment that I feel totally sane and well-adjusted after reading this - that doesn't happen very often. I'm going to have to bookmark this for the time that I actually write something that I'm happy enough to start my own rejection letter collection with.

#62 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 03:06 PM:

I believe that Hustler used to send out squares of toilet paper that said "This ain't the kind of shit we're looking for."

The best rejection letter I ever received was from Sub Pop Records, and began "Dear Loser." It was a form letter, so I didn't take it personally.

What does seem unfair to authors, though, is the (unwritten?) rule that they submit manuscripts to publishers in series rather than in parallel. What's the justification for this practice? The music business seems to manage without it.

#63 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 03:07 PM:

Great article. There is something you may be overlooking, however. Authors get several rejection slips for every work they send out, so they make a relative opinion about rejections in comparison to other rejections they've received.

When a single story nets you one rejection that reads, 'Great story -- I'm sure someone will publish it, but we can't right now', then three form letters, and then one that claims you're a chimpanzee with no grasp of the english language....well, then it's difficult not to lose respect for one or more of the editors involved. Is the 'nice' editor an idiot, or is the 'mean' editor an asshole? Or is the entire profession just messed up? These are the things that go through authors' heads when editors violently disagree.

#64 ::: Steve Whan ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 03:16 PM:

On the very first submission of my first novel I chose one of Canada's top publishing houses. I eventually received a glowing rejection letter from the Senior Children's Editor. Contrary to the cry-babies I've just read about, I used her recommendations and ended up self-publishing my novel.

I've now self-published three novels in the Autumn Jade Mystery Series and sold more books than the majority of first-time authors who sign on with a name publisher. The editor has since left that publishing house, but I managed to find her and sent an appropriate thank-you letter. It was her kindess and extra effort (in what must be a truly overwhelming job) that encouraged me to keep with it.

If you really believe in your writing, self-publish it! Check out http://www.autumnjade.com to see how it's done.

#65 ::: Cliff Johns ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 03:24 PM:

Fun and interesting post and discussion.

I've found that a rejection is a rejection, and
the person up-thread who just got a "no" written
on the cover letter actually got just as useful
a rejection as the person who gets more
information. A rejection is only a no.

As an example:
I've received a lot of rejections saying the
story and the writing were terrific, but just
missed the cut off, or that the editor didn't
feel it quite met the feel of the magazine or
imprint and that this editor was sure it would
be accepted elsewhere. This is a way to make
the writer feel better (and maybe the editor
too), but it ultimately fails when the writer
realizes that, well, actually the story is not
publishable and they're really wasting the
paper and postage

Personally, I recognize that my writing is not
yet publishable, but I would never get any feel
for that from the content of my rejections, (it's
not part of the editor's job description) nor
from anyone else who may read or critique a
story.

You can only figure out how publishable your
story is from the volume of rejections, not from
their content or tone. I guess this fits with
Heinlein's edict. Many a new writer has spent
too many hours trying to understand rejections
and what might be written between the lines.

What the begining writer is trying to determine
from the rejection is where in the list of 14
possibilities the story fell, but even if the
list were included in the rejection with the
number circled, it would only tell you what
that editor thought.

(OK, if one of the first few were circled, you
could learn something and maybe stop submitting
until you get some more basics, but how many
people who had one of the first few circled
would believe it anyway?)

Cliff

#66 ::: Manny Olds ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 03:43 PM:

I suppose I was once a slush reader, although I didn't realize it at the time. My then-SO published a small-press literary magazine (fairly well regarded) and I helped him weed his incoming submissions once he got to the "tottering towers" level of behindness. I have never doubted that I could write after that; at least I would never consider letting anyone else see anything I had written that was as bad as 90+% of what we got.

But there are those moments. I got promoted to "fiction editor" for the last issue before he decided to fold it and I got to choose the stories for that issue. There were two that were so perfect and evocative that I still remember them all these years later. One of those authors had moved with no forwarding address and the other had died. They never knew they had been accepted.

MAO

#67 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 03:50 PM:

I first started submitting short-story manuscripts when I was 16. At 16, I knew just enough about the industry to (a) always include a SASE; (b) type and double-space my manuscripts; and (c) not take rejections as an editor's judgement of my personal worth as a human being. Of course I was still disappointed by the form rejection slips I got, but I wasn't crushed to a sobbing pulp, and I was elated by my personal rejection from an editor who asked to see more of my work (though thoroughly disappointed when the magazine disappeared a couple years later). I'm amazed that there are adults out there that lack the sort of extremely basic understanding of the industry that I had as a high school kid. Especially since I was certainly more than willing to wallow in all sorts of other varieties of angst at that age...

If these people ever get published, how on earth are they going to react to bad reviews? Now those are painful.

I wrote a short humor piece about rejection letters a couple of years ago -- it was my first published work ever (appearing in the now sadly defunct Scavenger's Newsletter). It's online on my website now if anyone wants to go read it: http://www.tcinternet.net/users/kritzerburke/naomi/devilsmailbox.htm Gordon Van Gelder liked it enough that he sent me a postcard saying so. I, um, framed the postcard and hung it on the wall of my study. (There are stories about writers wallpapering their studies with their rejection letters. A more depressing exercise, I can't imagine. Wallpapering with ordinary wallpaper is bad enough.)

#68 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 03:51 PM:

1) I am deeply, deeply pained that Jo Walton has four novels published. See, I only own three of them. Time to hit the bookstores...

2) My summer-long stint of interning at Tor was one of the smartest things I ever did in terms of understanding the process and sympathizing with/understanding editors. I agree with whoever said up-thread that more (or was it all?) authors should try it.

3) If I sent out manuscripts to make the rounds, I'd have to keep the rejection letters. They'd serve as a very deep and personal reminder of where I'd already sent a given manuscript, because I am certainly not capable of remembering these things on my own.

#69 ::: Holly M. ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 04:01 PM:

Remus said:

Authors get several rejection slips for every work they send out, so they make a relative opinion about rejections in comparison to other rejections they've received.

This is a good point. Writers' groups suffer from this same disparity of perspective. One member of your group thinks your characters are wonderful, well-drawn, sympathetic and engaging; another claims that character X is a racist cliche' while character Y is a blatant Mary Sue; and the rest of the group is making perfunctory proofreading marks while impatiently waiting to hear nice things about their stories.

After a while you learn to take a sort of mental and emotional average of everybody's comments, and throw out anything that's too extreme.

#70 ::: Marie Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 04:01 PM:

I had a moment there when I was shocked at your estimates of how many truly terrible manuscripts must be rejected daily, and I was on the verge of thinking "surely there aren't that many people who really submit their dreck in the belief that it has a fair shot at being published."

And then I remembered that we are, after all, on planet Earth, and that such a thing was imminently possible.

Also, I recalled just how many books actually are published which according to your categories should not be (*cough*RobertJordan*coughcough*category #10*cough*). In light of such, it is easy to believe that publishers really DO get plenty of submissions that contain entire sentences in all caps, etc.

#71 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 04:42 PM:

>What does seem unfair to authors, though, is the
>(unwritten?) rule that they submit manuscripts
>to publishers in series rather than in parallel.
>What's the justification for this practice?

Editor A really, really does not want to deal with a letter coming back the other way saying "Thanks for buying this, but I already sold it to Editor B."

#72 ::: sean ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 04:48 PM:

Any writer who hates rejection just needs to spend a year writing ad copy. I've never had a rejection from an editor that was nearly as harsh and painful as client feedback. Marketing flunkies who destroy your ideas over speakerphone while they dawdle over their tri-colored pasta are the cruelist people in cubicleland.

At least editors don't expect your work to do something that stories can't do. Unlike marketeers, who want your short ad to compel billions of folks to buy some crap that they don't want or need. Editors just want to publish something that they think people will buy. If we disagree on that, I do feel disappointment, but I don't feel personal rejection. They didn't like my story, for whatever reason. Generally, if I send something out, it's because I think it succeeds at what I was trying to accomplish. By the time I'm getting the rejections, I'm on to the next story anyway.

Maybe the anger comes from the relationship of the client and the worker. The worker must resent the client, it's the way. You want fries with that?

#73 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 04:55 PM:

Sometimes even very *cough* successful writers submit manuscripts with entire sentences in CAPS. Sometimes it even works...but maybe there is some long-term indicator there, after all...

"IT IS NOT HERE."

"Well, if you're referring to plot advancement, then, yeah, I'd have to agree."

"I WILL TAKE NO PART."

"...of what? You'll take no part of Elayne's bath out of the manuscript?"

#75 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:04 PM:

Sean writes:

"Any writer who hates rejection just needs to spend a year writing ad copy. I've never had a rejection from an editor that was nearly as harsh and painful as client feedback."

Huh. Strangely enough, I never have any problem with criticism of my business writing. My feeling about it is that I'm there to deliver what *they* want, not what I think they should want (or I think they should have). I pretty much entirely subsume any ego when I do corporate writing, which I guess is an interesting writing exercise in itself. But it means that if a client has a virulent reaction, I don't take it personally -- I just try to get it closer to what they want.

#76 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:06 PM:

I am of course awed by some of the miscomprehensions quoted by Teresa, particularly the writer who took "While your story has some really strong writing, it doesn't fit our needs" as meaning "Our needs preclude really strong writing."

Still, even as someone who's never submitted fiction to a professional market, I find myself sympathizing with some of the hurt feelings here, even as we're being asked to sympathized with the editors who have to make the rejections.

Some of the writers seem especially hurt by the particularly gentle, sympathetic, "it's a good story but ..." letters. What these remind me of is romantic brushoffs of the "Why can't we just be friends?" or "You're a really sweet guy but ..." type. Or, I suppose, the typically male equivalents, "I'm not ready to settle down" or "I need my space."

#77 ::: David D. Levine ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:09 PM:

Thanks for a great post and a great conversation. I'll be telling all my friends about this one.

The worst rejection I've received in the last year was from a Major Literary Magazine, who crammed my MS into the one-stamp SASE (along with a form rejection letter) and sent it to me with 92 cents postage due. What part of "disposable manuscript" didn't they understand?

A friend of mine, probably in a moment somewhere between the blue form of death from ROF and the didn't grab,hold, work from JJA, has commented that if she ever became a slush editor, she'd buy twelve packs of colored paper, shuffle them, and use them to print rejections, thus forever bewildering the writers, who'd spend countless hours trying to compare and figure out what each color stood for.

I believe Argosy is now doing exactly that.

#78 ::: Martin Sutherland ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:19 PM:

I've just been thinking about the similarities between programming and writing in this context. Writers have editors, and gather rejection slips; programmers have testers, and gather bug reports. Neither should be taken personally, because they're not intended as such. In fact, there's a technical term for coders who take bug reports as personal affronts: project managers. (Miaow.)

The 13 reasons for rejection also map roughly to the reasons a tester might have for not accepting a piece of software:

  • 1-7: code doesn't compile
  • 8-10: code doesn't conform to requirements
  • 11-13: code doesn't run fast enough

The software teams that finish their projects and actually ship product are the ones that buckle down and keep working until they get to 14: acceptance. Same with writers.

#79 ::: Julian Flood ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:29 PM:

The way to stop rejection slips hurting is to gather more. Eventually you just feel numb. I've had 28 in the last 12 months and have now attained the happy state of shrug and resubmit.

Shouting 'Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! at the envelope helps.

Slush readers, however, should all be issued with a small monk to stand close by as they plod through the piles. His job is to ignite threads soaked in naphtha while whispering 'Remember John Grisham'*.

JF
*Or 'Watership Down.' Or...

#80 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:30 PM:

Editor A really, really does not want to deal with a letter coming back the other way saying "Thanks for buying this, but I already sold it to Editor B."

That doesn't sound like much of an imposition compared to spending months or years finding out if a story or book is publishable, when you could do it in six weeks.

But maybe it's just the difference between publishing and music. A musician makes a greater financial outlay in a demo than a writer does in a manuscript, with less hope of success. The shelf life of a demo is also shorter.

And of course an editor buys more manuscripts in a given time period than a record company signs artists, so the process needs to be more streamlined. Still, if I were a writer, it would bug me.

#81 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:34 PM:
I've just been thinking about the similarities between programming and writing in this context.
Speaking as a programmer, I don't think it's quite the same. Most programming projects are not personal in the same way that a story, novel, or poem is (usually).

The levels of rejection don't also map like that - code that merely doesn't compile is at level, well, the levels don't map well at all, but if I were doing 14 levels of code evaluation it'd be around level 7 or so. There are all sorts of nasty things lurking in levels 1-6.

#82 ::: Serious Writer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:35 PM:

After reading this, I can name a lot of reasons why your stories are rejected--the SSAE just one of them, attitude another. I don't know one SERIOUS writer who would ever send a submission without an SSAE. It's a lack of respect to omit it, not to mention being a clear indicator of where you are professionally. But hey, if it's working for you...

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:45 PM:

He is also said to have rejected a manuscript with "I am in the smallest room of my house, and your manuscript is before me. Soon it shall be behind me."

"I am in the smallest room in my house." etc. is actually from the German composer Max Reger, in response to a negative newspaper review of his music.

I was told that was Voltaire.

6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.

Gosh, I guess I won't submit my stream-of-consciousness novel from the point of view of a guy with severe ADHD (I was going to call him Marcus Sam). And I was making such progress...I'd almost gotten started.

Seriously, the only time I ever actually submitted something it was to Asimov's, and it got a form letter (I thought a very nice one), saying "Your story was seen by an editor, but either..." [list several of the low-number reasons in Teresa's post] "...or simply did not rise high enough above the level of the other ____ stories we received that month." And "217" was handwritten in.

I, of course, assumed it was that last. But I never submitted it anywhere else, and by then I was bored with the story and didn't rewrite it.


#84 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:53 PM:

This morning's edition of Making Light, reminds me of the relentlessly incisive and entertaining introspection, say, of "Law Day." I hope we can look forward to reading this again, along with other selected entries, in _Making Book 2_. In the meantime, I'll keep the permalink for our old lodge brothers -- for the next time the meme-wheel comes around to: "blogs: all politics and ephemeral chit-chat; fanzines: literate introspection."

#85 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 06:42 PM:

Melissa wrote: "It's these lines that got to me:

> I absolutely believe that your children love it, but there is a real difference between a told story and a written one.

This is true, but I can smell a faint whiff of condescension here on the part of the editor. I think it's in the phrase "your children."

> And I am afraid that PRINCE JASON AND THE MAGIC STAR is just too slight and too sentimental to make a successful book.

I'd keep the "slight" but lose the "sentimental." Actually, I would try to find another way to say all of this . . . ."


Melissa, as a one time editor of children's books, I cannot tell how many letters with mss. begin "My children all love this story. . ." or how many relate that it was a told story they insisted get put down on paper. (Almost always badly.)

And probably slight and sentimental are the two bugaboos of children's picture books.

I think the editor did that author a big favor. Not that the author probably saw it that way. But if I had taken time to write to the author, I would probably have said the same thing.

YMMV, obviously.

And I love you, too.

Jane

#86 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 06:51 PM:

re Holly M.'s comment, I think part of the problem is that (unless one is part of the Literary Scene, and thus probably published already) the editors are unknowns. In a writer's group, you KNOW that Person A has real issues with strong female characters and Person B gets bored if there isn't an action sequence every ten pages, so you mentally adjust for their criticism.

As a writer, you have no way to know what an editor's preferences and issues are. There's no way to know that the editor who rejected your manuscript is just plain sick of mission-to-Mars stories, no matter how good yours was, or that the name of the main character is the same as his nutbar ex's.

That said, I don't take rejection letters personally unless they ARE personal, e.g. "Your writing sucks, don't quit your day job." After all, if it were personal, I never would have been rejected, being the fabulous and irresistible person I am. ;)

#87 ::: Murph ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 06:57 PM:

Peter Watts and I just received a short story rejection from an obviously overloaded and therefore delayed market. The dim background picture on the page is of a girl giving the reader the finger. Supposed to show they have "edge," I guess, but I have to say that and the time they took won't entice either of us to bother with them again.

But that's the end of my bitching, since I've seen a tiny fraction of the crap that Teresa gets to see.

D

#88 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 07:10 PM:

It's odd...I have a friend who actually passes by conditions 1-8 at least, and sometimes 1-10...but who seldom finishes work and submits it for publication. After a recent round of correspondence with her, I found myself reflecting on the why of this. I decided that the unfortunate truth is that many would-be writers are treating submission as part of (sometimes most of) an educational system, and expecting some level of attention from the system.

#89 ::: Karl Gallagher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 07:10 PM:

My favorite rejection slip was a form with about 20 reasons to be checked off as needed. I got "It was too long" but not "It was very bad" or "It was AWFUL". I suppose knowing I wasn't at the worst end of the spectrum was comforting to my teenaged ego.

I still wonder how bad I'd have to be to get "Your enemies, who are constantly plotting against you, have paid us a large sum of money to reject anything you submit."

#90 ::: Hannah Wolf Bowen ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 07:18 PM:

Great post! Thanks for it.

Quoth Remus:

Is the 'nice' editor an idiot, or is the 'mean' editor an asshole? Or is the entire profession just messed up?

Or none of the above. Editors are just people with fancy titles, after all, and different people are bound to have different opinions on stories. That doesn't have to mean anyone's wrong or nasty or overly charitable. Could be that all this scenario means is that you misread one of your markets. It happens...no big deal.

(Could mean other things, too, of course.)

#91 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 07:46 PM:

The following three points are, I think, inarguable (tho correct me if I'm wrong):

Reading slush largely sucks, and editors are perfectly justified in rejecting the majority of the submissions they receive.

Writing and submitting means you will inevitably receive rejection letters.

Rejection letters aren't fun, even at their best. Some people can shrug them off; others are driven to quitting writing, or even life, altogether. Common advice seems to be that writers need to "toughen up" to learn to live with rejection.

My question (stupid, probably, but I'm used to it): Is a "tougher" writer a better writer?

#92 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 08:34 PM:

The way to get around having your manuscript sit on Publisher A's bookshelf for a year before it gets rejected, thereby freeing it to sit on Publisher B's bookshelf for another year, etc, until by the time it's finally accepted you are too old to tour is by getting an agent.

Agents can submit manuscripts and proposals simultaneously as long as they inform editors that they're doing so.

It's probably at least as hard to get a good agent as it is to get your book accepted by a publisher. But there are many more agents to submit to and their turnaround time is far faster.

#93 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:08 PM:

The lesson I take from all this is that we should turn slush around faster than we do. The wait makes everything too agonizing, and the responses too important.

#94 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:19 PM:

Fran, there are tough cookies who are awful writers, and others who are excellent. One of the most respected writers in the field is as touchy as a bear with a toothache. Fortunately, said writer isn't often in danger of rejection.

We recognize two very rough categories. One are the writers who wouldn't take a hint if it weighed six hundred pounds and were dropped on their collective foot. They're immune to discouragement, along with most other forms of social influence. The other sort will take any hint that could possibly be construed as a comment upon their work, and clutch it to their bosom. The Spartan boy with the fox has nothing on them.

It is impossible to say anything about commercial writing that will get through to the first sort without unjustly frightening and depressing the second sort.

#95 ::: Kylee Peterson ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:22 PM:
What bothered you the most about this letter?

The second sentence, because it inferred that an offer was available

If this is an example of the usage in the manuscript, I can see why it might be rejected.

I'm not any kind of writer, but this whole post makes me feel like finishing up a story or two and sending them out. Heck, I compulsively proofread everything down to cereal boxes. I can write a paragraph that's all about the same thing. Even if my plotting were terrible, I'd at least make it to number 7.

#96 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:27 PM:

Ah, the "should" factor! But, O Wise and Lovely Hostess....

A: how many mss do you receive in a week? (My guess: 35)

B: how long does it take to log a ms in your records, open it up, read (some of) it, make a decision, find the appropriate rejection (or acceptance) letter, scribble in an encouraging note if appropriate, stick it in the SASE, make a note in the log boook, and put the package back into the mail to return it to the author? (My guess: 20 minutes)

Multiply A x B. (My guesses => 12 hours)

Can you afford to take this many working hours out of your week, every single week?

Hey, how 'bout doing one of those contests of the the "guess how many M&M's are in this glass jar" type? You could do "how many mss are in this slushpile?" with a photo of your office. All entries must be accompanied by a box of chocolates or a ball of yarn. Winner gets a free line-edit of their first chapter. :-D

#97 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:32 PM:

All the letters cited in Teresa's original post strike me as perfectly professional and acceptable. The writers taking offense at them seem, to me, to range from overly sensitive to downright loony.

In particular, this item: "The manuscript you gave (a mutual friend) arrived today. I read it at once and am really sorry to have to tell you that I am afraid it is not something we can add to our list. I absolutely believe that your children love it, but there is a real difference between a told story and a written one. And I am afraid that PRINCE JASON AND THE MAGIC STAR is just too slight and too sentimental to make a successful book. This is, of course, just one opinion, and I wish you every success with the project."

strikes me as being written by an editor genuinely going out of his way to be a little bit more helpful than professonally required, because the submission came from a friend of a friend.

The statement "I absolutely believe your children love it" seems to me to be a simple statement of fact, not at all condescending - we love the art created by the people we love far more than we would if they were created by strangers. Children love the stories their parents tell them, parents hang their children's crude pictures on the refrigerator door. For further discussion of this phenomenon, see here.

I've always somewhat disliked Harry Chapin and thinking about that song again makes me think about why. In my version of that story, Mr. Tanner rents out the concert hall, everybody in town comes and gives him a standing ovation. The critic writes the withering review - and he's right, too; Mr. Tanner's voice really isn't very good by professional standards - but nobody really cares. Mr. Tanner goes back to singing opera in his dry-cleaning store; the customers love to hear him sing, although to tell the truth his employees sometimes get a little tired of it. Sometimes he tells his nieces and nephews about the time he sang in a concert hall; they're kind of tired of hearing the story but they love seeing how happy Mr. Tanner is when he remembers the experience.

Indeed, one of the things I love about fandom is that it's one of the few places I'm aware of in America where amateur artmaking is still celebrated. Fans understand that it's often not as important how good the art is - the important thing is that the art brings us together. Shary McCrumb doesn't seem to understand this at all.

I highly recommend the book "Kitchen Confidential," by Paul Bourdain, a professional memoir by a chef. One of the chapters contains advice about food presentation, for people who want to know how they can get the food they cook at home to look like food served in restaurants. Bourdain explains how, but that's not the advice he gives. The advice he gives is: forget it. A home-cooked meal should look and taste like a home-cooked meal, not like restaurant food. He described how his mother-in-law apologizes when she cooks a meal for him and he tries to get her to stop because he loves her cooking, in part because of who it is who's doing the cooking.

This post started out being about one thing but now it seems to be about something else. More on another rock.

Hey, is anyone monitoring RejectionCollection for a response?

#98 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:52 PM:

thanks, Teresa. I guess what I was wondering was whether or not one would (hypothetically, of course) be doing more harm than good by handling the submission/rejection stuff for an author who took form rejections to mean "you loser, you cannot write your way out of a paper bag and should never be allowed near a keyboard again" -- i.e., would the cost of "preventing the toughening-up" outweigh the benefits of "protecting from the ouch"?

#99 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:34 PM:

Kellie:

I haven't read any fiction slush either, but I think you're onto something with the analogy to grading. As a TA, on any homework I see so many permutations of the same error that, until recently, I was often driven to sarcasm.

Last semester, after grading an Intro to Flight homework in which a student told me that the airplane was flying at -10000 ft above sea level, I wrote a response ("Was it flying in a mine shaft?") that hurt the student. I was trying to be funny and remind him to use common sense when solving engineering problems, but it didn't come off that way. The whole class had been getting the problem wrong, and I was frustrated with them, which made me overreact.

I can easily see how a slush reader could fall into the same trap and write something with a hard edge to it, or how a writer could take an innocent remark (which mine was not) and read something ugly.

#100 ::: Shalanna Collins ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:42 PM:

"[W]e should turn slush around faster than we do. The wait makes everything too agonizing, and the responses too important."

That would really be nice, if it were possible without spending lots of money on people to do the slush reading. It's true that if I have to wait over a year to hear back, I'm fantasizing that somebody's actually taken that manuscript home, read it, carried it to his or her supervisor or maybe even the committee, and is debating as to whether it might make the list. It's a real comedown when the little SASE arrives to set me straight.

"I always try to remember to turn page 27 upside-down again, and put the hair back in at the end of chapter two, before returning the manuscript. Scraps used to turn page 27 right-side-up, but turned two other random pages upside-down."

See, I would appreciate that bit, because it would [theoretically] tell me that he/she had read about that far. What I usually wish I knew is at what exact point the reader abandoned my novel, because then I could surmise that it wasn't very gripping or that the tension dropped off *or* that I hadn't fulfilled some of the expectations that I'd set up earlier. If two people stop reading around page fifty, telling me, "I just got bored," that's a sign that something needs to be done around page forty-five or so . . . either I didn't go in the direction I'd led the reader to believe I was heading, or I went off on some kind of tangent and didn't notice. It's nice to hear where I went wrong. If he or she read the first five chapters and *then* decided it wasn't going anyplace, I feel more encouraged than if the reader bonked it against the mail slot after three pages of "this crap."

It's tough to tell what's wrong from this end of the pipeline. My rejections are usually of the form "Wonderful book with engaging characters, but not for us," or "Talented, but you wrote the wrong book again, or [silence] because I never hear anything back at all and am afraid to write asking about it (since that's usually treated as a request to send the brick back by return mail, or at least that's the way it has worked so far.) No, actually, I *do* know what's wrong. My Muse[s] send me small, personal stories that just don't have lots of commercial potential, and I'm not doing them in a "literary" fashion ("three friends meet again after twenty years and try to sort out their lives" bit, chick flick style) and therefore can't send them to people who like slower, smaller personal stories. At least that's my current theory.

(By the way, someone pasted a link to this entry into a msg on the "Chick Lit" discussion group list, so if you get lots of responses from new people, that could be the reason.)

#101 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:02 PM:

This was illuminating/scary/depressing. Also bloody hilarious.

I started submitting incredibly bad sf/f crap in 7th grade. Or was it 6th grade? By the time I hit 12th grade I'd collected a few rejection slips, most of them from South Korea. (You'd think that the extra 14-20 days turnaround wouldn't make a difference, but it did, psychologically. Also, I was an absolute tyrant about acquiring U.S. postage, because I couldn't get my mom to understand what on earth an IRC was, let alone where in Seoul to acquire some.)

I think maybe that when you start that young and naive, you have to develop a thick skin or you'd do the sensible thing and stop.

And to all the editors: I want to say that I have never felt insulted by a rejection, even a form rejection; I keep and treasure the ones in which the editor(s) took the time to write me a comment, and tried to learn from them. Anything above a form rejection is an encouraging sign, in my world. And although I don't think any of those editors are represented here, I want to say thank you; and I'm ashamed I never sent thank-you cards to those editors, except they sounded awfully busy and I was afraid of offending them with one more irrelevant thing to read. (That's the other thing you get from growing up in Korea, is a mortal fear of offending people.) Is it all right to send thank-you cards for personalized rejection slips? Maybe once a year? Or does one just keep submitting stuff that one tries to make ever-better?

I peer-tutored writing as an undergrad and lordy, we dreaded HCEC/med-school app season, because there were so many of those things (I remember only one person who had written a draft more than a month before deadline--maybe two, but I doubt it) and we were only open for 2 hours, or 3, and after you've read a few hundred of them, they fall into depressingly few categories, all of which, of course, the admissions people have seen a thousandfold more. In thinking about that experience--and it wasn't all bad, mind you; I had the pleasure of reading some really wonderful essays--and trying to extrapolate it to the scale of what editors must get in their slush piles...my gawd.

Yes, rejection letters hurt like the dickens. But when I get one, I put it away and don't look at it for a week and come back to it and then try to figure out what I did wrong so the next story I send in is an improvement.

That's the theory, anyway. It seems to be working so far, more or less.

#102 ::: Coolmajaka ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:06 PM:

Rejection slips are why God created bourbon.

Sure, they sting. But the payoff, baby, the payoff.

#103 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:20 PM:
The lesson I take from all this is that we should turn slush around faster than we do. The wait makes everything too agonizing, and the responses too important.

It sure seems that way, but...

I'll bet $5 that if you do start turning slush around significantly faster, you'll see one of your rejection letters up on that site with the complaint that you clearly didn't take enough time to consider the merits of the manuscript, because the rejection came so quickly.

Still, it might help some people channel their anger or disappointment into more useful activities (such as more and better writing) than slagging off editors. Probably not any of the people whose comments you quoted in the post, but maybe some other people.

#104 ::: Hope ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:25 PM:

Wow. I'm really stunned at the reactions to some of these rejection letters; especially the writer who was told her book was wonderful, but came at a bad time. I'd kill for a rejection like that!

I got a great rejection letter the other day- completely handwritten, an underline beneath the "so" in "so sorry." It totally made my day (not as much as an acceptance would have, but for a rejection it was wonderful!)

I suppose I have an advantage that I've been writing (and getting rejected) for almost fifteen years. Tenacity has proved that eventually, something good will sell. Rejections aren't personal, and if you get something more than a pre-printed card, that's cause for celebration. It is in my house, at least. :)

#105 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:36 PM:

Good heavens. Even in my bad old fanfic writing days in the 1980s, I think I would have made a 7 without too much trouble. Some of the stuff I wrote could probably make at least 8 or 9, and maybe 10 on a good day.

I salute you, slushpile readers.

#106 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:53 PM:

On the programming tangent, I recently had an interesting experience with rejection. For more than a year now, we've had an annoying bug in our service-management code that no one has been able to isolate and fix. Progress toward a solution has been extremely slow, due in large part to the fact that the problem only occurs on machines that have about 50,000 active users, and then only after the code has been running for at least 48 hours.

In our latest meeting, the programmer dedicated to solving the problem for me had A New Idea. "Why don't we just replace this program with DJB's open-source tool?" My response was to throw up my hands in a warding-off-evil gesture and shout "no, no, anything but that!"

From my point of view, it was a joke, playing off a number of previous suggestions to use one of DJB's tools in our service, all of which had been shot down for good reasons.

From his point of view, it was a deliberate insult to him, rejecting his input as worthless.

It took us five minutes to calm him down enough for the meeting to continue, and I felt it was worth the effort to spend two hours writing up a detailed explanation of why I didn't like this idea in particular, why I didn't like DJB's tools in general, and why my response had nothing to do with the person who suggested it. I'd have done that to anyone. :-)

-j

#107 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 01:02 AM:

Since the question was sort of implied, here's a story about nonfiction slush. It's not for bedtime reading, though, unless you like a combination of boredom and sheer terror. Scrivener's Error, 09 Dec 03

#108 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 01:06 AM:

I used to have an old "Shoe" cartoon that mentioned an unseen, malign character who signed herself "Joyce Barnmouth, Rejectionist." I think many writers (me included, some days) believe in Joyce.

Teresa, that post brought back breath-taking memories of my brief career as a first reader. I really, really, =really= wanted to have a stamp made up, quoting Dorothy Parker, which said "Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up." This was not meant as a slap at the author--frequently I wanted desperately to like a book because the author so clearly beleved that he/she had done something special. And frequently, the sincerity of that belief was inversely proportional to the quality of the manuscript. And if you have worked your way through an entire 700 page bad manuscript you might be pardoned for responding rather snarkily. Fortunately, as a first reader I could snark all I wanted, knowing that my report would be filed, and the author would get a proper, business-like "does not fit the needs of the house" letter.

What was much harder was when I read a manuscript that was =just-not-quite= up to standard. Or something that was wonderful, but not right for the house. Or (maybe the hardest yet) something that made me a little queasy, that I was morally certain would sell like hotcakes used to in the pre-Atkins days. Because I really, really wanted to find something lovely. Or even something solidly good. No one would ever know that I Discovered somebody or other, but I would, and that would have been deeply satisfactory.

I suppose it would make no difference to the people who take their rejections personally to know the degree of joy and celebration that comes with one good manuscript....

#109 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 01:24 AM:

From someone's tagline years back I picked up a quote supposedly by Isaac Asimov: "From my close observation of writers...they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review."

I think I've got the answer to the "why do they take it so personally?" bafflement, though, or at least one good answer... I imagine that everyone reads over their story and thinks, "I think this is great! People like me are going to just eat this up!" Then the rejection comes back: "There are no people like you. We're all over here, and you're all by yourself over there, where the wolves will be certain to pick you off first." It's a survival thing, hardwired into our species, and some people are just lucky enough to be able to override it better.

A lot of the thrust of this thread seems to me to be "I'm fine with this! What's the matter with *them*?" Which isn't really fair, or helpful. People feel things with different intensities, and you can't say "You shouldn't feel this way."

Which is why I look askance at the Plums rejection letter. I think a good rejection letter would try to put some boundaries on the forseen range of responses to it--try to be as clear as possible, and not cruel if the object is to be gentle. Isn't poetry, though, prized for having multiple meanings? And something as ambiguous as the plum rejection poem, headed into an environment where it is highly unlikely to be received joyfully, can't possibly be expected to result in a non-cruel outcome, right?

And as I read the plum rejection, it seems to me it's meant to be humorous... Which is terrible, in my opinion, as "humorous" in today's society is generally equated with "trivial". I would read that rejection as "We think you shouldn't sweat this rejection. It's no big deal." Which is, again, telling another person what they should be feeling... Without even having the decency of offering any evidence that that particular rejection is not worth sweating, a la "there were 217 competing bits of writing this month" or "I wish I could have published this."

Humor, as mentioned higher in the thread, is incredibly tricky; and in a "editor rejecting a manuscript" situation, it would take an incredible caliber of humor to be "laughing with you" instead of "laughing at you." (Though, somehow, "your enemies paid us to reject all of your stuff" is crazy enough that I'd love to get it.) So all-in-all, I think the plum rejection is a neat thing to consider, but in very poor taste to enact.

#110 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 01:44 AM:

"We're not laughing AT you; we're laughing NEAR you."

I can forgive slush-pile readers for snarkiness, but again, there's a difference between snarking at the pizza party with your colleagues, and passing on that snarky to the writer. Even if their stuff is tripe, it's just unprofessional.

#111 ::: elise matthesen ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 03:14 AM:

Dang it, Teresa, I should know better than to think it's possible to "just take a quick look at Making Light before bedtime." Hmpf. Attractive nuisance. Makes me want to ply you with yarn and citrus fruit. The reason I wrote, though, was to thank you for mentioning Kenneth Koch. I liked that rejection note a great deal too. Sending someone off to read Koch is probably doing them a favor, if they really mean to write poetry.

My favorite bit out of any Koch poem is from "Fresh Air" and it's the bit about the roses. I understand the urge to protect the roses.

Well, cheerio and good night and all that. And thanks. Oh, and is there really going to be a Making Book II? If so, wantwantwant!

#112 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 03:38 AM:

Madeline:
A lot of the thrust of this thread seems to me to be "I'm fine with this! What's the matter with *them*?" Which isn't really fair, or helpful. People feel things with different intensities, and you can't say "You shouldn't feel this way."

Hmm. Good point. I think I should clarify that my objection isn't to whatever reaction you have in private; if people were doing this rejection-letter, ah, deconstruction on some private writers' list where we wouldn't be hearing about it, no objections to that. It does seem less than courteous to have a whole publicly accessible website devoted to this.

Of course, I suppose no one is holding one down at gunpoint and forcing one to read the entries, either, but...

#113 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 03:56 AM:

"The lesson I take from all this is that we should turn slush around faster than we do. The wait makes everything too agonizing, and the responses too important."

I'm so glad you wrote that. I think there's even more to the turnaround time problem than you've yet written. The scary question that a beginning novelist might reasonably ask (but, I gather, so far hasn't) is, "How many years of unsolicited submissions does it typically take to make the first sale of a novel, going only by unsolicited submssion?" I suspect it's a median of three to five. Mind you, that doesn't count work the that doesn't meet the author's standards and never submits. Another problem of slow turnaround: with the no-multiple submission rule and very few agents willing to take on an unpublished novelist, it could easily take years to get even a decent first novel published.

This all sounds perfectly awful. Do I have it right?

#114 ::: Christine ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 04:32 AM:

After reading all this, I'm more convinced than ever I want to be an editor (or even slushpile sorter!) than a writer. I wonder how one goes about becoming an editor... (I am actually serious)

#115 ::: Deirdre Saoirse Moen ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 04:46 AM:

Silly me, I've always assumed that there was a perfectly valid reason for rejecting my work.

Yeah, sometimes it can peeve me when I get a rejection that seems out of left field. I'm not an annoying git about it, though.

Like being an actor or a salesman, rejection is a part of the business.

#116 ::: fionna ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:51 AM:

>What does seem unfair to authors, though, is the
>(unwritten?) rule that they submit manuscripts
>to publishers in series rather than in parallel.
>What's the justification for this practice?

Editor A really, really does not want to deal with a letter coming back the other way saying "Thanks for buying this, but I already sold it to Editor B."

So what? Potential Employer A really doesn't want to hear from a job candidate "Thanks for the job offer but I'm going to work for your competitor Employer B instead" either, but if I'm looking for a new job I'm going to apply to at least three or four jobs at the same time, maybe more.

I'm not going to be submitting anything for publication, so my opinion is just so much waste of bandwidth really, but the pre-published author and editor relationship has a serious power imbalance that I find a bit off-putting.

#117 ::: Craig ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 06:48 AM:

Theresa,

As a novelist who lurks and browses your column regularly, can I just say thanks for it? This post is just wonderful. In fact, I'm wondering if you would mind me using an excerpt of it in a university class I teach?

Thanks!

#118 ::: Nigel Quinlan ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 07:29 AM:

Blimey, I never get mad at rejections. Slightly downhearted, yes, but I'm grateful that they took the trouble to read it (if they did, some letters make it clear they didn't, and that's okay too, I shoulda done my research better) and if they offer constructive criticism, I want to buy them a drink and if they say something nice I want to invite them home for dinner. And submitting stuff is a real chore. I have a job a wife and a child. My printer's dodgy, funds for postage aren't always easy to come by. Working out who to post what to is a slog and the process of filling and addressing and posting the envelopes can be daunting. But this is what I do, with the help and support of my lovely wife. I, we, choose to do it. Nobody owes me a single goddamn solitary thing, except maybe common courtesy, and the bare minimum for that is the form letter, and that's fine. I'll keep doing it till I get accepted or drop dead and in the meantime I'll try and get on with the next book because it's better than the last.

Taking it personally is going to leave you sad and wounded and bitter and that's got to take the fun out of life.

#119 ::: Louise ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 07:36 AM:

I've had rejections a-plenty, and I've never been that upset about them. It's disappointing, but editors aren't trying to make me cry.

Next time I submit something, I'm tempted to include a separate note encouraging them not to feel bad if they reject me. And a chocolate frog.

#120 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 08:34 AM:


I get such lovely rejections that I put them at front and center on my home page. My favorite one remains:

"I was very impressed with "Amazed," which I found to be well written and with great characters. I was especially impressed with the premise, which is highly original. However, it's not right for (Professional Print Publication)."

Sure, we have all gotten scissored-out eight-to-the-page twelve-times-photocopied abrupt ones, but thinking of the "reader-view" of the process does rather put things into perspective.

Thanks for an enlightening article and the enlightening replies.

#121 ::: Liz Gorinsky ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 08:51 AM:

Figuring a few small comments from the person who physically processes the general Tor slush might be in order...

Tony Zbaraschuk wrote: "Editor A really, really does not want to deal with a letter coming back the other way saying 'Thanks for buying this, but I already sold it to Editor B.'"
Tim Walters wrote: "That doesn't sound like much of an imposition compared to spending months or years finding out if a story or book is publishable, when you could do it in six weeks."
fionna wrote: "So what? Potential Employer A really doesn't want to hear from a job candidate "Thanks for the job offer but I'm going to work for your competitor Employer B instead' either, but if I'm looking for a new job I'm going to apply to at least three or four jobs at the same time, maybe more."

     For the most part, I'm vastly sympathetic to the dismay of those authors who want to know *now* that the first four publishers on their submission list will end up rejecting their work and the fifth will fall head-over-heels for it. However, I feel compelled to point out that the presumed reasoning behind this taboo is well-intentioned: it's not there to protect the publisher from being denied the opportunity to publish something they've unearthed, but to require the author to put some stock into their submission choices. Most authors would be pretty dismayed if their second-choice publisher ended up contacting them weeks after they've signed a contract with their fifth choice.
     Of course, it's been a scant few weeks since my first experience falling in love with a book, only to find that the author had already sold it to a much smaller press she was largely dissatisfied with--so I may be a little bit biased. :) In any event, as others have mentioned, if one feels that one's work is good enough that he or she shouldn't have to be subject to the multiple submission exclusion, then he is perfectly entitled to try finding an agent that can get him around it entirely.

mythago wrote:
"re Holly M.'s comment, I think part of the problem is that (unless one is part of the Literary Scene, and thus probably published already) the editors are unknowns. In a writer's group, you KNOW that Person A has real issues with strong female characters and Person B gets bored if there isn't an action sequence every ten pages, so you mentally adjust for their criticism.
"As a writer, you have no way to know what an editor's preferences and issues are. There's no way to know that the editor who rejected your manuscript is just plain sick of mission-to-Mars stories, no matter how good yours was, or that the name of the main character is the same as his nutbar ex's."

     Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic about this, but I hope that most professional editors can recognize a good book regardless of whether they object to a few superficial details or it's a subgenre they're not interested in. At Tor, we try to keep the needs of the entire house in mind and think things like, "There's no place for a mission-to-Mars book on *my* list, but this mission-to-Mars book is good enough that I'm going to pass it along to Editor X," or, at the very least, send back a rejection that says, "It's not what we need right now, but please send us your next book."

Teresa wrote: "The lesson I take from all this is that we should turn slush around faster than we do. The wait makes everything too agonizing, and the responses too important."
     For the record, aside from a few things on the "Second Look" pile and those that went directly to my or Patrick's or Teresa's piles, we're about 2/3 of the way through the slush from September '03. That means we're working a little bit above the recommended "query after four months" time, but safely below the desired upper limit of six months. This information is provided not to detract from the slush pile's legendary enormity, but to let all of you out there know that we're trying our best. :)

FranW wrote: "Hey, how 'bout doing one of those contests of the the 'guess how many M&M's are in this glass jar' type? You could do 'how many mss are in this slushpile?' with a photo of your office. All entries must be accompanied by a box of chocolates or a ball of yarn. Winner gets a free line-edit of their first chapter. :-D"
     We *could* do that... but do you really want any of us taking time out of our slush-reading to figure out how many submissions we've got in there? :)

#122 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 08:56 AM:

Regarding rejecting the manuscript, not the person, I've read that sometimes editors can actually reject a person -- if they feel that the writer won't be easy to work with (for example from the impression they got from the cover letter), they're more likely to reject a borderline story than ask for revisions. Is this true?

BTW, I remembered an encouraging rejection I got a long time ago from Amazing. It was one of my first stories, and it was badly written, and got "stereotypical characters, setting, and/or situation" ticked on the rejection form (possibly the best rejection form I've seen). I expressed concern in the cover letter than my English wasn't good enough because it wasn't my native language, and the editorial assistant (Lisa Neuberger) added in handwriting "PS -- your grasp of English is excellent!"

This really encouraged me to continue writing in English. I just wanted to say that while rejections are just rejections, it does matter to the writer what and how they say it. The Amazing tick list rejection was very helpful to me as a beginning writer, since it not only told me what was wrong with my story, but also highlighted other problems I might check my manuscripts for (which was very useful in the pre-internet-tip-page days), and that personal comment was encouraging.

(BTW, since most people sign their real names here, my name is Eyal Teler, but I sign "ET" on most forums. No lack of respect meant. I hope that one day people who see ET will think of me immediately. :)

#123 ::: John Darrin ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 09:01 AM:

“I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me, they were delicious; so sweet and so cold.”

Two sentences that could have come from some generic romance novel or a post-it note on the refrigerator. And yet when a famous author/poet fragments them, seemingly at random, they become arguably the most famous modern short poem.

This Is Just to Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

You can get different meanings out, ones that you believe are important or insightful, because there were none put in. There are no guidelines, no clues, no vision, no limitations.

You can see where this originated. He ate the damn plums and felt guilty about it and wrote an apology. It is our expectations that there is more to this, some deeper truth, that make it meaningful, not the author’s content.

He was greedy, guilty, and then contrite.

My own opinion, in absolute seriousness, is that this Ogden Nash ditty is in fact the most important short poem.

“Candy is dandy
but liquor is quicker.”

Think about that for a few moments. In just seven words, two rhymes, he exposes and examines one of the most important human conditions – the relationship of men and women.

“Candy is dandy”. Yes it is. A thoughtful gift, obtained with effort and offered with affection, a token of feelings, and the result is hoped to be intimacy.

“But liquor is quicker”. Why bother? Get the bitch drunk and have your way. And then you’re outta there. William Carlos could learn from this.

So I offer this:

On the Craft of Poetry and the Art of Publishing
With Credits to Ogden Nash
and Apologies to William Carlos Williams
By John Darrin

Insight
Is all right

But fame
is the game

I have offered
the words
that were in
my mind

that I wrote
and was
saving
for you.

Forgive me
I cannot resist
the draw of fame
and fortune.

#124 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 09:09 AM:

BTW, looking back at the Amazing rejection, I laughed at:

"[] Outre is not the same as obscene; wish fulfillment is not storytelling. Please choose a market with a more lax attitude toward the possibility of offending its readers, and/or consider seeking the counsel of a trained professional."

I wonder what prompted putting that in the form rejection -- especially the last part.

#125 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 09:13 AM:

Just to clarify -- it's one of the things that can be ticked. I didn't have that ticked. :)

#126 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 09:36 AM:

Liz -- presumably the reject-immediately slush that doesn't go into anyone's pile is part of the 95% of slush that falls below Teresa's "10". I'd respectfully suggest that if it would be possible to speed up the time on the 5% that might possibly make it, that might make an even bigger difference.

Watership Down famously got 30 rejections. It would have come about the "10" mark, so if that had happened now, with each publisher taking a year or more to consider the almost-there and the not-for-us, it would have come out not in 1973 but last year.

(Yes, I'm procrastinating on my galleys, but they're nearly done, really!)

#127 ::: Rajan Khanna ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 09:43 AM:

I don't envy editors.

As an unpublished writer I'm just amazed by the reactions of some of the people on that site. I've developed something of a rejection collection, and they have all been disappointing, but I can't recall ever being angry about any of them. I suppose it has something to do with expectations - in my case it's been hammered into my head that the odds are against you being published unless your manuscript is very good. The rejections that specifically point out the weaknesses of the story are the ones that I value the most because they help me improve and learn to recognize those points in the future.

I do think Charlie Stross has a point to. There is this romantic image of the writer that I myself have fallen victim to, despite my attempts to banish that image from my mind. It's rather seductive, but not very realistic.

#128 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 09:43 AM:

I haven't read any fiction slush either, but I think you're onto something with the analogy to grading. As a TA, on any homework I see so many permutations of the same error that, until recently, I was often driven to sarcasm.

Last semester, after grading an Intro to Flight homework in which a student told me that the airplane was flying at -10000 ft above sea level, I wrote a response ("Was it flying in a mine shaft?") that hurt the student. I was trying to be funny and remind him to use common sense when solving engineering problems, but it didn't come off that way. The whole class had been getting the problem wrong, and I was frustrated with them, which made me overreact.

One of the best moves I've made as a faculty member was to switch to electronic submission of lab reports last year. I had the students email their reports in, marked them up with the "Track Changes" feature of Word, and then sent them back by email.

This was a huge improvement, because after reading the tenth lab report in which the verb tense switches abruptly from past to future to present in the space of one "paragraph," I find myself writing "Mother of God, pick a tense and STICK WITH IT!!!" in the margins. And it's really hard to find a way to turn that into constructive criticism.

Doing them electronically, I can type in whatever snarky thing I want, feel happy for a moment, then delete it and type in something constructive.

#129 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 10:49 AM:

Andy and Chad -

I handled the high school freshmen with kid gloves - a task made monumentally easy by the fact that my last day of teaching them was a week ahead of me during the grading. I no longer had to worry about teaching them English in addition to the math I had already discovered they lacked and the science I was contracted to teach. Although I still think back on those essays and fight back tears at the state of public education in America.

The college freshmen received a little mercy as it was likely that they had never written a scientific report before. However, I did not take kindly to the students who tried to pull a fast one on me and thought I wouldn't notice when they cleverly reworded their lab partner's report or just submitted the exact same report. By the time I got to the college juniors and seniors, I showed absolutely no mercy - especially because they were given an opportunity to have me read their drafts and suggest revisions. I do like the electronic submission idea, but I'd need to get in the hang of typing my comments. I'm stuck on reading paper versions when it comes to grading/revising/etc.

Thinking back, I'd gladly deal with any kind of college grading over high school grading. The latter can be so heart-wrenching when you realize the magnitude of Things Unlearned. I wonder if there's a similar comparison in slush reading? Perhaps the submissions in the action genre are notoriously bad compared to science fiction or something? As in, "Make way! He reads wannabe Clancy slush! He gets first dibs on the buffet!"

#130 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 10:58 AM:

Fionna asks:

"So what? Potential Employer A really doesn't want to hear from a job candidate 'Thanks for the job offer but I'm going to work for your competitor Employer B instead' either, but if I'm looking for a new job I'm going to apply to at least three or four jobs at the same time, maybe more."

The so what is that if you piss off an editor by not following guidelines, maybe the next manuscript you send him or her gets stuffed into a round file.

#131 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 11:04 AM:

Jane wrote: Melissa, as a one time editor of children's books, I cannot tell how many letters with mss. begin "My children all love this story. . ."

Actually, we see the adult variant of this all the time on slush submissions (i.e., my wife/husband/mother/best friend/SO loves this book). It's one of the most commonly used phrases in cover letters.

Here's the thing, which I'm sure Jane knows but I'm mentioning here for the benefit of others: Whether the identified adoring reader is adult or child, this sentence, appearing anywhere in a cover letter, is the mark of an amateur.

> And probably slight and sentimental are the two bugaboos of children's picture books.

As a reader of many children's books, due to the child in my life, I completely and totally agree that sentimentality and slightness are chronic problems, even in published works.

I think that my issue is less with the actual letter, which may, as you say, have done the writer a favor, than with the idea that the submission was received through a friend and was rejected more bluntly than such a submission method called for. As an over-the-transom rejection, it was fine, but given the (possibly slight, but we don't know) personal connection, I would have expected--and I personally would have written--a softer rejection.

And you know I've loved you for years . . . so much so that I have never given you any of the stories I've written for my kid (who was busting my chops just yesterday because she feels, quite rightly, that I owe her a story. I give her one for Hanukah every year but I discovered partway in on the 2003 story that I had begun at the wrong point in the plot, and so I've had to start it all over again . . . . Seven-year-olds don't like to wait . . . .)

#132 ::: dargie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 11:18 AM:

Thank you! I've gotten my share of rejections in the past and the only one that bothered me was the one in which the editor scolded me because she thought the content was Not Very Nice. (It was actually fairly tame, but oh well, right?)

I've had some terse form letters, and some lovely personal ones. I take the former for what they're worth and the latter I cherish because it meant someone felt that I was good enough to encourage.

I hope writers take your comments to heart. Thanks again for taking the time.

#133 ::: Tamara Siler Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 11:40 AM:

I've received a few rejections (from agents and publishers) and actually enjoyed receiving every one. Not once did I feel slighted or maligned, not once did I take it personal.

Rejections are all part of the process, afterall, and we're trying to sell a product. It's a business.

I guess some people forget that and get lost in the illusion.

#134 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 11:42 AM:

Since the question was sort of implied, here's a story about nonfiction slush. It's not for bedtime reading, though, unless you like a combination of boredom and sheer terror. Scrivener's Error, 09 Dec 03

Ah, slush-killing at a law review! Been there, done that, and have the T-shirt, though it wasn't a primary part of my job. Yeah, that sounds about right.

(The wackiness of having student-edited law reviews is another topic.)

#135 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 11:50 AM:

Chad wrote, about marking in Word, using Track Changes, Doing them electronically, I can type in whatever snarky thing I want, feel happy for a moment, then delete it and type in something constructive.

That's really, really dangerous, but I imagine you're on top of it. We had an editor who used to do that very thing with authors' mss. She was fired after she sent the snarky copy back to the author.

Mind you, one of the nice things is that after the third time you type the same comment, you can simply copy'n'paste it, or record a macro that will insert "tense confusion---remember that you can write in the past tense or the present tense, but not both" with a keystroke. I'm rather fond of that feature for marking.

The comparison of editing, and, in particular slush reading with marking is not especially useful. In fact, I think it's where a lot of novice authors get stung. When I mark student papers, it's my job to provide useful criticism. When I edit, it's my job to jolly well make it correct---I don't write "wrong word" in the margins, I simply change the word, if the correct word is obvious (the au. has written "All the children accept Billy had cheese sandwiches for for lunch; Billy had mortadella." and of course meant accept.) If the fix isn't as obvious, I may query it, and I always suggest a fix. But, that's copy editing, after someone's bought the ms. If I'm reading a pile of stuff to figure out whether it's worth passing along, I'm not concentrating on what it will take to make the ms better. I'm not there to educate the author. I'm simply there to assess the ms using the House's criteria, my own editorial judgement, and the time available to me. So, while it would be nice to have the time to write a nice, personal, constructive cover letter to every author, outlining the shortcomings in their writing and explaining how their work didn't meet my needs, that's not my job, and if I'm to read the other hundred-and-eleven mss in anything like a timely manner, I simply can't take that time.

Oh, and another thing:
Several people have addressed Remus's ... it's difficult not to lose respect for one or more of the editors involved. Is the 'nice' editor an idiot, or is the 'mean' editor an asshole? Or is the entire profession just messed up? These are the things that go through authors' heads when editors violently disagree.

Here's my take on it:

Find five editors who both like and can eat pizza. Put them in a room. Ask them what kind of pizza they want. You'll probably get five different answers. Ask those same editors how they take their coffee. You'll get five different answers. Ask them what books they like to read. You'll probably get five different answers, though there may be some overlap. Ask them what they look for in a MS, and initially, they'll all say something like "strong writing, strong plot, interesting premise, good characterisation, something I can take to the publishing and editorial boards and get them behind..." then get them discussing what that means....and you'll be there for the next good while (which is what you needed all that pizza for).

Editors are people who exercise their own taste and judgement in acquiring and midwifing books. They have training and experience in this. Taste, however, is individual and impossible to determine. So, five different editors may say five different things about your ms. On two different days the same editor may say two different things about your ms. This is a hazard of working in a creative industry staffed by people. This assessment doesn't even take into account the stated mandate of the house, imprint, or list---what may be a really good bit of hard sf will be completely unpublishable for an imprint that specializes in fantasy. We try really hard to be objective and equitable, and to give every ms a fair reading---that's why publishers have selection criteria. But we're human beings and all different, and we have different taste and likes and dislikes.

That's the difficulty and the glory inherent in working in a creative field governed by human beings and the fancies of the marketplace.

#136 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 12:01 PM:

Here is a PartiallyClips that is apposite.

#137 ::: Susan Marie Groppi ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 12:01 PM:

"[] Outre is not the same as obscene; wish fulfillment is not storytelling. Please choose a market with a more lax attitude toward the possibility of offending its readers, and/or consider seeking the counsel of a trained professional."
I wonder what prompted putting that in the form rejection -- especially the last part.

As someone who's been reading short-fiction slush on and off for six or seven years, I have no trouble imagining what prompted them to put that in the form rejection. It's even more striking when you get a lot of stories from the same author who appears to be working out the same Big Issues. This isn't always a bad thing--there's at least one author I can think of whose work I love but who clearly is using writing as a way of taking a particular set of inner demons out for a walk--but more often than not, I don't know. More often than not you end up reading through the story thinking, great, Author X is still upset that no one sat with him at the lunchtable in eighth grade.

#138 ::: Scott William Carter ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 12:17 PM:

Thanks, Teresa, for a wonderful post. I always appreciate these insightful glimpses into the editorial mind.

I've just recently begun to have some success selling my work, and one of the things I learned away on the way was this: writers should focus on what they can control. And the corollary to this is that a writer should focust *most* on what they can control *best.* For me, this came down to how much I produce, how much I learn, and how much I mail. Most everything else resides outside my sphere of influence. It's amazing how much of a difference this simple philosophy made.

By the way, reading your site falls under "how much I learn." :)

#139 ::: CindyLynnSpeer ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 12:36 PM:

I am so posting this to the writer's forum I manage...it reminded me, thankfully, of the other point of view. I used to be an editor. We recieved things from all over the world, and some of it was wonderous, some of it cool but unusuable, some drech. Of course, that's just opinion, but that's all you have, well that and the guidelines, to help you decide. As a book reviewer, I've tried to, as I did before, combine opinion with an honest critique of whether the book works or not...because opinion is so dang subjective, really, in the end, it doesn't matter whether you really liked it or not, but whether the book/manuscript is actually good or not.

But I'm also a writer. So I understand that rejections hurt...I groused slightly on my own blog about some rejections I recieved, (and have since felt a little guilty about) but always tried to be careful to say that I apprieciated the work the editor went to. I may not agree with what they say, or, ick, I might and may decide to go back and fix it in the ms, but still, they read it, they didn't like it, and they tried to be nice about it. Well, mostly.

Some of the rejection letters Teresa used as examples would have put me in the mood to celebrate. And, participating in a site like that sounds a bit like career suicide, doesn't it?

So any way, thank you for this post. Very, very cool...it reminded me of something I shouldn't have forgotten, and will help me deal more gracefully with future rejections. :-)

#140 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 12:36 PM:

Teresa, your post was illuminating, filled with psychological insight and empathy, and entertaining as all hell, yet I kept coming back to the desire to dash off a story with a title like "Doc Fanthorpe and the Reeking Havoc."

As for Ogden Nash vs. Walter Carlos Williams, we've seen who got the postage stamp.

#141 ::: Allison ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 12:40 PM:

Wow. I'm a writer, and those rejection letter responses just boggle my mind. I'm a member of Evolution, an online writing group, and most of us would be dancing in joy to receive some of those rejection letters. Certainly not wailing and gnashing our teeth.

But maybe it's just me. When I get a rejection that's personalized, I'm damned excited. When I get a form rejection, I usually think, "Your loss. Next!" I have faith in my work. I have faith that it's just a matter of time until I find a publisher who gets as excited about my work as I do.

Someone needs to give these writers a clue.

Thanks for the entry. I'm now thoroughly amused. :)

#142 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 12:47 PM:

Jennie, I meant the comparison in the sense of groups of folks handing their work over to you for evaluation - in whatever form. It's one way to help those of us not in a position to read slush to understand at least in part what it must be like to read slush. Anyone who's ever had to grade a stack of writing assignments should be able to translate enough of the experience to help them prepare their manuscript so as to be higher up in Teresa's categories. But, as Teresa has demonstrated in numerous posts, writers tend to forget quite a bit of their experiences when The Novel is involved, so I suppose the comparison really wasn't useful. :)

#143 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 01:00 PM:

It's taken me a few days to realize how incredibly useful this post is going to be to me. If I ever do write a novel, I'll use this as a checklist before submitting it -- with translations, of course. For example, #11 becomes "Is this the right place to submit this?"

There are some that aren't amenable to this process. For example, I can't see what I could do about #13, and I just don't even understand #12. What is "writing the wrong book"? Is that where e.g. the selected protagonist is a less interesting character than the sidekick, and the same tale would be better told with a focus on the sidekick? If so, what other ways are there to write the wrong book? If not, what does it mean to "write the wrong book"?

Anybody who can answer that would be helping me greatly. I really need this checklist, and #12 is really scaring me.

Teresa, I think the phenomena of guys who aren't satisfied with anything short of putting out and of authors not satisfied with anything short of acceptance are related by more than general feel; I would conjecture that both come from a sense of entitlement. Being in lust and wanting your book published are both uncomfortable sensations, and some people believe that their discomfort obligates others to relieve it. Not so, of course, but they sure do get pissed off. Someone needs to hit them with a clue bat.

Having said that, I hope I remember it when I start getting rejections (as I inevitably will).

The "submissions from friends" thing brings to mind a dilemma of mine (strictly a thought-experiment, since I've yet to write anything submittable to any market where my friends are editors).

Teresa: suppose I wrote a novel. I wouldn't submit it anywhere unless I thought it was at least decent. Suppose I've gone through the list and it passes on all counts (by my admittedly-possibly-delusional judgement). If it's a plum, I'd like to give Tor first crack at it; if it's a barely-saleable dog, I don't want to burden you with it OR put you in the situation of having to tell me "Christopher, you know I love you, right? But..."

The trouble is, a dog looks a lot like a plum to its daddy.

Of course, if it's really terrible the slush readers will spray it with deodorizer and send it back, and you'll never even know I did it. I'm assuming it gets past that point. And I suppose you could recuse yourself to avoid the whole issue. But if I wrote a novel, would you want me to submit it to Tor at all? Or would that be a social transgression on its very face?

#144 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 01:00 PM:

A few things:

Teresa: Yes, on the time thing. F&SF's rejections tend to be to the point, without much in the way of feedback. Other markets have given me really nice rejection letters, filled with compliments and advice. F&SF is always the first market that I send appropriate stories to, as their turn-around is something like two weeks.

As far as to why publishers can get away with frowning on sim-subs, while simultaniously submitting resumes is standard practice, it's worth considering how little of a standard publishing house's list comes off of the slushpile. It's something on the order of a title every couple of years, or less. This means that there's a real power imbalance -- publishing houses will not be upset if their rules mean fewer people send manuscripts in.

#145 ::: Jae Walker ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 01:55 PM:

Thank you for an entertaining and enlightening view of the reader's side of the desk! I find myself *wanting* to be a slushpile reader -- and I've done enough editing that I ought to know better. I should probably seek medical help.

#146 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 02:23 PM:

(I haven't yet read the 144 comments on this post -- I'm a little behind -- so this comment is to the main post anyhow.)

I have to say -- as a writer, I emphasize -- that I just do not get the attitude shown in the quotes. Yes, sure, obviously if I send something out and it's rejected, I'm going to disagree with the editor, or I wouldn'ta sent it out in the first place. But for Christ's sake! (Or anyone else's!) I danced with glee when I got a personalized rejection from F&SF. (This is not exaggeration. I did a little jig on my way back from the mailbox.) I have a printout of my latest rejection from ChiZine that I'm planning on hanging up by my desk, if I ever remember to buy bluetac. (It was a pretty darn encouraging rejection.) Am I just really weird as writers go, or are these people just especially vitriolic and bitter?

I'll have to peruse the site at some point. After I'm done reading the 145 comments on this thread...

#147 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 02:46 PM:

Hey, can I bore everyone with a Cool Editor story?

Back in my teenage writing days, I wrote up an article for Dragon magazine. In retrospect it was probably quite lame (though I was capable of spelling, grammar, and similar basics). Roger Moore, the then-editor, not only took the trouble to write a polite rejection letter, but actually photocopied the editorial comments between himself and another editor and sent them to me, by way of specific criticism.

He did this, as I recall, through THREE iterations of my revising the article and sending it back in.

I never did sell them the article, but after that act of kindness, I will happily suck up all the checkbox form letter rejection slips in the world. Because editors AREN'T sadistic monsters; they're people who love writing, but they are also people who need sleep and rest breaks and time to water the plants occasionally. If they don't send me a long apologia for not buying my stuff, that's perfectly understandable.

#148 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 03:09 PM:

Some more thoughts

Jo Walton wrote:
It's rejection. Your work is being rejected for not being good enough. This does objectively suck and people can't be expected to enjoy it

I don't expect to enjoy it (actually, obviously I've had exceptions, but I'm sure some of that is still being unpublished as far as fiction goes), but... I don't really see it as being told my writing isn't "good enough". I see it as being told my writing doesn't appeal to that editor on that day for that story. Sometimes, I even end up understanding why. (I just had a short story of mine brutalized critiqued by some folks on my writing site and in retrospect I can see why it got rejected.)

I may also just be unusually thick-skinned. I don't like getting rejections; I'd love to get something published. But it doesn't really weigh on me, either. (It certainly doesn't inspire the kind of vitriol quoted, but, well, give me time....)

Anyhow. I do get what you're saying, I guess I just look at it differently, so far.

Keith wrote:
I get miffed for all of about thirty three seconds and then realize that it isn't personal. These people don't know me. I'm a stranger asking an impertinant question of a busy profeshoinal. I'm lucky they don't send howlers.

Yes. That! What Keith said!

Confidential to Steve Whan: Boy, are you in the wrong place!

Julian Flood wrote:
Shouting 'Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! at the envelope helps.

I giggled helplessly at this. Luckily, I sit in a corner at work...

And, as several people have pointed out: an editor deciding whether or not to reject your story is a person expressing an opinion. One person. One opinion. You could write an amazing story that your critique group loved and your friends think should be engraved in stone, and you could still get a rejection because the editor doesn't think it fits their theme or just doesn't happen to like stories about the topic or type of character you include.

That's why I value the rejections with comments so much, of course. Where it seems to be a matter of taste, I still learn what that editor seems to like, and where they point out flaws, I at least have something to think about in terms of my writing.

Now if I could just get over the waiting...

#149 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 03:21 PM:

Randolph asked: The scary question that a beginning novelist might reasonably ask (but, I gather, so far hasn't) is, "How many years of unsolicited submissions does it typically take to make the first sale of a novel, going only by unsolicited submssion?" I suspect it's a median of three to five. Mind you, that doesn't count work the that doesn't meet the author's standards and never submits. Another problem of slow turnaround: with the no-multiple submission rule and very few agents willing to take on an unpublished novelist, it could easily take years to get even a decent first novel published.

This all sounds perfectly awful. Do I have it right?

It's much worse than your summary suggests.

In my case, I began writing when I was 12. I began submitting short stories when I was 17. I sold my first short story (to Interzone) when I was 21. But I didn't get my first actual contract for a novel (as opposed to a short story collection or a non-fiction book) until I was 36. Even though I first tried writing one when I was 15, and tried submitting them from age 18 onwards.

With the cool collected benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I started submitting novels way too early. I should have stuck to short stories 'til my mid-twenties. But hey, we all make mistakes, right? I just hope I didn't waste too much editorial time in those early years.

#150 ::: sundre ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 03:27 PM:

Rejection is strange, to say the least. The last time I sent out some short works to a magazine, it was only a few weeks later that I started second guessing and went to reread and edit them for resubmission. By the time the letter got back to me, the crushing sense of rejection was eclipsed by a relieved "Oh, thanks be, they're sane after all."

I've edited essays from grade school age relatives and university friends, and my parent's masters theses. When done face-to-face, it becomes like a tutoring session. This is wrong, this is why it's wrong, these are your options to fix it. This is unclear, what are you trying to say? Okay, write that down. This quote weakens your argument. And so forth. The results are usually good, but it can take a very long time. The idea of trying to do something similar with each book-length fiction manuscript, by letter, stretches possibility. There's no way that editors have that much time - they have to spend that time on the pieces they actually intend to accept. Slush readers have my admiration just for not being jaded enough to set my stuff on fire after reading drivel for days. I am reasonably happy with my small but growing collection of rejections. I learned a little from most of them. And I haven't stopped writing yet.

#151 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 03:37 PM:

Thank you for all that you have written. I wrote a rather long diatribe in response, but I decided . . .you guys have enough to read, I better not distract you.

But it is very nice to know that threads like these, both educational and amusing, exist.

#152 ::: Danny Adams ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 04:05 PM:

"Rejection isn't personal": One of those truths that we accept intellectually, but have a hard time taking to heart.

For me, as with others in this thread, it did take becoming an editor: more specifically, the managing editor of a small-press "mainstream literary" magazine. We never had more than three-hundred subscribers and only paid in copy, but on average we still received at least one-hundred subs each month. I can't imagine the slush pile a major outfit may have at any given time, and any comments I receive above and beyond "Sorry, we can't use it" are like manna to me.

#153 ::: fionna ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 04:28 PM:

Liz Gorindky wrote: For the most part, I'm vastly sympathetic to the dismay of those authors who want to know *now* that the first four publishers on their submission list will end up rejecting their work and the fifth will fall head-over-heels for it. However, I feel compelled to point out that the presumed reasoning behind this taboo is well-intentioned: it's not there to protect the publisher from being denied the opportunity to publish something they've unearthed, but to require the author to put some stock into their submission choices. Most authors would be pretty dismayed if their second-choice publisher ended up contacting them weeks after they've signed a contract with their fifth choice.

Very good point, I guess I hadn't thought of that. I guess the real difference between the job market analogy I made and the publishing industry slush-pile is that the potential employee is probably applying to a vacancy that is advertised and can be guaranteed to be processed in a timely manner, whilst the slush-pile supplier is applying on spec - *and*, once a book is sold, it can't be resold, unlike the employee's time - he or she can always change jobs in the future.

Apologies if these points have already been made. It's late at night here, I only just got home, and it's time to retire, so no time to catch up on the comments I missed.

#154 ::: Elayne Riggs ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 04:31 PM:

Very amusing and long post, Teresa (I love your long posts!), but really, it seems to boil down to: many of us writers are too damn self-centered and sensitive and have a false sense of entitlement. :) (Our obsession with me-me-me could explain why we sometimes don't get refs like the riff on that Williams poem, which I'd not previously encountered.)

It's rejection. Your work is being rejected for not being good enough. This does objectively suck and people can't be expected to enjoy it.

Jo, I think Teresa's examples made quite clear that a number of these rejections had nothing to do with "not good enough." As I think the assumption you make here is from the POV of the rejectee, I'm afraid I don't find it terribly objective.

Honestly, if people can't handle rejections with any sort of objectivity or common sense, they should do what I do - self-publish (blogs, apazines, etc.) and/or write on an amateur or for-charity basis. It's easy enough to be published if you do stuff for charity - I've completed exactly four short comic book stories, and all four have been published in charity books.

#155 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 04:46 PM:

Ilona: The only cure from rejection is the realization that one's identity is separate from one's product. Unfortunately, easier said than done.

Especially when people keep getting told to write what they know.

154 comments, too many to read without glazing over, but I've gone paralytic with anxiety about being rejected. Which may be why I haven't submitted anything anywhere (or, er, written enough to choose from to submit...). Like a cross between rejection fear and the impostor syndrome.

I see a lot of rejections though, at work (a science journal; I'm the editorial assistant), and the author's responses if they appeal it are remarkably well-mannered and rational. There's only been a very few instances of frothing rage and the decision. But probably this area of publishing is different, being somewhat specialized (Jonathan v. P. might know, from what I remember of his CV).

At the same time, this post has made something go click. If something I start writing today ends up published, I'll have Teresa (and the commenters) to thank, I think.

May have been said already up there (it's pages and pages, I haven't read it all), but if nothing else a rejection letter is proof that you've tried. ('course, now I have to try.)

#156 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:28 PM:

I think one thing we need to remember is that this is a buyer's market. Comparing the simultaneous submission rule to simultaneous job interviews would make sense if only one out of every several thousand (million?) people would ever get a job in their life, any job at all. Sure, we'd be disappointed if we accepted our fifth choice publisher a week before we got an acceptance from our second choice; sure, the utility of this rule goes both ways. But I think the scarcity of "slots" in a publisher's schedule helps us to accept this rule as reasonable.

The rejection that upset me the most was when an editor (not a Tor editor) who had asked for revisions on my first novel then turned around and sent me a form reject on the revised version. I felt I had bent over backwards to accommodate what this person had asked of me regarding the book, and had expressed eagerness to discuss any further changes, but...nothing. Not, "I think you misunderstood every single one of my revision suggestions," nor yet, "You did it all exactly right, but I got several more fabulous books than yours last week; sorry." Form rejects are not painful. Form rejects after edits are confusing at the very least.

#157 ::: Nevenah ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:37 PM:

Hi, Teresa. Here's a voice from Tor slush-pile readers past. I will refrain from commenting on my own experiences with Bad Novels, or even with Bad Novels by Published Authors, and instead direct my comments thusly: 1) You have, as always, produced a witty, germane and well-balanced explanation of the mysteries of the book trade and I have greatly enjoyed reading it. Thank you. 2) I have submitted very few pieces of my writing, and gotten only one rejection letter, which I found so amusing that I still remember almost all of it. It read: "We apologize for taking so long to send your poem back. It has been the subject of much debate in the office. In the end, we found the combination of sex and violence, without humor, ultimately too disturbing." So if I'd written one with sex and violence but *made it funny* that would have been better?

#158 ::: Catherine Rain ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:59 PM:

I always hear the advice, "Get an agent first, so you don't end up in the slushpile." My problem with agent-getting is that I've never even made it to the slushpile stage. Of the nine agents I queried, eight of them weren't interested in seeing any of the manuscript, and the one who did returned a rejection of the "this really isn't the sort of thing we represent" kind. (I hadn't considered the fact that my book does look like it's going to be a YA novel in the first ten pages; perhaps that doesn't type the whole book accurately and perhaps it does; at any rate this agent didn't want to see the rest of it.)

I'm left with an unpleasant choice: I may be able to simultaneously query agents, which cuts down on the waiting time, but agents don't actually have to look at my book, whereas the slushpile editors eventually do. I'm going to start submitting to slushpiles-- which, if it follows my agent experience, means that after I wait anxiously for a whole year, someone is going to look at my work, decide it's not the genre I thought it was, and toss it anyway.

That being so, I'm in favor of shorter turnaround time if possible. Loudly, screamingly, standing-in-the-bleachers-waving-a-pennant in favor of it. The biggest service you can actually do for writers, I think, is to let them know as fast as possible how they stand-- even if it means a "no" stamp instead of a letter that people are going to take badly anyway. Apparently, rejection hurts no matter how nicely it's done, but those who can get back up and brush themselves off and try again would like the freedom to do so as soon as they can.

#159 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 06:54 PM:

When a single story nets you one rejection that reads, 'Great story -- I'm sure someone will publish it, but we can't right now', then three form letters, and then one that claims you're a chimpanzee with no grasp of the english language....well, then it's difficult not to lose respect for one or more of the editors involved.

Much more amusing is when you get the same story bounced with "Strikingly original idea but you didn't do enough with it" and "Good writing but the idea is too cliched." Or when an editor complains about inconsistencies and points out that on page X the characters are wearing hats and on page Y they are bareheaded, and I go "ARRGGHH! In the first draft, they were taking off their hats on page X. What did I do when revising?" and rush to page X to find the characters were -- taking off their hats.

I still submit stuff to these markets.

It helps to consider how many stories the editor has likely bounced that day and so how much time the comments took.

Personal comments are nice. One should certainly look at the story again in their light, and see if they have a point. OTOH, concluding the editor's comments were not helpful is a perfectly valid result. So is concluding that while there is a problem there, the editor misdiagnosed it.

If two or three editors agree, they are almost certainly right about there being a problem and mostly likely right about what it is.

#160 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 07:07 PM:

From Frequently Asked Questions Answered for Beginning Writers on the SFWA site.


Q: Why did they publish other people's bad fiction and not mine?

A:The following are Damon Knight's rules:
"The other story is the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, of a certain size, a certain subject, a certain....
"In buying a bad story by a good, or established, author, the editor hopes the author will later send better.
"Your story is rejected because it's similar to another bad story previously published.
"The author of the published bad story is sleeping with the editor or is the son in-law of the publisher.
"The editor is a nitwit--or has blanked out.
"The merits of your work are not established up front when the editor is scanning.
"Your bad story is worse than you think."
#161 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 07:16 PM:

This kind of thing is why I stopped moderating a newsgroup. Essentially all we had to screen for were categories 2 and 3 on your list. But some days it seemed that everyone whose post was rejected thought that the moderator could be convinced to reconsider, and had a long and detailed argument ready. A few people never learned otherwise even after literally thousands of rejections of essentially the same material. Most were offended to some degree.

#162 ::: Devin Binger ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 07:48 PM:

Actually, there are cases of SF being rejected as too bold. Joe Haldeman's classic 'The Forever War' was originally rejected by John Campbell because Campbell couldn't imagine American women serving in combat. Of course, another publisher took it very quickly, but it does happen.

#163 ::: Katherine C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 07:50 PM:

I was shocked at some of those responses to rejection letters. I'm a writer myself and wouldn't dare to react that way. In fact, not only do I think rejection is a right of passage for most writers, I don't think I'd be stretching the truth if I said my first rejection, at thirteen, was the best thing that ever happened to me. Admittedly, I was lucky enough to have the editor respond with specfic comments on my manuscript, showing me where I was doing well and the areas in which I needed to improve. It wasn't until a couple of years and many rejections later that I realized quite how lucky I was. Too many people look at rejection in a bad light. It's not always bad. Sometime's it's extremely helpful.

#164 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 08:26 PM:

Devin - If I recall correctly, John Campbell rejected the first part of "The Forever War," a novelette or novella called "Hero." Campbell passed away relatively soon afterwards, and Ben Bova decided to publish "Hero."

So it was a case of the SAME publisher, different editors.

If my memory is correct.

I have a copy of that issue of "Analog" somewhere in the house, unless I gave it away. When I was 12 years old or so, my cousin, then in his late 20s and married, loaned me several years of Analogs from the late 60s right up until the first few issues of Bova's editorship; he never wanted them back, and I've been hanging onto them for 30 years since. One day I may sell 'em on eBay and split the proceedings with my cuz - although after 30 years of storing them for him, I'd be within my rights to keep all the money for myself as storage fees.

My cousin gave me all his cast-off sf books, the ones he didn't want. He wonders now why our tastes in sf and fantasy are 180 degrees different from each other; hell, it's because I formed my reading tastes on the stuff he didn't want to read.

#165 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 10:23 PM:

If, as implied above, typical slush fiction is that which makes the reader fall about laughing at its sheer badness within the first two pages ...

Then I have a fantasy novel to recommend to anybody who'd like to know what slush fiction is like without having to go to a publisher's office to look at manuscripts:

Eragon by Christopher Paolini, the 15-year-old from Montana.

It's that bad, it really is.

#166 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 10:36 PM:

Why I hate simultaneous subs? Because Tom's assistant hands off this manuscript that we've gotten from an agent who wants to make a deal on it fast, and so I drop everything and read it promptly, taking notes all the way through, and it's really good, in fact a hot property. Wow. Maybe we should see about acquiring it.

So I talk to Patrick, explain the book to him, and we run a P&L on it, and we maybe call in a few favors to get info on the writer and his or her previous books; and if the info's forthcoming we use it to re-tinker the P&L. This is looking interesting. We do some talking to people in Marketing, see what they think about it. We further refine our P&L. Oh, and at the point that Patrick agrees that it's worth looking into, we make an additional copy of the manuscript and pass it on to a good reader, who may be either freelance or junior staff. This is all being done fast.

Then we pitch the book to Tom. He wants to know more about it. We supply what information we can. He hums over it, knits his brows, knits some more, throws in some cabling stitches, scribbles some calculations on a corner of the cover letter, puts his glasses on and takes them off again, hums some more, comes up with a good number for the advance, and gives us permission to make an offer on the book.

We call the agent. Well, gosh, says the agent, [other house] bought it at the end of last week.

Say what? we say, Say what? From the sound of it, that date was prior to our receipt of the manuscript.

They jumped at it, the agent says complacently; they really liked it.

We don't believe the agent. While [other house] isn't exactly hidebound, neither is it the kind of place that decides to buy a manuscript within a day or two of receiving it -- not unless it's an established author they already knew they wanted, or the book has some obvious virtue, like it contains The Secret Of The Universe or something. We figure the agent meant all along to sell the book to [other house], and sent it to them before she sent it to us. We were her backup plan.

Which may be ducky for her, but it's cost me several days' work, and one or two days of Patrick's time, and we've had to call in favors, and bug the people in Marketing, and Tom won't be happy. But there's nothing to be done about it. So I tear up all the notes and P&L printouts and other data, throw it away, and get back to my work that was interrupted when this manuscript came in.

That's one scenario. However, there's this other scenario where the unpublished author is sending forth his or manuscript to make its fortune in the wilds of the slush pile. It could take four months. Once it took 72 hours: a fluke. It could take a year and a half. I know someone whose manuscript languished in another house's slushpile far, far longer than that. In fact, for all I know the thing is still there.

Personally, I can't think it would be all that awful if we let the slushpuppies submit to several houses at once, especially if they let us know how many and to whom. If we started working up a serious interest in a book, we could let the author know. If the author got an initial offer from another house, he or she could let us know. You're not likely to see two houses going into full-scale acquisition mode over the same book within the same four-day period. It'll doubtless happen once in a while, but it's not likely.

Mind, I'm not suggesting that anyone should do that. It's contrary to policy, at Tor and everywhere else. I'm just saying that I personally don't see that it would be all that bad an idea.

#167 ::: risa wolf ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 11:42 PM:

*gawp*
My oh my.

I'm a new reader of your blog, and this is one of the first posts I have read. Frankly, I am astonished at how many people think ordinary rejection letters are such an affront!

I suppose I've been lucky; I've sent very few manuscripts out in my life because of a previous lack of faith in myself and my talent. However, 95% of those manuscripts were returned to me with glowing rejection letters which included plenty of encouraging comments and constructive criticism. I have never had occasion to be particularly upset about a rejection letter, but even if I did have occasion I firmly believe a writer has to approach their writing career like they do love. You keep trying with new people, or you work hard to improve yourself and try with the old people.

Thank you for posting this! I feel much better about my renewed commitment to my stories.

#168 ::: Alaric ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 11:50 PM:

I'd just like to observe, in reference to the poetic rejection note, this one thing: Who says you have to have read the works of another poet to be a poet yourself?

I'm a sometime poet myself (though I haven't written in some years). I've had a few pieces published in small poetry journals, and though I hate to blow my own trumpet, I tend to be well reviewed. I've never heard of William Carlos Williams. Does that diminish my writing? Will my writing magically be better now that I've heard of him?

Muses don't obey laws. They don't necessarily take writing courses. And they don't necessarily whisper in the ears of people who've heard of another specific poet, or even know anything at all in an academic sense about the body of extant poetry. And sometimes, their writing is the better for it, because it is fresh and original, not derivative.

None of this, of course, should be taken as disputing that the writer in question completely missed the point of the effort that went into that rejection slip.

Can sweet summer plums
Not be offered in respect?
This editor tried.

#169 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:24 AM:

I'd just like to observe, in reference to the poetic rejection note, this one thing: Who says you have to have read the works of another poet to be a poet yourself?

You don't. But if you get a poem as a rejection, and it seems to refer to something you don't understand, you should be able to either a) shrug it off as editorial weirdness, or b) look up the references. After all, we know the author in question had access to the internet.

My slushpile joyride: I read unsolicited manuscripts for a small literary magazine for more than eight years. This was an unpaid position: more an act of love than a good professional move. In my experience, 99% or more of the poetry submitted to small literary magazines is just the pages of the author's diary, typed up with funny line breaks. It made me stop writing poetry, it was so bad.

#170 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:40 AM:

On another web site where I hang out, someone (I believe a writer/ editor combo iof some kind) once stated what she felt her favourite short-and-to-the-point rejection would be:

A single red line on the manuscript, marking where the editor stopped reading and reached for the return envelope. (Of course, I suppose that in tiself would require a form letter to explain the meaning, but you could send back *just that page* and the form...)

I can't help think that's a bit too terse (it's all very well if it's on page 5 of a short story, or chapter 4 of a novel, but I can imagine getting back a novel with the line in the first paragraph.) but there are times I think it must be tempting to resort to something that straightforward.

I'm another one who's been trained to survive rejections with a blink and move on. Alas, procrastination strikes then, and the novel length stuff but rarely gets out the door, and the short stories at too slow a rate.

'Scuse me while I go print out some manuscripts.

#171 ::: Peg Duthie ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:46 AM:

Mythago suggested:

re Holly M.'s comment, I think part of the problem is that (unless one is part of the Literary Scene, and thus probably published already) the editors are unknowns. In a writer's group, you KNOW that Person A has real issues with strong female characters and Person B gets bored if there isn't an action sequence every ten pages, so you mentally adjust for their criticism.

As a writer, you have no way to know what an editor's preferences and issues are. There's no way to know that the editor who rejected your manuscript is just plain sick of mission-to-Mars stories, no matter how good yours was, or that the name of the main character is the same as his nutbar ex's.

I find don't quite agree with this, for two reasons:

(1) A fair number of editors maintain blogs or participate in online forums these days; others often take the trouble to specify authors they enjoy reading, either in their guidelines or in the various market guides or in interviews. I'm of the opinion that it's currently easier than it ever has been to make educated guesses about a particular editor's taste.

(2) Analyzing the magazines/books they've already published is also a way to assess what they tend to accept (or not).

(It's not a surefire way to gauge what they're _going_ to be buying, of course, but then again, the editor doesn't have a surefire way to determine what Random Person Browsing in a Bookstore is going to purchase 12-24 months from now - especially considering that Random Person may simply opt for Tolkien or Heinlein or the latest movie tie-in. And, ultimately, it's not like Random Person will be any less quirky or baggage-laden than fellow writers and editors. . .)

In any case, even with (1) and (2), I'll readily concede that there's still plenty of room for mysteries and intangibles and unfortunate coincidences like the examples Mythago provides, but I figure that's also the same exhilaration-friendly space that causes a reader to remain unmoved by Poems A, B, C but lock onto Poem Z, even though all four poems might be equal in style and substance. The submissions game is still ultimately an intricate form of roulette, BUT there's a distinct difference between the person poking random quarters into the slots and the player who tracks the fall of the cards and understands how the odds work. Sure, the slots pay off once in a while, but. . .

Which is also my response to Alaric's rhetoric about WCW. Sure, stunning work sometimes appears out of nowhere, but so does an awful lot of cliched, boring drivel (some of it even in print. *grin*). Reading widely helps trains the eye, ear and mind to clue into cliches and understand how and where It's Been Done Before. While it's not guaranteed to make one a better writer, I frankly believe it improves the odds.

(And by "widely" I mean both classics and schlock. I'm trying to remember who said that one of the lessons he learned from Thornton Wilder was to sit through an entire season of bad plays and pick them apart, the better to understand what makes a good play good. . . ).

#172 ::: Neil Gaiman ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 02:01 AM:

On the whole multiple submission thing...

My very first (non-fiction) book was an idea I had, which Kim Newman and I did a 3 chapters and an outline submission on, to three publishers. One said no, fast, feeling it was too like another book they'd recently published. One said yes, fast. And the other sent us a letter shortly after the book was published by the second publisher to let us know they'd received our submission and were thinking about it failry seriously, and we'd be hearing from them sooner or later, although we never did.

Although I don't remember any "no multiple submission" rules back then. And neither Kim nor I had an agent (I was 22, and he was very much more elderly, at 23) and no-one had told me that publishers wouldn't look at things unless you had an agent. I don't think, looking back at it, that anyone had told the publishers either.

(The book in question got my favourite ever rejection letter from Beth Meachum, when we sent it to her at Tor. She said that she'd giggled madly all the way through, that everyone in the office had wanted to read it, that they were quoting bits of it to each other, that she couldn't return the copy I'd sent her because someone in the office had taken it home with them and not brought it back, and that she couldn't publish it because it was too English and people probably just wouldn't get it in America. It put a huge smile on my face, and she was probably right at that.)

#173 ::: Pl Kpl ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 02:48 AM:

Lk mst dtrs th wrtr sms t b cntnll grppd by spsmc rg drctd t wrtrs. s w r wrtrs nd mny f s nt mschsts, fl t s th hmr f t. H vn rsnts th grf strckn rjcts thr frm f grvnc! vdntl th r t ccpt hs dclrtns pn thr hps nd tlnts qtl. Th whl thng lvs vr bd tst n th mth nd rnfrcs th d tht ths bll bs jst LV thr jbs. hv rrl rd nthng s ggrssv/dfnsv nd smltnsl slf blnd.

Stll shddrng.

shll prms mslf t nvr g nwhr nr pblshr vr gn, fr fr f brshng shldrs wth sch ngr mngmnt clss rjcts.

#174 ::: Dgns ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 03:40 AM:

LTTL MSS SNR MKS N SS F HRSLF
--r--
TH RL-WRLD CNSQNCS F GVNG D
STDNTS B'S, SPCLL WHN THY GRW P T BCM DTRS


s xprnc prvs s cnclsvl, mst s-clld "dtrs" nwds cldn't slp sbjct nd vrb nd n bjct tgthr t sv thr msrbl lvs.

Tr str:

n rrgnt ncmptnt gnrms nc rjctd n f m mss wth th nttn SP (`wrng spllng') n th wrd "rcc" nd th nttn PL (`shld s plrl frm') n th sntnc "hs grfft wr btfl."

Ys, th dtr n qstn prvd s grssl npt sh hdn't cl tht th wrd "rcc" n fct ss n "c" t tm nd nt tw (lk t p, lltrt dtrs), whl th wrd "grfft" lrd S plrl...y rhdd nt.

Wnt th snglr frm?

Grfft. Frm th tln.

Rmmbr ll ths hdlns tht shrkd "Jhnn Cn't Rd" bck n th 1970s nd 1980s? Wll, Jhnn (r Jn, n ths cs) nw wrks s n dtr fr Tr Bks nc. nd th hrsh rlt rmns tht ths wrthlss jrkffs wh msnm thmslvs "dtrs" xhbt lss fclt wth th nglsh lngg thn Wnstn Chrchll's prrt.

Wth lss crnl cpct thn lbtmzd trlbt, ths crp vrbl mggr wh msnms hrslf n "dtr" xmplfs ll th lwst qlts f tht dbsd spcs n r sbltrt tms.

s fr s tht ss f n dtrx s cncrnd, vr clm sh mks cntrdcts vr thr clm sh mks -- fct whch sh sms t drnk r t hgh n ck t rlz.

Lt's rn thrgh th whl trd ltn f hr flls nd npttds:

n th n hnd, sh vhmntl ssrts "Wht ths gs hv fld t ndrstnd bt rjctn s tht t sn’t prsnl".... bt n th thr hnd sh thrws hstrnc tntrm t wrtrs wh gt bggd b rjctn bcs "th rmnd m f th bs dtd n cllg wh nl wntd t gt ld."

h? Rll?

nd *nw* wh's gttng "prsnl," Lttl Mss Snr?

Th crp thg msnmd s "dtr" cntrdcts hrslf t vr trn:

n th n hnd sh vrs tht n f th bsc rsns fr rjctng mss bls dwn t " sw tht mv/TV shw lst nght"... Yt n th thr hnd sh sms blthl nwr tht f ths stndrd wr ppld crss th brd, *L*L grt fctn n th nglsh lngg wld gt thrwn smmrl t f th slshpl.

"thll? Jst nthr rvng plt. Bn thr, dn tht, b-rng. Th Jpns crtn Cwb Bbp hd th sm plt lst nght. Frgt ths Shkspr crp, sw th sm plt n TV lst nght."

Ys, nd flt mgnn cms frm str, jst lk McDnld's sldgbrgr -- vr stp t thnk tht th mnngfl dffrnc mght rs frm TH WY T'S DN, y mbclc bmb? ccrdng t tht dtc "lgc," lmp f cl cn sb fr dmnd nggmnt rng snc, ftr ll, th bth cnsst f crbn tms.

Y jst hv t shk yr hd t fls lk ths spt-fr-brns dtrx, mttrng wth slckjwd dsblf: "nd t Tr Bks th cll ths *thnkng*...?"

"Hcklbrr Fnn? Frgt t, jst nthr kd-rns-w-frm hm bk. Lm. Tss t. sw xctl th sm plt n TV mv lst wk."

Ys, nd Frbddn Plnt ss th sm plt s Shkspr's "Th Tmpst" -- rg th flm Frbddn Plnt shldn't xst? r th Shkspr pl shldn't gt prfrmd jst bcs th 1950s scnc fctn flm shwd n TV lst nght?

Dd ths dtrl crp g thrgh th xprss Ln t brth -- "9 Q PNTS R LSS"?

"Th Grt Gtsb? Lghbl -- yt nthr rch-g-xpsd-s-- psr nvl. Sn mlln f 'm. Dp sx t. Th pl `Sx Dgrs f Sprtn' n TNT tw ds g hd xctl th sm plt."

Ys, nd th mv Rsk Bsnss hs xctl th sm plt s Dr. Sss' "Th Ct n th Ht." Thrfr...lt's s...sh wld rfs t pblsh "Th Ct n th Ht."

Whr dd ths hlfwt dtrx gt hr lbtm, MNGLSM R S?

Ths rrgnt ncmptnt dtrx sms s prvsvl gnrnt f th bsc lmnts f ltrtr tht sh hsn't rlzd ll f wrld fctn bls dwn t dzn plts.

Th Mhbrt? Fml fd. Mdm Bvr? Rmntc trngl. Rm nd Jlt? Str-crssd lvrs. ll clchs, ll dn t dth, ll th sm plt s cntlss thr grt (nd nt-s-grt) pcs f ltrtr.

Wht cnts s HW T'S DN, y mrn! "Rss r rd/vlts r bl" hs xctl th sm plt s Shkspr lv snnt -- y nsffrbl fl. Th LNGG mks th dffrnc, y dlt. Wk p! Gt th ndl t f yr rm, th ck t f yr ns, nd rd gddmn bk!

f chrnt d vr ntrd th vcnt hd f ths rfg frm th thggsh frng f dtng, t wld d f lnlnss.

Sh ls sms s grssl ncmptnt tht sh hs fld t rcgnz chrctr s th crx f ll fctn. Plt rmns dstnctl scndr n mprtnc, yt Lttl Mss Snr wrds t cntrl plc -- tpcl f th knd f ncmptnc whch chrctrzs th rrgnt gnrm nfstng td's sbltrt pblshng hss. Fls lk ths dtrx xpln th prvlnc f dsml plt-drvn crdbrd-chrctr sldg lk Mchl Crchtn's ltst nvl, "Pr," n td's dbsd bkshlvs.

Ths lttl ntrnt gngstr wh flshl stls hrslf n "dtr" hs mnd lk stl trp -- lws thr mpt, r clsd.

n th n hnd, Lttl Mss Snr ssrts (sns prf) tht pwrds f 75% f n- slctd mnscrpts cm frm ppl wh thr lck th blt t wrt chrnt sntnc, r sffr frm "nrchmcl prblms"...Yt n th thr hnd, sh fls t rcgnz tht (f tr) ths ssrtn shld ppl t dtrs wth vn mr frc.

Wht, pr tll, xmpts dtrs frm tht nfntl blst f hbrstc bmbst?

s t nt mr lkl tht hrttr hmncl lk ths msnmd "dtr," wh d NT spnd mst f thr tm pndng t prs, wld xhbt vn _lss_ ltrc thn th thrs sh dsdns wth cd cntmpt?

f s, thn wht mks _hr_ s lmght qlfd t rjct mnscrpt?

Spkng f qlfctns -- n xctl whch dctnr cn w fnd ths mmrtl trms "rl trl"?

rrgnt ncmptnt gnrm lk Lttl Mss Snr hv lws plgd s, lk bd wthr, r cckrchs. Bt tht dsn't mn w hv t lk t, r st stll fr t.

#175 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 04:53 AM:

Having just read Diogenes post. Teresa, I have to ask the obvious question. Coke and booze? When I visited Tor it seemed a remarkably sober-sided operation, with people all diligently beavering away in their tiny offices. So did you just hide away all the alcohol and drugs when I came? Enquiring minds want to know.

#176 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 06:48 AM:

Diogenes wrote: (...lots of stuff)

Imagine for a moment that you are an editor, and you've just read the item you've posted above. Would you feel that the writer of that post was someone you would wish a professional association with?

#177 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 07:17 AM:

I dunno, Rob: I was really impressed by the "Paul Kopal" piece. A clear Four on the scale, with reading comprehension problems to boot. (I liked the implicit sex change, though.) Whoever did it really got the message -- I just wish the self-parody was more evident!

#178 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 07:29 AM:

Thank you for a brilliant exposition of the process of reading the slush pile. I once added a note at the bottom of a form rejection letter suggesting that the writer might type any future submissions as her handwriting was extremely difficult to read. The letter was returned with diogenes-level vituperation scrawled across it.

#179 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 07:40 AM:

My guess is that "Diogenes" is one of the guys Teresa dated in college.

#180 ::: Scott Sheaffer ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 07:55 AM:

Diogenes writes: "and the notation PL (`should use plural form') on the sentence 'his graffiti were beautiful.' "

"His graffiti was beautiful," sounds better. Chill out, dude.

Scott Sheaffer

#181 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 08:21 AM:

Diogenes scores a solid 8.

#182 ::: Pl Kpl ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 09:18 AM:

Wll, t s smwht vxng t rs frm bd nd b lmst mmdtl nfrmd tht y r sm pschtc fgr f fn lbrng pntlssl n vnyrd vrrn b xct clns f yr tlntlss slf. nd ll ths bfr brkfst nd b sm wmn wh fnds yr ft lgh t ld fnn. nl ntcd ths ws wrttn b wmn s mscln ws sns f rg nd brl rprssd bl.

Th thr, mpld n sm cpct b pblshr, dtld th nsn ntcs f wrtrs wh ctll snt n sbmssns! Thn dtld th hlrs wflnss f thr stmblng ffrts t slf xprssn nd mr thn nc trght sttd tht th (Fr whch w m rd s) wr nsn s grp. ftr rdng thrgh sw mr clrl thn vr tht pblshng s 'trd' fr ppl wh ctll dsps wrtrs. Wrtrs ht thm t, hnc th prsnt stt f pn wrfr btwn grps tht n mght hv hpd hd n sprtn n cmmn. Th mssg? Nvr wrt nthng whtsvr. f y d, nvr tll nn tht y hv. f y d tll nn nvr prnt t wht y spk f. f y d prnt t t lv t n sm drk plc nd frgt t vr xstd. Thrftr wr bll rnd yr nck s tht ppl knw y r cmng.

Tr t mgn ths pc rwrttn sng th nm f n thnc grp nstd f 'wrtr' thrght, th rslt s nt prtt. Tht's wht th wrld nds-lss wrtrs. lws knw thr ws smthng wrng wth s. Nw knw... w r ll dtc brdrln pschtc tm wstrs. nd w dn't nl wst r wn tm, h n, w nxplcbl pstr pr lng sffrng wmn n th pblshng ndstr. Wht cld pblshng pssbl hv t d wth wrtng? Nthng whtsvr b ths ccnt.

T m ths s ll rthr rmnscnt f th ld jk bt hlpng t r ndrstffd plc frc b btng yrslf p. Hw hv w gttn nt th sttn whr w r nt nl xpctd t mk n rctn t sptfl sslt bt t b msd b t? r ds sh ssm hr ntr dnc rsds nsd th hllwd hlls f spnsrd nd pprvd crtvt? t ws rthr lk rdng ths strs f rstrnt wrkrs spttng n cstmrs sp xcpt nw w r ncrgd t xpctrt n r wn bllbss t sv thm tm! stll fnd t hrd t blv tht thr r tw clsss f wrtrs, th crsp prfssnl gnrtrs f wrds t rdr nd nthr slthfl nd mnk brwd ndrclss f crn srs wth scpthc tndncs. glrfctn f frm vr cntnt tht bggrs blf.

Th pblshrs cnfsn btwn ffc sklls nd crtvt cntns nbtd s! cn't s hw th blt t tp trnslts nt rtstc blt. Sm wrtrs m wll d wht ws dscrbd bt hr vsn f dpt. bsgd xclsvl b tlntlss crtns sms t m ncrdbl nt t s nsltng.

#183 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 09:25 AM:

Anyone else notice that the folks who fail so spectacularly at insecurity management around questions of publication seem to correlate well with the people who want there to be absolute rules and no human judgement -- other than theirs, perhaps -- involved in the process?

Among social primates, that's a passing harsh judgement of themselves to hold up, as with banners and trumpets.

#184 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 09:27 AM:

I'm getting a sense that there's at least one billy-goat out there being sorely deprived of terrorizing today.

#185 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 10:06 AM:

Whoa. If that's an 8, then I will forever be lighting candles in church for slushpile readers.

#186 ::: Connie ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 10:25 AM:

The line of red on Paul Kopal:

>I only noticed this was written by a woman so masculine was sense of rage and barely repressed bile.

'Diogenes' got the red line on his title. Good way to win friends and influence people, dude. (And really... this much rage over two tiny editorial mistakes, one of which is actually quite arguable? Issues much?)

#187 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 10:31 AM:

Actually, it's writers like that that make me sure I will eventually be published, so they do serve a purpose...

Paul, I have a serious question. Have you read through the comments? No? You might want to do so. Notice the number of writers who agree those reactions to rejections are over the top. Then consider again if this is a case of "us vs them".

But you're right. If you can't handle the idea that not everyone likes your writing, you probably shouldn't be trying to do it for a living.

No one says you can't disagree with an editor. But on the flipside, no one says an editor can't disagree with you. A rejection letter is just an example of the latter. You think your work is publishable. They don't, at least not by them.

The thing that irks me the most about that site are the people who are sure it's some great conspiracy. The ones who get back some really complimentary rejections and whine, "But if it's so good, why didn't you buy it?" Hey, guess what. It's really, honestly true that editors can't buy everything they like. Or that they can like something about your work and still not think it's for them. Saying, "Obviously, they must be lying about liking it, they're just trying to soften the blow" is some sort of bizarre application of the sour grapes mindset. Why the hell would they take the time to write to you beyond a form letter if they didn't really believe what they said? They could just as easily have sent a letter that says "Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately we do not feel it meets our needs." and signed it. Anything more than that suggests you at least made them think about it, however briefly. That's a good sign, even if the end result is an unsold piece. But people persist in taking it as some sort of heinous, deadly insult.

I expect any day now to hear of someone taking a trip to an editor's office after receiving a rejection letter, getting admitted into the presence of said editor, and slapping them across the face with a glove, saying, "I demand satisfaction!" That seems to be the level of mortal insult these writers are taking....

Possibly, however, I've been too immersed in the 7th Sea RPG lately.

#188 ::: Mark Orr ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 10:37 AM:

Anna writes,

"What those people at the site don't realize is that sometimes the polite form rejection is a lot nicer than what goes through your head reading the stuff. There's the ones you feel sorry for but there's also the ones you'd like to smack."

LOL Amen that. I've been senior mystery editor for FUTURES Mysterious Anthology Magazine for about four months. I used to be kind, generous, gentle, even-tempered, warm, considerate - all the things my mother always told me I ought to be. I can still be all those things, but it takes more effort now. I've had stories submitted to me that were nothing more than several hundred cliches strung together; stories so filled with elipses and dashes they looked more like Morse code than English; stories with more exclamation points than a mid-sixties issue of Spider-Man; stories that were scene for scene retellings of thirty year old television scripts; stories that read like they'd been written in Urdu, then translated into Swahili and French before making it to English; stories in every genre but the one I publish or double the word count listed in the submission guidelines.

I've developed that thousand yard stare that all editors get when the mind is benumbed by the sheer weight of the submissions, when all you want to do is get these things off of your desk or hard drive. That's when the rejection letters go out, as rapidly as possible, as simply as possible.

It's not always that you dislike the story; it's not even that you don't love the story. Sometimes it's that you just bought a story with the same theme and basic plotline. Sometimes it's that the author, let's call him Efrem Clayton (not a real name; this is a character in my as-yet unpublished novel DEAD WOMEN IN LOVE), is sending dozens of submissions at a whack, so that even if you love each and every one, you have no intention of renaming your magazine the Efrem Clayton Mystery Magazine. One story per author per issue, that's my policy, and once I get someone's work included in a solid decade's worth of issues, it's time to start suggesting they might be ready for other markets.

Okay, so, I put some serious thought and effort into that particular rejection, but that pretty much uses up whatever creativity would have been available for the other six or seven thousand stories that still need to be turned down. That's when the form letter comes out. It's not personal. It's shell-shock, it's combat fatigue, it's post grammatic stress disorder.

BTW, yes, we editors often do know one another. We do swap horror stories. We are capable of being vindictive, despite our genteel upbringings. Responding to a request to reformat your story so that half the punctuation doesn't resemble comic strip cussing with snide comments about the editor's ancestry and education will result in your name being added to a circulating list of our least favorite people.

#189 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:27 AM:

One of my favorite things on the Internet is when a certain class of person takes it on themselves to flame Teresa. These people generally come across as young men, and I imagine that they do indeed stir up a great deal of trouble in the online forums they are used to inhabiting, even driving some of the members to tears.

I always imaging myself setting up the lawn chairs and pouring ice-cold glasses of lemonade as I wait for Teresa to return and see the posts. "Honey, come here," I say to my wife. "You're going to want to see this."

#190 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:28 AM:

It's a funny thing. People who can't do advanced math, or play classical piano concertos, or pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues, generally know they can't do it. People who don't have an intimate relationship with language are far less aware of their condition, and for them the written world can be a very frustrating place. Near as we can make out, they literally can't tell that their rejected writing isn't like the writing that does get published.

Those of you who've hung out in Usenet newsgroups for any length of time will have seen the phenomenon of a tone-deaf poster exploding in fury and frustration because all he can tell is that he's somehow being left out of some part of the conversation, and that for no reason that he can see, his posts don't get the same reactions that other people's do.

Sympathy and irritation. Trouble is, if you try to explain to them that language doesn't work the same way for everyone, they won't believe you. They just get angrier.

#191 ::: Susanna ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:30 AM:

At least these people got rejection letters! Somebody let them know that he took the time to read their submission and gave them a reason for not publishing it. They ought to be thankful. My college's literary magazine didn't even give us that courtesy. The only way I knew that they didn't like my doggerel was by picking up the latest issue and noting the absence of my submissions.

I suppose it sounds like I'm still bitter. Perhaps I am. But I prefer to think that my stories and poems were either too controversial or too silly for the lit mag, and since nobody ever let me know why they were rejected, I can continue to live in this fantasy world.

#192 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:39 AM:

Thanks, Mitch. You're no slouch yourself. But I can't light into Kopal and Diogenes; they're unarmed and fighting blind. I'd have disemvowelled them by now if the rest of you weren't commenting on them as the pertinent illustrations they are. I may disemvowel them yet. At minimum I'm going to correct their bad formatting, so we don't have to deal with elongated or picket-fenced versions of their screeds.

#193 ::: Lawrence Cardin ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:41 AM:

I have nothing to do with writing manuscripts for publication or reviewing them and I still found this inside account so interesting. The "coaching" is so wise and helpful that it could easily be applied to a much wider range of human endeavors and I'm going to make it part of the reading for the graduate program of which I am a director -- a program in a college unrelated to lit, English or communications.

Thanks for taking the time to organize and express your thoughts in such a clear and helpful way. I very much enjoyed and profited from reading the whole thing -- I came to sample and stayed for the evening.

#194 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:55 AM:

Dear Kopal and Diogenes,

We're sorry, but your recent submissions, which produced considerable discussion in our virtual office, do not precisely meet our needs. However, we earnestly suggest that you two form a partnership, and coauthor a novel of passion and fulmination. Dennis Miller's Rant Press is a plausible market, but leave that to your joint agent. For that, we suggest Max Bialystock.

#195 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:56 AM:

*holds breath while reading the posts of Diogenes and PK*

*exhales slowly*

Wow. "...barely repressed bile." Project much?

Kinda curious as to how you extracted "Do not write anything whatsoever" from Teresa's post. I personally found it very useful and I have received a handful of rejections in my relatively short time as a submitting writer. (T actually was once very helpful in deciphering some of the editor-speak behind one of those notes.) I have a better idea of where to clean up my manuscripts, and how to make the best presentation I can.

I know this is cliche but some people see obstacles where some people see challenges.

#196 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:00 PM:

I, for one, have read enough of Diogenes and Kopal to be satisfied, henceforth, with their consonants alone.

My $/50.

#197 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:03 PM:

Maybe henceforth? The first two or three posts provide context for late-comers. I agree that reformatting would be a boon. It's hard to read those short lines on such a long post. My scrolling hand is tired.

#198 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:19 PM:

Much to my everlasting shame, I would not have picked up on the William Carlos Williams riff in the poetic rejection letter; on the other hand, what a wonderful rejection letter! I hate to say it, but there's every chance that a letter like that would have me smiling all day. Who could possibly object to the form of that rejection?

#199 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:19 PM:

PiscusFiche, while I see your point, do we really want to keep talking about them? There was quite an interesting discussion going on here prior to their arrival, IIRC. And I personally redlined them pretty early, though I don't tend to read things in order top-to-bottom.

#200 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:30 PM:

"Try to imagine this piece rewritten using the name of an ethnic group
instead of 'writer' throughout, the result is not pretty."

Ah, the old rhetorical ploy of equating discernment with racism; as if being stubbornly resistant to critique of your own prose was an accident of birth, or as if banning smoking in a restaurant was practicing discrimination against a few rather than discouraging behavior in all.

I am reminded of nothing so much as an anonymous letter a friend received accusing them of aggressive and insensitive behavior, penned by someone so obviously lacking in self-awareness that they were totally blind to the self-inflated arrogance and lack of regard for others that positively dripped from their own pages.

#201 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:32 PM:

Oh, and about the teenage author:

1) Why did she put her age in her cover letter anyway? Did she think they'd publish something by a teenager that they wouldn't publish if it were written by an adult? What's the source of that delusion?

2) She used "it's" when she meant "its."*

3) She wrote 'dribble' when she meant 'drivel'.

4) The fact that she thinks she's "qualified" to write a novel about a teenager because she is one makes me suspect that her name might be Mary Sue.

*Yes, those should be single quotes. Doubled because of the apostrophe in the first one.

#202 ::: starfish ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:40 PM:

This was very interesting to read, both as a struggling writer and an editor with in-house aspirations. Thank you for posting it.

#203 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:53 PM:

I don't know...the formatting is really yet another of the posts' delightfully illustrative properties. Clearly, these two are incapable of taking the time to correct something so monumentally trivial as the line breaks in a multi-paragraph post. This on a site that requires one to preview each post for problems before one's missive gets tossed into the fray.

If they cannot show evidence of so slight an effort towards readability when it is so nearly impossible not to do so...what must their extended works be like?

I pray I never know.

#204 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:54 PM:

Xopher: Talk, no, not really. Read, possibly yes. (I often find that reading the disembvowelled posts is much harder when one has limited free time on the computer, but my curiosity impels me. Like Mitch, I find it fascinating.)

But your point is also a good one. So....as you were. :)

#205 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:54 PM:

I would also like to note for the record that I am currently valiantly sitting on the urge to edit Paul's posts and return them to him with revisions.

It is taking a serious will of effort to not even so much as point out one phrase that got my inner red pencil twitching.

I will concede this is principally because I've been having a really bad 2004 so far, and I'm looking for some aggression-release. I'm not sure what it says about me that editing someone else's post for clarity counts as aggression-release...

(Some writers have an Inner Editor that keeps them from writing by making them wonder if everything they've written is crap. I have one who looks forward to improving the first draft. If one can take certain people's attitudes as Truth, it's like I'm some weird human-alien hybrid from X-Files....)

Teresa, I think you are exactly right that there are people who are entirely tone-deaf as far as writing goes. 'Style-blind' might be an appropriate term here. (Or, for the PC, 'differently expressive'.)

Ray R, I didn't pick up on the William Carlos Williams either, and I actually like WCW, so I'm not sure what my excuse is. So don't feel too bad, you're in tolerably good company. :)

#206 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:54 PM:

I have reflected upon the matter, and Diogenes snuffs it. On re-reading him (reformatting helped), I realized I couldn't tell whether he'd actually been through the submission and rejection process. Whether he had or not, he was clearly just enjoying an opportunity to be nasty, and you know my take on that: If he's just getting off on abusing someone, let him go to a professional and pay their usual hourly rates. Besides, he was implicitly insulting my high school English teachers, and one of them posts here.

Mr. Kopal will probably go soon. As Christopher points out, having these guys in the conversation shifts it from a discussion of submissions and rejections to a discussion of them.

Elizabeth, good ear. They're both mad about that.

#207 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:02 PM:

It's a valuable lesson on both sides, I think. A professional writer should see his writing like any good salesman sees his product -- something to believe in, something to view with pride, but ultimately something that must be sold. The buyer never HAS to buy your product, and believing that the buyer DOES is a great way to rub people the wrong way. On the other hand, the editors would do well to remember the kind of people they're dealing with -- folks who are going to overanalyze every word of the letter in question. :)

I try not to take rejection letters personally. I would, however, note that, when I last submitted to Tor, I received no response to:

- My initial three-chapters-and-synopsis, which included an SASE
- My query letter with SASE, sent after one year
- My query e-mail, sent after another six months
- My second query e-mail, sent after another three weeks
- My third query e-mail and subsquent withdrawl

A simple form rejection letter would have been preferable.

-Patrick

#208 ::: jesse ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:05 PM:

This is such an excellent read! It reminds me of an article I was assigned to read in an acting audition-prep course; the article had been xeroxed half a million times already, it had been that important for it to be disseminated among emotionally fragile drama students! It listed the top ten common flaws in a (professional) audition, and why rejection often has little to do with the actual performance. You can give a flawless performance, but if your resume contact info is wrong and they can't get ahold of you, you're rejected---skill can sometimes have nothing to do with it, or simple details can reveal a lurking glacier of personal flaws that the auditioner/reviewer doesn't want to get involved with. What you've written should be given as preemptive required reading to all unsolicited-submission writers; the incredibly simple technical mistakes (no SASEs, etc) that writers make can be corrected so easily, and knowing this kind of inside information on the whole slush pile procedure will prevent a lot of heartache.

#209 ::: Tas Jordan ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:33 PM:

I stumbled across this illuminating post and its multitudes of replies last night via a writing group friend's recommendation, and can't tear myself away lol. What a wonderful description, Teresa! Thank you so much for sharing your slush experience.

I was thinking about the discussion this morning, and the slush pile in general reminds me very much of when I was in my early teens and interested in acting. I went to a "cattle call" audition, and I remember being stood in a line with several girls who looked somewhat like me in age, etc., and having the casting director come and look closely at all of us. The reason I was not chosen to go further? I have brown eyes, and they were casting a daughter to two blue-eyed parents. Point being, I didn't even get a chance to be judged on whether or not I could act, because I didn't fit the market need. Sort of like if someone had submitted a hard sci-fi novel to Harlequin. The author could be the next Asimov, but s/he's not going to get published at that house!

Someone mentioned also (I think it was Teresa) that writers can be utterly tone-deaf as to whether or not their own work is any good. That made me think of the pop culture phenomenon of the American Idol franchise. What do they show in the early days of the competition if not their aural slush pile? And how many of the would-be writers who become so vitriolic over a polite rejection letter are laughing at the people auditioning for A.I. who really, truly believe they have talent but are showing the world that they cannot sing? Can they even recognise themselves in that situation?

As for myself, I'm not published, nor do I have my manuscript ready for submission yet. But when I do, I firmly believe that if I'm not ready to hear a 'No,' then I have no business sending it anywhere. If you submit an unsolicited ms to a publishing house, truthfully they are doing you a favour to even look at it. They don't have to; as was pointed out somewhere above, most pub.s derive only a tiny portion of their material from the infamous slush pile. The only reason you should be sending anyone anything is because YOU feel it's worth publishing; because YOU believe in it. It takes time to find someone else who feels the same way. :)
hugs, Tas

#210 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:39 PM:

Changing posts to consonants only is pure evil! For thread readers, that is. The awful thing is that having read the responses, I'm tempted to try to decipher what these guys said, which is possible even without vowels but is a lot of work. Replacing the text with "something not worth saying had been written here" in red, or whatnot, would be much more conductive to my mental health.

#211 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:45 PM:

Aaaaaargh, Patrick Weekes. Aaaaaaargh. Give me the title and approximate genre again. For maximum embarrassment, it'll probably turn up in my "Hey, this one's good" stack.

There are so many interesting things to respond to here, and I don't have time for more than a fraction of them. Among other things, I'm dealing with submissions. (You think I'm immune to guilt? Hah. Think again.) Both the articles Jim Macdonald linked to are excellent. Neil speaks only the truth about Tor's reaction to his first submission. Alaric, while in theory you don't have to be familiar with the existing body of English-language literature in order to write good poetry, if your hypothetical poet had written good poetry, he or she wouldn't be getting the rejection letter.

A number of comments have fretted over the whole "neurochemical disorder" thing. Don't worry. We can tell a severe headcase from a relatively normal author who's using all-caps for emphasis, and we can usually distinguish intentional stream-of-consciousness from the unintentional variety. If there's anything slush teaches you to do, it's to recognize those disorders. It was even easier before everyone got computers, when we could spot them by their formatting.

#212 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:48 PM:

It's been years since I participated in Usenet, but many items in the Nielsen-Haydens' blogs bring back the pleasures of a spirited newsgroup thread. And I think that such threads can benefit from dissenters, even from ranting dissenters. If you're going to expunge their contributions, I'm at least glad to have had the opportunity to read them before you did so.

On the other hand, I can see the logic in steering this thread back to the quite fruitful topic at hand. One impression that I get from seeing these rejectees' complaints is that they don't seem to have learned much about how the publishing business works. How many of us who aspired to published authorship read everything they could about the business, talked to real live editors and authors, and knew all about slushpiles and agents and form rejections and SASE's long before we ever submitted anything? These are the people who can say, "Yeah, those kooks are taking it way too personally."

On another issue, that of multiple submissions: I understand that it takes a lot of work to set the machinery in motion to accept a manuscript, and that the people in the publishing house don't want to be inconvenienced by it. But the process is quite similar to what happens when a company wants to hire a full-time worker: you have to do interviews, reference checks, authorize salary and benefits expenses, do tax paperwork, and much more. And businesses deal all the time with potential employees who get a job offer and then at the last minute say, "Sorry, I got another offer somewhere else." They accept this as part of the cost of doing business, and they're not likely to take petty revenge by automatically circular-filing that same person's resume if they apply for another position later. So, I know the publishing industry has what it considers good reasons for its policies and they aren't likely to change based on a few contrary opinions, but I still consider it unreasonable.

Finally, I'd like to reiterate a legitimate question that I don't think I've seen answered yet: just what does it mean to say that "The author wrote the wrong book"?

#213 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:57 PM:

ET, I rarely delete when I can disemvowel instead. It means you can still puzzle out what it said if you're interested, but you don't automatically read it as you go past, which spares the other readers a dose of unpleasantness.

#214 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 02:13 PM:

ET, "disemvowelment" is the local penalty for being rude and offensive. It's preferred to just removing or replacing the offending post in part because we still get to see at what length the person was being rude and offensive, and because those of us who really want to know can puzzle it out.

Trust me that Diogenes was not worth reading. It was just a lot of nasty sht directed at our beloved Teresa, as far as I read, which wasn't far.

#215 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 02:22 PM:

Okay, okay. I admit it. I'm only commenting at this particular moment because it makes it easier for me to determine where I left off.

I am utterly fascinated and educated and amused. Except for the disemvowellment duo, whom I have sacrificed to the gods of blogs. May your souls find peace, as your words crumble to pieces.

#216 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 02:23 PM:

Oops. Sorry. Cross-post. Yeah, I know it was 16 minutes...I had the window open for a while there.

#217 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 02:28 PM:

Jimcat: your employment analogy is well taken. However I don't think it's accurate to say that the process is quite similar to what happens when a company wants to hire a full-time worker: you have to do interviews, reference checks, authorize salary and benefits expenses, do tax paperwork, and much more. And businesses deal all the time with potential employees who get a job offer and then at the last minute say, "Sorry, I got another offer somewhere else."

Putting the boot on the other foot, when you as an author approach a publisher, you aren't simply trying to get taken on as staff. You're not even trying to get them to give you $X in cold hard cash for your manuscript. You're actually proposing that they bet a chunk of their turnover (typically on the order of 10 x $X, if the royalty rate is, say, 10%) on their ability to sell your manuscript to the reading public.

The amount the publisher has at stake is soberingly more than the amount of money the author gets to see. See that $10,000 advance? That means the publisher probably needs to sell $90,000 of product just to break even. Nor do they have a perfect target lock on the market: there's no accounting for taste, and the readers might stay away in droves and thundering herds. In which case the publisher is out of pocket to the tune of $BIGNUM. And there's worse: because publishers invest in authors' careers (often issuing multibook contracts because they intend to promote that author, in the hope of increasing sales of future books), the amount at stake is even larger than that.

This is not the same as the company hiring a labourer for $10,000 to do some work for them. A better analogy is that you are asking an editor to gamble their career on your manuscript.

#218 ::: David D. Levine ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 03:03 PM:

Way, way upthread, Rob Hansen said:

I still remember my surprise on encountering the line: "then he parted the twin nodes of her clitoris". That one made me wince, and I'm not even female. As a way of signalling the protagonist is having sex with either an alien or a mutant, the line has possibilities, but this was meant to be a physically normal human woman, alas.

Actually, the writer might know too much about female anatomy, rather than too little. The clitoris does have two "legs" going down from the base, on either side of the vaginal opening, and stimulation of these nodes can be most... stimulating. But most people -- even most women -- don't know this, and to use this fact in erotica smacks of too much book-learnin'.

#219 ::: Catie Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 03:41 PM:

I'm irrationally pleased to read your post, Charlie, 'cause I'd figured numbers something very much like that as to what a publisher had to sell in order to break even. Gosh, don't I feel smug! :)

On multiple submissions--the thing that frustrates me, from a writer's standpoint, is that multiple submissions are frowned upon, but it takes *so* *long* to hear back from most publishers. I've gained an appreciation for the idea that publisher time is not like writer time, but as an individual writer who's trying to build a career as an author, the prospect of waiting five months or a year to be rejected (or even accepted) by one house, and then if it's a rejection, going through it again at another house--is just wildly impractical. Sort of like building a house with the hopes of moving in to it in five years, but you're only laying two bricks a year.

I know the proper way to deal with this is to get an agent, but agents are just as hard to come by as editors. Catch-22: if you don't have a book sale, you can't get an agent; if you don't have an agent, you won't get a book sale. It's not a perfect catch, because people can and do get agents without sales, and sales without agents (which is what I did, and then I went and got an agent immediately), but if what you're doing is waiting and hoping to hear back good news, it generally seems as good a use of your time (maybe better) to be querying editors as agents.

I've seen the Tor slushpile, albeit at its low-tide level, and I doubt other houses have any less impressive slushpiles to go through. I don't know how a house would burn through its slush (or even its solicited manuscripts) faster without accruing significantly more cost, but if there was a way, we'd all love you forever.

Not that we don't anyway. :)

#220 ::: Mark Orr ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 03:56 PM:

Catie hath scrivened,

"I don't know how a house would burn through its slush (or even its solicited manuscripts) faster without accruing significantly more cost, but if there was a way, we'd all love you forever."

Hmmmm, there's an idea, burning....

Alas, as Futures takes only electronic submissions, that wouldn't work. Not that I'd ever seriously consider convening a convenient conflagration. ;{)

I'd like to add, lest the above and my previous post lead folks to believe I am terminally curmugeonly, that generally speaking the submissions I receive are in serious violation of Sturgeon's Law, falling well short of the requisite 90% crapola level. This is of course my own biased opinion; others are welcome to disagree. I've gotten some gems over the electronic transom, more than I expected when I took on the job in September. It hurts to have to let a good one go by, for whatever reason, but it does happen.

#221 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 04:49 PM:

Peg, you're quite right that one can get a sense of what an editor prefers--and in the case of a smaller market, such as a magazine, it's essential to know that Magazine A's editor really hates romance stories and Magazine B's editor really likes action sequences.

But at a book-publishing house that's trickier, and it's still not the same as having a personal acquaintance. Unless you are indeed the editor's sister's shoeshine-boy's best friend, you're unlikely to know them as well as you know that irritating old biddy in your writing group who loudly insists that it's OK to end sentences with prepositions.

And of course, sometimes it is you and not them--but there's no sure way to know.

#222 ::: Paul Walker ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 04:52 PM:

I must admit I'm reading this thread (with great interest) from the safe standpoint of a non-writer; I'd *like* to write, but I'm pretty sure I don't actually have any talent for it. :)

One thing has been going through my head while reading, though - the people Teresa quoted from the site. Would they actually be any happier if they understood the rejections weren't personal, or would they just get upset over that instead? My money's on the latter.

#223 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 04:54 PM:

but I'm pretty sure I don't actually have any talent for it. :)

That never stopped [insert hack bestselling author's name here]. :)

#224 ::: Mac McCarthy ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 05:04 PM:

I browsed the rejection site once, but found that all comments fell into two categories:

1) You just sent me a simple form note saying "no thanks;" why didn't you have the courtesy to explain in detail?

2) You explained in detail; I would have preferred a simple form note saying "no thanks."

You're right: There is only one answer that will not elicit irrational whining: "Thanks, check enclosed!"

PS: A lot of people got a good leg up by being forced to handle slush piles. In Hollywood, many a successful screenwriter spent horrible months doing first reads on the slush pile, and learned the most invaluable lesson of all: What not to do, and every possible way not to do it.

And yes, of course you can tell in the first few pages. Dear Writer: If you can't grab 'em in the first few chapters, then you lack narrative ability. Duh.

#225 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 05:28 PM:

...that irritating old biddy in your writing group who loudly insists that it's OK to end sentences with prepositions.

Um. It is, actually. Can you see where I'm coming from? See, that's what I'm talking about. What is the world coming to?

What isn't OK is writing something awkward and ugly. That includes some sentences that end in prepositions, but it also includes "Can you see from where I'm coming?" and "See, that's about what I'm talking" and "To what is the world coming?"

#226 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 05:38 PM:

Thanks, Xopher. I, for one, would be extremely happy if the whole preposition hobgoblin would just go away. It's an annoying misperception to have one's readers and reviewers labour under.

#227 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 05:46 PM:

Teresa Nielsen Hayden writes:

>Those of you who've hung out in Usenet newsgroups for any length of time will have seen the phenomenon of a tone-deaf poster exploding in fury and frustration because all he can tell is that he's somehow being left out of some part of the conversation, and that for no reason that he can see, his posts don't get the same reactions that other people's do.

*COUGH* At**ck *f t*e Rock**ds *COUGH*

#228 ::: Esme ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 05:50 PM:

On the WCW poem: Garrison Keillor did a Guy Noir skit with many variations on the theme, including this:

This is just to say
that I have written
the poems
that you found in
your mailbox

and which
you were probably
hoping
would have stopped by now.

Forgive me.
They are irresistible
so short
and so irritating.

#229 ::: James A. Owen ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 07:57 PM:

As one of those SOB's, I must confess we sometimes DO mess with writer's heads...

At the WFC in Washington DC, Argosy Senior Editor Lou Anders and I were having breakfast with a prominent British author whom Lou wanted to impress. Lou wanted this guy to send us stories. I wanted to make Lou happy. So, in the course of editor/author/publisher friendly banter, the topic of rejections comes up, and I look at author and say, eyes glinting, "Well, we would NEVER reject a story of yours."

If that had been it, well enough; however, I went into hyperbole overdrive and spent a full minute along those lines, explaining how this guy was the ONE AUTHOR we would NEVER send a rejection letter.

Author blinks. Lou blinks. I grin, feeling I've reached a plateau of suckingupedness to authors Whose Stories We Will Buy.

Author says, "I sent you a story. You sent it back."

Lou confirms this. My subsequent statuelike state and Lou's assertion (and author's confirmation) that Lou said that PARTICULAR story wasn't right AT THAT TIME, and we would like to see OTHER stories in the FUTURE do nothing to assuage the underlying reality that I Was Messing With His Head.

Bwah hah hah.

(Okay, okay - so it WASN'T planned. Terribly embarassing. Going to be buying the story. Moral: should stay in my Publisher/Designer/Editoral Director cubbyhole and let Lou do what I hired him to do to begin with. Also, should keep mouth full during breakfast meetings.)

#230 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 08:00 PM:

For those asking about novel submission times: I did a fair bit of looking at the "rules" before taking the big step of getting my novel(s) turned down by everyone in sight (This is less true of short stories, but I started subbing those at 16, and started with MZB, which meant I got over the shock of how vicious a rejection can be, and learned how little to heed said viciousness, very early).

In looking at the rules, this is what I was told, and how I understand the process works. Usually, with Agents (if not with publishers), it IS considered ok to simultaneously submit a query letter. In most (Not all) cases, this is true even of a letter with sample chapters and synopsis.

Where the break comes is at the level of full manuscript. I'd NEVER simsub one of those. (Not that I've had the opportunity. I've been shot down a fair bit, though.)

Parenthetical asides aside, this means that the initial queries can actually go by pretty quickly, and while it has happened, it's rare for two agents to request the full manuscript at the same time. And even then, courteously asking them to limit their "exclusive look" time to 8 weeks (which is sometimes even done at at their behest, not yours), and sending a polite reminder at th 8 week mark, and being scrupulously honest to everyone about the MS's whereabouts, can cause you to get two clear responses on your final MS within 4 months. And could I have made that sentence more convoluted?

Short version: Unless you're assuming that everyone is going to ask for a full manuscript, you're generally not looking at 5 years for 5 rejections, or any such horrific number.

Teresa or others in the know can correct me if all my theoretical knowledge is incorrect, but this system tends to work in everyone's favour. Fewer pages for the author to print and mail, saving on cost, faster times for the author, and the agent is still not likely to get stuck hearing, "But I got on board with {competitor X} while you were working day and night to get my story on board."

#231 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 08:22 PM:

Lenora, I think you're right in terms of agent turnaround times, but I think when it comes to submitting directly to publishers, it'll vary quite a bit -- and not often in favour of the author.

My indirect experience (via close friends who've subbed novels; me, I've never even written one):

Entire novel sent as slush to Publisher A: form rejection after 13 months.

Entire novel sent as slush to Publisher A: after ~16 months, ms reported as lost and author asked to re-sub.

Synopsis and 3 chapters sent as slush to Publisher B: form rejection after 3 months.

Syopsis and 3 chapters sent as slush to Publisher C: form rejection after 11 months.

Entire ms sent solicited to Publisher C: after 19 months, ms reported as lost and author asked to re-sub.

YMMV.

I'm not entirely sure what my point was here; maybe that the whole rejection letter thing is quite different for novelists vs. short story writers. The latter are likely to get a lot more of 'em over a given period of time, and the rejections are a lot more likely to contain editorial feedback, through checklists or personal notes. Thus, the short story writers have received, at least intermittently, some information as to =why= their work was rejected.

#232 ::: CindyLynnSpeer ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 08:42 PM:

I've been reading, and thinking...always a dangerous combination...and I've come to the conclusion that thee's nothing you really can do about slush piles. Except to trudge through them, and hope that all the envlopes stay where they're suppossed to be and that when the editor gets to it she or he happens to really be in the mood for what you've written.

Forgive me for saying so, but this is why I actually prefer places that ask you to query first. Alright, maybe you don't have a chance to dazzle them with your fiction writing skills, but if you have a strong idea, then they'll go for it. Maybe actually *look* forward to reading the ms/partial, etc.

Anyway, my point...yes, it's there, coming over the horizon...is that I actually like slush piles. Slush piles are a chance. Most publishing houses of any size won't even *look* at you if you don't have an agent. (Another reason why Tor rules!) So, a place that has a slush pile is a place that gives new writers a bit of hope. The wait's painful, but then you should be writing something else, not betting all your dreams on one book, anyway.

And to the young lady who never recieved a rejection letter...I've lived in college magazine offices, and sometimes things get lost. Even *good* things get lost. Never be afraid, after a decent amount of time (or the time listed in the GL's) to ask.

#233 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 08:43 PM:

A tentative suggestion: maybe the first page of a submission could be sent as email. This would allow quick first filtering (no futzing with envelopes). If the submission makes it past the first cut, you can ask for a paper manuscript.

#234 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 10:13 PM:

Wow, slushspam.

No, that didn't come out right. Though I suspect first-page-by-e-mail (or, inevitably, fax) would lead to massively multiple submissions.

And I'm not sure it would make much difference. It would only select against books so bad that they can be rejected from the first page -- admittedly, this is a nontrivial percentage, but those books are -already- being rejected from the first page. Yes, it would save having to stuff the partial back into the envelope (or the carton, or the box filled with foam popcorn and the foil-wrapped . . . uh, never mind), and it would clear the office space currently needed to park the things, but -only- for the One Page Wonders. Everything else would have to be followed up by a partial. A certain percentage would be followed by a partial (or more) anyway, the author protesplaining that the book doesn't really get good until Page 85, or the end of Book Two, or in the part he hasn't got on paper yet. (Yes, I have opened these letters. I have opened letters from short-fiction writers who explain that they -know- the story isn't any good until the last page, that was the point.)

Understand, I wish as much as everybody else who's ever read slush that there was a solution, even an incremental one, to its thousand natural electroconvulsions. But, as with an awful lot of subsystems in Our Beloved Industry, this one did not emerge, mature and fully armored, from some bit of Harold Ross's anatomy; it evolved (probably by punctuated equilibrium rather than pure gradualism, but my prejudices are showing).

It's hard (I'm not suggesting that it's impossible) to come up with a qualifying exam for stories. The core system now -- look at the material until it stands up on whatever it is using for legs and yells something in a heavy accent about being untimely ripp'd, at which point it goes home -- cannot be streamlined much below chapters-and-outline, not and have much chance of finding good novice work (which, characteristically, -doesn't- get good until at least a few pages in). And, as noted, it's the layer of fond on the bottom that wants us to see it in its multivolume entirety. Plus the maps and glossary. And the military TO&Es. And the character stats for d20. And the letter that's supposed to be forwarded to Peter Jackson, so he can buy raw stock.

I started a two-act play about this, once, to be called, with no particular apologies, S*A*S*E. Realized early on that nobody would believe the true stories, and, much in the fashion of NOISES OFF, there was no ending so much as a spiraling toward chaos.

Okay, I knew the job was dangerous. Not -that- dangerous, but, well.

#235 ::: AL ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:31 PM:

Slashing the Slush

by A Lady

Once upon a time an overworked and underappreciated editor decided that she'd wasted entirely too many precious hours slogging through slush.

"If only the no-talents would wake up and smell the putrid stink of their sorry manuscripts, I might actually get around to signing on brilliant new talent in less time than it takes the Earth to complete a revolution around the sun!" she said, waving her arms toward heaven in exasperated supplication.

As so often happens in this type of scenario, sudden insight gripped her. Or struck like a lightening bolt. Or smacked into her like an intoxicated three-hundred-pound redneck at a monster truck rally. "I know! I've got it! I'm a freaking genius, I am!"

Five months later:

"All right now, prospective writers, gather round, gather round. No pushing!" Overworked and underappreciated editor's eyes gleamed with barely suppressed, and quite possibly maniacal, enthusiasm. "Now, I want you all to know that our publishing house appreciates your solicitations; we really and truly do. It's just that lately we've had more hopeful piles of sh** cluttering our offices than we can reasonably manage. And it hurts, it really does, to reach the enlightened conclusion that America's pool of writing talent resembles--yes I think it would be fair to say it resembles--a great big gloopy primordial swamp, out of which crawl a few rare gems of slimy evolutionary survival."
"And I see by the radiant knowing looks on your faces that each of you imagines him or herself to be one of these rare gems. I thought so, yes. That is why I have gathered you here today. You see, I would like for each of you to indulge that vision for moment and then--oh, please don't hurry on my account--I want you to reread your manuscripts with ruthless self-honesty, stripping your ugly naked selves bare of all delusion. And *then*, and only then, would I like for you to consider whether or not that piece of crap you hold is dazzling enough to prevent--THIS!"

With a dramatic flourish, overworked and underappreciated editor indicates a somewhat lumpy and puzzling, human-sized and mysteriously horrific, shape hidden beneath a large black swath of fabric. The radiant eyes of a thousand would-be gems of evolutionary survival turn their attention to the black-swathed curiosity. Two thousand feet carry their nervous charges closer to a dais in the center of the hall, where the editor, reaching purposefully for the black cloth, is now visibly twitching with excitement. She grasps the end of the cloth and pauses for effect--her expression that of a Kindergarten teacher readying gullible young charges for a most wonderous surprise. One thousand prospective authors hold their breath (twenty-six grasp an arm, shoulder, or closest appendage, of their neighbor's).

SWISH! The cloth races to the floor, pools of black fabric forming on the dais as one thousand prospective authors subsequently scream, faint, tear at their hair, flail their fists at the air, or all of the above. Overworked and underappreciated editor screams with laughter, pointing with psychopathic glee at the suddenly berserked prospective authors.

"Yes! Don't let THIS happen to YOU!!!" she shrieks. "The next wannabe author that dares--DARES!--to pass off a royal stinker as potentially publishable material will meet the SAME FATE!!! Mwahahahahahahahaha!!!"

Prospective authors dash wildly for the exits, trampling their unconscious counterparts underfoot, tears of rage and bewilderment spilling to the ground--not unlike the entrails of the unfortunate example lashed to an overworked and underappreciated editor's chair, in the center of a dais, in a hall, from which one thousand prospective authors fled.

Yes, it has to be said: and the next year a grand total of ten manuscripts were received by the publishing company.

And each was an exquisite gem.

***

#236 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:33 PM:

Catie Murphy wrote:
"I've seen the Tor slushpile, albeit at its low-tide level, and I doubt other houses have any less impressive slushpiles to go through. I don't know how a house would burn through its slush (or even its solicited manuscripts) faster without accruing significantly more cost, but if there was a way, we'd all love you forever"

This may be an entirely implausible suggestion, but I've always believed "unpaid intern" to be a magical phrase. I'm a young kid just trying to get started in this world, and work experience or a good letter of rec from a respected professional is worth more than its weight in gold. Judging from some posts in this thread there seem to be people who would be willing to read slush for fun and enlightenment, especially if it could be done in one's free time, at home.

Maybe the screening process would be more trouble than it's worth, or you would burn out a few boundlessly energetic optimists, or they just wouldn't be competent enough. I don't think that there would be a problem finding volunteers, at least until the horror of the reality started becoming all too clear.

Maybe most college grads my age don't have the kind of free time I do. Then again, a friend of a friend is moving to California for an unpaid internship with Tokyopop, so it it's possible I'm not whistling in the dark here after all.

#237 ::: Dgns ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:25 AM:

yz! nd hzzh! Cll, cl, frbjs d! Jms . wn, wh pprntl wrks s n dtr, prvds s wth th ltst prf f th grss ncmptnc f tdy's msnmd "dtrs":

"(k, k - s t WSN'T plnnd. Trrbl mbrssng. Gng t b byng th stry. Mrl: shld st n m Pblshr/Dsgnr/dtrl Drctr cbbyhl nd lt L d wht hrd hm t d t bgn wth. ls, shld kp mth fll drng brkfst mtngs.)"

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n lltrt bcms Prsdnt, mks spchs prclmng "Th lltrc lvl f r chldrn r ppllng." - - Prsdnt Grg W. Bsh, spkng t th cnfrnc f myrs, Jnr 23, 2004, nd "W mst sk th qstn: s r chldrn dctd?" -- Grg W. Bsh, gst 2001... nd Bsh gts prsd b pndts lk Grg Wll fr hs "Lnclnsq lqnc." (Nrmn Mlr fnll dcdd, n . . cmmngs' wrds, "Thr s sm sht wll nt t," nd flttnd Grg Wll wth vrbl sldghmmr. S http://www.sln.cm/pltcs/bshd/2002/03/27/mlr/ndx_np.html ) . J. Smpsn cmmts mrdr, lvs hs DN t th scn lk wtr spryd frm grdn hs, nd h gts cqttd t th ppls f chrng crwds. Nd cntn? W lv n vl dgnrt tms. ncmptnc nw rcvs prs s skll, mndct scrs kds s clvrnss, rcklssnss rns stndng vtns s drng, nd cwrdc grnrs rv rvws s prdnc. Shld nyn xprss stnshmnt tht th sm hlds tr fr th pblshng ndstry? vn s...hwvr dgrdd th tms n whch w lv, smn smwhr ws t t th rst f s t gddmn wll stnd p nd spk th trth. Stck frk n yrslf, Jms . wn. Y'r n ncmptnt -- lk th rst f yr nsctl fllw s-clld "dtrs." Lrn t spll. Mstr nglsh grmmr. Fgr t hw t pnctt. THN y mght qlf t dt m mss.

#238 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:25 AM:

> Um. It is, actually. Can you see where I'm coming from?

Er, that part was meant to be a little joke about how authors can differ vituperatively over eensy meensy little details.

Though MOST of the time, it is better not to finish a sentence a preposition with. ;)

#239 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:52 AM:

Have you ever noticed how *real* crackpots - regardless of their political, religious, or aesthetic focus - are almost always incredibly verbose? It seems to point to some common underlying dysfunction.

(ok - not *always* verbose - the business card I found in my mailbox from the self proclaimed 'Nazi hunter', offering his services to all and sundry was quite short and to the point).

#240 ::: Righter ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:57 AM:

Sorry, but I can't resist injecting a little irony, here.

I'm a published fiction writer, knows lots of other pubbed and unpubbed writers. And I've noticed an undeniable pattern among the unpublished writers' responses to rejection.

The ones who don't take their potential readers' emotional reaction to a story (or the presentation of it) into account while they're writing, are the SAME ones who obsess endlessly over what an editor has--or hasn't--written in a rejection.

Call me snarky, but I often catch myself hoping they'll get a form letter so they'd know how I felt--or didn't feel, as the case may be--while reading their submissions.

Some get it, some don't. Nothing you or I can do about it until they do.

In the meantime, thank you for saving what precious little reading time I have from accidentally being filled with such things :-)

#241 ::: Antisthenes ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:00 AM:

Oh, look! It's Johnny Wizard!

#242 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:10 AM:

Can anyone guess the two words I've been trying to avoid throughout the original posting and all the subsequent comments? They've already been used by someone else here:

------- -------------

#243 ::: Mysterious Stranger ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:31 AM:

Slush Sucks?

You Suck?

Writers Suck?

Screw This?

Screw Them?

F'ing Wannabes?

F'ing No-talents?

F' You?

F' Them?

Eat This?

Blow Yourself?

Get Lost?

Go Away?

Dial 911?

I've Dialed?

Police Coming?

Run Now?

Look, Straightjacket?

Give Up?

Help Me?

Mmm, Valium?

Ginentonic, Better?

Shoot Me?

Eek, Arrrrrgh?

#244 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 02:03 AM:

Green, stamps?

#245 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 02:30 AM:

But seriously folks.

What I find rather saddening about the obsession with editorial rejection is that the people doing the obsessing are missing the important part of writing.

There are three things you can find satisfying about writing: writing, having written, and having other people look at you and say you're a writer. The luckiest few love to write, many writers love having written. I fear that people who are plunged into despair over rejection letters are people who are hung up on having other people tell them the are writers - and therefore important people - rather than the writing itself.

If you just want to be a writer, to assume the role and put on the costume, you look to editors for validation. But if you want to be a writer for real, you write, and nobody can take that away from you.

I don't want to turn this into a Harlan Ellison-esque sermon about how writing is a "holy chore," "it's not what I do it's who I am." Because that's dead wrong; writing is NOT my identity, writing is just something I do - and that's the beauty of it. It's part of my life, like watching TV and taking out the trash on Tuesday nights and feeding the cats on odd-numbered days. Writing is a compulsion, an itch, I can no more NOT write than I can stop rubbing my feet on the floor when I'm sitting down and barefoot.

By my back-of-the-envelope calculation, I've written one million words of paid prose; the only thing I've ever done to earn a living, since college, has been as a journalist. I've done probably ANOTHER million on Internet discussion forums like this one and my blog and, before that, GEnie and CompuServe. And I've written and finished four or five complete works of fiction, ranging in length from short stories to novellas, none of which have been published. As a matter of fact, my attempts at fiction have been pretty bad. But so what? I got a kick out of finishing them up. I've written four or five complete works of fiction, the number of people who can say they've accomplished that is a vanishingly small percentage of the billions populating the Earth.

If you're a professional writer, then satisfying editors is EXTREMELY important, because you may not be able to make your mortgage payment if your editor is unhappy. But if you're NOT a professional, then it's really not important at all whether an editor buys your work or not. Sure, the money for a novel is significant, even for a first novel, even in these declined times - but, financially speaking, writing a novel is a lousy investment, considering the amount of time that goes into it; you're better off financially spending the time taking accounting classes.

One of the things that creeps me out about instruction for beginning writers - and I see some of that in this discussion - is the focus on PROFESSIONALISM, at a time when new writers should just be spending time fooling around and writing.

P.S. Last time I did that back-of-the-envelope calculation was a few years ago and I came up with TWO million words of paid prose. I must be getting slower.

P.P.S. Patrick rejected two of my stories - he rejected one of them TWICE.

#246 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 03:41 AM:

Writing is a compulsion, an itch, I can no more NOT write than I can stop rubbing my feet on the floor when I'm sitting down and barefoot.

I think this, and your later comment about professionalism, is one of the more insightful things I've read here (not that there haven't been a lot of really interesting and insightful posts, of course). If you really want to be a writer, you only have to write, and viola! -- you're the butt of a lot of orchestra geek jokes. (Sorry. That's one of the perils of a word prankster marrying a musician.) At any rate, there's no third party involved. If you want to be a writer, you write.

If you want to make money as a writer, you have to study your market, learn to deal professionally with editors, and take every step you can to make your writing more marketable. Everybody who is successful in the arts is successful not because of raw talent, but because they spent the time to market themselves relentlessly, or they spend the money to hire somebody who will do it for them. This makes people unhappy, because it's unfair, just as it's unfair that bullies in fact have very high self-esteem, and apparently tend to come out healthier and wealthier than the people they bullied. But it's one of those truisms that you're better served to accept and learn to live with than to fight against.

If marketing yourself is painful, or even if it hurts your feelings to get rejection slips, well, don't submit your work anywhere. Being a published author doesn't make you any more or less a writer. Writers are people who don't have to be paid to write; they have to write, and they'd like to not have to do any other kind of work, so they generally would like to be paid to write. But there are other options. You don't have to make money as a writer to be a wrier. You can have a day job that pays the bills and write during the time in the evening when most people watch TV. Or you could marry somebody who will support you while you write. Or work as seasonal labour and use the off-season to write.

It's not impossible to arrange your life around writing without making a living doing it; it's just something most people who mostly want to be rich and famous published authors can't conceive of, because they don't feel the urge to write quite as strongly as some of us feel it. Or maybe they can't conceive of it because nobody they ever met ever did anything but what most other people did. But if you love something with a passion, it should come first in your life, money be damned.

I made my living as a writer for many years. It was much less emotionally fulfilling to write for other people than it is now, writing for myself. I don't care much about being published any more; I don't need to support myself on my writing, and I don't know if I'll ever submit anything to a commercial publisher again. I wish I could bottle this feeling of contentment I have with not knowing whether my writing would make the bestseller list; I think it would be a real balm to some people who just want to write, and are urged by their friends and family to "do something about it," as if the writing itself was not doing something. Certainly, the size of the slushpiles at small literary magazines would drop considerably.

#247 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 04:29 AM:

> There is only one answer that will not elicit irrational whining: "Thanks, check enclosed!"

Mac, you're grossly underestimating writers. We can be irrational and whine even about acceptance. When I opened the letter from F&SF and saw the cheque and contract inside, my first thought was "what, no letter telling me how Gordon loved the story and it's the greatest thing ever? I'm so disappointed!" :)

Well, okay, I was jumping and dancing and making strange happy noises and calling all my friends (and trying not to make strange noises while talking to them so they wouldn't think I'm crazier than normal), but still. You know, I think I'll start a site for authors to post their complaints about acceptances. :)

#248 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 08:37 AM:

Teresa -

"reading comprehension"

(search with regexps is a lovely thing.)

#249 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 09:20 AM:

I agree with Mitch. Yay, Mitch.

I'm gonna keep writing regardless of whether (or when) I get published. Getting published is an entirely separate endeavor for me from writing. The stories are there. They will come out. Whether anyone but my friends and writing group see them has nothing to do with that part.

I would like to see them in print. I would love to get paid for it. I'd love most having enough income from writing that it was my main -- or better yet, sole -- means of support. But that's not why I write.

Being serious about writing -- finding the time to write, to try to write the stories in my head the best way I can -- is a cherished hobby.

Submitting the writing and hoping to sell it is a career plan.

They are not the same thing.

#250 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 09:35 AM:

Teresa: Burma shave?

Ayse: It is possible to be a published writer without marketing yourself or writing things other than what you want to write. It's possible even if rejection makes you hide in a hole and stupid reviews make you bite the bedcovers. It is possible to win awards without campaigning. Self-promotion or hiring someone to promote you is not essential.

Yes, you can write for yourself. But you can write for yourself and also be published without needing to worry about that stuff overmuch.

The trouble is that the world isn't black and white and neither are the issues. You do have to be aware of where other people are standing. Marketing and integrity are not in fact virtue and vice holding flaming swords in endless opposition. Nobody is going to publish something people can't read. But if you write something pretty weird that people can read, they just market it as "You have never read a novel like this before", and you know, that's supposed to be a good thing.

Writing is in the province of Apollo, god of creativity, and publishing is in the province of Hermes, god of markets, and bearing this in mind is certainly useful. But Apollo and Hermes are brothers, not enemies.

#251 ::: TypinFool ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 09:58 AM:

;-)
I'm always somewhat surprised when other scribes seem to get SO upset over a rejection letter.
Weren't they aware that rejection slips are just a part of ANY writer's life?
Rejection slips are a right of passage, nothing to sweat. They're the 2nd step in ANY writer's career (the first being actually FINISHING a story and getting someone to look at it).
Personally, I was actually PROUD of my first rejection, and I'm not kidding, I've still got it. It's in a nice frame right there over my desk, and it's a BEAUTY. It's on Paramount letter head, with a nifty Star Trek logo across the top, and it was hand signed by Lolita Fatjo, the pre-production coordinator of the franchise from years ago.
I wasn't bitter when I got it, I was psyched! I'd taken my first step as a writer, taken my second, and was ready for my third step, (trying again, with a better story, that brought everything to bare I learned from my first attempt), and you know what's right underneath that first rejection up there in it's sleek frame?
A framed copy of A CHECK baby, also from Paramount.

#252 ::: Pica ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 10:14 AM:

I have not finished reading all the comments above which puts me at the bottom of the slush pile to which I'm adding, but wanted to thank you for this great piece.

At Harvard University Press the nicest rejection we gave, other than a lengthy, personalized letter outlining ways the book might be improved and a suggestion to send it to Routledge or Duke, where it might find a more appropriate home, was "not right for us." It seemed less formally generic than "does not meet our publishing needs at this time. It's hard to soften, though, as many people above have said.

#253 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 10:15 AM:

Charlie, hiring an employee isn't just a matter of paying their salary any more than getting a manuscript is just a matter of paying the advance.

I don't know what the ratio of investment to salary usually is--it probably varies from much less than the 9/1 you suggest for books to much more.

I also don't know quite how the levels of trust compare--a bad enough employee can wreck a business, but that's very unusual. Do editors really bet their careers on single manuscripts?

My impression is that editors change their jobs moderately often, and I don't know how likely that is because of bad editing decisions and how much is publishers changing their minds about what they want to do, cutting jobs, or going broke. I also note that, at most, editors are betting their jobs, not their careers.

#254 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 10:31 AM:

Writing is in the province of Apollo, god of creativity, and publishing is in the province of Hermes, god of markets, and bearing this in mind is certainly useful. But Apollo and Hermes are brothers, not enemies.

I know in my mind those technically are their domains, but my instinctive reaction is it's all wrong (except for their being brothers). In my heart, Apollo stands for Official Art and institutions of sanctioned creativity, while a trickster and thief and barginer is axiomatically creative in interesting ways. Maybe this is merely yet another sign of my overAudenification.

One day, I really need to write 'Br'er Mercury and the Tarbaby' — "Please, Br'er Hercules, please don't throw me down to Hades!"

---L.

#255 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 10:43 AM:

Somerset Maugham, rather than just say (as on a rejection slip) "the author is not clear," marvelously explains (as in a rejection letter):

"The author wraps his meaning in mystery so that the vulgar shall not participate in it. His soul is a secret garden into which the elect may penetrate only after overcoming a number of perilous obstacles."

#256 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 10:46 AM:

Leah Miller wrote: Judging from some posts in this thread there seem to be people who would be willing to read slush for fun and enlightenment, especially if it could be done in one's free time, at home.

I would, which I think makes me weird, but the thing is, I don't think it would be that much help. It's the last few bits on the list that take up all the time, after all, and all I could do faced with something that had passed a first-page test is tell TNH whether I liked it and what I thought of it--which would have some little value, because goodness knows I buy enough Tor books, but I wouldn't dare think myself qualified to say whether something ought to be published. Someone else would still have to read it to make that decision.

Yeah. I'm weird. I'd like to read slush.

Well, one of these days when I win the lottery I'll come down for slush parties at the Flatiron. Or something.

Jo Walton wrote: But if you write something pretty weird that people can read, they just market it as "You have never read a novel like this before", and you know, that's supposed to be a good thing.

I feel this is where I should jump in with a testimonial, but, umm, _Tooth and Claw_ is still on the inpile. It's probably #1 on the pile, but.

Yeah, it's been busy.

Maybe if Chad is still reading this monster of a thread?

#257 ::: hypochrismutreefuzz ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 11:03 AM:

Writing is in the province of Apollo, god of creativity, and publishing is in the province of Hermes, god of markets, and bearing this in mind is certainly useful. But Apollo and Hermes are brothers, not enemies.

I thought Hermes was the god of thieves. I guess it amounts to the same thing in the long run.

#258 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 11:20 AM:

Pica wrote, "At Harvard University Press the nicest rejection we gave, other than a lengthy, personalized letter outlining ways the book might be improved and a suggestion to send it to Routledge or Duke, where it might find a more appropriate home, was 'not right for us.'"

A nice thought, but if in fact the author had already submitted to and been rejected by Routledge and Duke, then annoyance at your kindly-meant suggestion would be justified, especially if they'd said "Try Harvard."

Have you ever phoned one customer service number to be told that your question wasn't their department, you should try another number; and then the people at the second number tell you the same thing and refer you to the first number? It's a little like that.

#259 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 11:58 AM:

Several people have mentioned the difficulty of getting an agent.

Would I be correct in saying that if one has written and sold short stories, that such a track record increases the odds of a good agent being willing to look at your first novel?

When I managed to make it to the Santa Fe Nebs a few years ago, one of the agents there, when he heard I'd sold a few handfuls of stories and edited a couple of anthologies, asked if I had a novel he might take a look at. (Not at that time, though I've been working on an outline and hope to have an actual manuscript done sometime next year.) This wasn't one of the top-level agents who represent people like Silverberg, but a reputable mid-level agent with a pretty good list of clients.

#260 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:54 PM:

Back up on the topic of the site originally being discussed, I wrote up some of my take on this in one of my 'blogs this morning and said something there I'd been saying here, only backwards, and it made more sense this way 'round, so I thought I'd share:

Some of the problem is the perception that some people have that editors all judge (all aspects of any submission) by One True Objective Standard.

Obviously, this just isn't so.

[Well. I say "obviously", but apparently it's not obvious to everyone.]

Therefore, disagreements are proof of The Great Editorial Conspiracy To Keep [Insert Author Name] From Being Published.

#261 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:01 PM:

Granted I'm a freak, but the acceptance is actually better than the publication, at least at my penny-ante level of writing. Knowing that a professional editor-type person liked my work enough to say "Yes, we will put our name behind your writing, and our money, and we will tell other people to read your stuff"--that's fantastic. By the time it gets published, I'm just seeing the stuff in a different font.

#262 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:01 PM:

It is possible to be a published writer without marketing yourself

Leaving aside posthumous publication, or one's spouse sending off the submissions without one's knowledge, I don't see how that can happen. Well, except the way that I do it, which is to print everything I want to print on my own press and bind it myself into limited edition book-art books. But nobody's buying the books I'm making (because I'm not selling them; I'm hoarding them in my studio to take out late at night and paw over while cackling quietly so as not to wake the Spouse).

or writing things other than what you want to write.

Well, not for me, not any more. But I know that for many MANY authors, what they want to write happily coincides with what editors want to buy. Like Stephen King, who seems to be described as a hack by a lot of literary people, but who also genuinely seems to write the very best book he can every time. Same deal for a lot of genre fiction writers, I think; they get branded as hacks or sellouts, when they are writing something that is what they love to write, writing it well, and it happens to sell well.

I could always smell insincerity as an editor, and I imagine that that ability only gets stronger with experience.

It's possible even if rejection makes you hide in a hole and stupid reviews make you bite the bedcovers.

Anything is possible. I was offering a view into a world where publication itself is not the end-all be-all of writerdom. For those people who simply cannot get beyond the level of criteria 1-4, for example, but who want to write. Or for people who have the technical skills down, but who want to do something weirder or (more likely) more banal than what would sell to a publisher easily. Or for agoraphobics like myself, who have days when answering the phone seems like too much human contact.

I think that as a culture, we're a bit too insistent that what somebody does to make money defines who or what they are.

Yes, you can write for yourself. But you can write for yourself and also be published without needing to worry about that stuff overmuch.

I think you've confused something about what I wrote, perhaps because I was being unclear: Hugely famous, rich authors/artists are very good at self-promotion (or hire somebody to do it). If that's what you want, that's what you need to do.

Also, (almost) nobody ever gets published without even a small amount of self-marketing (submitting their stuff to a publisher). These are two different scenarios. If all you want is to make a meager living on your writing (or even just see your name in print occasionally), and that's fine, then all you need to do is get the technical bits down, then submit until you get accepted. If you want to be Stephen King, a lot more work is going to be required from somebody. I understand Mr. King has a publicist and an agent to do a lot of that for him, because he doesn't care for it.

(I'm not obsessed with Stephen King, by the way; I just happened to see a Biography episode on him a couple weeks ago and it's fresh in my mind.)

Marketing and integrity are not in fact virtue and vice holding flaming swords in endless opposition.

I don't think that they are, and I didn't intend to imply that they were. My comments were intended to give people who want to write but have a hard time dealing with the marketing part of it a view into another option. That of being a writer, and choosing not to submit your work anywhere. Maybe it's my secret hope that some of those poets whose terrible, unthinkable poetry I had to read for more than eight years will read this and think, "Wow, I love writing this poetry; it really helps me get my feelings out. But nobody ever seems to accept it, so maybe I'll just write it in my diary and leave it be." But if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

I'm very realistic, now, about what I write versus what will sell to a publisher. For years there was a happy convergence of the two, but now I do things that are more, um, unsellable (namely, hand-crafted book art). And I found that the thing I hated about making my living from writing was the marketing part -- writing cover letters, having to worry about whether I'd be able to get enough assignments in a given month to cover the rent, having to manage and follow up on a list of fees due to me so that I would be paid soon enough to pay the rent, calling around to my regulars to see who needed something to fill a gap near deadline. All that was very stressful for me. For some people, the payoff of writing for a living would be great enough that that would be worth it, and talking to people is not quite so difficult. For me, the real joy came from the writing itself, not the paycheck or the sight of my nom de plume in print. When I started making my living doing other things, my writing moved off in a direction which continues to be personally satisfying to me and yet happens to be less commerically viable.

#263 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:07 PM:

I'd meant to address the "wrong book" comments. To me that suggests "person is a natural short story writer trying to write a novel", or maybe a nicer version of #8 and #10, or just "this story doesn't fire up the imagination, though it's executed well."

It's not a phrase that I would naturally use to describe a book, but maybe I've just never seen it in action.

#264 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:22 PM:

I'd really, really like to know what it means to write the wrong book. Kate, I think they're talking about things besides the ones you cite.

#265 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:29 PM:

Here's a question for editors who have to read a lot of submitted stuff: what do you need to do to clear your palate, as it were, between readings?

If I were an editor and the thing I looked at a moment ago was not so great, this could lead to a preconception that the next thing I look at won't be so great either, or a general fed-up-with-it feeling, and this could prevent me from seeing the next thing I read in the best light.

#266 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:32 PM:

Regexps is a wonderful thing.

Hypo, if you really think that, I can refer you to publishers who'll fulfill your every expectation.

Getting an agent. Here we open an institutional-size can of worms.

A bad agent is worse than no agent at all. A really bad agent is worse than not being a writer. Getting past the "no unagented submissions" barrier is not sufficient justification for hooking up with a bad agent.

The easiest time to get an agent is when you've just gotten an offer on a book. The editor phones you and says "I want to buy your book."

"Wow! Gosh! Gee Whiz!" you say coherently. Then you thank the editor, make sure you have their correct phone number, and tell them you'll get right back to them. Call the agent who's your first choice. Politely explain that you've just gotten an offer, and would they be interested in having you as a client? If they say they're not interested, call your second choice. It's hard to imagine you having to call a third choice. You're offering them a commission on a book you sold.

It's harder if you haven't sold a book. Selling short stories helps. Having a really good novel in hand also helps.

(If you've never sold anything, and one of the top agents in the genre not only takes you on as a client, but gives you his Saturday-night dinner timeslot at the next Worldcon, please believe that he's taking your prospects very seriously indeed. You know who you are.)

Least appreciated fact about agents: There are very few real ones. Of the gormless, the not very helpful, and the confirmed scammers, there are a great many.

Real agents learn how to be agents by working for other real agents. It's like a medieval apprenticeship, except the authorities don't bring back the ones that run away. After a while the young assistant becomes a sort of junior agent (I'm a little vague on this part) and starts taking on authors. Eventually they decide to set up on their own, taking some fraction of their former employer's client list with them. This is not always accomplished without friction, but as far as we can tell, that's part of the natural life cycle of the agent.

Gormless agents aren't consciously dishonest, but they don't know how agenting and publishing work. They trade ignorance with others of their kind. Many of them have gotten their ideas about how the industry work by reading websites maintained by scammers. They may have the best intentions in the world, but they can't figure out a standard contract, much less negotiate an advantageous one, and they don't know who's who and who's doing what.

Not very helpful agents have some knowledge of and connection with the industry, but what they know isn't current, and the people who were their best connections at various houses no longer hold those positions. They tend to have one or two notable clients plus a bunch of small fry and marginal types. These guys have two virtues: they won't deliberately cheat you, and they can get you past the "agented mss. only" barriers. It's still a bit like marrying someone you don't care for because at least that way you'll get laid: the imagined benefits will rapidly pall, while the underlying problems will only become more irritating.

Scam agents are legion. The wiliest ones are constantly refining their approach, and the merely sneaky ones steal riffs from them, so I won't try to describe their current cabana acts. For that, see Preditors & Editors and the Writer Beware site. Meanwhile, observe the following rules:

1. Never pay them. The real ones make their money by collecting a percentage of what the publisher pays you, and they collect it after the publisher pays it out.

2. Ask to see their client list. If for any reason they refuse to show it to you, run away. If you don't recognize their authors, be suspicious. If their authors turn out to be published by vanity or subsidy outfits, run away even faster.

3. If they try to refer you to a book doctor or freelance editor, start edging away. If they tell you that "No publisher will look at your book unless it's been professionally edited," see earlier remarks regarding fast getaways.

4. If they try to place your book via a deal that has you paying anything (that includes PublishAmerica's deal), vide supra.

5. The internet may have given scam agents a vast new playground for their operations, but Google is on your side, not theirs. Use it.

6. In a pinch, Victoria Strauss and Yog Sysop (a.k.a. Jim Macdonald) will always give you the straight dope.

And now back to work. I have books to make.

#267 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:55 PM:

Teresa, I wish you'd written that post (or some version thereof that I'd seen, cuz I suspect this isn't the first time) back when I was trying to figure out how to pick agents to query. :)

(Seriously, not that anyone needs Teresa's Knowledge to be affirmed, but she just summed up everything I learned in a year+ of going through tons of sites and books on how to find a good agent.)

Actually, I'm still dithering about the whole querying-an-agent vs submitting-to-slush thing, despite earlier proclamations to the contrary, precisely because of a point in that post: If I submit unagented and get an offer, I stand a much better chance of landing my first choice agent, who is my first choice by a wide margin. On the other hand, querying first and getting turned down probably doesn't rule out trying again later.

Dither dither.

(I do want an agent. I'm working on book #4. I think that's sufficient novel projects to make it helpful. But only book #1 is anything like submission-ready, so I'm not in a hurry, really.)

#268 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 02:53 PM:

I'd add one side-note to Teresa's exegesis on agents: I sold short stories. I wrote a novel. I got an offer from a (small, went defunct before publication) British publisher. I then approached an agent. In my case, I picked an agent with no prior experience -- I was their first new author acquisition, as far as I can tell. The reason I approached her? She was just starting out as an agent -- after having been an editor at a genre publisher for some years. In other words, she didn't have a list of prestigious authors to put ahead of me, but she was well-enough connected to do the job (and had a clear idea of what the job entailed). It was a bit of a gamble, but it paid off handsomely for me.

Anyway, my point is that agents (the reputable kind) have a relationship with editors that's a bit like the one between journalists and PR/marketing lobbyists. And a big warning sign should be an agent who doesn't actually know any of the editors in your field.

#269 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 02:58 PM:

I've never heard it was improper to submit material to agents and publishers at the same time.

Kate, Christopher: Melissa Singer says what makes a book the wrong book, and how can you tell that the author's written one, are really good questions, but that she's busy this afternoon. We'll have to return to that one, unless Beth has time to start in on it now.

The discussion of multiple submissions, yes or no, continues here. There turn out to be complex and cogent arguments on both sides.

But right now I have other things I have to do. I just had a discussion with one of our upper-level production people, and learned new intricacies of trim sizes and paper stock allocations I'd never known before.

#270 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 03:41 PM:

TNH and all the other nice editors reading this thread: go! make books! If nothing else, this'll be good conversation fodder at Boskone.

#271 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 05:10 PM:

Charlie Stross: Anyway, my point is that agents (the reputable kind) have a relationship with editors that's a bit like the one between journalists and PR/marketing lobbyists.

Editors run screaming when they see an agent coming?

#272 ::: Kit ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 06:49 PM:

As a moderator on a large fandom's Fan fiction site I see an awful lot of crap, as well as an awful lot of people who I wish would turn aside their fanfiction and write something to make themselves some money.

However, my rejection experiance has come from an internet archive. They usually send a form rejection letter (it's actually what most people complain about - they want specific help not "your pacing is bad" for a two hundread page story). My first rejection leter for a particular piece came back with a note from the editor saying I should change a couple of specific things, wait a week and then resubmit because it would get in. I changed the points and then resubmitted. I recieved another rejection for completely different points the second time. I refused to change it and waited a week to resubmit and had it rejected again for entirely different reasons then why it had been rejected on point one and two. The final time I submitted it was accepted.

The experiance taught me that I do not react well to rejection when I cannot see the point of it. It also taught me that I can use it for my own advantage (as the piece is published on the net, I used the fact it had been rejected so many times as a promo and gained myself readers).

Kithera

#273 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 07:20 PM:

Mitch: on this side of the Atlantic (hint: not yours) many journalists become PR/marketing agents, and occasionally vice versa. Plus, PR/marketing people give journalists little presents from time to time, in between the parcels of raw sewage. It makes for a more ambiguous relationship ...

#274 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 07:48 PM:

I note with interest that this is probably the 274th posting on this thread. Much kudos and my thanks to Teresa, who has successfully prevented me from starting to read the new Christopher Brookmyre novel -- my designated airline reading -- before I fly out to Boston next Monday.

#275 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 08:05 PM:

> who has successfully prevented me from starting to read the new Christopher Brookmyre novel

New Brookmyre? Good stuff - I've been holding my breath.

I was a little disappointed with _The Sacred Art of Stealing_, but not so disappointed that I'm not incredibly keen to see what he does next.

#276 ::: Reed ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 08:10 PM:

Charlie Stross wrote: "...PR/marketing people give journalists little presents from time to time..."

Gee, that sounds so...political. I must be the last person on earth to harbor disdain for this sort of thing.

A question to all the talented authors and future authors here: If you've received a rejection notice(s), are you still (sincerely) glad you submitted your work; or would you, knowing better now, rather have kept your MS a secret from the publishing world, therefore keeping that little flickering flame of What If alive?

#277 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 08:19 PM:

I'm still glad I submitted. Even the story that in retrospect probably wasn't ready for it yet.

#278 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 08:47 PM:

Reed -

One rejection doesn't kill any general hope; it kills the specific hope of having that manuscript accepted by that publisher at this time, but there are still many publishers.

And, you know, "esteemed prose" and "sensible to publish" are not the same thing. It's quite possible to get ego-boo with a rejection.

#279 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 09:06 PM:

After twenty years of making recordings, today I got my first ever acceptance based on an unsolicited demo.

Thank you all for making this wonderful coincidence possible!

#280 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 09:24 PM:

Charlie - PR people aren't analogous to agents in this discussion - they're analogous to the people sending in mss to be read on the slush pile. I'll occasionally get a good story out of a PR tip, but first I have to clear through an enormous volume of pitches that are completely inappropriate.

Mitch: on this side of the Atlantic (hint: not yours) many journalists become PR/marketing agents, and occasionally vice versa.

By "this side of the Atlantic," I presume you mean you're making the distinction "UK" vs. "America," and not the distinction "above" vs. "fishes."

And, yes, many journalists do become PR/marketing agents here in America, too. Not so much vice-versa, although a PR guy I know did quit his job recently and tell me he's looking to land a job in the journalism biz.

This is a subject I can get pretty wound up about, so I apologize in advance if I get long-winded and boring.

I work in the computer trade press. I'm involved in editing three webzines, InternetWeek, Security Pipeline and Linux Pipeline. Every business day, I get an average of 65 inquiries from PR people looking to get me to write something about their client. Most of the inquiries come in e-mail, some are made by phone. That's 65 inquiries a day, day in, day out, 325 a week, 50 weeks a year (it slows down to about 10 a day in the two-week Christmas/New Year's period).

Simply saying "no" to PR people is a significant part of my workload.

I blog this subject occasionally when I get fed up and need to vent:

- Loren Pomerantz writes: This one is about why journalists think most PR people are idiots - it's because most of them are.

- Dear PR person: Why I didn't use your pitch

Charlie Stross: "Plus, PR/marketing people give journalists little presents from time to time"

Reed: "Gee, that sounds so...political. I must be the last person on earth to harbor disdain for this sort of thing."

Far from the last, Reed; journalists have disdain for this sort of thing too. This is not because we are more honest than you think we are, but rather because the gifts are crap. The PR people send coffee mugs and T-shirts, mainly. What's worse is when one of them decides to get creative and "re-enforce the brand."

I received an e-mail a few months ago from a PR person offering to send some burgers made of Idaho beef. The gimmick: he represented an anti-spam company - get it: spam, bad meat, good meat? I told him we don't eat much red meat, and when we do we never cook it ourselves.

At least he asked first - I work from a home office and I frequently let my mail pile up for weeks without opening it. I was just imagining Julie and me wandering around the house, three weeks after the burgers arrived, wondering, "What's that smell? Did something go into the crawlspace and DIE?"

Several years ago, a PR person did NOT ask - he sent an American editor a package of fresh lobsters, not realizing that the editor was in Europe for a few months, launching the European edition of the magazine. The editor's mail was being dumped in his office pending the editor's return. The lobsters met a tragic end. The editor sent the PR guy the fumigation bill.

And then there was the PR guy about 20 years ago who sent each of the editors of InfoWorld magazine a single bullet, accompanied only by a postcard saying, "Something Is Killing Your Readers." The PR guy INTENDED to follow up with a package explaining who his client was and what was (metaphorically) killing the readers (a productivity problem which the PR guy's client's product was designed to solve). The PR campaign was interrupted, however, by a visit from the FBI.

I've blogged this subject too:

- Adventures in Public Relations Or: Don't send me your gifts, I don't want them. I know you think I'm being coy, but, really, I don't want them.

#281 ::: Reed ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 12:14 AM:

Graydon wrote: 'One rejection doesn't kill any general hope; it kills the specific hope of having that manuscript accepted by that publisher at this time, but there are still many publishers.

And, you know, "esteemed prose" and "sensible to publish" are not the same thing.'

I so agree with you on that (esteemed prose vs. sensible material). I have read some seriously lacking--in style, substance, etc.--stories that have essentially left me shaking my head in bemusement. Which is why I would make a terrible editor/slush reader: I'm a fickle reader. I would've passed on half the authors that line the Borders New Fiction shelves. And I have rather eclectic tastes in fiction, so...

I think most big name authors are familiar with the rejection note tradition in publishing. Right, it would be insane to expect instant validation of your work. Maybe I should have phrased that to say "Are you sorry you've submitted your work, and can't turn back the clock to those happy days of carefree innocence, now that your study is wallpapered with rejection notices". Not that that would speak poorly of an author's work/talent, of course. No examples are coming to mind currently, but I'm sure authors have achieved fame and glory posthumously; and there are probably a fair number of bestselling authors that were spat on and could've papered entire houses in their rejection notes pre-break out success.

I think Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was rejected five times, or something like that, before a pub house decided to take a gamble on it.

Heck, if you want to get published posthaste all you need is a pulse, access to pen and paper, a bottomless capacity for inventing neurotic female characters, ten days, and a willingness to have your slapdash pseudosoapy bestseller labeled a "Chicklet" (see Dirty Girls Social Club). But I have the feeling most of the Aspirings here have a greater sense of dignity than that.

Mitch Wagner wrote: "Far from the last, Reed; journalists have disdain for this sort of thing too. This is not because we are more honest than you think we are, but rather because the gifts are crap."

True story: I read up to the period in that first sentence and got up to make a cup of tea, thinking "Gosh, the world is really a better place than I'd previously thought", came back and read the rest of the paragraph and felt my little Faith In Humanity balloon deflate quite expeditiously.

May all your future bribes not suck.

The bullet story was too good: forget fiction, reality is far more amusing. Far more.

#282 ::: Wendy ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 01:05 AM:

Kit' wrote: However, my rejection experiance has come from an internet archive. They usually send a form rejection letter (it's actually what most people complain about - they want specific help not "your pacing is bad" for a two hundread page story).

---

As a reviewer for said Internet archive, I can say that there's been a lot of argument among the reviewers and editors over our rejection system. The different options the editors have make the rejections more specific than "story does not meet the needs of the Archive". On the other hand, we reviewers have to give feedback to the editors on why we reject or accept every story, not just the ones that were borderline. Which means reading allll the way through a whole lot of slush. Believe me, we'd love to have an option like #1 on Teresa's list to check after reading the first page of some submissions.

In addition, as you've noted, many authors who have a piece rejected from the archive don't find the checklist rejection helpful enough. Hopefully-encouraging notes are added to the form letter for stories that are almost there, but the idea of providing detailed feedback for every story we reject gives the reviewers headaches. As one put it, "We're reviewers, not beta readers. We accept or reject. Period." (Which inevitably brings the discussion around to whether or not the archive should just do as the pros do and accept or reject, period.)

It doesn't help that there are four editors and something like twenty reviewers volunteering their time for an archive that gets maybe a couple of hundred submissions a year. Getting everybody to compromise on anything is a gargantuan task.

/rant

#283 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 04:13 AM:

[My gawrsh this discussion has gotten long!]

"People who can't do advanced math, or play classical piano concertos, or pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues, generally know they can't do it. People who don't have an intimate relationship with language are far less aware of their condition, and for them the written world can be a very frustrating place. Near as we can make out, they literally can't tell that their rejected writing isn't like the writing that does get published."

In folk dance, we call them "permanent beginners." It's a common problem in all the arts I know well. Sometimes they surprise by finally "getting it." It seems to me that preparing a manuscript for submission is part of the learning process for writers; would the pros here agree?

I suspect part of the problem with the slushpile system is that, for some submitters, it's the only professional criticism they're getting at all--and they don't even know the criticism is valuable. Turning it faster would be a help, especially since it would also get submitters more quickly to the point where they could make intelligent career decisions. It seems to me that one could easily spend 10 years trying to learn be a writer and not make it, learning no marketable skills on the way--no wonder many pros say that if you can do anything else, do so. That said, speeding it up would seem to require a windfall to pay slushpile readers or maybe a slush readers volunteer co-op, neither of which seem likely things.

#284 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 05:59 AM:

I don't know what the ratio of investment to salary usually is--it probably varies from much less than the 9/1 you suggest for books to much more.

The numbers I've seen in the past indicated that on a continuing basis, typical employees "cost" their employers roughly double their salary (unless they're being wildly over- or underpaid, of course). That also probably doesn't hold for employees who do a lot of company travel, or who receive a large amount of special training on company time; but a regular denizen of a cubicle farm who makes $50,000 a year, say, probably costs his company $100,000 a year.

#285 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 10:26 AM:

Randolph - I'm no professional, but I would say that the entire writing process is a learning process. Even language use - though we should already be on good terms with the Muse of Langauge. It's interesting to be happily writing along and then suddenly realize that you've used the word "just" in every other sentence. (I've fixed that problem; now I'm on to using "of course" in every other sentence.) Or that your past experiences with a foreign language are creeping into your use of English. (I'm so confused after studying German for twelve years that I can't remember if it's English or German to describe something in the order of time, manner, place.)

But that's just the problem with folks in categories 1-7 (and maybe even 8-10): writing is not a learning process to them. It's something that they believe has come so naturally to them that they can't possibly need to do anything other than run spell-checker on their manuscript. Or perhaps change the formatting so it looks pretty. But a deeper self-analysis seems to have flown the coop, thus negating any potential for learning in the writing process.

#286 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 10:55 AM:

Kellie - German goes Te Ca Mo Lo: Temporal Causal Modal Local.

I can't believe I remember that from High School German back in 1975 or so.

#287 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 11:11 AM:

It's something that they believe has come so naturally to them that they can't possibly need to do anything other than run spell-checker on their manuscript.

I dated someone -- briefly -- who held this view and took it one better: he said he would never let an editor change anything he wrote.

No. Really. His natural talent couldn't be sullied by the hands of an editor.

Even then, I knew this was pretty much going to be the kiss of death for his ever getting published. Looking at it now, a dozen years later, I see him as prime candidacy for vanity publishing, unless he got over it.

#288 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 12:15 PM:

As Cyrano said "I might! If my blood didn't curdle at the thought of anyone's changing a single comma!"

#289 ::: Holly M. ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 12:41 PM:

Tina said: I dated someone -- briefly -- who held this view and took it one better: he said he would never let an editor change anything he wrote.

Ditto, babe. My grandfather said the same thing, couple years ago, after my mom and I went over his MS with red pens. He also said, "Editors are supposed to ENCOURAGE writers, not tell them what they did wrong."

Ahem.

Re: writing the wrong book, I can take a stab at that one.

Example one:
Say you really like reading SF and horror. But your college prof instills in you a deep shame of your interest in spec fic and convinces you that the only noble goal is literary fiction (whatever the hell that is).

So you write a perfectly competent contemporary novel, full of fleshed-out characters, subtle imagery, and nonlinear plotting, all carefully crafted in the image of Faulkner. Your prof loves it. Your classmates praise it. You send it off to one publisher after another and they all send it back with, "Great writing, but it just doesn't work somehow." (In cases where there is an overwhelming editorial consensus, you should take it seriously.)

It doesn't work because your heart's not in it. Trust me. I know this. You need to drop the literary pretentions, which aren't really yours anyway, and get on with writing the stuff that inspires you.

Example two:
Your first novel will not retire quietly. Maybe you wrote it in college. Or high school. Or junior high. Maybe you've rewritten it every year for the last ten. You know it was bad back then, but it's so much better now.

The truth is, it's not. It's like pie crust that's been worked too long. It's tough. No layers. No nice lumpy bumps to make it interesting. Your first manuscript is like your first child: it's going to be screwed up, no matter how hard you try--probably because you're trying too hard, and it will fight your attempts to straighten it out.

Now, I'm not saying never to revise, but I have seen stories that were just plain worked to death. Stories have to be fairly fresh and new to be engaging. You have to be excited about it, or we won't be.

Furthermore, while a writer's skills usually improve with time, often the concept of a first novel is simply too weak to build a story upon, and no amount of embellishing will completely disguise the fact.

It's the wrong novel. Love it for what it is, but leave it in the back of the drawer and write something new, with a better foundation. Something you're passionate about.

Something in my desk drawer is whimpering.

#290 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 01:16 PM:

Mitch, you rule!

I was the on-the-ground, writer/media tracker/general dogsbody at a PR arm of an advertising agency. We had important clients, they regularly got stories based on our press releases. Then we had other clients who were trying to sell the 12th of the same product on the market and got royally pissed that they weren't getting media coverage. And paying good dough for our services (or reneging on their bills after approving services). Then my boss would rag on me about making - yes MAKING the media cover that client. How the hell do I do that?

On the other hand, that particular boss, a bit before he laid my position off (he was elminating anyone who had been hired by the first director of PR at the agency), got totally pissed off at me because I couldn't find a service that would let him do some sort of video taped publicity stunt that involved parachuting out of an airplane by himself. "XXX, they all require lessons to parachute by yourself." "You'd better fucking out someone who will!" (XXX said, standing over me and yelling,,,) I purely wish I had, it would have done the agency a service -- he got fired outright for stealing things like a video camera... laptop, etc.

Until I worked for the last guy I kind of enjoyed PR, my clients were good clients (we were business to business), I had real fun with an employee newsletter for a bank until federal amalgamated bancshares pushed a pseudopod in to the MO/KS/OK area and swamped them.

I'm so glad I don't work there anymore. I had three months off with pay, etc. in the middle of what had been the most miserable winter we'd had until now, I have a happy job.... and they let me work at home! (with salary and benefits,....)

#291 ::: Melody ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 02:19 PM:

No matter how many things I write, or what I write: prose, poetry, copywriting, et al; if it is not edited, refined, refurbished at least once; I know I have not done my best.

It is hard enough to strive to capture content, context, clarity, and character. But to achieve perfection, unsulliable artfulness in one fell swoop? I can't even begin to be that assertive and self-assured.

(even now I cringe to post this and desperately reviewing commas, semi-colons, et cetera, knowing some editor is cringing at my grammatical incorrectness. )

#292 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 05:39 PM:

Just as there are well-known SF novels I haven't read, it seems entirely plausible that a poet might not have read that William Carlos Williams poem, well-known though it is.

What seems a bit weird is that a poet, submitting to a poetry magazine, would consider it unreasonable that the magazine couched its rejections in poetic form.

#293 ::: Von Bark ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 09:40 PM:

regarding slush:

Excellent essay and comments. Goes a ways to describing the complexity of the creative process: Eric Clapton once said: "I'm an egomaniac with an inferiority complex". Seth said: "As an artist I have to be both arrogant and humble at the same time: arrogant enough to put in the effort to push my vision on an uncaring world, but humble enough to want to be aware of my weaknesses and constantly strive to improve my work". Your slush essay touches on this human contradiction.

I would very highly recommend a recent satirical novel about the publishing industry: "HappinessTM" (also released under the title "Generica") by Will Ferguson. It describes the futile efforts of a cynical slush reader to prevent what he believes is most pathetic unsolicited manuscript ever submitted from taking over the planet. Hilarious stuff.

Trivia question: which modern classic matches this submission query: "My son wrote this novel and nobody liked it and he killed himself, will you please read it?"

#294 ::: Karen Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 10:52 PM:

A downunder perspective on a fascinating topic, and many thanks to Teresa for broaching it. I've just done a 2 book deal with Harper Collins Australia -- my first. After submitting the story as a standalone I eventually received a fabulous rejection letter, saying basically you write well but this story has some problems. Why not consider x, y, z, and feel free to resubmit? I did, after turning the standalone into a duology, and made the sale. All in all, this took over a year. In the meantime I submitted a completely different book. I rewrote it 3 times on editorial advice, all with no commitment, and in the end it was turned down, but passed along to the YA division. They turned it down too, but with a highly complimentary rejection letter. That story goes back in the drawer for a rewrite at a later date. Those who rejected it were absolutely right to do so. I have more work to do there but at the time was far too inside the project to see it.

My point is this: from my reasonably limited experience, editors really really want to find a publishable manuscript. It's what keeps them in business. No sane editor rejects a story out of spite or because they get their jollies torpedoing some poor sap's dreams. And anybody who thinks so needs to have a little lie down till the delusion passes.

What we as writers must grasp is that sometimes we're not as good as we think we are. And if we can find somebody who truly does want to read good writing, and who will honestly tell us when we're on the money and when we're just on the nose, then we should kiss their metaphorical feet. We might not want to hear the story sucks just now, but the fact is that it might, and we owe it to ourselves to listen to that advice and then get back to work.

My only exposure to a slushpile was when I was involved in judging a ms competition, three years running. And much of the entered work was dire, so it didn't make the short list. And that's the way it is. And if we don't want to be abandoned to the 'dire' pile, we have to be as impersonal, meticulous and critical about our own work as we are in a bookshop asking ourselves why we should pay $20 for that paperback. (Which is, alas, what we're paying for mass market paperbacks in Australia).

And that's my 0.2c worth!

#295 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 12:30 AM:

[...] a slush readers volunteer co-op, neither of which seem likely things.

Well, http://www.pgdp.net/ is a proofreading volunteer co-op. Perhaps the idea isn't as impossible as all that.

Ambar

#296 ::: Elaine ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 12:43 AM:

It isn't only editors who have to reject these people. As an artist, I was contacted a couple of years ago by a writer looking for someone to illustrate her book.
She assured me that her book was 'going to be published', and asked for a standard large color piece for the cover and one full-page black and white illustration for each chapter.
I was excited, I'd never done any book illustrations before. I met with her and we discussed my working for a small commission and a portion of the royalties..I left with a copy of her prologue and first chapter.
Then I read it.
Her grammar was poor, her prose was weak and disjointed, her premise was cliched.
I couldn't imagine picking it up as a reader, let alone an editor. I met with her again, and asked about her editor. She became vague and evasive. She couldn't give me an editor's name or a specific publisher, and it turned out that the sample she gave me was all she'd written thus far.

I felt like I'd been scammed.

I suppose she thought the illustrations would have made her manuscript really stand out. 8/

When we talked, she told me the first artist she'd worked with abandoned her for no good reason at all...I wonder what she's saying about me right now? It was hard to tell her no...but I couldn't afford to work for cobwebs and hope.

I really feel for those of you who are editors, it can't be easy.

#297 ::: Alma Hromic Deckert ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 01:31 AM:

re. agents - it's one of those chicken-and-egg situations for young authors - can't get a book accepted without an agent, can't get an agent without a book offer, what now?...

charlie stross got lucky in one way, i got lucky in another - i connected with a really well known British agent some ten years ago or so through sheer chutzpah on my part, then life happened and i went my own way, and when i was working on the megabook coming out this spring i took another dose of chutzpah and emailed that agent and asked if she would be willing to take me on. as it happened, circumstances weren't right there - but she DID steer me to someone who might be interested, who WAS interested, and who has since worked miracles for me. without my agent - we've been in partnership for over a year, now - i couldn't have got very far - she opened doors that would have not only been inacessible to me without her, i would not have even known that they were there.

having a good agent really is worth its weight in comissions.

having said that, teresa has it in a nutshell - a bad agent is far worse than no agent at all. homework is tough but it's worth doing in this instance.

#298 ::: Jen ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 08:19 AM:

I can imagine the problem by thinking of the slush pile as a real life version on www.fanfiction.net A fair number of stories can be rejected on the basis of the summary alone; a large number more by the end of the first page. Some will look interesting at first glance, but upon further reading that first impression will have been proved remarkably mistaken.

I've never gotten any really nasty rejection letters; then again, I've only just started submitting things, so perhaps I just need to be patient?

#299 ::: Dgns ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 10:39 AM:

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#300 ::: Graydon notices a pre-disemvowelled rantlet ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 10:50 AM:

Contemptibly bad insecurity management, too.

#301 ::: Del ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 11:07 AM:

... Did he get translated into leet instead of fully disemvoweled?

Anyway, great article.

#302 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 12:18 PM:

Von Bark asks:

"Trivia question: which modern classic matches this submission query: 'My son wrote this novel and nobody liked it and he killed himself, will you please read it?'"

I believe it's "A Confederacy of Dunces." Tellingly (whether of the book or of me, I can't be sure), I've had a very hard time slogging through it.

Re: Agents -- ironically I had a harder time getting an agent after I had sold my books than before. I got my non-fiction agent when he approached me about doing a book (normally a warning sign, incidentally, but he was just starting out and was very clear he wouldn't be asking me for money up front). But the first fiction agency I approached passed on representing me -- even though at that point I had already sold two fiction books to a very reputable house. Apparently they thought that they'd have a difficult time representing the work, even though it had been sold. (I got another agent instead, clearly.)

Showing that getting an agent, like everything else about getting published, can be a random and inexplicable process.

#303 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 12:45 PM:

Hrm. He alternates between spelling Teresa's first name with and without an H. How's that for consistency? (A minor nitpick, I will concede, but spelling editors' names correctly is one of the first unwritten rules of submitting, right?)


#304 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 01:04 PM:

Thanks, Graydon. I also got e-mail from Jim Macdonald, subject header FCKNG DGNS. "Pre-disemvowelled" is what it is; presently, was. Heigh-ho, off I go ...

#305 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 01:25 PM:

... can't get a book accepted without an agent, can't get an agent without a book offer, what now?...

Neither is strictly true. While having an agent will make it easier to get a book offer, it isn't required. While having a book offer will make it easier to get an agent, it isn't required.

What is required is workmanlike-or-better prose and a compelling story compellingly told.

#306 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 01:27 PM:

Teresa --

Alas that I lack Mr. MacDonald's gift for the pithy phrase!

I shall just have to chortle quietly to myself in appreciation, and be content therewith.

#307 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 02:25 PM:

If I were going to attack me, grammar is not the subject I would choose, nor would Making Light be my first choice of venues.

If I knew Dgns were familiar with Sandman, I'd refer him to a panel which explains this very concept.

#308 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 02:48 PM:

Whoops -- sorry, Del, didn't mean to ignore you. The answer is: No. The one-for-one substitution of bits of punctuation for his vowels was something he did to himself. He missed one, which makes me think he went through and made all those changes by hand. Automated search-and-replace wouldn't let one "u" stand while transforming all the others.

#309 ::: Ray Girvan ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 03:22 PM:

TNH: "Near as we can make out, they literally can't tell that their rejected writing isn't like the writing that does get published."

Strikes a chord. See this Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper - "Unskilled and Unaware of It" (www.apa.org/journals/psp/psp7761121.html) which talks about incompetence, including in writing. Incompetence, it argues, carries a dual burden: not merely the incompetence itself, but the associated cognitive inability to recognise competence elsewhere. I came to the conclusion recently that writers' groups are a waste of time for this very reason. You can critique until you're blue in the face, but many, if not most, amateur writers will never, ever, grasp what their problem is.

#310 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 03:34 PM:

Ray Girvan: The paper you link to explains a LOT!

The mutant (not in a good way) fans who cost me $2,200,000+ in lost wages at Rockwell, and who helped ruin the Space Shuttle, were convinced that they were greatly skilled in Engineering and in Science Fiction. Neither knew Calculus (essential for Engineering, right?) and the one who plagiarized me on "The Integrated Space Plan" had no clue that Robert Heinlein had invented the Future History chart.

One had two published interviews in a 1970s semiprozine, and cultivated the attention of genuine SF authors through asskissing and parties. Even fooled the former attorney for SFWA, who said nice things about the defendant online.

They were blithely convinced that they were super-competent, and that self-confidence helped to convince others. Proof to the contrary was ignored.

I saw this when I was an actor. I learned quickly that I was a bad actor, because my paraphrases caused others to miss the cues they awaited. But there was no shortage of actors worse than I who expected to be superstars any day now.

I saw this in politics where, as I say, I was elected twice to local councilman offices. The very worst councilmen (and -women) were conviced of their competence, although everything whatsoever which they did resulted in being overturned by higher authorities, or resulted in lawsuits, or were flat-out unconstitutional.

And George W. Bush honestly believes that he was a good soldier (as Reagan also believed) and a great President.

Hmmmm...

#311 ::: Nick Douglas ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 03:37 PM:

Scalzi, if you're slogging through "Confederacy," I think you accidentally picked up "Harry Potter" with the wrong binding. Perhaps your bookstore has been overtaken by Italo Calvino, because "Confederacy" is gold.

#312 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 03:45 PM:

If I'd first read the wonderful novel
"Confederacy of Dunces", then I might not have gone to the Worldcon in New Orleans.

The Con was the worst-run I have ever seen. I was in the Green Room, along with Big Name authors such as Terry Pratchett, as schedules were changed RIGHT THERE, and panels begun, without said big name authors being notified by staffers 6 feet away.

But who cares? It was in the French Quarter, and those who gave up on the Con and roamed the restaurants, bars, concerts, and environs had a wonderful time.

So where were the real dunces? On the streets of N'Orleans, on the Con staff, or in the editorial offices where "Confederacy" was again and again summarily rejected?

And, Nick, my wife, son, and I (all professional authors) adore the Harry Potter books. To each his/her own.

#313 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 05:05 PM:

Anybody interested in rejection letters should look for a copy of The Eureka Years: Boucher and McComas's Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction 1949-1954, which prints a selection of rejections sent out by that pair (among the most literate and gracious editors ever to grace an sf magazine). A couple of samples:

17 November 1949

Dear Mr. Lowert:

First a word of warning: 95% of all editors in the business would simply have returned your MS unread, because it was in handwriting. Or rather they wouldn't even have returned it, since no postage was enclosed, but just dumped it in the wastebasket.

If you can't afford to buy a typewriter, then beg, borrow or steal one. Or pay to have your story typed by a professional. Submitting handwritten MSS is a pure waste of time. And ALWAYS enclose return postage, and put your name and address on the story as well as on the cover letter.

AL'S REVENGE certainly isn't publishable (how many first stories are?): but it's a little hard to say whether it shows promise. The idea of a corpse returning after the cement treatment is good and I think new; but the writing, I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn, is very amateurish. The structure's awkward, your characters are just names without personalities, the prose has no individuality.

The hacks that you speak of so scornfully (and incidentally, they do not make "comfortable livings") may have little real talent, but they do have experience and technique. The only way to get those qualities is by reading a great deal in the fields that interest you, reading critically and trying to observe just how things are put together, how effects are attained; and by writing a great deal, to the point where you begin to see what's wrong with your earlier stuff and how to improve it.

As I say, it's hard to tell from this very fumbling first effort whether you should continue. But if you do decide to, we'd be very happy to see how you're coming along -- say about 20 stories from now.

        Sincerely yours,
        The Editors

And here's one to an agent:

16 March 1950

Sorry but... after reading this, A.B. coined the proverb: one man's turd is another man's turquoise. This disgusting little piece of scatology is definitely not our turquoise. McC

(The latter submission was clearly ahead of its time; it would be snapped up for Hollywood today.)

#314 ::: John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 05:08 PM:

Nick:

Nope, nary a mention of Hogwarts in my copy.

I'm willing to entertain the idea that the problem lies with me and not the book. Which is why I put it aside rather than throwing it out and will attempt it again in a year or two. Perhaps by then it will have grown on me, or me into it.

#315 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 06:05 PM:

Actually, Dgns didn't just miss one: a quick scan reveals 3 a's, 2 i's and an e. (I didn't notice the u that Teresa mentions, however.)

#316 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 06:36 PM:

For what it's worth, I got an excellent agent without having sold my book first. I wrote him a query letter, he wrote back and asked to see the manuscript, and ta-da! It's now being submitted to places which do not accept unagented submissions.

Persistence was the key here. And, as Teresa mentions, it's important to only query agents who you would actually want to have represent you. My first agent (for TV, not books) was indeed worse than useless. This time around I was not willing to settle for someone whose only qualification was that he had one working client and wasn't a scam artist.

#317 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 07:22 PM:

Actually, I've seen automated programs miss replacing characters on many occasions. One of the ways that happens is when a character is entered while some unprintable keystroke is pressed, other than the shift key. What this does is create a new combination that doesn't quite match what the replacement program is expecting to find, but that still appears correct visually. This does not happen in all programs, but I have seen this happen in several brands of word processors in particular.

#318 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 08:30 PM:

Teresa: Which issue of Sandman?

(And if we're referring to why refering to a seemingly singular "professional" in the first clause and ending with the plural "their rates"--is it because "a professional" could refer to any in a large group?)

#319 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 09:20 PM:

RE: Nolacon

Yes, it was an excreably run convention. Not that I noticed. We were miseraby poor at the time, but somehow we managed to gather up the plane fares and a bit of dough to eat with. Some dear friends understood our plight and let us stay in their hotel room for free.... something we'll always love them for. Jim was the Hugo Ago-go (he had a position with the Hugo committee, which even now I cannot divulge.... )

1) I had my first totally cognitive disassociation event -- I was going up an elevator in the Sheraton and coming on the down elevator was (in order of viewing) - a) a pair of nice high heels, b) a shapely pair of clean-shaven legs, c) a miniskirt and a belt with an amplifier, d) a tank top with chest hair spilling out as well as arm hair and a guitar, and e) a bearded man-head..... I was totally astonished. I was accustomed to transvestism and even transgenderism (one of Jim's best friends from High School made the change from male to female and is a MUCH happier person). But this was just astonishing....

2) The French Quarter. There should never be a Worldcon in a city where the stuff that the city provides is so much more interesting than a worldcon can provide that the worldcon becomes the second-rate item..... I think. I'm not certain. But I spent most of my days (after finding that I was NEVER, EVER going to find the programming items I wanted to attend) exploring the French Quarter.

#320 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2004, 10:13 PM:

Paula - I'm not much of a con-goer myself, but I know a couple of fans who plan their vacations around cons - a few days at the con, and a few days before or after to see the city the con is in.

We're thinking about doing the same thing this year: a couple of weeks touring the Northeast, finishing up with Labor Day weekend and Worldcon.

On our first weekend living in San Francisco, we stopped at a little health-food grocery store, where I saw a person wearing a sundress shopping in the produce section. The person was a man. I don't know if he was a transvestite or just a man taking advantage of the relaxed mores to enjoy wearing a sundress in hot weather - a sundress is, after all, much more practical in hot weather than anything a man might wear. Extra credit question: what's the difference? how would you tell?

#321 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 01:30 AM:

PiscusFiche: I'll take a guess at the Sandman issue. Episode 6 of "The Season of Mists", when Morpheus confines the demon Azazel.

"This is my home, Azazel, my place of power. This is the Heart of the Dreaming. Reality here conforms to my wishes. It is what I wish it to be -- no more, no less."

#322 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 03:29 AM:

I actually picked up a copy of Confederacy of Dunces while in New Orleans, in May of last year, after seeing a program on local cable interviewing the guy's mother. Somehow, I had managed to complete miss its existence until then, although since then I seem to have come across a rather wide assortment of references to it.

I highly recommend people who have trouble with it stylistically give it a second chance. There was a point at which that was true for me, but once I kept going I was sucked in but good.

I do suspect that visiting New Orleans first, then reading it, makes it more interesting, though.

As far as holding Worldcon in New Orleans goes: I don't see where it's much different than holding it in any large-ish city, where there are also a ton of things to do. I mean, don't get me wrong, I loved it there, but the French Quarter (or anywhere else) doesn't auto-trump Worldcon. Taking an extra couple days (or more, if you can) to see the city would be nice, but that'd be true in other places, too. If the Worldcon was poorly run, naturally the city looks more attractive than it, but again, that could be said of other places.

Of course, I've only gone to one Worldcon, and honestly, I'm not sure I'm going to go to another. There's a point at which I simply overload on too-much-to-see, too-many-people-to-meet. I skipped the one in San Jose, and that was a bus ride away for me (maybe two busses). So I may be approaching this with a different mindset to begin with. But if I were going to go, I am sure I could fit in a bit of sight-seeing around the the Must Do things at the con, or extend my stay if the host city was that interesting.

#323 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 04:36 AM:

I'll take a guess at the Sandman issue. Episode 6 of "The Season of Mists", when Morpheus confines the demon Azazel.

To be absurdly completist about it, this scene and quote also appear in Jill Thompson's Death: At Death's Door (a manga-styled retelling of Season of Mists from Death's POV).

#324 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 08:22 AM:

John M. Ford wrote: Wow, slushspam.

Sirs:

Enclosed please find the manuscript of You Can Have a Larger Penis. It details a simple method whereby, using natural herbal supplements, any man can increase his penis size up to 150 percent in as little as thirty days. Perhaps it's a little long, but I think you'll agree that this could be a big seller...

*****

Sorority Orgy

Chapter 1: The Webcam

As Amanda ran perkily up the steps of the Tri-Delt house, the wind occasionally lifted the pleats of her plaid cheerleader skirt to reveal a soft curve at the top of her thighs.

"Hey, Amanda," her sorority sister Diane said mischievously as blond, busty Amanda walked in the door, "look what we got!" She pulled a small electronic device out of a cardboard carton. "It's a webcam! Imagine what we can do when we hook this up to our own website!"

Soon the girls had the camera all hooked up and ready to braodcast anything it saw to the world. "Hey," said Amanda, "let's give them a look at my panties!

"Woops, I forgot! I'm not wearing any!"...

*****

DEAR SIR OR MADAM:

I HAVE ENCLOSED AN OUTLINE AND THE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS OF MY NOVEL THE AFRICAN PRISONER. IT'S THE THRILLING, FAST-PACED STORY OF AN ORDINARY BANK CLERK IN LAGOS, NIGERIA, WHO ONE DAY FINDS HIMSELF IN POSSESSION OF SEVENTEEN MILLION DOLLARS ($17 MILLION) IN FUNDS LEFT BEHIND BY A CORRUPT BUREAUCRAT WHO DIES IN A PLANE CRASH. IN A DESPERATE ATTEMPT TO RECLAIM PART OF THE MONEY, HE MANAGES TO MAKE CONTACT WITH A KINDLY AMERICAN WIDOW WHO LENDS HIM THE USE OF HER BANK ACCOUNT. WHAT FOLLOWS IS AN EXCITING, DEADLY CAT-AND-MOUSE GAME WITH NIGERIAN CON MEN, PRIVATE DETECTIVES, AND THE FBI BUNCO/FRAUD DIVISION....

#325 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 09:09 AM:

Ray Girvan: I came to the conclusion recently that writers' groups are a waste of time for this very reason. You can critique until you're blue in the face, but many, if not most, amateur writers will never, ever, grasp what their problem is.

That's ... excessive. I expect there are some writers' groups containing only incompetents; you can probably find circle jerks in any hobby or profession. But this thread was kicked off when T found a collection of (apparently irretrievable) rectocranial inverts; that doesn't make it a fair sample of the universe of would-be writers. A counter-example: IIRC the Liavek books were born in a group of would-be writers. You can argue that as an unfair comparison, as one or more members had already been published -- but I doubt they would have stayed around if the rest of the group had been interested in ego-stroking and self-pity rather than learning.

On another subthread, I'll cop to being one of those people who never saw the point of Confederacy of Dunces; I do wonder whether it would have gotten such a critical reception if some editor had taken it on \before/ the author killed himself, but I know tastes differ.

#326 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 01:58 PM:

Re: The Sandman Issue - I hadn't considered it quite in that light, although of course, it's still applicable. I guess I was thinking that Teresa was explaining some obscure grammar rule through an example in Sandman. (After all, Sandman is where I first learned about sestinas.)

#327 ::: Joshua Rizer ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 02:56 PM:

While I appreciate the effort here to inform us sensitive writers on how to take rejection, spare me the perspective gained from your lofty, tiring position. You sound like the pretty girl that complains about the irritating number of dates proposed to her. Aren't the rejections by editors enough without going to rejections.com and further rejecting writer's feelings towards not being published? Most writers can't be creative full time, with a head for business and posess a salesman's silver tongue too. I don't see any reason to poke fun at them for it. Granted, many writers refuse to admit their own flaws, but sometimes that ignorance is a necessary armor to get to the next day, and maybe in that next day they'll realize their short comings without the help of sarcasm from you.

Dear Slushpile author,
Your piece was sarcastic, derivitive of others work and calloused where it should have been sensitive. I'm afraid we cannot at this time accept your advice as little was given.

Thank you very much.

#328 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 03:15 PM:

I just have a moment here; I'll be back later today.

One thing I've kept forgetting to say, in re Ray Girvan's astute suggestion, is that my instantaneous reaction to "Unskilled and Unaware of It" was that it explained slush as nothing else ever had.

#329 ::: Jenny Crusie ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 03:15 PM:

Just wanted to say that that was a great essay, and I'm on the side of the editors. I've been rejected so many times I practically have tire treads on my back, and every time it was a very good thing. If some of that stuff had seen print, my career would be over. Plus by rejecting me, those editors kept me from contracting with somebody who didn't love my stuff. That's really crucial, I think, having an editor who thinks you're brilliant and treats you that way. There are much worse things than being unpublished. (Got an editor from hell thread?)
Also, I have never been able to get through A Confederacy of Dunces, so put me on the slow track, too.
Really a great essay. Thanks.

#330 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 03:41 PM:

Okay, just a couple more.

David Goldfarb, the "u" isn't there because I noticed it. The rest of the vowels I didn't. I find I feel no guilt over not paying more attention to Dgns, though I salute you for spotting the missed vowels.

Elizabeth, I'm on record as favoring "their" as a neuter pronoun -- a usage that has a long history in English. Dgns, for all his braggadocio about grammar, has apparently reached an advanced age without noticing that that's one of the language's legitimate variations.

David again: That's the panel, though I was thinking of the art rather than the text. I'd have re-ballooned it as "Hello, have you thought about where you are?" There's no place in the universe that entirely conforms to my wishes, nor would it be proper for there to be one. Another aspect to disemvowelling rather than deleting posts is that it acknowledges that those people and their viewpoints exist, which helps keep me honest.

Robert, if I were handing out virtual prizes, you'd get one.

Ray, Chip, the usefulness of writers' groups varies with the group. The Scribblies were undeniably successful.

Finally, Joshua Rizer, let me say, in a purely democratic and street-level spirit, that if you had a better ear for what's going on here, you probably wouldn't get rejected as often as you do.

#331 ::: Cath Allan ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 04:29 PM:

I'm *working* on becoming a pro writer [in between, of course, raising a small child and trying to keep a house in order] but so far all I'm known for is my fanfic. [shamelessplug]Check out my site for my literary ramblings[/shamelessplug].

Anyway, sometimes I find a fellow writer who IMHO needs a few helpful tips. The potential for greatness is there, they just need a mentor. The people I pick on have one of three reactions:

1) They vanish, never to be seen again.
2) We become fast friends and I gain someone to confab with over my multitude of ideas.
3) I get a rain of abuse [the rarest so far].

The one abuser I encountered sounds *so* much like the people mentioned abusing the poor editors in this article that I feel very empathic towards anyone receiving a future work of mine.

Never going to complain. Never *ever* going to complain. I hereby vow to take any lumps I'm due with the quiet knowledge that I've made one person's day that much easier.

#332 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 06:07 PM:

If "Jenny Crusie" is the one who wrote FAKING IT, thank you for making me laugh aloud and repeatedly and for changing my mind about the entire romance genre. I went out the other day and bought three more of your books.

If not, never mind.

#333 ::: Joshua Rizer ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 06:44 PM:

I never said that I was rejected, but perhaps you remember rejecting me in the past, although that seems unlikely. I apologize sincerely for the venom earlier. I am not a regular here, and did not take any time whatsoever to understand the forum before responding.
I only read familiar advice that outlines a simple equation for authors which is essentially that: if you write quality work and present it in a concise, polite manner, you will be published. This is never guaranteed in so many words, but it is implied through negative relief when so many pieces of advice suggest that an author's failure is because of their technique, their presentation, their grammar, when many entry level people ARE hitting all of these points and still haven't found their way in. True, most pieces are probably rejected with good reason, but in the spirit of helping people, should we poke fun at those who maybe aren't good enough for print? Should we poke fun at those that ARE good enough for print but haven't gotten their break?
The link I followed into this discussion suggested a helping hand, and maybe that gave me preconceptions. I don't seek applause or cheerleading, really I don't. But when I came to the portion regarding the 14 reasons for rejection, it read to me more like a David Letterman top ten. A neurochemical disorder is sarcastic, and I feel that too often brutal truth is seen as the only way to teach someone the error of their ways, like writers have to be hazed in order to be accepted. It seems silly to a writer to receive harsh criticism when we can pick up any hardbound junk on the bestseller list and hold it back to our own critics, bug eyed.
Whether or not an author takes a rejection too seriously, it is still serious stuff. For some of us weepy softies that probobly write for the wrong reasons, it is a fifth characteristic of life along with reproduction, consumption and so on. So it's hard to read sarcasm in reference to the process. It might be like listing the failures of alcoholics at each of their twelve steps on Felloffthewagon.com.
Just to beat anyone to the punch regarding my own attitude, yeah I'm pissed about rejection. Guess what, I thought I was better than I really am, I thought I had more to say than I do, and I've got a stack of rejections longer than my silly novel and heavier than my lap top. Of course I'm bitter about it and of course I'm trying to be better than that and write better than I have been. When I try to find a course that will help me understand writing more clearly, do I need to scoff at other people's misguided frustration from a professional in the know? I realize there were other intentions and other points made, like helping us to cope with our reactions to rejection. I just failed to see the, "Get back out there and try harder." I saw the, "God I'm stupid for feeling bad." But again, I realize that much of your essay was about the eyes we see with.
Again, I hid behind anonymity and sniped from a distance. I'm sorry. These were the feelings I wanted to express earlier. Thanks for listening and sorry to ugly up the board.

#334 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 07:30 PM:

Joshua Rizer--

Teresa and her commenters have not been saying "if you write well and are polite, you will be published." Rather, they're saying that if you write poorly, you almost certainly won't be, and that being rude to people is not going to improve any of our chances, and neither is complaining publicly about standard form rejection letters. (In my case, finishing the work-in-progress is logically and chronologically prior to worrying about rejections.)

It's been noted upthread that sometimes editors will turn something down simply because there's no room in the magazine, or in the publisher's book line, for anything else this year; or there's room, but only for short-shorts, and your excellent work is a novella; or they've got too many police procedurals/space operas/sestinas this year, and they might accept your story about cozy detective story/time travel romance/epic poem.

#335 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 08:09 PM:

a simple equation for authors which is essentially that: if you write quality work and present it in a concise, polite manner, you will be published.

Good heavens, I haven't seen anybody here say that, except wishfully. The sad truth is that you can write quality work and present it in a concise, polite manner, and still not get published. I've got a couple hundred rejection slips to prove that -- most of them from pieces that were later accepted for publication elsewhere. The best advice I got when starting out was to have so many pieces out at any given time that any one rejection didn't hurt too much. The other piece of advice I got was something that I think was already mentioned here: when you send a piece out, get the another copy of it ready for the next submission, so you can drop it in the mail the very day the SASE, stomped, mangled, and vomited-upon, comes back from purgatory.

#336 ::: Feòrag ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 08:33 PM:

I've been doing Distributed Proofreaders, and have just encountered this bit of Dr. Johnson. For some reason, it made me think of this thread:

Perhaps no class of the human species requires more to be cautioned against this anticipation of happiness, than those that aspire to the name of authors. A man of lively fancy no sooner finds a hint moving in his mind, than he makes momentaneous excursions to the press, and to the world, and, with a little encouragement from flattery, pushes forward into future ages, and prognosticates the honours to be paid him, when envy is extinct, and faction forgotten, and those, whom partiality now suffers to obscure him, shall have given way to the triflers of as short duration as themselves.

#337 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 09:10 PM:

Jonathan Rizer - Neither Teresa nor anyone else was being sarcastic in her 14 rules - including the one about chemical imbalances.

There is nothing shameful about a person having a chemical imbalance in their brains. A couple of the people I respect most in the world have 'em.

Writing is a commercial transaction - it is, as some disemvowelled person up top said, a BUSINESS (or, rather, BSNSS).

Now, some sadists like to scold new writers with that fact - to say that if writers fail to see that it's a business, the writer is to blame, the writer is somehow WEAK, and WHINING, and UNABLE TO SUCCEED IN THE REAL WORLD. (This particular brand of sadist loves to throw around the word "whining.") That's not what I'm here to do at all.

I'm simply pointing out that the editor's rejection isn't a personal thing at all. It's not a rejection of the writer as a person, and the editor is not infallible. When you put a story into an envelope and send it off to an editor, it's not just a piece of art at that point - it's also a product.

Products fail to sell for all sorts of reasons. One of those reasons is that the product might not be good enough. But there are other reasons too. I work in the computer industry, and one thing we in the computer industry LOVE to talk about, when we're sitting around and talking over beers, is failed computer products that were better than the ones that succeeded. OS/2, the Apple Newton, VAX/VMS, WordPerfect, etc. etc. etc. - these were, according to many, FAR BETTER than the computer products we use today. But they didn't sell. Just as some stories don't sell.

#338 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 09:34 PM:

I believe I'm the villain here.

I'm the one who's been saying that if you can write two consecutive pages of grammatical English with standard spelling, and have a compelling story compellingly told, that you will be published.

That isn't to say that your book will be published at the first place you send it to, only that it will eventually be published.

A work that is publishable by one is publishable by many.

Your work doesn't have to be as-good-as what a given publisher is already printing. It has to be better (for some valute of better). The publisher already has as-good-as. Tom Clancy's current publisher doesn't need another Clancy. Some other publisher may.

Your work has to arrive at a time when the publisher has an open slot. Time, money, and personnel aren't infinite. That's where luck (or superior market research) comes in.

Pointing to some best-seller or another who has written a horrible book (for some value of horrible) doesn't serve a purpose. The existence of a poorly-written bestseller doesn't give you or me the right to see our horrible book published; it gives us permission to write a better one. "His books are crap but he sells a ton of them" is itself a genre, and a particularly hard one to break into.

If your last book was rejected by everyone from Ace to Zondervan, maybe your next one won't be. That's why the advice you'll hear from everyone is "start another book as soon as you send your last one out the door." How do you get to Carnagie Hall? "Practice, my boy. Practice."

#339 ::: Jenny Crusie ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 10:41 PM:

Thank you very much, Rachel, I did write Faking It.
Somebody gave me the URL for Teresa's essay, and it was timely for me because I just last year finished rewriting my last unpublished book. If you wait long enough, they'll buy anything, but then you have to fix it. I remembered thinking, "Fools, they are fools" when ten thousand editors rejected the book in 1992. Then I reread it after my agent sold it and went down on my knees and thanked God for every editor who had turned it down because it stunk on ice, I just didn't have the writing experience to see it at the time. I think I may have hit all 14 on Teresa's list. And let me tell you, rewriting that sucker was no picnic. There may be 5000 original words left in it, but I doubt it.
Rejection can be the best thing that can happen to your career.

#340 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2004, 11:45 PM:

Good Grief! 339 comments. Oh well, I add my little unsolicited submission to this pile ...

Ayse Sercan (February 05, 2004)
... another option. That of being a writer, and choosing not to submit your work anywhere ..."

This is something that I think I have sort of decided, at least for now & for my 'creative' writing.

I have, however, over many years riding public transport (which leaves you free to enjoy views, watch people, think, & sometimes read or write) written many little essays or letters to the editor about issues that concern me. Some of them even got out of the mindland of electro-chemical pulses within my brain to physical marks on paper. I don't think any of them were ever published, and few were actually mailed.

But now comes the New Internet (i.e. more recent developments than early-1990s version I started with). Now in this newer world of electronic pulses, I have submitted quite a number of letters to the editor and had several published. I've even had some of my photos in fairly prominent places as well as contributing to some political online discussions in our local "paper of record" (www.smh.com.au). It was partly frustration at the unpublished letters, and the difficulty of dealing with other much-ramified important issues within the 200-word (preferably less) limit that drove me to blogging.

I use Blogger, which has a "10 most recently-published" list on their front page, and make it a practice to click on one or two at least every other visit. There is a LOT which is like the New Internet Version of a classic teenager's diary. Some of it is beautifully designed & laid out, but the content is almost unreadable - perhaps that's partly an age issue (born the year Stalin died). (Also see "Why I Hate Personal Weblogs" by bones(a)mama.indstate.edu (Language Warning!)) Then there's the assorted rants & raves, by organised groups, or personal, whether dwelling on that particular bugbear, or about Life, the Universe & the Whole Great Conspiracy. There are wonderfully practical & useful sites (a support in recent illness & bereavement). And then one day I fell somehow into a discussion of bleeding railway workers & robbers in balaklavas [sic].

So I keep in touch with a number of stimulating &/or useful places online, and put my own work, whenever able, on my own website & blog. Perhaps one day I will get something together enough to have it 'published' - whatever that is at that time - but for now I'm definitely relying on some online communities to keep me at least near the shallower end of the Slough of Despond. Still cheaper than therapy. Perhaps this is one answer to the slushpile problem.
There is a lovely Whitman poem I've put on my partner's memorial site (currently semi-wrecked so no link) starting "A noiseless patient spider"; rather pertinent.

#341 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 01:37 AM:

I salute you for spotting the missed vowels.

So, got any free-lance proofreading work? [grin, duck, & run]

I also probably have way too much time on my hands, to be looking for that kind of thing when I could be doing something more constructive like translating Cicero. I was actually surprised at just how much I could get out of that rant, even with no vowels and no spaces. It has the horrifying fascination of a road accident.

That's the panel, though I was thinking of the art rather than the text. I'd have re-ballooned it as "Hello, have you thought about where you are?" There's no place in the universe that entirely conforms to my wishes, nor would it be proper for there to be one.

I think you could make a strong case that having such a place was not good for Morpheus. Anyway, reality here may not be exactly what you wish it to be, but this certainly is your place of power.

Quoting the dialogue also helped identify the panel.

#342 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 02:24 AM:

One major literary weakness of pornography, except in the hands of a very fine writer such as John Cleland or Anais Nin, is that reality tends to be exactly what the protagonist wishes it to be. It is a subgenre of Science Fiction, in an alternate reality where Human Nature is different, but the laws of Physics are the same.

Example:

"Would you please take your pants off?" she asked the Attorney General.

"Okay," he said. "Why not?"

Context doesn't matter. Anyone, of any sex and station in life, will do anything the protagonist asks. Genuine conflict is impossible. Genre conventions replace it.

The above is a fragment of my Unified Theory of Genres.

Is it true that, after "Fanny Hill," Cleland was paid NOT to write another such book? Nice job, if you can get it... Now, how to get that in a rejection letter? How to live forever on kill fees?

#343 ::: Shalanna Collins ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 03:06 AM:

Lenora Rose said:
>A single red line on the manuscript, marking where the editor stopped reading and reached for the return envelope. ([...]you could send back *just that page* and the form...)

You can't imagine how immensely this would help me. I never know whether to undertake major surgery on the manuscript or just stick it into another box and paste on more stamps. To know where I lost 'em might help me not to revise the first three pages again.

Mitch Wagner said:
>Writing is a commercial transaction - it is, as some disemvowelled person up top said, a BUSINESS (or, rather, BSNSS).

I try to remember this. It's tough when your heart's on the page.

Mitch also asked:
>Extra credit question: what's the difference? how would you tell?

Adam's apple. Didn't anyone else re-watch _To Wong Foo_ this weekend? [grin]

#344 ::: Shalanna Collins ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 03:47 AM:

Patrick Weekes writes:
>I received no response to:
- My initial three-chapters-and-synopsis, which included an SASE
- My query letter with SASE, sent after one year
- My query e-mail, sent after another six months
(etc.)

I can beat that. But I will not reveal the name of the publishing house where this particular event happened. I'm just telling you so you can get some idea of the length of time submitting novels can take. And to show you how authors can get their hopes up based on just about any encouragement.

I got my manuscript back in the mail from a respected publishing house about a year after sending the partial, with generic cover rejection. I stomped off to the piano and roared through half my repertoire. That night, I wished upon a star that it had been a mistake. The next morning, an e-mail message arrived for me from the editorial assistant at that house. (I am not making this up.) It explained that my manuscript, along with a couple of others, had been sent back by mistake. It was supposed to be in a "this is good" pile. I was invited to send the entire manuscript again. (I am still not making this up.) Thrilled, and thinking, "Oh, boy, I should've asked that star for a lottery win and straight teeth," I boxed up another copy (I had made some little comma-in, comma-out revisions) and sent the little hopeful along again. Didn't hear back; a year has passed. Sent an e-mail follow-up a few months ago, but haven't heard back.

Am now afraid to send a nudge letter or a Valentine or a large anchovy/pineapple pizza for fear that this time, the book might actually be in some kind of consideration process, and I'd disrupt it. Or, worse, I might thereby become _persona non grata_ around the offices.

So . . . what to do? I decided to just wait it out a while longer. After all, it's already in the stack, whereas at a new house it would have to start over as the newcomer, and would probably get off on the wrong foot and never be truly accepted by the other boxes of paper.

I don't know the answer as to "how long we should wait." As someone said earlier, it's a buyer's market. I'm now trying my luck in another genre where the market seems to need more books faster (chick lit, actually), and there's no fancy worldbuilding involved (so it comes a little more naturally to me). I had a funny idea and a neurotic character occur to me, and it became a book. I think the turnaround time for chick lit subs might be a bit shorter, in general, than for fantasy/sf. But you just never can tell.

I think there must be quite a bit of "right place, right time" luck involved in all this.

#345 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 07:46 AM:

I see this most interesting thread has doubled in length since I last looked in upon it.

Upstream of this comment, you've written over 65,400 words.

You've got a book on your hands, folks.

(Oops, hope this isn't disemvoweled as a "you folks" posting!)

#346 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 08:05 AM:

shorter Jim MacDonald:

"Good" isn't good enough.

And quite true, too. When I was choosing stories for COPPER STAR, a Southwestern-themed sf/f/h anthology, submissions seemed to run on a bell curve. On one end were the really good, need-no-revisions (or only minor revisions) stories that ended up in the book; on the other end were the the godawful, It-Came-From-The-Slushpile-panel stories.

But in the middle was a big lump of "okay", "average", "decently-written" stories. They had plots, they had settings, they had characters... but none of it ever struck fire, and there usually wasn't anything specific to pinpoint about what was actually -wrong- about the writing or story.

I was trying to give a personal rejection to each story I sent back, and it was frustrating to not be able to give a specific reason for the rejection. (I've gotten too many "not suitable for our needs" rejection letters myself.)


Jenny Crusie: I think the only time I've thought "the fools" after a rejection (though it was more like "THE FOOLS! THE BLIND, IGNORANT FOOLS!") was when the folks at STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION passed on my idea for an all-singing, all-dancing episode. (Yes, I really did pitch the idea. I even had a semi-logical rationale for it.)

#347 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 08:08 AM:

James MacDonald: I'd like to point out that even your advice still ran more to the lines of "If you can write two consecutive pages of standard English and write a compelling story, that puts you ahead of 95% of the slush pile." (At least, that was the gist of what you posted elsewhere.) Nowhere was success guaranteed. Just improved chances.

And of course, three of the last four points discuss various factors that the writer doesn't have much control over, but are pointed out to increase understanding of the industry. There was a point, a few years back, where it had certainly not occured to me (as a writer-in-embryo) that there was a strong possibility that the house might have just signed a similar work, or that they were undertaking a new direction within the genre. Or that the editor in question might merely not like my work.

#348 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 08:53 AM:

It's the " compelling story compellingly told" bit that's the catch.

Years ago, for my sins, I was a grad student teaching freshman composition at a large university. One day, I was cornered after class by a student to whom I had given a B+ on her most recent essay. She wanted to know why, if I hadn't marked off any errors on the essay, I hadn't given it an A. I explained that as far as I was concerned, an essay required something more than just technical proficiency to lift it out of the "B" range and up to an "A".

A stricken expression came over her face. "You mean I have to be interesting too?"

"Yes," I said. "I'm afraid you do."

#349 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 10:43 AM:

... they've got too many police procedurals/space operas/sestinas this year, and they might accept your story about cozy detective story/time travel romance/epic poem.

Vicki, I know it was a made-up example, but I still dearly want to know about a market that will take epic poetry.

---L.

#350 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 12:29 PM:

You people do realize that I now want to write a police procedural, set in space, in the form of a sestina.

#351 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 12:42 PM:

A thriller would be easier than a procedural, methinks. All those obsessive end words.

---L.

#352 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 01:01 PM:

Joshua: Fine. Let's restart from scratch. And just to get this out of the way: no, I didn't recall rejecting you. It was just clear that someone had.

Let me make a subtle change in that advice you summarized: writing good material and presenting it in a clear, polite manner is the best way to get published. What's the difference? As Patrick puts it, "We're not in the business of administering the Slush Olympics." Our business is to find and publish good books that people want to read. One of our sources of new books and new writers happens to be the slush pile.

As an editor, I have a lot of responsibilities. For my publisher, I have to do a good job overall. For the readers, I have to do what I can to make our books the best version of themselves that they can be. For our production and sales & marketing departments, I have to understand what they're doing, and make my work mesh smoothly with theirs. But my biggest responsibility is to work with the authors and books we already have under contract, and that's where my heart is.

I worked on manuscripts over the weekend. I'm working at home today. While I was still padding around in fuzzy slippers, drinking my first cup of coffee, I'd already gotten out the manuscript of one of my books and gotten to work on it. And when I'm in the Tor offices, the needs of my books (not to mention the needs of the other departments) are always going to trump the slush pile.

This is as it should be. If you sell a book to a publishing house, believe me, you'll want your editor to be editing it, getting it a good cover, writing sales copy for it, guarding it from mishaps and mispprehensions, and doing all those other tasks that make the difference between a well-brought-up book with a promising future, and one that's been exposed on a hillside to live or die. And then, if your first book does well, you'll want your editor to be thinking about your second book. I guarantee you, there'll never come a time when you'll say "Oh, never mind about me and that silly cover design; I'm sure it's good enough. Let's just forget about it so you can go back to the important task of reading slush." I can also guarantee you're never going to come to us and say "A bunch of us have gotten together and decided to ask for a lower royalty percentage so you can afford to hire additional staff to read the slushpile more expeditiously."

The last time Tor kept count of a year's worth of slush throughput was some years ago, and the total was over three thousand submissions. We know we're getting significantly more submissions now. Four thousand would be a modest estimate; five thousand is not an unreasonable one. Nobody's primary task is to handle slush. We all do it on the side.

I'm not sure what "negative relief" is, by the way.

"...so many pieces of advice suggest that an author's failure is because of their technique, their presentation, their grammar, when many entry level people ARE hitting all of these points and still haven't found their way in."
Think of the worst books that get published every year: the dull, hackneyed novels, the unfunny humor, the dimwitted advice, the incoherent and irrelevant nonfiction. Do you really imagine that the industry is ignoring better books in order to publish those turkeys?

The short answer is "no." The slightly longer answer is that better books are sometimes overlooked, for a while, because we're busy publishing the books we already have. The real answer is that no description of the badness of slush can do justice to the reality of it. The higher truth is that you can't create a good book just by avoiding the errors of bad ones.

Most of the books you describe as "hitting all those points" fall somewhere within categories 7 - 11 in my breakdown of the contents of your average trade fiction slushpile: recognizably a book, but generating no desire on the part of editors to adopt it as their own.

I think of novels as medium-size mammals. They're complex creations: skeleton, specialized internal organs, muscle tissue, surface integumentation. It's quite an achievement to build one at all. When you're talking about a book I'd put in category 11, "Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us," what the author can see is that this time he got the eyes in the right place, and remembered to give it a rectal opening, and that the overlapping attachments of the muscles to the bones are really quite artful: a nice piece of work. What we can see is that it neither moves nor breathes nor opens its eyes. Or maybe it manages that much; even gets up and wanders around. And yet, it fails to inspire affection.

Nobody ever buys the author's next paperback because they've observed that this one avoids all the obvious errors.

In my opinion, the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer is to go find some bright kids in their teens who like to read a lot, and work out a deal to have them read and comment on your fiction. Make it clear that you're asking for their real opinions, and do your best not to flinch when you get them. If you can make a fourteen-year-old laugh, cry, cheer, or simply demand the next episode, you're on your way.

"True, most pieces are probably rejected with good reason, but in the spirit of helping people, should we poke fun at those who maybe aren't good enough for print? Should we poke fun at those that ARE good enough for print but haven't gotten their break?"
What makes you think my intention was to make fun of them? These people have put huge amounts of work and caring into their writing, and they've gotten rejected. What the hell is funny about that?
"The link I followed into this discussion suggested a helping hand, and maybe that gave me preconceptions. I don't seek applause or cheerleading, really I don't."
Correct. It was intended to be helpful. Accurate, too.
"But when I came to the portion regarding the 14 reasons for rejection, it read to me more like a David Letterman top ten."
No. Truth is, it's the most accurate description I could contrive. Did you notice those people named Jane and Beth and Melissa who posted comments early in this thread? Jane is Jane Yolen, more famous as a writer but unquestionably qualified as an editor. Beth is Beth Meacham, regarded by many cognoscenti as the best editor in science fiction. Melissa is Melissa Singer, seniormost in-house editor at Tor. What you have to understand is that, first, they were laughing because I got it right. Second, if any of them had essayed a breakdown of the contents of the average trade fiction slushpile, their lists would have looked a lot like mine. If you'll read through the comments thread again, you'll notice there are other editors here as well, and that they're not disagreeing with it either.
"A neurochemical disorder is sarcastic, ..."
You are mistaken. That's purely descriptive. For some reason, many people with that class of disorders have an impulse to write books. We don't know why this is, though naturally we speculate and theorize about it. What we do know is that they're a recognizable and not uncommon subcategory of slush. Neurochemical disorders are not funny.
"...and I feel that too often brutal truth is seen as the only way to teach someone the error of their ways, like writers have to be hazed in order to be accepted."
Nope. I'm sorry, but that's just plain silly. Why would we bother to haze you? Writing good books is hard enough. Wrestling with the English language is hard enough. What more could we do to you? Besides, our jobs are hard enough too. We don't have time for stupid pecking-order games like that. It isn't you who gets accepted or rejected; it's your book. Nobody's trying to "teach you the errors of your ways." They're just telling you why they don't want to buy your book. You can take it or leave it.
"It seems silly to a writer to receive harsh criticism when we can pick up any hardbound junk on the bestseller list and hold it back to our own critics, bug eyed."
If you could write like the worst junk on the bestseller lists, you'd be a published author, and incidentally have a different set of critics to resent.

If you enjoy writing for its own sake, you win no matter what. If you don't, and if you're not going anywhere with it, find something you like better. Life is short. And if no matter how hard you try, people still don't want to read your prose for its own sake, you can always try beefing up your content. If they like your content well enough, publishers will fix up your prose for free. A triple dose of fast-moving storyline will get you past bad prose better than good prose will get you past a dull storyline. I'm serious. It's one of the best tricks in the bag.

And hey? Thanks for coming back to have a real conversation.

#353 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 01:18 PM:

Bill Higgins, I'm sure you're aware that the "you folks" rule applies to posts that, metaphorically speaking, saunter in, tell us all that we're full of cotton, hay, and rags, and saunter out; it's not meant to apply to any post that addresses the community as a whole, especially in complimentary fashion, like yours.

Isn't that right, folks?

I think that as a book this would need some serious editing...DGNS' substantial (in terms of wordcount) contributions, and all the comments that refer to them, would have to be dropped, for example, and...but you were kidding. I shut me up nowly.

Bruce Arthurs, presumably you repitched your idea as a Buffy episode...check it out. They did it, and it worked. It was caused by a demon called Lord of the Dance (Willow: "Not the scary one, just a demon").

Debra Doyle, I was fortunate in my English teachers that they wouldn't hesitate to bracket a whole paragraph with the notation "BORING" writ next thereto. This hasn't helped my blog comments, obviously (grin) but the afterimage of those little notes has appeared next to many a paragraph of my creative writing; it appears to presage the dismemberment and replacement of said paragraph.

Tina, a "you people" post. See, Bill, this one's OK too.

#354 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 01:34 PM:

Right, Christopher. It's different when it comes from someone who's been hanging out with us folks.

Bill, I've had several people suggest that I turn the rejections post, plus various other pieces on related subjects, into a book for writers. I'm thinking about it. I'd have to out one of my online pseudonyms to use some of them, but it might be worth it.

#355 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 01:37 PM:

Me: what's the difference? how would you tell?

Shalanna Collins: Adam's apple. Didn't anyone else re-watch _To Wong Foo_ this weekend? [grin]

Pretty good movie. Did you see the Australian movie it was based on?

Anyway, I wasn't asking how you can tell a transvestite from a woman - I meant to ask how you can tell a transvestite from a guy who's just decided he's more comfortable in a summer dress?

I was thinking that a transvestite would be a man who has chosen to assume the identity of a woman, at lest in part, while that guy I saw in the health food store might have simply decided that a sundress was more practical clothing on a hot San Francisco day.

#356 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 02:16 PM:

Teresa wrote: I'd have to out one of my online pseudonyms to use some of them...

I can just hear the advertisements now: "In Making Book 2, Teresa Nielsen Hayden will unveil one of several alternate identities she uses in the Crusade Against Bad Slush. Will she reveal a Jekyll/Hyde nature and claim ownership of the Dgns moniker? Or will the revelation unmask an editorial conspiracythat all the other Tor editors have falling prey to the Slushblob and she is now posting under their names to prevent the awful truth from being known? *dun, dun DUUUUNNNNNN* Reserve your copy for $X.95 today and be the first to find out the Terrible Secret."

#357 ::: Tamara Siler Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 02:27 PM:

Hey, I recently sold a forensic procedural (in a fantasy setting).

Does that put me ahead of or behind the curve? ;) lol

Theresa - this is a FABULOUS THREAD!! Should be required reading for all aspiring (and struggling) writers.

McDonald - While being coherant, grammatical and professional might not guarantee publication, it goes a LONG dang way.

Thanks to everyone for helping me get through my ucky day at work... :)

#358 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 03:32 PM:

Kellie - the use of the word 'Slushblob' in your comment, among others, keeps making me think of Spongebob:

Who takes up the desks in the office at Tor?
Slush! Blob! Page! Count!
And frequently slides off all over the floor?
Slush! Blob! Page! Count!

Mitch, transvestites fall into three categories IME: 1) fetish transvestites, who are mostly heterosexual men; 2) female impersonators, who do it professionally; and 3) drag queens. Category 1 is rarely seen in the street; they usually put on women's clothing in private. Category 2 and 3 are trying to really look like women.

So if you saw a guy being obviously a guy in a dress, he probably was just wearing it for comfort's sake. Or on a dare or something.

#359 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 03:38 PM:

Elaine caught my interest when she wrote
As an artist, I was contacted a couple of years ago by a writer looking for someone to illustrate her book.
She assured me that her book was 'going to be published', and asked for a standard large color piece for the cover and one full-page black and white illustration for each chapter.

Elaine, unless children's publishing where you live is really different from standard practice here in Canada, your author almost certainly didn't know a manuscript submission from a high-school creative writing project. It's very, very rare to have a children's MS accepted with illustrations. Publishers generally prefer to negotiate with the author for the text, and to contract their own illustrators to work on the edited text. This actually usually works in the author's favour, despite the fact that the author, especially a first-time author, doesn't always get a lot of control over the illustrations. The publishers know lots of illustrators and know whose work sells well.

The publisher, not the author, negotiates the fee/advance/royalties with the illustrator. The illustrator usually holds the copyright on the illustrations, while the author maintains it on the text (except in educational publishing, which is a whole 'nother kettle of eels). Sometimes an author/illustrator will provide the complete shebang...but even then, unless the complete shebang is overwhelmingly good, the publisher may simply try to negotiate a contract for the text.
So, I'd say you fell prey to a very naïve author.

...Or maybe it's really different in the States.

#360 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 03:39 PM:

Hey, I recently sold a forensic procedural (in a fantasy setting).

Wanna read! Who's publishing when? Title?

MKK--telegraphically

#361 ::: Varia ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 03:44 PM:

Xopher, Mitch, Shalanna--slight (off-topic) addendum: While transgender women do not fall into the "transvestite" category, they can (and sometimes are) assumed to be either your #2 or #3, and the "adam's apple" joke can be extremely hurtful to them. It really isn't an identifying characteristic, especially if you're living in a decent-sized urban area in the US, where transgendering is becoming increasingly common. In any event, best to treat people, gender-wise, as they request to be treated.

#362 ::: Melissa Singer (who took pitch for 7 hours this weekend and saw somewhere around 40 writers in that ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 03:47 PM:

Re: The Wrong Book

Okay, this weekend I was presented with a perfect example of a writer working on the wrong book. Two, in fact. It's hard to generalize about what makes a book the wrong book, but here are glimpses of specifics, made relatively generic in case either of these authors are reading this thread.

Also please note: my diagnosis of wrong book was made in both cases from a combination of a face-to-face conversation with the author and a small amount of written material which did not include any of the actual text. Therefore, I am making my conclusions on the story as it was presented to me, not on the actual writing (I am also thinking very much of writing an article on the etiquette of pitch sessions.)

Wrong Book #1: Female protagonist as anti-hero. Family tragedy leaves her reeling; she decides to remake her life. In the course of her new life, she witnesses the birth of a baby followed by the death of its mother. The only other person there is stoned out of her mind. Protagonist takes the baby to raise as her own but it proves to be too much for her, so she gives it to a good friend to raise. Protagonist is eventually arrested for kidnapping, but evidence is circumstantial until, as a surprise witness at the trial, the friend shows up.

Now, leaving aside the plot problems that are probably evident from this synopsis alone, what made this the wrong book was that it was told from the wrong character's point of view. As the protagonist and her friend were explained to me, the friend was by far the more interesting character, since she had other children and firm religious convictions and was risking a lot by taking in this child and then by coming forward. Hers was the more compelling story, yet she was totally a background character because the author was focusing on her tormented protagonist. Who was sort of interesting, but in a much more limited way, since she had a much smaller emotional arc and spends at least some portion of the novel incarcerated.

Wrong Book #2: Young woman has small and very specific psychic power. She's concealed it most of her life, but a few people know. She's become a target for big business which wants to either use her power or get her to teach certain employees how to develop this power. Said industry has been secretly monitoring the protagonist since her childhood (or at least her teens), even some of her closest friends now that she's an adult may be plants.

Why is this the wrong book? The psychic power is too small to really be something that will make money for the stated business in a way that would justify the years of investment in following the protagonist. The industry in question is already highly profitable and doesn't really need the small potatoes that might be provided by exploiting the power (and obviously hasn't wondered about what would happen if several hundred people were able to develop the power). However, all that aside, the real reason this is the wrong book is that the author completely ignores the most interesting part of the character she has created. The protagonist does nothing with her psychic ability other than conceal it. She doesn't use it to help people. She doesn't use it to help herself. She doesn't use it, period. Given the specific ability in question, the author could have written any of the following sorts of books: a thriller wherein this young woman must prevent an assassination or other world-scale Evil Act; a horror novel wherein she either uses or thwarts the power and in either case There Is a Price To Be Paid; or a heartwarming paranormal wherein the protagonist enables people to find true love, reconcile with family and friends, etc.

I suggested these things to these authors. The author of work #2 had the proverbial light bulb go off over her head (I could see it in her eyes), but what book she will write, I do not know. The author of work #1 did not want to hear me and told me later in the weekend that she was going to find a way to make her book work the way it was. More power to her, because if she does, it will be an amazing work.

Now, I don't think I'm a terrific instant book-doctor. But in these cases, it seemed to me that these people were definitely writing the wrong book.

#363 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 04:02 PM:


As a sort-of published author, my take on the slushpile is that it is a lot like that old joke about the two friends who are out camping and get attacked by a bear. One of them starts putting on his (or her) running shoes, because he realizes out that all he needs to do to survive is to be faster than the other one.

You don't have to be King/Hemingway/Carver to make it off the slushpile, because you are not (praise be unto the deity of your choice) competing with them.

All you have to do is be better than the rest of the slushpile (on that day with that editor who is in that frame of mind for a market that accepts that kind of work...).

So if, as happens fairly often, you don't make it off the slushpile, do this. About three to six months after you receive your rejection, go pick up a copy of the magazine you sent your story to.* Read everything in it. Was what you submitted really, actually, in your objective and most brutally honest opinion, better than ALL of those?

I write, and I am an occasional reader of Asimov, Interzone, F&SF, and Analog. So far, I must admit that I haven't said "yes" very often.


*Yes, it's a preposition at the end of a sentence. So sue me. I quote Winston Churchill:

"This is the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put."

#364 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 04:05 PM:

Teresa — the mammal metaphor is brilliant. I now realize I can sum up most of my writing and editing fears as “fear of taxidermy.”

#365 ::: Tamara Siler Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 04:24 PM:

Mary Kay -

It's titled Ghosts in the Snow and will be out this November from Bantam Dell.

It's about a serial killer in a castle. Bloody, naughty and oh so fun ;)

#366 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 04:29 PM:
You don't have to be King/Hemingway/Carver to make it off the slushpile, because you are not (praise be unto the deity of your choice) competing with them.

All you have to do is be better than the rest of the slushpile (on that day with that editor who is in that frame of mind for a market that accepts that kind of work...).


I may be speaking out of turn here, as I am not now nor have ever been a member of the Editorial party, but I think that while your first point is correct, your second is not. Whoever is reading the slush is looking for publishable work, not the best work in the slushpile. While publishable work, if present, will be the best work in the slushpile, the converse is not necessarily true (and I expect it usually isn't, in fact). See the comment upthread about "not running the Slushpile Olympics."

#367 ::: Shalanna Collins ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 04:32 PM:

Whoops. Varia: ("adam's apple" joke can be extremely hurtful)--we hadn't thought of that (obviously.) We were riffing on the line near the end of the beloved film, _To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar_. (Julie Newmar was quite the good sport about all this, too.) We were just blathering along un-filtered and unedited. Sorry if it upset anyone. Once again, I've made us look like horse's patooties. (Though it shouldn't be a surprise: I have been asked to model for the horse-pantaloons catalog before. Hmm.)

Mitch--yep, also love _Priscilla, Queen of the Desert_. (How off-topic can I get?) Recently came across the soundtrack CD for that, which I bought several years ago, and I hadn't even opened it. Sheesh.

Hmm. I just couldn't imagine a "straight" (whatever that means) guy running about town in a sundress (no matter how hot it is) who isn't either doing a dare/bet or "into" wearing dresses. But then I'm not exactly the globe-hopping metrosexual/whatever-it-is when it comes to style, so who knows. Bear in mind that I live just north of Dallas, Texas, and that if a fuzzy guy in a sundress were to walk across the main quad at Texas A&M (not too far south of us), I'd bet you would probably hear dozens of rifle bolts being drawn back in the dorm rooms that border the quad. "It's a mercy killing," would be heard as the roommates restrained the eager marksmen. . . .

Or maybe A&M has become liberal in the past fifteen years or so. I wouldn't count on it, though. [wry grin]

#368 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 04:33 PM:

Actually, either sex can have a prominent layrnx, it's just that most men get one, with a characteristic shape. at puberty as a secondary sex characteristic. It just happens to be rather rare in women. My theory has always been that you "see gender" as a gestalt of a whole slew of physical cues, including facial bone structure and body proportion, not just shape. But each sex includes individuals who have secondary sexual characteristics that might be "normally" identifying for the other sex.

Which leads to that famous exchange in Victor/Victoria . . .

Teresa, I do hope that you are considering collecting some of your posts on books and editing (with selected comments of course) and creating a sister to Making Book. If not, why not?

#369 ::: Varia ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 05:00 PM:

Shalanna--'sokay, I don't think the joke qualifies anyone for a "horse's ass" award. I thought the movie was funny, and got the reference. I ..ahem... jump at the gun? when issues of transgender and related subjects come up. I also spent last weekend defending one of my close friends, who *is* transgender, against my birth family, who would like to be the ones loading their guns. Not to continue the metaphor or anything, but my "gender-education" reflexes are a little hair-triggered right now :).

#370 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 05:35 PM:

Varia - TGs were no part of what we were talking about. They can be mistaken for categories 2 and 3 because they're doing their best to be women (more power to 'em, OK?). They are unlikely to be confused for a man wearing a sundress because it's cool and comfortable.

Also, the MTF TGs I've known have had their Adam's apples reduced.

#371 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 05:47 PM:

Melissa - thanks! That's sort of what I thought, but you made it much, much clearer. My list of questions after outline, before writing will now include "Is this the best way to tell this story?" and "Is this the best book that can tell this story?" --which may be different ways of asking the same question, except that they elaborated answer to the first one might be "No - write a screenplay."

Jeff - we're pro-preposition-at-end-of-sentence here. Anti-awkward phrasing, though. I turn sentences every which way before picking one to write down. (There's a great section on this in The Transitive Vampire.)

#372 ::: Varia ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 05:59 PM:

Xopher: I know you weren't talking about transgender people. I've heard the line about adam's apples trotted out before, though, by people who are, or who don't differentiate between transvestitism and transgender (I noticed from your original phrasing that you weren't doing that. Much appreciated). I'm not offended, and I certainly wasn't trying to start a fight. I just wanted to point out that it's a silly, inaccurate stereotype. Which might be why it's a joke; but I know people take it seriously. honestly, if me being hair-trigger about gender-stuff can spare any of the trans-people I know one tiny bit of the crap they have to deal with, I think it's worth it. I admit it's one of my "causes" though.

You're right, getting the adam's apple reduced is frequently a part of the surgery. There are a lot of pre-op transgender people out there, though, which is one reason for my comment. I know many more pre- than post-op, and almost as many who don't intend to get any of the various surgeries, for financial and other reasons--although that's more in the MTF crowd.

#373 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 06:12 PM:

Hmm. I just couldn't imagine a "straight" (whatever that means) guy running about town in a sundress (no matter how hot it is) who isn't either doing a dare/bet or "into" wearing dresses.

Shalanna, while Minnesota is pretty liberal in some ways, I don't think it's the most outre locale in the country. And I know at least two guys who wear dresses from time to time because it gets awfully hot here in the summer, and they find the breeze just as refreshing as I do. No fetish or dare required. So yep, it can happen.

#374 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 06:13 PM:

Xopher,

I'm sure your quick classification of transvestites applies to most cases. But I read that Nolacon elevator description, and got as far as the guitar strap, and thought "Glenn". And it was him, almost certainly (from the rest of the description), and I don't think he fits into any of those three categories.

#375 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 06:30 PM:

I must say that in the Pagan community, a man wearing a skirt is not necessarily cross-dressing; skirts are simply considered a normal item of male attire. In fact I have a couple of skirts that I wear sometimes at Pagan gatherings. There's this one guy whose entire look says "Biker" who comes to Rites of Spring; very macho guy. I've seen HIM in a skirt, and trust me he wouldn't do anything that could possibly be construed as feminine.

Picture the biker bandanna; the biker mustache that connects to the sideburns; the WELL-muscled torso with plenty of tatoos (OK, some of them are long texts in Norse runes), and then you look down -- and he's wearing a skirt. With biker boots.

Mind, these are ankle-length skirts in soft fabrics, with plenty of leg-swing space. Dresses are another matter.

#376 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 07:29 PM:

Society says a man in a skirt is weird. Practicality and comfort say a man in a skirt is a man who'd rather be comfortable than worry about what society thinks.

Why, yes, I'm often spoken to by abstract concepts. Aren't you?

#377 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 07:47 PM:

I once got a rejection letter in which the editor prefaced what I considered to be some pretty mild criticism of my poetry with "forgive me." It almost made me feel sorry for her.

#378 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 07:56 PM:

Anne --

Keep in mind that the acquisitions part of the editor's job is, when it does not involve dealing with the nutso-cuckoo, the emotional equivalent of kicking puppies.

That can't be fun, and they have no way to tell what kind of communication will be best recieved, so I shouldn't wonder that there's a great deal of caution accumulating in their choice of phrase.

#379 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 08:11 PM:

Tina writes:

> Why, yes, I'm often spoken to by abstract concepts. Aren't you?

Yes, but Practicality and Conformity dictate that I must never never admit it.

#380 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 08:23 PM:

"Teaching would-be writers, which I have also done, is an especially complicated enterprise. I used to tell students all that I could not do for them: Give them a love of language, make them more observant, teach them a dramatic sense, reveal the mechanics of wit, and much more. All I could hope to do for them was point out the possibilities in prose style, many of which they were unlikely to be aware of, and where their own mistakes might lie. Not, when you think about it, all that much. I used to end this with a little Zen koan of my own devising: 'Writing cannot be taught, but it can be learned.'"

Curious George
The psuedoprofundity of George Steiner
by Joseph Epstein
02/16/2004, Volume 009, Issue 22
The Weekly Standard"

[Isn't that supposed to be "pseudoprofundity"? -- JVP]

A review of:

Lessons of the Masters
by George Steiner
Harvard University Press, 185 pp., $19.95

"...a book about the teaching transaction, the dissemination (there's that damn fluid again) of knowledge as it is passed from generation to generation through teacher to student. Why do some teachers so captivate their students that what they convey leaves a lifelong impression? The standard explanations hold that the great teachers know their subject, have boundless passion for learning, widen and deepen consciousness, provide in their persons a model of how a great-souled person ought to live. This only leaves out the key element of magic--which is to say, the unexplainable reason for why some teachers can radically change lives."

#381 ::: Adam Goss ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 08:45 PM:

A friend of mine (she and I are both trying to get published - short science fiction and fantasy) recommended I read Slushkiller's posting. I am glad I read it as it explained a *few* things about rejection letters I didn't know, and confirmed a lot more that I already knew or suspected.

However, I noticed that in Slushkiller's explanations of the various examples of rejection letters, certain points got glossed over or skipped, and I find those points to be the ones that frustrate me the most. I mean, I understand that rejection letters are not personal against the author, that every manuscript gets looked at to some degree (unless it's so horrible that it make's the slush reader's eyeballs explode immediately), that editors honestly and truly *want* stories to get published in spite of all the rejections they are forced to send out, and all the other emotionally-based misconceptions that so many authors seem to base their reactions on. What bothers *me* is when an editor writes back with minimal, insufficient information, especially if they have still gone to the trouble to say how nice they otherwise found the story.

I understand that editors are extremely busy people, and it's a sad truth that they don't have time to explain their opinions to everyone. But that does not make it any less maddening to an intelligent and capable, maybe even talented author, who despite maturity and patience thought that their work stood a good chance.

To be more specific:

In section #2, Slushkiller talks about reader-mind vs. author-mind. However, reader-mind is not necessarily the same as editor-mind. Yes, editors, especially slush pile editors, are essentially readers who get paid for it. But it's not *just* that. The editor is also supposed to determine if a work is publishable. Now, a private person reading a story/book they bought may love what they read, sorta like it, be disappointed by it or hate it out-right. But even if they love it, there's not a whole lot that one person can do to determine whether or not other people, with other opinions, might like or dislike the story, and not a whole lot they can do to *prevent* others from reading it if they did not like it. The reader doesn't get to determine accessibility. The editor does. And when an editor writes back saying they liked the work very much but can't/won't buy it, and doesn't say why, or if they simply say 'it did not hold their interest', it honestly makes me as an author wonder where the editor's personal bias begins and ends and where his/her professional duty begins and ends. Are they hopelessly intertwined? Are some editors just full of themselves and others aren't? There's no way for the author to know. Yes, I know it sounds like I may be confusing the issue of 'personal vs. not personal', but this is only due to happen, to me at least, when the editor's reply is so vague.

Another example: In the percentage-list of reasons for rejections, #11 is listed as "Someone could publish this book, but we don't see why it should be us." What does that *mean*? Assuming for the moment that the author has sent work that does indeed match the subject matter of the publisher, and has written a good or an excellent story, why would the editor be considering this reason? It might be a valid reason for all I know, but could someone please explain this one?? The same can be said for reasons #12 and #13.

Another example: Slushkiller made an example of a rejection letter which stated a reason of 'it is unsuitable for our publication program'. Like the point I made above, what on earth does this weird statement mean?? It sounds like something from the obscure language known as Commercial-ese - it sounds like something said only by advertizing guys. Again, maybe it means something, but I'm reasonably intelligent and I don't have a clue. If I knew what it meant, I could accept it and move on. As it is, it's another maddeningly vague statement. And while Slushkiller devotes a whole paragrpah to explaining the meaning of the word 'it', she fails to explain or help readers of her article understand publisher-speak.

There were other kinds of rejection letters SLushkiller didn't talk about much or at all, that drive me nuts. Like "Sorry but this story didn't hold my interest." Ok, that may be the case, but how am I supposed to know exactly what story *will* hold that editor's interest. For instance, I've gotten that same exact rejection phrase 2 or 3 times from the same editor at the same magazine (no, I will not name names). Now, I admit, I'm the author, I'm biased about the quality of my work. All the same, I don't think I have a raging ego, and I honestly feel that I worked hard on my stories and that they have much to offer a reader. Now, maybe that particular editor and I have tastes that will never mesh, but what about the readers of the magazine? Like the business I mentioned above about editor-mind, how does this editor *know* that my story won't appeal to the magazine's readers even if he/she didn't care much for it themselves. It would help if I got a more specific and informative, maybe even constructive, reason for rejection.

Those were the big ones that stood out to me. I fully agree that authors including an SASE is *basic and fundamental*, that if an editor takes the time to write something to the author *by hand* (or typed but clearly directed to the author specifically rather than being a flat-out form letter) that it is a GOOD SIGN - editors don't bother to do that unless they feel the author deserves extra encouragement, rejected or not! - and other fundamentals that more authors would get if they just read the submission instructions carefully. But it doesn't change that fact that unclear or minimal rejection letters aren't very helpful to an author, in my personal opinion. Ok, I've been rejected, but why??? Some of the letters I have gotten or seen just don't make any sense sometimes.

If Slushkiller or someone else out there with more experience with rejection letters than me could explain some of what I've talked about above, I would greatly appreciate it.

#382 ::: mrsizer ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 08:49 PM:

Wow! As a non-writer who has the perfect SciFi story just waiting to get from my head to my hands, this was an astonishing thread. If I ever get around to putting hands-to-keyboard, I'll certainly do a lot more research into who and where I submit than I had planned.

I know I'm not ready yet because I can see the cliches and lack of character development in my own writing - it would be awful to subject anyone else to it at this point.

The link to the Incompetence study was great.

#383 ::: Cliff W. ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 09:06 PM:

Hello folks! I stumbled onto this discussion, and I wanted to say I'm getting a lot out of it.

Teresa, I really appreciate the time you've put into trying to communicate to us writer types the nature of the beast that is the slush pile from an editor's PoV (including your additional comments, especially your explanations to Josh). It's been, well, enlightening reading, if not always enjoyable reading. In an odd way, it's inspiring, knowing that if one can get past the first 10 items on your list, one's 95-99% of the way there.

On that note, I had some questions about categories 12-13 (with an eye towards how to avoid them and get to the magic #14, of course). You answered my questions about #11 in your last response to Josh. :-)

12. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.

In what sense do you mean the "wrong book?" In the sense Melissa's examples suggested -- a book from the wrong PoV, or perhaps one that ignored a major ramification of an SF element? Or do you mean, for example, that the author's dry, technical style clearly demands hard sf rather than the meticulously-explained high fantasy (s)he submitted? Or is it something different than either of those?

13. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.

Could you please talk about some reasons why the house might not get behind a book that's good enough to buy? As a reader, I sometimes see it happen: good books languishing without good promotions, or good cover art/copy, or whatever. As someone outside the industry (hopefully temporarily!), I'm a bit mystified as to why this phenomenon does and doesn't occur.

#384 ::: Joshua Rizer ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 09:30 PM:

Negative relief- you know, telling what is by telling what isn't...defining lighted areas using darkness. Now, trade me and define integumentation. I won't cheat and go look it up.
Anyway, all I meant by that statement was that while no one offers the writer a guaranteed method, we are often scolded on what does NOT work. It SUGGESTS (how do you italicize on these boards?) that there is a right way, which can be cruel becuase many times doing it the right way still may not yield results.
I only say that there is a "hazing" in the publishing world becuase too often a writer's desperation for publication creates an over eagerness for criticism and I feel there are plenty of people excited to fill that position. Not that criticism is bad, but rather too often it is a substitute for help. I realize the first thing everyone will say is that criticism IS help...I agree and then I still feel there is a self flagellation factor sometimes.
Psychologically speaking, trying very hard for something and developing an outlook that nearly ANTICIPATES rejection is sort of teaching one's self to thrive on negative reinforcement. Some respond very well to this in time and some do not. Some fall in-between, interpreting negativity as an affirmaton of the process, seeking criticism as reward once faliure is accepted as a given.
I know that this thread is about realities in the publishing process. I don't mean to derail it. I only typed these last thoughts in for discussion and not for arguement. I know that analyzing emotions in response to the submissions process does little in the face of all those hard working days actually required, but this is where my thoughts went. Another reason I've been rejected so much, maybe. Or possibly it's the one handed typing, which only utilizes the left side of my brain, thus creating lopsided writing.
Speaking of which....
I can't let the neurochemical thing go. Lots of people with neurochemical problems go out for ALL professions. I don't think it's accurate to suggest that the only reason a person stumbles in their writing is becuase they are neurally incapable of doing better. Bad grammer isn't always an impairment. But then, I was probably the only person that read that and then went cold, wondering if the most important thing in my life was merely a buglight that my neurochemical disorder compelled me to chase. Geez, I DO take things pesonally.
All in all, I was wrong.

#385 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 09:46 PM:

Joshua: I'm pretty certain there is no right way, or at least no one right way. But just as there are a lot of "right" routes, many of which you find yourself by trying to write, there are certainly things you can do that will harm your chances of ending at the destination you want. Think about writing as a place you want to go to: fly, drive, take the ferry--but if you go the wrong direction at first, you'll find that your journey just got that much longer.

#386 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 09:59 PM:

Or to put it another way, Teresa can't tell me the right way to write. (Or you. Or pretty much anybody.) She could tell you everything she did to get her book finished, and it still might not work for you. But she can tell you pitfalls to avoid and perhaps give you some tools to bridge those pitfalls.

I'm sure everybody here has an anecdote about how their personal favourite authors write. How author X re-wrote the first chapter of famous work Y seventy times. (I keep wanting to say Somerset Maugham but that doesn't sound right.) I know Diana Gabaldon writes her stuff piecemeal with paragraphs here and there, and then stitches it all together. And some authors never really revise their rough drafts, unless you count constant re-editing in their open text editors. Point being, there's a zillion ways to get from here to Sala Saloo, but most of them share common ground. Stuff like applying finger to keyboard and butt to chair (credit due to Jim MacDonald who keeps drilling that over at Absolute Write) or making sure that your grammar is up to snuff.

And of course, when it comes to liking something--the pure emotional reaction--it is hard and time-consuming to put that into concise and accurate words. Add that to schedule of an already over-worked editor, and I can see why some of the rejection letters tend to be a little bland or formulaic.

#387 ::: Tim Cooper ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 10:08 PM:

I've got a couple of minutes here, so I'll endeavor to answer a few of Adam's questions.

It's important to know that Teresa(aka "Slushkiller" now I guess) is a novel editor and that some of her list is slanted that way. #13 really doesn't exist in short fiction, as far as I know, and some of the others (esp. 11) are changed.

it honestly makes me as an author wonder where the editor's personal bias begins and ends and where his/her professional duty begins and ends. Are they hopelessly intertwined?

In short fiction, absolutely; in fact they're more or less the same thing. Occasionally there's the equivalent to Neil Gaiman's anecdote above, where something's deemed too foreign for the audience. For novels it's somewhat different (not least because of the addition of a third twining head, marketing), but I'll let someone who works on that side talk about it. But it ties in pretty heavily to the next question:

11 is listed as "Someone could publish this book, but we don't see why it should be us." What does that *mean*?

"This is well-done and I can see that it would excite someone, but that isn't me." This is a much bigger deal in books (where you need a lot more editorial commitment) than in short stories, but it exists in both. The system works best when editors are excited about stories they're working with, and when good stories get editors that love them. For an editor to buy a book or story that appeals to them intellectually but not emotionally is generally a bad idea. Both publisher and author will be better off when the book finds a home better suited for it.

'it is unsuitable for our publication program'. Like the point I made above, what on earth does this weird statement mean??

It means "No." Trying to get more out of it is a mistake. To put it another way, this could be a reasonable response to any of the first 13 numbers in the list up top. That's why it often is used in form letters.

Like "Sorry but this story didn't hold my interest." Ok, that may be the case, but how am I supposed to know exactly what story *will* hold that editor's interest.

In a perfect world, editors would always be able to clearly communicate why we don't want a story. In a somewhat-less-perfect world, we'd always know the answer to that question ourselves. Unfortunately, this world isn't either of them. In some cases (mine, at least) this means "You lost me. I'm not really sure why." In others (F&SF) it's a more-or-less form "No" that means little if anything else.

You're not supposed to know. There is no submission-formula-for-success, unless there's a level of market research I've never heard of.

It seems to me, Adam, that you're trying to look at the process as if it were a wholly-intellectual one, with a Right Way to Do Things to Get Published (and a universal total ordering of story quality). But it isn't that way at all; emotion is probably a slightly stronger component of the editorial process than detached analysis, and chance plays a large role as well. The key to selling both stories and books is to get the right manuscript under the right editor's nose at the right time. And as far as I know, the only strategy for that is submitting as much as possible and being lucky. An author can improve the odds by working past #1-10, but once you're at #11, the only thing to do really is keep sending it to editors until you get the right one.

#388 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 10:10 PM:

Adam, if you want a fellow-writer's overall opinion, a lot of the phrases you are finding difficult to decipher are the business-end phrases.

The business-end model says: every book a publisher puts out is an investment risk equivalent to the advance + true production costs (plus possibly some amount of marketing cost). These costs are absolute costs that may never be recouped. Every book -- even one the editorial staff feels is astounding by an author with a proven success history -- is a gamble by the publishing house. Will it sell enough to even so much as break even? How about make us some extra money? Flop entirely and let us be out thousands of dollars and man-hours of work?

An editor doesn't just decide on the quality of the story. They have to decide whether or not the book is likely to perform well enough (that is, sell enough copies) to make it worth that risk.

The level of marketability is, beyond that, not in a bubble, that is, it doesn't just affect that book. If Big Publisher House X takes a chance on a book and it flops no matter what they do to market it, the flop "taints" (for want of a better word) both future books by that author and the publishing house as a whole. A certain number of flops means that readers who pay attention to publishing houses -- and I assure you, there are plenty of examples, particularly in genre books, of that -- are suddenly going to wonder if any given Book Y of unknown author is worth taking a look at.

For instance, I will generally give a chance to nearly any Tor or Baen author writing a book that basically looks to be in my subset of interest. This is because Tor and Baen consistently choose to publish authors I like. I don't like every book put out by them, naturally, but I know they both seem to pick authors and books I stand a very good chance of liking given the other considerations. On the other hand, other publishers haven't had that kind of track record for me. All things being equal, I will pick up a vaguely-interesting looking book from those two publishers before I will pick up a vaguely-interesting book from Publisher N (for 'not representing anyone in particular').

There's also the purely financial end: if Publisher X picks ten books in a year and five of them flop, Publisher X is going to have trouble staying afloat. But it's all tied together.

I'm sure there are other subtleties I haven't touched on here because I've never worked in the fiction publishing field, but I suspect that a lot of the "not right for us" comments boil down to the above, when genre and writing ability are acceptable.

One other thing that occurs to me -- and one thing that annoyed me about certain posts on that site is the people who thought this was bull -- is that Publisher X may have already bought four high-fantasy trilogies featuring Evil Things from Beyond controlling Magicians Gone Awry in the last year, and they just can't market a fifth without risking all the titles getting lost in a general fog of reader indecision (or boredom with the concept). That might account for some of the same category of responses.

Magazine editors have different considerations but with some similar basis, especially with subscriptions down for so many genre magazines.

#389 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 10:13 PM:

Joshua --

I'm going to go out on a small limb here (which is a problem, since I'm a fairly large guy) and try to answer one of your questions.

Not affiliated with the management, no warranty is expressed and none should be implied, etc.

You know that advice to write what you're interested in reading? Or the similar write what you know? It's the flip side of someone could publish this but I don't see why it should be us.

Written stories aren't, really; they're instructions for the reader to use to build a story in their head. They have conventions, compression, styles, all sorts of ways to pack extra info into what is fundamentally an extremely low bandwidth medium. Readers have variable unpacking habits and conventions -- exceedingly variable -- and the effort isn't trivial. (Habitual, for them as to such topics of discusion as here we now engage in much inclined, but not precisely easy.)

The thing past competent writing is engagement; is the story in you such that it is determined to get into the words, and out of the words again? Does it really, really matter to you, not that it get published, but that it get into some other head as a real, live, active cause of emotional response? A thing that could be told again in its turn from out that other living mind?

That's a thing -- unlike competence of writing -- an editor can only detect if their head decodes the particular story in that lively way; what works that way for some people does not work that way for others. If it doesn't work that way for you, you can't approach the story on the page with the conviction that there is a story there, and the -- very limited in number, remember, compared to the things available to publish -- publication slot would got to a story about which the editor would lack the ability to do all the difficult, tricky, time-critical, messy things involved in getting a book published so that it has a chance to find its friends with personal conviction.

They'll get done with professionalism, of course, but the moral is to the physical as three to one in more spheres of endevour than battlefields.

That personal conviction makes a huge difference, that belief in what one is doing, and anyone who can get it surely would.

Sometimes editors have a choice about that.

#390 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 10:15 PM:

I've never read fiction slush, but I used to read screenplay and teleplay slush for The Jim Henson Company and Castle Rock. From reading Teresa's comments, there's a lot of overlap in both the problems with most slush and the reasons why it gets rejected, not to mention the frustratingly terse nature of most rejection slips. So based on that, here's my crack at answering some of Adam and Cliff's questions.

"Someone could publish the book, but we don't see why it should be us" may have several explanations. The obvious one is that it's a genre or tone that the publisher doesn't publish.

But what that says to me is that the book is competently written and no more cliched than most. The writer clearly has talent (that's why you say so in the rejection letter.) But the book just doesn't thrill you. It's not bad, and parts are good, and sure, books of equal quality are published all the time, but editors didn't get into the business to publish books that are just pretty good. They want to publish books they love.

Because the book _is_ pretty good, it would take time and thought to dissect exactly what it is that made it not quite work for you. Maybe it is just a matter of taste. Because the editor doesn't have half an hour to ponder the matter, and because the book's flaws are not of the obvious sort, that book gets the "You're talented and you can probably get this published, although not by us, so don't get discouraged" letter.

I used to read a lot of agented submissions that were like that. Sure, they were pretty good X-FILES spec scripts. But we were looking for _terrific_ spec scripts. So you send the writer on their way with encouragement, because maybe their next one will be terrific. And maybe the next person they submit it to _will_ think it's terrific. It's just that you don't.

Yes, it is very subjective in those borderline cases. That's why those "I liked it but--" letters should be taken as encouragement. Because maybe the next editor will love it.

As for editors being full of themselves because they reject books that readers might conceivably like, in the cases I mention above part of that judgement is that they think that the reader will also think the book is just pretty good, and the reader is looking for terrific.

Or the book might be an excellent thriller about giant fruitflies taking over the White House and impersonating the President, but last week the editor bought a thriller about giant cockroaches taking over the White House and impersonating the First Lady. The fruitfly book is publishable elsewhere, but not there. (This is also accounts for "the house won't get behind it.")

Where I worked the writers who wrote the wrong script-- for instance, the charming romantic comedy in which the only thing separating the couple was that they lived in different states... but they both could afford to fly back and forth frequently-- often got meetings in which we would tell them why we weren't buying that one and ask them if they had anything else.

The "pretty good and I can't quite put my finger on why it's not better than that" writers did not usually get meetings.

The book or script in which the flaw is obvious is more likely to get a letter or meeting than the ones where it isn't. It's hard on the writers whose books "didn't hold our interest," but that's often how it goes. Clear problems get clearly addressed. Vague ones often don't get addressed at all.

(OK, I'm being a little simplistic. In those cases the reasons it's only pretty good usually boil down to "the dialogue could be better" or "the characters could be better" or "the pace could be better." But those are nebulous problems too. To address them clearly would require a ten-page letter and a line edit, and who's got the time for that?)

So if you keep getting vague rejection letters, the best thing to do is to find someone who does have the time to figure out what's wrong with your book and go over it with you. Find an analytical friend or join a critique group. Those people will have the time to puzzle it out. Editors don't.

#391 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 10:25 PM:

Reader mind v. editor mind:

You know all those polls, where folks try to predict the outcomes of elections by asking a small sample of likely voters about their opinions?

Editors are like a sample of readers, compressed down to a sample of one.

Maybe they're right about what their readers will like, maybe they aren't. But consider that the readers of a particular magazine are there because, in general, they agree with that editor's tastes.

So ... editors say "I like these stories," and the readers say "Yeah, we agree. We like 'em too."

If the editors are wrong, the readers find different magazines. If the editors are wrong enough, the magazine goes out of business.

#392 ::: Rachael HD ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 10:37 PM:

I vote yes on the book Teresa, I really enjoyed Making Book. I'm not even a writer and I find this interesting.

Although I totally believe that the vast majority of editors, the vast majority of the time, write their rejection letters with the best of intentions my husband did once get a rejection letter that was actively mean. The editor in question has since passed away, I wish I could have asked her what she was thinking. Found out later it was a form letter.

I am so glad I am a visual artist. To some extent you just have to please one person enough to buy one work. Then do it again. (Yes, I know that there are a million caveats to that, critics, convincing gallery owners and so on, but painting with a broad brush, as it were...)

#393 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 10:47 PM:

Feedback is great. Crucial, really. If your rejection letters don't contain any, feedback from unbiased writers or swear-to-be-honest friends/family is a good option.

Another option, for the spec fic writer, is to go to the Viable Paradise workshop. James Macdonald will point to the exact spot at which your short story would be rejected by an editor. And he'll tell you exactly what is wrong with it. And he'll tell you exactly how to fix it. And he'll be dead right.

And you'll learn a whole lot of other good stuff. You know, about pacing and dialogue and characterisation. And if you're up to it, Teresa will take a red pen and line-edit a bit of your novel (a.k.a. hemmorhaging across the pages of your soul).

Plus you'll be able to brag to your friends that you spent a week swanking around Martha's Vineyard.

(yeah, yeah, I know: shameless plug. But what the heck. I attended Viable Paradise a few years ago, and thought it was one of the best things I ever did.)

#394 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 11:41 PM:

Xopher wrote: "Bruce Arthurs, presumably you repitched your idea as a Buffy episode...check it out. They did it, and it worked. It was caused by a demon called Lord of the Dance (Willow: "Not the scary one, just a demon")."

I would love to be able to take credit for that BUFFY episode, but that was Josh Whedon's baby, and I had already drifted away from screenwriting in the mid-90's.

(Why did I drift away, when I was starting to get some fairly serious interest in my movie scripts, being called out to LA for meetings with development people, etc? Well, it started when my supervisor at my Post Office dayjob put me into the nearest hospital's Intensive Care Unit... but that's really too long a story to go into here.)

#395 ::: Tas Jordan ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 11:41 PM:

To go offtopic again pertaining to some comments here-above, I actually read a little news blurb today about a protest in NYC by men who wanted freedom from the "tyranny of trousers" and the ability to wear skirts or dresses when and where they wanted. I wish I hadn't taken out the recycling already; I would have typed it in (it was all of a paragraph). Perhaps ordinary men in sundresses will become a much more common sight. :)

On the "wrong book" criterion, I think I have another example. I've been a reader of sf-f for as long as I can remember, and all of my early stuff (read: teenaged) is in the fantasy genre. However, when my writing eventually started to really grow, I found that I kept taking a left turn into relationship-based stories. The epic save-the-world plots are ones I love to read, but they are NOT my personal strength as a writer. Character interaction is. So now, having discovered that, I'm spending my energy on my paranormal romance novel, which is a much, MUCH better fit for me.

However, had I completed one of my earlier fantasy novel attempts and submitted it, I'm reasonably sure that it would have engendered a "This is the wrong book" type of rejection. (Assuming it got past the earlier criteria, obviously!) Because I wouldn't have been writing to my own strengths.

It reminds me of when I applied to university. I lived in Ontario (Canada) at the time, and you can apply to 3 schools through the central registry. I was accepted at all 3 of my choices (yay me), but I had applied to a Bachelor of Science program. One of the acceptance letters said that after reviewing my transcripts, they felt I was clearly stronger in other areas and they would be happy to accept me in a Bachelor of ARTS program instead.

Stupidly, I didn't go to that school, because they totally called it. By the end of first year, I was in the BA program, and when I graduated it wasn't even in the same field I'd started in.

All of which is to say, if you're told you're writing the wrong book, then honestly, your probably *are*. You just have to figure out why, and fix it. As someone pointed out, editors do not have the time to do this, so find someone who will. :)
~Tas

#396 ::: Pookel ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 12:18 AM:

I'd like to hesitantly de-lurk to address the subject of neurochemical disorders (and, by the way, I've been following this thread since the beginning and find it fascinating). As a newspaper copy editor, I've had the opportunity to see many of the letters we get from readers. It's not really equivalent to reading a slushpile, as our acceptance rate is astronomically higher (probably over 50 percent), but I believe there are some similiarities.

If the neurochemical-disordered authors Teresa is talking about are anything like the mentally unbalanced letter writers I've seen, it's not a case of her making fun of authors who use bad grammar or sound a little odd. There is a real, distinctive difference in the way people with certain disorders write (I suspect it's schizophrenia, but I'm no expert).

After seven years of working at newspapers, I can glance at a letter and tell in an instant if it's one of those. If it's about the government watching the person through their microwave, if it consistently uses inappropriate long words that sound like other long words but are completely wrong for the context, if its margins are full of diagrams that are obviously meaningful to the writer but not to us, if the subject matter changes with every sentence without the writer seeming to be aware of it, and if it conveys a general attitude of extreme, irrational paranoia, it's probably one of those letters. Sometimes it's even more obvious, as when the envelope has writing all over it in what seems to be blood (yes, we got one of those once).

We get letters from people with strange personalities, or who aren't very good at grammar or word choice, or who hold extreme views, which are still not in the "mental disorder" category. And when I talk about our letter-writers with mental disorders, I don't mean the guy who thinks that, for example, environmentalists support al-Qaida; that's just an unusual viewpoint. I mean the letters with the strange symbols and the black helicopters and the writing in blood on the envelope. You see enough like that, you learn to pick them out quickly.

#397 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 12:21 AM:

Hi, Teresa --

I just came across this piece by following a link from an old post in Jim MacDonald's newsgroup, so I'm a week late, but I really must once again point out that it wasn't me you saw slushdrunk at Tor after a SFWA A&E. I have never read slush for Tor, not once. I'm quite certain of this. I have only read slush sent to anthologies, magazines, and Lester del Rey, never anything at Tor.

#398 ::: Lawrence Watt-Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 12:28 AM:

Hmm... after reading farther...

Adam, "it didn't hold my interest" means, to be blunt, "it's boring."

How are you supposed to know what won't bore the editor? That's really kinda hard to explain -- it's one of those "If you don't know, I can't tell you" situations.

#399 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 12:55 AM:

What bothers *me* is when an editor writes back with minimal, insufficient information, especially if they have still gone to the trouble to say how nice they otherwise found the story.

If you want to know why editors rely on form letters and are incredibly terse when they write individual responses, sit down some day with a large anthology of short stories and write a reasoned critique of every one of them as if you were an editor responding to an author. Bearing in mind that you're not making money while you do that, and you have eight or more hours of other work that will make your employer money to get done that day.

Do this every day for a month. That approximates the number of submissions a magazine editor gets that are "workable, but not on our time budget." I made the mistake, once, of telling a local author who I'd rejected that her poetry just needed tightening, and she called me up and talked me into helping her edit it, then resubmitted it. It still needed tightening, and the fact that I'd supposedly helped her make it perfect made it even harder for her to bear rejection the second time around. I had to stop answering my phone for a month. She showed up at my house, having stalked me there from the office. Stood in the rain yelling at me that I'd betrayed her, that she'd trusted me to get her into print.

Never again. I never ever gave any constructive feedback again (in a rejection). You want a critique? Pay for a class.

There are many reasons for the terseness or politeness of editorial rejections, but the sensitivity of authors themselves is, in my opinion, the number one reason.

#400 ::: Catie Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 02:32 AM:

FranW wrote And if you're up to it, Teresa will take a red pen and line-edit a bit of your novel (a.k.a. hemmorhaging across the pages of your soul).

I haven't been to VP (possibly I will apply again this year, if the checking account is willing and the creek don't rise), but I have the first 20 pages or so of one of my manuscripts which Teresa bled all over (in green pen, which would lead me to wonder if she was a Vulcan, except Vulcans don't have her joie de vivre). The manuscript's from a contest she judged, and it's been written on *all over*. When I got the submission back, I'd never been so happy in my life to see so much (metaphorically, anyway) red pen. I even *agreed* with probably 95% of her edits!

Possibly it's one of my own personal oddnesses, but having someone who really knows what she's doing line-edit my work is an uplifting experience for me. It's seeing that, wow, I did some good writing here, and this person knows what to tweak to make it *great* writing.

-Catie

#401 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 02:43 AM:

Graydon wrote, "Written stories aren't, really; they're instructions for the reader to use to build a story in their head."

I just want to sit here for awhile and admire that, and contemplate it. It's an excellent summary -- and an explanation of why so many readers come away with so many different interpretations of things.

#402 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 04:46 AM:

One parallel no one has put forward on simultaneous submissions is venture capitalists. They get slush piles of epic dimensions, too, and people are asking them to commit hundreds of thousands or, in the biotech field, millions to tens of millions. Like a publisher, a VCs are looking for new ideas that they will love, that can bring bright new things into the world and, if all goes well, win fame and fortune for everyone involved. They reject business plans for reasons that closely parallel the 14 steps Teresa listed above. And among would-be entrepreneurs, they're both revered and reviled.

One clear difference is that VCs know that simultaneous submissions - and the competition implied - is part of the game on the business side. They may not like it - who wouldn't want monopoly power? - but they recognize that the slush pile is part of a market in new businesses. So I'm cheered that Teresa has signaled a slightly relaxed view on simultaneous submissions. Considering the slush pile as, among many things, part of a market in new novels implies regarding authors more as sellers and less as supplicants. Sellers who can try to make the sale where they like.

#403 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 04:53 AM:

In addition to all the irrational reasons listed above for an author to take rejection personally, I'd like to add a rational one, though it may apply less to SF than to other corners of publishing. Given all of the attention paid to an author in marketing - from head shots to tours - a publishing house that says "We don't think we can sell your book" may indeed be saying "We don't think we can sell you."

#404 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 05:30 AM:

After seven years of working at newspapers, I can glance at a letter and tell in an instant if it's one of those. If it's about the government watching the person through their microwave, if it consistently uses inappropriate long words that sound like other long words but are completely wrong for the context, if its margins are full of diagrams that are obviously meaningful to the writer but not to us, if the subject matter changes with every sentence without the writer seeming to be aware of it, and if it conveys a general attitude of extreme, irrational paranoia, it's probably one of those letters. Sometimes it's even more obvious, as when the envelope has writing all over it in what seems to be blood (yes, we got one of those once).

If you think your Letters to the Editor are disturbing, just imagine what the FBI's slushpile looks like.

#405 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 05:37 AM:

Graydon--

Right, I absolutely understood that. I thought it was the best rejection I ever got. Moved the "feeling sorry for myself" to "feeling almost sorry for the editor!"

#406 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 07:40 AM:


I think there is a key factor that we have not really mentioned here:

An editor does not exist to critique manuscripts; that is a job for a workshop. An editor exists to decide whether or not something will be printed by their publication/house. That's it. There are no other elements to the deal; the editor has no other obligations.

The fact of the matter is that an editor would be within their rights (a bit mean and short-sighted, but within their rights) to just send back a piece of paper that says "No" on it.

A writer, on the other hand, exists to put their personal visions or demons onto paper. They do this in the hopes that by reading it people will maybe learn something, or see something that they had not seen, or appreciate something that had gone unappreciated. Or maybe just give the reader a whacking great thrill ride and help them to forget for a few hours how much of a weenie their boss is.

As numerous people have noted, that is not easy to do. Even the stuff that ends up getting published doesn't necessarily pull it off.

Paradoxically, with the (for example) 30-40 stories per week going through Critters, or the 700 active members of the OWW workshop, or the 850 manuscripts that my rejection letter from Asimov says they get every month, there are thousands of people out there who believe that they can write killer stories.

Enter the slushpile. 850 stories per month. Frankly, I'm surprised it ever gets much further than, "No."

Jeff

#407 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 08:57 AM:

Jeff --

sf, as a genre, has a mythology about writing sf that's somewhat stuck in 1930-something, when John W. Campbell was actively looking for, and editing the work of, new authors.

And the shape of the world was changed....

I think a prospective writer is actually better off now, higher prose standards, more demanding readership, increased competition, and all, if what they're after is to produce notable writing.

This may not be the consensus view.

#408 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 11:31 AM:

Is it a bad thing that this whole discussion makes me eager to submit more, not fewer, novels to editor-types?

#409 ::: Ray Girvan ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 12:11 PM:

CHip That's ... excessive.

Well, OK, very jaundiced. There are plenty of counter-examples. I was thinking primarily of the average small-town British writers' group, and I've been to a good many. The overwhelming problem, I think, is that many amateur writers devote all their energy not to improving their writing nor the necessary self-analysis, but to pursuit of the secret 'inside track' (the tip about the agent that will take them on; the new market/publisher to try; the author's lecture where they'll hear the secret of success; the paid-for conference where they'll find a publisher; and so on). When a group gets into that mode, it's just as much a dead end as the 'circle jerk' - even though they *think* all the effort they're throwing at networking is improving their chance of publication.

#410 ::: Jenny Crusie ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 12:49 PM:

I lost track of who asked what he should do if an editor writes that the work doesn't interest her or meet her needs, so sorry about the lack of name here.
You say "Thank you for looking at this" and find an editor whose needs are met by your stuff. It's a waste of time trying to figure out what a particular editor likes if that's not what you write. You're not looking for Any Editor to publish your work, you're looking for the editor who understands and values your work. Rejections are a favor that an editor who doesn't like your work does for you, rather than accepting it and publishing it without passion.
Every unpublished writer I've ever said this to has rolled eyes and snorted when I said it but . . . your troubles do not stop when you get published, they start, which is why it's so important to make sure you've got an editor who's in there fighting for you. At least, this is true in novel publishing; it may be different in short stories where I have no experience at all.

#411 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 03:26 PM:

Jenny Crusie: Unpublished writers like to look on different kinds of rejections as different grades. A formletter is an F, a formletter with a note scribbled on it is a D, a formletter with checkboxes checked is like a D, a completely personalized rejection is a C, and so forth. Unpublished writers will get ecstatic when they're rejected with a handwritten note. I'm making progress!

Mike Resnick, who is a professional's professional, used to discourage all of that. He said there is only one piece of feedback HE'S interested in from an editor: yes or no. If the editor is buying the story, then (Mike said) the editor has a right to critique, suggest changes, etc. If the editor is NOT buying the story, the editor could go fly a kite.

Unpublished writers would say, well, Mike, of course YOU can afford to think that way, you're a highly successful writer. Mike would paraphrase the TV commercial about the very old, very wealthy man who still saved pennies: how do you think I got to be that way?

I should note that I don't follow Mike Resnick's advice myself. If an editor rejects a story with a personalized note, I'm pleased - disappointed that I didn't make the sale, but still pleased to get the note. If I get a form letter, I'm discouraged. But I'm aware, when I'm having those feelings, that they don't correspond to any reality. The editor who rejects my ms with a personalized note might be someone I've socialized with on fannish occasions - he might be writing me the note, not because he thinks my story is good, but because he feels obliged by etiquette to do so. Likewise, the editor who sends me the form letter might actually really like my story, but be unable to purchase it for some reason, and he might be in too much of a rush with other responsibilities to let me know.

(Once I got a form letter AND a form for me to subscribe to the magazine. I thought that was somewhat tacky - I mean, I didn't try to sell THEM insurance while I was trying to sell a story.)

I have a usual disclaimer when I presume to dish out advice to unpublished fiction writers: I'm an upublished fiction writer myself, so don't look at me as some leathery veteran dispensing words of wisdom from having survived many campaigns against wizards, balrogs and orcs. However, I *am* a professional journalist, and feel confident in my knowledge of the business of journalism, which is, of course, another kind of writing - and, moreover, I've been socializing with professional fiction writers and editors for many years now, and have absorbed some knowledge of da bidness of fiction just by keeping my ears open.

#412 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 04:38 PM:

Graydon, Lois:

Graydon wrote, "Written stories aren't, really; they're instructions for the reader to use to build a story in their head."

This theory was famously articulated by Poe, in his claim that poems (which he elsewhere insisted should not be over 100 lines long) should apply every technique possible to evoke a predetermined EMOTION in the reader. His essay can be found online, but I'm to harried/hurried to find it and link it now.

Since Poe was also the Father of the Modern Science Fiction Story, and the Father of the Modern Detective Story, it is a reasonable extrapolation to say that Graydon is channeling Poe, and that what ultimately matters in a work of fiction is what it makes the reader THINK and what it makes the reader FEEL.

If one agrees with this theory (or my rewrite of Graydon's rewrite of Poe's theory), then one has a deeper explanation of what Teresa and others are saying in this thread, of this blog.

If you further believe that Science Fiction has a didactic and transformational purpose (i.e., entertain but help change the world), then what ultimately matters in a work of fiction is what it makes the reader DO.

Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke, and their kin wrote fiction, and that fiction compelled me to study science and math, get degrees in same, and then go work in the real space program, which might not have existed without them!

Rejection Letters are a mere epiphenomenon.

#413 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 04:47 PM:

Jonathan --

I would draw considerable distinction between story and emotion; emotion is an experience, story is a pattern. It may have emotions in it, but that doesn't create an identity relation.

#414 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 11:21 PM:

After reading far too long in an attempt to avoid writing, a few comments jumped to mind:

A) I'm a regular volunteer at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and every year, there are a mass of decidedly masculine men who wear skirts (usually wrap or indian-print) due to the heat. And showing off their chests by going bare torso'd.

Of course, that may be considered one of the appealing characteristics of the festival; shirtless guys dancing in open air, skirts revealing their legs in flashes. (Wait a minute. That describes most of the World Beat acts on stage, too...)

B: Actually, it's spelled 'Solla Sollew'. (Um... should I admit I'm in my mid-twenties and have no kids?)

C: I keep getting flashbacks to the "Varieties of Insantiy known to affect Authors" post when I analyze my reaction to some of the remarks. Particularly "This is all about me, right? ...." Especially with the remark about "Writing a story they started in their teens" (Which I kind of am, emphasis on the 'kind of'). Bad Neuroses. Down!

D: Mris said, "Is it a bad thing that this whole discussion makes me eager to submit more, not fewer, novels to editor-types?" That question keeps bugging me, too. Though nothing will land on Teresa's doorstep yet from this particular mailing spree. Since it also convinced me to do the serious editing of "THAT novel", and that takes time.

#415 ::: Genibee ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2004, 11:22 PM:

Or the book might be an excellent thriller about giant fruitflies taking over the White House and impersonating the President, but last week the editor bought a thriller about giant cockroaches taking over the White House and impersonating the First Lady.

Can I just say that I now really, really want to read this book?

In a slight tangent, I was rereading _Dogland_ today and was slightly startled to see the Tor imprint on it, because for the first time, I made the I read books published by Tor / I read and comment on things at Making Light, written by a Big Shot at Tor connection. Why yes, I'm rather slow - but it made me tingle slightly.

#416 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 12:20 AM:

If Tor is actually receiving five thousand unsolicited manuscripts per year...

...isn't that a significant enough number to justify an employee dedicated to doing the first sifting through the slushpile (and also the data entry stuff for tracking the manuscripts' arrivals and returns)?

Not a full-fledged editor, but someone who could reliably sort out the hopeless and lifeless efforts from those with some sign of potential or (one could hope; one does hope) that actual rare gem of a "Yes! Yes! Hallelujah!" purchase-ready manuscript. A first reader.

Let's see: Call it a hundred manuscripts a week. (The first reader gets two weeks vacation a year for rest and therapy.) Divide into a 40-hour workweek, and you get 24 minutes per manuscript. Figure 9 minutes per ms for the tracking stuff, and that leaves 15 minutes to read a bit of the manuscript and decide whether to return it with a politely phrased form (most likely) or bump it up to one of the Elder Ghods of Tor. Seems doable.

Would this be cost effective? How many writers has Tor found in its slushpile over the years, and how well have their works tended to sell? How much time and energy would it save for editors trying to squeeze in slushpile-grazing in their copious spare time? Would it be worth the investment?

The downside would be that, if Tor got a reputation for responding to unsolicited manuscripts in a timely manner, they'd probably start getting TEN thousand manuscripts per year.

#417 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 01:16 AM:

Jenny Crusie:
It's a waste of time trying to figure out what a particular editor likes if that's not what you write. You're not looking for Any Editor to publish your work, you're looking for the editor who understands and values your work. Rejections are a favor that an editor who doesn't like your work does for you, rather than accepting it and publishing it without passion.

Well, there you have it. A summary of why perfectly fine authors don't get published, "nice guys" don't get dates, and "well qualified professionals" can't find a job, and why they should be more accepting of their rejections.

Bruce Arthurs:
If Tor is actually receiving five thousand unsolicited manuscripts per year...
...isn't that a significant enough number to justify an employee dedicated to doing the first sifting

I don't know how much money Tor has on hand to pay administrative assistants, but I doubt that amount of money is sufficient to pay for somebody taking on slush as a FULL TIME JOB.

The thought makes me feel unwell, actually.

#418 ::: Jane Doe ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 02:32 AM:

Why not have a guideline saying not to submit a whole ms, but first query with a couple of non-returnable sample pages?

The Post Office here will allow us, without paying postage, to send a ms back unopened with a note on it such as "Sorry, no unsolicited submissions." I should think they'd let you stamp it "See guidelines at http:whatever."

#419 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 10:05 AM:

I haven't checked this thread in a couple of days, and now it's too big for me to read fully. Still, a couple of comments:

Tim Cooper said re "Sorry but this story didn't hold my interest": In others (F&SF) it's a more-or-less form "No" that means little if anything else.

As I've learned recently on the F&SF forum, the phrasing does indeed mean something, when coming from JJA. "Didn't grab me" means "didn't get past the first five pages" (he always tries to read at least five pages), "didn't hold my interest" means "read more than 5 but didn't reach the end" and "didn't quite work for me" means "I finished it, but didn't think it was good enough to pass to Gordon." (With thanks to J Schoffstall who posted this interpretation, to which JJA agreed.)

Adam Goss, the best way to discover what *will* hold the interest of an editor is to read his magazine (if we take short fiction as an example). Other helpful things to do are reading the guidelines (where Gordon Van Gelder, for example, mentions that he'd appreciate seeing more humour and science fiction) and following online venues where editors post, like this one -- although the latter is dangerous, since the internet seems to follow different physics laws, where time moves quite differently, and you can get to where all your time is sucked online.

#420 ::: Kellie ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 10:06 AM:

Jane, the Tor guidelines state to only send the first 3 chapters of a mss. I have no idea how many people follow that guideline, though.

#421 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 12:10 PM:

Graydon:

One the one hand, you drew me into this subthread by writing:

(1) "Written stories aren't, really; they're instructions for the reader to use to build a story in their head."

On the other hand, you say:

(2) "I would draw considerable distinction between story and emotion; emotion is an experience, story is a pattern. It may have emotions in it, but that doesn't create an identity relation."

Now, if the story is epistemologically and ontologically ambiguous, being on the page and/or in the head, this raises the question swept under the rug:

(3) Where is emotion "in" a story?

One can textually analyze a story on the page, by listing words that denote emotion, and measuring the density of such words per story, or per 1,000 words, or whatever.

The problem with this approach is that there are stories with very high emotional word density, such as Romance, and Opera, which may fail to evoke the emotions denoted in a specific reader or sample of readers. You could put an emotion word in every single sentence of a story, without enhancing the story's ability to evoke emotion, and perhaps even decreasing that effect by "overloading" the reader.

Conversely, there are many fine stories which avoid emotional language, but provoke strong feelings in the reader. Using techniques from Journalism, and stripping away explicitly emotional terms, Hemingway revitalized American fiction by writing in a way which was superficially factual, yet led the reader to build strongly emotional inner narratives in their heads.

Raymond Carver, since he's been mentioned in this thread, did the same. Minimalist style may produce maximum emotion, in some cases.

Saying that "emotion is experience" begs the question which Philosophers call "Qualia." Saying that "story is pattern" begs the question from a standpoint of Information Theory. The pattern must be measured in terms of the statistical ensemble of all possible patterns. Again, in terms of Pragmatics, the issue is: "what does that pattern, when combined with the patterns of experience and language amd perception already in the reader's head, cause the reader to think, feel, and do?"

Poe put the emotion AS EVOKED in the reader as the key to writing, "top down."

One might trivialize this by saying: the test of a love poem is not whether the words fit a literary pattersn, but whether the reader then has sex with the writer.

That can lead to a rather different form of rejection, and a different kind of slip.

Valentine's Day is Saturday, right?

#422 ::: LisaB ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 01:47 PM:

Is it wrong of me to really want to spend a day going through a slush pile now, just out of a perverse sense of curiosity?

#423 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 01:59 PM:

>Rachel wrote:
Genibee wrote:

>>Or the book might be an excellent thriller about giant fruitflies taking over the White House and impersonating the President, but last week the editor bought a thriller about giant cockroaches taking over the White House and impersonating the First Lady.

>Can I just say that I now really, really want to read this book?

Which one?

The fruitfly story-- well, not the political bits, but a real, seriously intended thriller about giant fruitflies-- was a query I received while at the Jim Henson Company.

It was written by someone with a (I don't mean this as an insult) mild neurochemical disorder. That is, the author did not think his screenplay was a true story or include drawings of alien babies in jars with arrows labeled "alien baby" and "jar," but the prose style and plotting seemed to suffer from hyperactivity and an attention deficit. From memory, it went something like this:

"Then the detective discovers that a mad scientist in the desert is synthesizing a frightening strain of gigantic fruitfly! But the nihilistic ravers have discovered this already! They prepare a suitcase nuke! The scientist's girlfriend rushes to warn the White House! The veterinarian gets lost in a swamp with an apelike alien! And then the ravers get a mutated form of AIDS! They melt and hatch into a giant bird demon! Oprah Winfrey is devoured! Martial law is declared! The clones attack! Etc!"

#424 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 02:14 PM:

Jonathon --

Where is emotion in a story?

It isn't; emotion, if it is anywhere, is in a reader.

A live story, one active in a living mind, may involve or contain the experience of emotions; an ecapsulated one, dry and transcripted like the DNA in a virus, of course cannot.

Poe was very good at emotion in the reader, perhaps less good at story, which is why people remember of his stories very vivid images, and not consequent events.

Rather like the difference in remembering the glittering hilt of the sword and the letters of gold on the rock, but not why it matters if one can draw the sword from the stone or no.

#425 ::: Susan Marie Groppi ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 04:22 PM:

Is it wrong of me to really want to spend a day going through a slush pile now, just out of a perverse sense of curiosity?

No, not at all, but it might not be as exciting as we've led you to believe. The magazine I work for doesn't get quite the submission volume that Asimov's does, but we do get two or three hundred a month. A few of them are brilliant, a few more than that are very good, and a few more than that are very bad indeed. The most common comment I make on our slush stories, though, is "competent but uninspiring".

#426 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 04:55 PM:

Rachel Brown: Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed; the maid screamed! Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! Meanwhile, while millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury!

#427 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 05:55 PM:

Leonora Rose: I am a bad monkey. I thought it looked off...so I went and double-checked after posting, and lo, it IS Solla Sollew. *hangs head in shame* If it's any comfort, I too am twenty-something and lacking the small creatures known as children.

#428 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 08:19 PM:

Now might be a good time to quote from the Tor guidelines:


3. Submit only the first three chapters of your book, and a synopsis of the entire book. (We're not big on query letters, since we can't tell whether we'll like the book until we see a chunk of the manuscript.) And please make sure you send the first three chapters. No matter how good your synopsis is, it's difficult for us to get a good sense of the book from chapters 4, 17, and 32.

...

From the Tor FAQ:

The question that puzzles us the most is, "What are the odds of getting published by Tor?" That is, what is our ratio of acceptance to rejection for manuscripts in our slush pile?

Answer: for very good books, the odds are excellent. For books we don't like, the odds are abysmal. No other measurement is meaningful. If we have a month in which we don't see any manuscripts we like, we don't buy manuscripts we dislike just to keep up our acquisition rate.

#429 ::: Peg Duthie ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2004, 11:46 PM:

LNHammer, re markets for epic poetry: There's some folks over at Amazon who've compiled lists of favorite book-length/epic poems (including some by not-famous, not-dead writers), and assorted journals who hold contests expressly for long poems (including Malahat and The Paris Review).

Tina: seems to me a space cop procedural sestina might fit right in with the other goings-on over at McSweeney's.

:-)

#430 ::: Kitty Paige ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2004, 01:05 AM:

Hmm... I've (so far) only submitted to and been published by fanzines from the writer's side of things. At one point my husband got this great idea to start our own fanzine.

It's possible I'm wrong on this, but I think he accepted everything sent to us for publishing, then handed it off to me to edit for printing. And the first thing I noticed was the lack of spell-check usage.

I failed spelling for most of the years that it was a subject all on its own, but recovered to some extent through my love of reading so many sf/f/action/adventure/romance/comedy books. Reading so much taught me to recognize the correct spellings even when I might not be able to remember to spell it properly when writing it myself. Reading all of these stories, I could see why they were being sent to us; there is no way most slush-pile readers would bother reading past the first two paragraphs. I won't claim mine were the best submissions in the 'zines, but they were some of the better ones based on all the editting the others required. Spelling, then all the grammer and poor word-choices that I could catch before returning to the authors for aproval.

For those of you who squeeze this sort of thing into your spare time at work... I am in awe of your stamina.

The story of Myrtle the Manuscript was hilarious as well as educational. Wonderful!

Confessions of a Slush Pile Reader was scary, yet also fun and informative. Interesting links...

I spent about 3 days reading over this page of comments (without refreshing!) and following and reading links such as the ones to the electronic books. I remember hearing some about these at some point in the past and forgetting about them. I love paper books, although I do read a lot on my laptop. A world without paper books... (shudders!) I think of all the wonderful stories that I would have missed out on if not for second-hand bookstores, and cannot imagine it.

On the other hand, electronic publication may truly be the way to go for those of us who cannot face the years in the slush-piles to see paper-printing.

Perhaps some day I will write something that I feel is good enough to submit, but until then... my slush-pile filler will be a guilty pleasure shared only with my friends. (chuckles) They keep telling me that I should submit stuff, and I keep telling them not until I think of something original enough. I'd hate to be tossed out for that reason...

#431 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2004, 05:16 AM:

> I spent about 3 days reading over this page of comments (without refreshing!)

I spent the last 3 days reading over this page of comments. I haven't slept, I haven't bathed, I only ate what was at hand (I can tell you, the ball is definitely the most tasty part of the mouse).

(Sorry, the "without refreshing" got to me. :)

#432 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2004, 10:02 AM:

Peg: Just as novels are easier to sell than novellas, so book-length poems are easier to publish than one of, say, 500-1000 lines. Thanks for the pointers, especially to Malahat.

---L.

#433 ::: Jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2004, 11:53 AM:

Ayse Sercan wrote:
Well, there you have it. A summary of why perfectly fine authors don't get published, "nice guys" don't get dates, and "well qualified professionals" can't find a job, and why they should be more accepting of their rejections.

Coincidentally, that evening, before I had seen this, I thought to explain it thusly:

Listen, most of us have gone on dates with Perfectly Nice People with whom we never went on a second date. Sometimes we've gone on a second or even a third date, and then had to say something horrible like, "I really like you, and you're perfectly sweet, but it's just not going to work." We may even have said "Listen, I'm sure there's someone out there for you! You're interesting,attractive, sweet, well mannered, a lot of fun (or whatever)! You'll find someone...but no, it's not going to be me. I'm sorry." And we really do think they will, because Someone Wrong has all those qualities that ought to make them Right for someone, but that somehow don't add up to a YES! for you.

And these conversations suck. Totally, utterly, and completely. For both parties. But the alternative to having that conversation is, well, more dates with Someone Wrong...it's living a lie, and feeling dreadful, and then maybe, after a few more dates, Someone Wrong wants a commitment of some sort. And then we'd darn well better have that conversation!

When an editor is saying "Not suitable for our publishing program," or "Somebody could publish this but we don't see why it should be us," they're saying "You're a really nice ms, but you're not the one for me. I'm sorry." And they have to say that. They simply can't publish every nice ms that comes in the door, no matter whether it be the kind of ms that always brings flowers, and is witty, attractive, interesting, and all those things that help to make an ms appealing. Some other editor may read it and say YES! and that's the editor you want to read your ms, and that's the editor you want to buy your book, because that editor, the editor who says YES! will take your book to the editorial board, and the publishing board, and will stand up to the rep. from marketing who thinks it's going to be difficult to promote that book, and the rep. from sales who's worried about making that book saleable. That's the editor who's going to find you the right copy editor (assuming you get one), the right cover designer, and who's going to write sincere, heartfelt jacket copy. That's the editor who, if it's that kind of house, is going to immerse their brain in your book, and make it a better book than you dreamed it could be. That's the right editor for your book. And you can't make an editor think YES! simply by writing a good, clear, well-thought-out novel, any more than that nice, sweet, intersting, well-mannered (or whatever) person could make you say YES! after a couple of dates. Both of you just had to go your separate ways knowing that there was nothing wrong with either of you, but that you simply weren't right for each other.

#434 ::: Nesbitt ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2004, 12:56 AM:

"I don't just mean the rejection itself, which they're bound to take personally, being writers and all."

That's exactly right. I see your points and a couple have made me think about resubmitting material to publishers who've rejected my work. But when I look in my post box and see an envelope in there with my handwriting on it and I know instantly it's my latest attempt at getting published being sent back to me, my heart sinks. Sure, my rational mind says one thing, but my heart says another.

#435 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2004, 03:00 PM:

Oh, Peg... Peg, Peg, Peg. You have just done something very, very evil. Because, see, if I have a place to submit a sestina (I agree with whomever said 'thriller' would be easier than 'police procedural') of that sort, that makes it even more likely I really will write it.

* Tina breaks out her poetry form quickref.

I'll get you for this. Or the readers will.

:P

#436 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2004, 03:39 PM:

Don't forget that Joe Haldeman got several thousand dollars for a linked pair of Science Fiction Murder sestinas in Omni Magazine.

Example of a useful rejection checklist, in yesterday evening's snailmail to me:

"Dear [handwritten: Jonathan Vos Post],
Thank you for submitting [handwritten: The Sacred and Profane Ikon...], but unfortunately I will not be accepting it for publication. I regret having to resort to this somewhat impersonal means of responding to your story, but it has recently become necessary in order to deal with an overwhelming backlog of submissions. It is my hope that this is only a temporary measure and that once I have caught up with the backlog I can return to personalized response letters for all submissions. In the mean time, I hope the following information is helpful to you inasmuch as the checked boxes indicate the specific reason(s) for my declining to accept your story.
[checked box]: Disjointed pacing and/or scene flow. [handwritten: In particular, I found that the story had a little too much exposition early on & was slow getting started.

Sincerely,

Christopher M. Cevasco
Ediotr/Publisher
Paradox: The Magazine of Historical and Speculative Fiction"

Thank you! VERY useful guidelines! Very polite and informative.

My 3,600 word Historical and Speculative Fiction story, "The Sacred and Profane Ikon of Our Lady of the Paradox" went to them in the mail 6 Aug 2003, and came back a hair over 6 months later on 12 Feb 2004.

The previous letters from, for example, Century, and F&SF had equally useful guidance. I know what needs to be done to fix the stated problem. Start at an action highpoint, and get to the introductory exposition in flashbacks.

Now, Heinlein's rule says resubmit WITHOUT rewrite, until it either sells or someone says "I'll buy it IF you fix the following problem."

But my Friday the 13th is a good one, and I have a good reservation for an Argentine restaurant for tomorrow, Valentine's Day, to take my wife. It is also our 18th wedding anniversary. Thanks for letting me share both writerly and personal stuff hereinabove.

#437 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2004, 08:43 PM:

Re: rejection-- I make the assumption that my work should be rejected by at least 20% of the readers. This is as it should be-- if my writing doesn't piss someone off, I'm not writing strongly enough.

That is distinctly different from my professional communication, which should always be charming and smooth. Much like myself.

#438 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2004, 08:33 PM:

Not that this is a bunch of men in dresses, but this shop is less than a mile from me:

http://www.utilikilts.com/

Pics of men enjoying a cool breeze here.

#439 ::: lisa g ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2004, 12:49 AM:

>>Is it wrong of me to really want to spend a day going through a slush pile now, just out of a perverse sense of curiosity?

I once wanted to read slush too, probably because I'd heard so many stories about brilliant authors being discovered in slush piles, and the equally brilliant editors who discovered them. So one day while I was killing time in New York at the offices of an sf magazine I asked someone if I could look at theirs.

She showed me to the pile and told me to take as long as I wanted. There seemed to be a strange maniacal gleam in her eyes when she left, but I told myself I was probably imagining things. A few minutes later I heard her talking to some of the other folks in the office, and then a burst of wild gleeful laughter, but I ignored the interruption -- I had my brilliant author to find, after all -- and bent back to my task.

I don't remember how long I lasted. My memory says it was three stories, but it had to be more than that. Maybe it just seemed more. I remember when I stopped, though -- it was when I came to the cover letter where the author explained the theme of the story, and then why that theme was important to society today.

A few miles back upstream someone used the phrase "post-grammatical stress syndrome." I love that! May I steal it?

#440 ::: vatergrrl ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2004, 12:41 PM:

Is it okay if I take all sorts of vicarious pleasure in this entire thread? I'm sitting here in my office, resisting the urge to read my own "slush pile" of doggerel produced by my freshman comp students, and fervently wishing I could dole out stacks of form rejection letters. Instead, I must firmly affix my Friendly Commentator mask and pound out comments designed to help my kiddies fix their often horrifying mangles of expository prose.

"Post-grammatical stress syndrome": Exactly. Might I steal it as well?

#441 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2004, 03:45 PM:

Regarding Utilikilts:

I, personally, know 3 men with Utilikilts who absolutely adore them. One of those men (for Shalanna's personal edification) is an A&M graduate.

Also, there was a grad student/TA at my alma mater, UT Dallas, whose tastes in sundresses, pumps, purses, and earrings seemed (in the opinion of most) to run counter to his taste in how much facial hair would work with such an ensemble; that is, he had one hell of a big bushy beard. I think I only saw him in pants if it was quite chilly out, and even then he certainly never went anywhere without a purse.

Texas is not quite so backwater as even some of our own residents perceive it...

#442 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2004, 03:47 PM:

Teresa,

I was the guy who posted about never getting a response from Tor (on the submission, query letter, query e-mails, etc.). You asked me to give you a title, and I sent it your way via e-mail that day.

Were you able to find anything, or did my e-mail die a horrible spam-filter death?

Thanks,
-Patrick, who has now decided that a good clean rejection is about fifty times better than the "rejection with suggestion that you use the company's editing-service partner for just $3.60 per manuscript page", after the mail received last week.

#443 ::: Brian Weseman ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2004, 06:10 PM:

"It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels."

Well, with gems like this in your philosophy of rejection, I can see why some prospective authors might take a rejection from you rather personally.

I agree with you in principle that publishing, like all other businesses is not about being personal, it's effectively about marketing and making money, and therefore doesn't really have much reason to be personal.

However, you do a pretty good job of muddying your own argument with statement like that, especially coming from a person whose job is composing rejection letters.

#444 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2004, 09:27 PM:

Brian --

That's a category of cause for rejection, not a statement on a rejection letter.

There is a difference.

Unsuitable for our needs at this time covers everything from 'manuscript appears to have been produced by chewing birchbark in fits of post-grammatical dementia' through 'damn, can't sell that in this market'.

That's why the nicely generic phrase is used.

#445 ::: Xopher thinks the preceding comment might be spam but didn't want to click the author link to be sur ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 02:24 PM:

Apologies to veronica if that turns out not to be the case.

And Brian, Graydon's right. The statement you cite is what the editor thinks about the manuscript. What a person is thinking cannot possibly be cruel or impolite; the rejection slip, which actually goes to the author (whether or not its actual wording impinges on hir consciousness), can be, and would say something polite.

As Miss Manners puts it, "In manners, unlike morals, if you don't get caught, it doesn't count."

#446 ::: FranU ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 05:29 PM:

So many publishers continually alienate writers and, in my opinion, that's one of the biggest mistakes those publishers make because few writers aren't readers too....

Teresa, you said:

"If you could write like the worst junk on the bestseller lists, you'd be a published author, and incidentally have a different set of critics to resent."

--Are you implying that this "worst junk" is what writers should aspire to pen? Sounds to me like you are. And maybe that's why I don't remember ever finishing any TOR books. Or buying any.

If I have to lower myself to writing "like the worst junk" to catch a traditional editor's eye, then I'll stick to not writing like the worst junk and publish that not-like-the-worst-junk writing myself, which is what I've been doing. Or I won't bother trying to get traditionally published, which is what I've also been doing. This blog thread makes me dislike my own kind, which isn't a difficult thing to do really, considering the competitive, sneering, mean-spirited attitude of most writers, but I'm always hoping I'll find a different breed of writer somewhere (or different breed of person, period). Sadly, that rarely happens.

"And if no matter how hard you try, people still don't want to read your prose for its own sake, you can always try beefing up your content. If they like your content well enough, publishers will fix up your prose for free. A triple dose of fast-moving storyline will get you past bad prose better than good prose will get you past a dull storyline. I'm serious. It's one of the best tricks in the bag."

--This is a terrible practice and no wonder I rarely come across a decent book today. You first say that "writing good material and presenting it in a clear, polite manner is the best way to get published," then you say publishers will "fix up" a writer's prose for free. (I'm assuming you mean once the work's been accepted for publication.) Huh? I thought only "good material" will likely get through a publisher's door? IMO, if a work's prose is broken, the writing isn't good material. If an accepted-for-publication written work can be inferior but be "fixed" later by the publisher (I'm not disagreeing that that happens as I know firsthand that this does happen), then don't come off like publishers only publish top-notch works. Or intend to publish top-notch works. Or accept only top-notch works. Or accept only "the best of what's out there." Don't start in with the you-haven't-been-published-because-your-work-isn't-good-enough attitude when your own comments indicate (IMO) that a written work doesn't necessarily have to be good enough to be published eventually.

If poorly written stuff can be published, well written stuff can remain unpublished; that poorly written stuff is being published suggests that writing quality isn't always the primary publishing criteria. Funny how writers often hear from the publishing industry that well written stuff will eventually find a home, but poorly written stuff won't eventually find a home. Oh yeah.

Achieving publication or not and having been rejected or not often have little to do with the "actual" quality of the work in question (assuming there is such a thing as "actual quality," which may be a big assumption, as the quality of a work is likely subjective). Are there any great writers whose works haven't been rejected by someone somewhere? Every time great works were rejected, someone somewhere doing the rejecting likely thought the rejected writing wasn't "some of the best out there." But that doesn't actually mean that writing WASN'T some of the best out there. Same thing for other kinds of art. Van Gogh practically starved while alive; his paintings were being sold for pennies then. He died and the price of his paintings soon soared. Yet his post-death paintings were still the same damn paintings. "Great art" is often overlooked and sometimes overlooked forever. In a market that pushes fast-food literature, it wouldn't surprise me if a significant number of great written works--and great writers--were being overlooked.

I think the "state of writing" today is pretty pathetic. What happened to emphasizing LANGUAGE? Stories are relayed using WORDS to express ideas, images, etc. If the words aren't there, can "the story" really be there? Teresa, I'm glad you admitted that prose can be a secondary concern for publishers, but it pisses me off when those same publishers (and their representatives) then get defensive when readers find many books poorly written difficult reads: when I read a book, if the prose isn't there for me, neither is the content. And vice versa. All the "parts" of a work are ultimately related. They each don't exist inside a vacuum. One part isn't poorly executed without it affecting the execution of the other parts. One part isn't read without the other parts being read too. Either the whole is executed well or it isn't. And it's the whole work that ultimately counts when reading, writing and editing. I find it hard to believe that many of those supposed "beefed-up content" books you mention actually have good content if it has been presented/relayed using poor prose originally--the many poorly written derivative works being published today seem to support that.

I worked as a copy editor/editor/proofreader for a large nonfiction publisher. Poorly written manuscripts were accepted and eventually published by this company, yet this company also claimed they wouldn't publish "junk." They might not have published a lot of junk, but they ACCEPTED some junk for publication and extensively rewrote some journal articles in particular to make them passable. If that's what publishers are commonly doing, accepting substandard writing and rewriting it, then they shouldn't also claim that only good writing will make it through their doors because apparently substandard writing is making it through their doors.

I think writers should probably be polite. People of all kinds should probably be polite. But that includes publishers too--and editors. The you-should-grovel-at-our-feet-and-do-as-we-say attitude in the arts is responsible for ruining many an artist's life (and I would say many a publisher's life too). Writers should unite against this; instead, they divisively back-bite each other and allow the industry to force them to live impoverished unhappy lives. This doesn't really help anyone in the end.

Writers have their problems, editors have their problems, publishers have their problems. Sometimes all three of those entities share the same problems; other times they don't. Nevertheless, they should share a belief that the actual works being written are the most important part of the whole process.

Fran

#447 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 06:54 PM:

Fran --

I call to your attention the example of David Weber, Baen Books author, whose sentence-level prose certainly started with its full share and then some of ankle-twisting moments, and whose ability to tell a story dragged the reader through the rough patches by the hair.

That's that sort of thing I expect Teresa means; if you can do that, get that much story on the page, the sentence-level stuff can be fixed by people who are really good at sentences. (Of whom there are more than there are people really good at story.)

Manuscripts with that density of story don't qualify as 'poorly written', despite their sentence level flaws; the sentence level flaws don't help them, but flawless sentences and the dry dead dust of the idea of a tale is a worse case.

#448 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 07:02 PM:

Not to answer for Teresa here, but I took her comment about 'worst junk' to mean: Anyone who says they could write better than the worst of what's on the bestsellers' list ought to already be published if they're right.

(Which leads me to wonder for a moment about my own writing... okay, I'm better now.)

And, uh, if you've never finished a book put out by Tor, you have missed out on some really fine writing. Starting with one of my personal favorite authors, Steve Brust, who I take a moment here to pimp, because, well, I like to introduce people to his work. :)

I can't say Tor has never put out a book I thought was a stinker, but see my earlier comments, if you can find them, about Tor and Baen as well.

#449 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 07:41 PM:

FranU: So many publishers continually alienate writers and, in my opinion, that's one of the biggest mistakes those publishers make because few writers aren't readers too....

Are you implying that this "worst junk" is what writers should aspire to pen? Sounds to me like you are. And maybe that's why I don't remember ever finishing any TOR books. Or buying any....

.... This blog thread makes me dislike my own kind, which isn't a difficult thing to do really, considering the competitive, sneering, mean-spirited attitude of most writers, but I'm always hoping I'll find a different breed of writer somewhere (or different breed of person, period). Sadly, that rarely happens....

Your diatribe is littered with errors of fact and distortions of meaning of what Teresa wrote.

I boggled at the statement in paragraph #3, where you said that most writers are competitive, sneering and mean-spirited, because I find most writers are actually pretty friendly and willing to give a newbie a helping hand.

Then I looked through the rest of your post and saw where, in each case, you took Teresa's writing out of context and twisted her words to give it the worst possible interpretation. And then I thought to myself, "That explains it, then."

If you greet people with hostility, you will be met with hostility in return.

As an editor myself (albeit in a different field), I know exactly what Teresa means when she says: "And if no matter how hard you try, people still don't want to read your prose for its own sake, you can always try beefing up your content. If they like your content well enough, publishers will fix up your prose for free. A triple dose of fast-moving storyline will get you past bad prose better than good prose will get you past a dull storyline. I'm serious. It's one of the best tricks in the bag."

I can fix bad prose, but I can't do anything with nonexistent content. If an article is badly written, I can take the time to revise it, re-writing every single sentence if necessary. But if the article doesn't say anything, then there's nothing I can do with it but ship it back to the writer and tell him to try harder next time.

#450 ::: Miriam ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 07:46 PM:

Hi there. Sorry to interrupt (I'm new here, just came over from Neil's site) but I have a bit of a question concerning agents. I happen to freelance for a certain agent who has since asked me to copyedit one of the manuscripts he has accepted. I told him I would do it because I could use the money even though I'm not exactly what one would call a professional copyeditor. (if there is such a thing.)

So, after reading your comments about agents and the finding of bad ones, I remembered a small comment this agent said to me of the to be edited mss. I was to have dealings only with the author so as to "avoid any conflict of interest." Also, the author, not the agent, is to pay me.

I am curious. Is this a "bad agent?" Is he ripping off this writer? Do I need to tell the writer this? I really want to get paid for all the hours I've already put in, but I don't want to be an accomplice to agent evil.

Someone, anyone in this thread actually, please tell me how to proceed.

Thanks,
Miriam

#451 ::: FranU ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 08:27 PM:

Hi, Tina. I disagree with the popular notion that a written work having been traditionally published (or not) automatically indicates something about the quality of that work. I'm not saying I think you believe this, but just that it is a common elitist attitude (especially among those who have been traditionally published and among the traditional publishing/literary world in general). And it is also a misleading claim. The probability of one of my works being traditionally published while I'm alive is, like, next to zero, especially considering that I don't submit anymore, but if I ever were traditionally published, I hope I wouldn't start judging books by their covers instead of by their content, I hope I wouldn't start judging books by their publishers instead of by their content. Both likely have little do with the ACTUAL written work's quality. I look at a written work for what I think IT appears to be, for what the writer appears to have intended it to be, and that's it. I don't care what publisher's stamp resides on the book's cover, or even if a publisher's stamp resides on that cover. Everything's usually about the actual work to me, but maybe I'm peculiar like that--I don't know.

"Anyone who says they could write better than the worst of what's on the bestsellers' list ought to already be published if they're right."

--Every writer must start somewhere, and most writers will walk different paths along their writing careers. Probably at any given time some writers won't be published yet; some writers will be published. And some writers will never be published. But that should ideally tell others little to nothing about the quality of a particular writer's work, ESPECIALLY when those others haven't even SEEN the actual work.

Take the writer you mentioned--Steve Brust. Before he was first published he had written the work that would eventually become his first published work. Assuming his work didn't undergo major rewriting but only minor line editing, what is the overall difference between his actual work before and after it was published? What is the difference in that work's quality? Likely very little to none, IMO.

I may have finished a TOR book, I just don't remember having read one; that I don't normally pay much attention to industry labels may have something to do with my not remembering, that I'm generally not impressed with the science fiction being published today may also be responsible. But I'll check out Brust's stuff; I'm always open to reading something new. Unfortunately, having very specific reading tastes, I peruse a lot of modern books, but finish few. I don't like most of what's being written today. I don't even like some of the stuff I've written. But, hey, different strokes for different folks and all that. Nearly all of the writing after like the mid-twentieth century doesn't impress me. Somehow, writing's become too easy and too common, and too many writers have become too lazy. Everything often seems so mechanized and impersonal and stereotypical, even the content of books. Eh, maybe that's just me too....

Fran

#452 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 08:28 PM:

Xopher is right, and Vrnc Zmnv is dead meat. All hail MT Blacklist.

#453 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 08:41 PM:

FranU: Hi, Tina. I disagree with the popular notion that a written work having been traditionally published (or not) automatically indicates something about the quality of that work. I'm not saying I think you believe this, but just that it is a common elitist attitude (especially among those who have been traditionally published and among the traditional publishing/literary world in general).

Straw-man argument, Fran. This is a commonly held belief? By whom? On the contrary, from what I've seen, everybody knows that many good novels fail to get published, and many bad novels do get published. Everybody knows that "Dune" was rejected a gazillion times before it was finally published.

You are taking a common argumentative technique. You are posing as the courageous warrior who dares to speak unpopular truths, when in fact everything you're saying is commonplace, and most of it is wrong.

#454 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 08:45 PM:

"FranU" bravely asserts:

"I disagree with the popular notion that a written work having been traditionally published (or not) automatically indicates something about the quality of that work. I'm not saying I think you believe this, but just that it is a common elitist attitude (especially among those who have been traditionally published and among the traditional publishing/literary world in general)."

I guess that puts me and Teresa in our place, since obviously we believe that only "traditional publishing" cuts any mustard.

Never mind the several hundred thousand words of our own work that we've published on mimeographed pages or computer screens over the years. Brave FranU (suitably vaccinated with the obligatory "I'm not saying I think you believe this" disclaimer) sees through such trivial smokescreens.

#455 ::: FranU ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 08:51 PM:

Graydon, I guess we disagree because I think both storytelling ability and language ability are equally important.... I don't consider a novel even adequately written if the work exhibits minimal command of the English language.

I often look at this whole thing as: some writers have a lot to say and don't know how to say it, other writers have little to say but know how to say it, and still others have little to say and don't know how to say it, and still others have a lot to say and know how to say it. That last kind of writer is the rarest and the best; the great writers fit in there. But all the other writers are usually at best "good writers."

Guess I only want to spend money and time on novels that contain a good story and are well written. The writing doesn't have to be excellent prose-wise, but the prose has to be at least "good" for me to label that novel as well written--and an enjoyable read. A story alone can't carry a novel, nor can the prose alone, assuming those two things can really be looked at "separately," which I think is difficult and maybe even impossible to do in most cases....

Take care,

Fran

#456 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 09:01 PM:

I hope I wouldn't start judging books by their covers instead of by their content...

Unless you were reading one of my books, in which case I would be heartbroken if you ignored the intricate hand-crafted covers, the quality of the letterpress printing, the unique fonts designed for each book....

There's a lot more to a book than just prose, just as there is a lot more to a good meal than being fully cooked and a lot more to a great item of clothing than coverage of one's naughty bits.

But maybe that's just me reacting emotionally, because your two posts felt like they were attacking anybody who has ever thought of a book, "Well, the grammar's a bit off, but that was one hell of a story!" Also, I find the juxtaposition of your branding Tina with "elitist attitude" (oh, I know you oh-so-carefully pretended to not be doing it) and your earlier remark that "And maybe that's why I don't remember ever finishing any TOR books. Or buying any" to be a bit disconcerting. I'm used to people who have an argument to make about good versus bad writing having the grace to pretend to consistency.

I'm a big fan of inconsistency, myself.

Also,

What happened to emphasizing LANGUAGE?

It's right where it was in the good old days. Language has ever been secondary to story or technical content.

#457 ::: FranU ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 09:13 PM:

For the record, I don't respond to posts that are mostly quotes of my text with one-sentence "comebacks" as responses. I also don't respond to declarative dogmatic-sounding posters, but only posters who primarily focus on the issues being discussed and not the people they're discussing them with. If you want to discuss something with me that you disagree with, fine. Show me where the problem is, don't just say it, as you've done here:

"Your diatribe is littered with errors of fact and distortions of meaning of what Teresa wrote... Then I looked through the rest of your post and saw where, in each case, you took Teresa's writing out of context and twisted her words to give it the worst possible interpretation. And then I thought to myself, "That explains it, then.""

--Show don't tell. Should I really have to point this out to an editor?

Some of Teresa's comments and attitude rubbed me the wrong way, as my comments seemingly rubbed you the wrong way. Who doesn't have that happen at least once in a while? I deal with it; so should everybody. That's life.

I found this place while surfing Google for sites about dealing with rejection; I wanted to post some links at a writing forum I have. When I came across this discussion, I responded with what I thought and felt, though I should have known better as the overall tone here is likely not compatible with mine. But if you don't like what I wrote, that's your opinion and your problem, not mine.

Fran

#458 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 09:15 PM:

What an illuminating thread.

I started reading Making Light after a friend lent me Making Book. He said he'd been corresponding with the author, and she reminded him of me. Or vice versa. In any case, it was meant as a compliment, and I blush to think I might've thought otherwise, at first.

In any case, having majored in Creative Writing, with hopes to someday BE a published author, this thread has simultaneously raises my hopes high and dashed them to pieces. The amount of work, time and money others upthread speak of spending in an attempt to perhaps have their manuscripts looked at . . . well, the thought makes me just a little tired. At the same time, though, I know that I'm more than willing to SPEND lots of time to have my words shared with the rest of the world. And I even seem to have some of it right; I've purchased and perused a copy of Writer's Market, as well as numerous other publications on How To Find The Right Market. I've also started writing down some of the short stories that occur to me on an almost daily basis, in hopes that I'll eventually write something I feel is worth sharing.

On men in skirts: didn't Sting wear a kilt to the Grammy Awards show?

On workshops: All of my writing classes in college, actually, were workshops. I remember getting very little out of peer evaluations, except how to roll my eyes without anyone noticing and how to completely ignore what someone was saying. There I'd turned in some tripe I'd churned out the night before the due date, and, three weeks later, they wanted me to CARE that the main character seemed like the sort to sleep on her side, not her back as I'd written in the story? Per teacher instruction, I was then forced to sit quietly, offering no feedback of my own, while the class bickered over whether my character slept on her side or on her back.

My friend and former roommate, who is currently a journalist, stated it years later in a way I could finally sum up: "They always said, 'I think this . . .' or 'My opinion is that . . .' and you would always sit there thinking, 'Maybe you're just dumb.'"

#459 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 09:25 PM:

"When an editor is saying "Not suitable for our publishing program," or "Somebody could publish this but we don't see why it should be us," they're saying "You're a really nice ms, but you're not the one for me. I'm sorry." And they have to say that. They simply can't publish every nice ms that comes in the door, no matter whether it be the kind of ms that always brings flowers, and is witty, attractive, interesting, and all those things that help to make an ms appealing. Some other editor may read it and say YES! and that's the editor you want to read your ms, and that's the editor you want to buy your book, because that editor, the editor who says YES! will take your book to the editorial board, and the publishing board, and will stand up to the rep. from marketing who thinks it's going to be difficult to promote that book, and the rep. from sales who's worried about making that book saleable. That's the editor who's going to find you the right copy editor (assuming you get one), the right cover designer, and who's going to write sincere, heartfelt jacket copy. That's the editor who, if it's that kind of house, is going to immerse their brain in your book, and make it a better book than you dreamed it could be. That's the right editor for your book. And you can't make an editor think YES! simply by writing a good, clear, well-thought-out novel, any more than that nice, sweet, intersting, well-mannered (or whatever) person could make you say YES! after a couple of dates. Both of you just had to go your separate ways knowing that there was nothing wrong with either of you, but that you simply weren't right for each other."

Whoever "Jennie" is, she is My New Hero. Er, what I mean is, this is the real, the authentic, and the true.

#460 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 09:29 PM:

"I found this place while surfing Google for sites about dealing with rejection; I wanted to post some links at a writing forum I have. When I came across this discussion, I responded with what I thought and felt, though I should have known better as the overall tone here is likely not compatible with mine."

Shorter FranU:

"I am a drive-by poster with a narrow agenda who can't be bothered to pay attention to the broader context of the conversation."

Door, ass, hit, don't let, on your way out!

#461 ::: FranU ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 09:48 PM:

Mitch, um, a straw man??? I am saying that's a popular notion; I didn't say someone else here said it. I specifically responded to Tina that she didn't believe that. What do I have to do to indicate that she didn't say that and I didn't think she said/meant it and I said she didn't say it? She didn't say/mean it as far as I can tell. She gave her opinion on what she thought Teresa said and then Tina made some other comments about something else. When I responded to her, I was trying to discuss my opinion a bit more. If you disagree with my opinion or think it's wrong, fine.

Yes, I think what I posted is a commonly held belief and some of the attitude here smells of that belief. I've given a detailed generic response as to why. I don't like that elitist attitude. Frankly, when I worked as an editor, before I started writing, I didn't like that attitude even then. The publishing company I worked for was particularly ridiculous in light of the poorly written stuff they sometimes pushed through, as I've already described.

Can your words about how "everybody knows" sound anymore dogmatic? IMO, "everybody" doesn't seem to know that many good novels go unpublished and many bad novels are published. Some seem to feel few good novels go unpublished. And still others seem to feel no good novels go unpublished. I think many people seem to believe that "cream rises to the top" expression; I say, hot air also rises to the top.

I don't really agree that MANY good novels go unpublished. Just maybe SOME.

Fran

#462 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 09:49 PM:

I used to be shy around women. Well, that's not true -- I have never been shy around anyone, men or women. But I was shy about making romantic overtures. I was afraid to ask women out on dates, and when I did I was afraid to make any moves.

This lasted for years into my adulthood, long past when everyone else had already outgrown their shyness.

I used to get in these long discussions with friends who were real ladies' men. I asked them how they did it. The best advice I ever got was from a friend who told me that rejection, actually, doesn't hurt.

That sounds preposterous, but I realized that he was right. I realized that if I talked to an attractive woman, made advances and she rejected me, it just didn't matter. I couldn't take it personally. How could I take it personally, she doesn't even know me? And, still, I had a better time talking with her and flirting than I would have had if I had just stood there with - as my wife's family is fond of saying - my teeth in my mouth.

So I went to a party once and behaved like an utter boor. I propositioned women right and left. They were standing around in a corner talking about me. They were actually whispering to each other about me and pointing when they thought I wasn't looking. I'm surprised I didn't get the shit beaten out of me by someone's boyfriend, husband or brother. I would have deserved it too.

I remember talking to this one woman for about 25 minutes, we seemed to be getting along pretty well, so I asked her if she wanted to go into the woods and make out. She was appalled.

I was experiencing my worst nightmare as a single guy -- I was being rejected all over the place -- and I just didn't care. I was exhilerated.

I was also a little drunk. Jell-O shots were involved. And, like I said, I'm surprised I didn't get the shit beat out of me by someone's boyfriend, or husband, or brother -- or by the someone in question herself, women are not the fragile flowers we used to like to believe. God, I acted like a jerk that night.

Okay, another time during the same period, I was on a business trip and I was supposed to get together with a friend in town and his girlfriend, and he was going to bring a date for me. How sweet is that? It's like something out of an old movie. People don't bring dates for their friends anymore.

Except when I got there, my friend took me aside and apologized. He said that his girlfriend had insisted on fixing me up with one of her friends, one who nobody liked. Even his girlfriend didn't like her. She was one of those friends you don't actually like.

The woman was gorgeous, but she was a complete bitch. She proceeded to treat me like dirt all night. As soon as we met, she gave me a dismissive once-over. My appearance was clearly not up to her standards. She rolled her eyes at every third thing I said. Her behavior was so outrageous, I was actually having a good time. I made a game out of it -- I decided I was going to behave like a perfect gentleman all night, and see how she reacted. I even got to my feet when she came back from the ladies room, and scrambled to hold her chair out for her. Sure enough, she had no idea what was going on. The better I treated her, the worse she treated me. She sent me off to buy her a drink, and then when I came back she was talking up another guy.

It was so outrageous and ridiculous that I just couldn't take it seriously. I mean, I'm no woman's idea of arm candy, I bear a far greater resemblance to Ernest Borgnine than to Cary Grant, but, jeez, women have been known to spend a few hours in my company and not find the experience entirely painful. This woman was obviously a complete loon.

So that was a long time ago and now I'm happily married and monogamous. But I remember that lesson -- rejection doesn't hurt -- and I have found it applicable in many parts of life since.

I remember the first time one of my fiction stories was rejected. I thought it was pretty cool, actually. I was a 16-year-old kid from Long Island, and Ben Bova had actually read one of my stories. George Scithers, too. I got letters from them on official stationery from Analog and Asimov's, the same stationery used to correspond with Frank Herbert and Asimov and Zelazny and Varley and other real writers like that.

Of course, I was 16 years old then, and a callow fanboy. Now I'm a veteran journalist and an adult. So is it as cool now as it was then? You bet your sweet bippy it is.

Let's talk about the mail. Back when I was a kid, receiving the mail used to be a lot of fun. I subscribed to three sf magazines, and I was always ordering plastic models in the mail. Every day, the mail might contain a little gift.

Now, the mail is not exactly fun. I get bills and catalogs. It's boring. Cleaning out the catbox is more interesting.

But when I have submitted a manuscript, the mail starts getting fun again. Starting about 2 pm, I start thinking, "The mailman's gonna come soon." I run down to see if the editor ahs gotten back to me. Usually, no, but eventually after some weeks or months, I get back the envelope I've been waiting for.

Usually, it's a thick envelope, which gives me an instant of disappointment. But then I think: "This does not necessarily mean the story has been rejected. Sometimes, editors accept stories but make notes in the ms for revisions."

So far, the envelope has contained a rejection every time. But that doesn't really matter, compared with the pleasure I've gotten from weeks or months of anticipation.

Every slushpile contains a lot of shit, but it also contains future winners of Hugos and Nebulas and -- in these enlightened times -- National Book Awards and Booker Prizes and Pulitzers and, some day soon, a Nobel. And every ms in that pile is read (as they say on the call-center help lines) in the order it was received. That Hugo/Neb/NBA/Booker/Pulitzer/Nobel has to wait its turn after your manuscript. Who knows, maybe your manuscript is the prizewinner.

#463 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 09:49 PM:

So you kept your mouth shut when the time came to comment on other people's work, right?

#464 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 09:51 PM:

Sorry — that last comment was meant for Alice, not Mitch or Fran or Patrick. This is what I get for not hitting "refresh".

#465 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 10:01 PM:

For the sake of a participation grade, I usually found SOMETHING to comment on. But since we were also given a copy of their story to write comments all over, I tended to keep my commentary in writing. Why?

#466 ::: FranU ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 10:07 PM:

"Shorter FranU:

"I am a drive-by poster with a narrow agenda who can't be bothered to pay attention to the broader context of the conversation.""

--Talk about distorting my intention and post....

If you can distort mine, I can distort yours.

"Door, ass, hit, don't let, on your way out!"

--Another way of saying: I, Patrick, have nothing to contribute except making rude statements/personal attacks on posters I disagree with/don't like.

IMO, your behavior is helping prove my negative comments about writers....

Fine, whatever. I'll go. Thanks for all the lovely comments and your lovely tone,

Fran

#467 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 10:58 PM:

As a small addendum to Fran's comments about wanting both story and prose to be of high quality, well, don't we all.

But the experience of the thing sure looks like story wins; Mr. Weber has a pile of active, interested fans who buy his books in hardcover. Things like, Saga help us, Dragonlance have wide readerships, because the story in there works for the readers. (It might not work for them ten years later, but that's ok; people change.)

There are a lot of proverbs about taste varying; if I try to quote one, I'm going to get chaçon a son oatmeal just now. But it does; Alfred, Lord Tennyson had far more ability to say things than he had stuff to say, a great ringing beauty of articulation in fair words; William Blake had an infinity of things to say, strange, vast, crowded, hurtling vivid things, that his articulation scarcely sufficed. Which is the better poet?

Why, it depends on whose head the poem is in.

Same with prose; there are people who love, sincerely, passionately, with no feigning of affection, the novels of Thomas Hardy. I think they're in violation of the Geneva Convention, or, at least, they are if you're made to read them. That opinion of mine doesn't make the novels bad; the weight of historical opinion doesn't make me wrong. Art is always personal.

Editors, poor souls, are in the business of guessing which persons, and how many, will find something art, or interesting, or worth the prices of a couple glasses of beer. Authors can at least get to know editors; just try getting to know "the reading public", go on, I dare you.

Which makes rejection, once there's a story in there, a question of my abstraction of the abstraction is inauspicious; they can't tell you it's good, just that they're able to talk the folks in charge of the money into placing a bet. That may be an art, but financial judgement sure isn't personal.

So, like Carrot's personal isn't the same thing as important, I'm going to suggest that the way to deal with rejection of manuscripts is to notice that frustration isn't the same thing as personal.

#468 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 11:07 PM:

Working backward up the list a ways:

FranU, you can't fool me. You may have stopped submitting, but you're unmistakably an aspiring writer, and you're thinking with your writer-mind, not your reader-mind. It is neither elitist nor misleading to observe that while conventional publication is not an absolute guarantee of quality (look at Black Body!), it's definitely the way to bet.

It's true that some good books have been self-published, just as it's true that some visionary geniuses have been laughed at by the vulgar crowd. Both are rare exceptions. It's also true that some books are published by small or non-mainstream presses and gradually find their audiences, in which case you're most likely going to be hearing about them from other readers, not their disgruntled authors.

Of course I judge books by their covers and their publishers. So do you. So does everyone. A reader would have to be willfully perverse to ignore that much contextual information about a book they're thinking of reading.

Say the truckstop's just caught fire or been overtaken by a hurricane, and you have only a few seconds to grab a book out of their wire rack display before getting the heck out and spending the rest of the night huddled with all the other refugees in one of the repair bays of a nearby gas station. It's going to be a long, uncomfortable wait. You're definitely going to want something to read. Do you grab the nice fat paperback with an interesting cover illustration, six effusive quotes by authors you've read and enjoyed, and the spine logo of a well-established conventional publisher? Or do you grab one of a stack of ten identical copies of some Xlibris title that appears to have been written by the truckstop owner's nephew?

If you only get one, like heck do you grab the Xlibris title. Come to think of it, you don't grab it even if the truckstop isn't on fire. How do we know that? Because Xlibris / 1stbooks / PublishAmerica / Whatever Press books have been available for years, and nobody buys them who doesn't have a specific reason to buy that specific title. I've never met someone evangelizing on behalf of New Model Publishing who didn't turn out to have roughly the same bookbuying and reading habits as anyone else. They'd rattle off a list of their favorite authors, and I'd not only recognize every name; I'd know approximately how well they were selling.

To go on:

"The probability of one of my works being traditionally published while I'm alive is, like, next to zero, especially considering that I don't submit anymore, but if I ever were traditionally published, I hope I wouldn't start judging books by their covers instead of by their content, I hope I wouldn't start judging books by their publishers instead of by their content."
Wrong. If you become a published author, you'll become more knowledgeable and pernickety and judgemental about those issues.
"Both likely have little do with the ACTUAL written work's quality."
Boy, is that ever wrong. I hope it's purely a coincidence that you're sounding like every other much-rejected writer who's decided that their writing is Just Fine, but that the publishing industry, reviewers, librarians, chain and independent booksellers, and readers are all hopelessly broken.
"I look at a written work for what I think IT appears to be, for what the writer appears to have intended it to be, and that's it."
Why, so do I. It's my job.
"I don't care what publisher's stamp resides on the book's cover, or even if a publisher's stamp resides on that cover. Everything's usually about the actual work to me, but maybe I'm peculiar like that--I don't know."
For whatever reassurance it may bring you, I don't think you're all that unusual.
[You quote]: 'Anyone who says they could write better than the worst of what's on the bestsellers' list ought to already be published if they're right.'
"--Every writer must start somewhere, and most writers will walk different paths along their writing careers. Probably at any given time some writers won't be published yet; some writers will be published. And some writers will never be published. But that should ideally tell others little to nothing about the quality of a particular writer's work, ESPECIALLY when those others haven't even SEEN the actual work."
Actually, in most cases it tells me a fair amount. The phrasing and capitalization of "ESPECIALLY when those others haven't even SEEN the actual work" tells me a great deal more.
"Take the writer you mentioned--Steve Brust. Before he was first published he had written the work that would eventually become his first published work. Assuming his work didn't undergo major rewriting but only minor line editing, what is the overall difference between his actual work before and after it was published? What is the difference in that work's quality? Likely very little to none, IMO."
I'm sorry, but once again I have to tell you that your opinion and your assumptions are wide of the mark. As a young writer, Steve Brust actively, intelligently, and very effectively sought out opinions and corrections. I can't think of another writer who's gone to more trouble to get himself edited, and edited well, than Steve has. It's been a long time since he was a beginning writer, but he's still a very engaged edit, and a pleasure to work with. He even puts his copyeditor and his proofreader into the Acknowledgements at the last minute, if he thinks they've done a good job.

When Steve set out to learn to write, he decided to believe that there was no such thing as talent, and that writing is entirely a matter of learning a craft. Now, this is not actually true, and on some level he knew all along that it wasn't; but he couldn't have picked a better attitude for his purposes. Having decided it was all learnable, he got himself educated. He's one of the founding members of the I.W.W., the Interstate Writers' Workshop, a.k.a. the Scribblies, which is the most successful writers' group to bootstrap itself into professional publication in our genre since the Futurians. And I don't think I'm giving anything away at this point if I say that one of the reasons he helped organize and run the Fourth Street Fantasy Conventions was so that he could set up program items where some of the sharpest literary minds in our genre would get together to talk about How You Do It and How It Works. Some of the best discussions of writing I've ever been privileged to hear took place at those conventions.

Throughout this ongoing learning process, Steve has remained intensely opinionated, and he's always batted last on his books. I know that some writers fear they'd lose their personal style and voice if they took that much feedback, but the more Steve learns how to write, the more he sounds like himself. He gets better and better at writing like Steve Brust.

He and I agreed on this stuff years before I edited him. I still agree. I'd far rather believe that if I'm unsuccessful at some aspect of writing, it's because I don't know how to do it yet, especially if the alternative is to believe that I'm doing it as well as I can, or as well as anyone can, but for mysterious reasons it's still not working for me. The former's just craft, but the latter is metaphysical wrongness, and beyond my amending.

"I may have finished a TOR book, I just don't remember having read one; that I don't normally pay much attention to industry labels may have something to do with my not remembering, that I'm generally not impressed with the science fiction being published today may also be responsible."
How kind of you to go to this much effort to explain things when you're so generally bored by the genre.
"But I'll check out Brust's stuff; I'm always open to reading something new. Unfortunately, having very specific reading tastes, I peruse a lot of modern books, but finish few. "
You know exactly what you want, but you're not reliably finding it? Perhaps you should reconsider this strategy of not paying attention to the publisher or the packaging.
"I don't like most of what's being written today. I don't even like some of the stuff I've written. But, hey, different strokes for different folks and all that. Nearly all of the writing after like the mid-twentieth century doesn't impress me. Somehow, writing's become too easy and too common, and too many writers have become too lazy."
Forgive me, but I don't think so.

First, there's been a perfectly insane amount of writing published since the mid-20th. No single description comprehends it, and no single reader can hope to do so either. Second, even if much of what's been published has been mediocre (which is always the case), some of it is top-notch, just marvellous stuff. Third, good writing is never common, and it's never easy.

"Everything often seems so mechanized and impersonal and stereotypical, even the content of books. Eh, maybe that's just me too...."
I often feel that way too, right after I walk into a big bookstore, and it leads me to skulk around stores muttering "There are TOO MANY BOOKS." Then, after I browse them for a while, they regain their singular charm. It's a passing thing.

This has gotten too long. I'll post it now and start with a fresh message box.

#469 ::: Lyn Miller-Lachmann ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 11:09 PM:

Hi, I found myself here because this blog won an award from the same place that gave an award to a blog where I participate regularly. As an editor and a writer, I appreciate your examination of writers' attitudes as they appear in rejectioncollection.com. One caveat. Maybe I'm wrong about other editors, but I'm way too busy to spend my free time at rejectioncollection.com. So I don't think that kind editor at the small press would have seen what the writer from Calgary said about her.

Minor issue. I'm recommending your site to the folks in my writers group.

Lyn

#470 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 12:21 AM:

FranU: "I don't like most of what's being written today. I don't even like some of the stuff I've written."

Then why did you write it? This is not a sarcastic question: I can think of several legitimate answers to this (Revelation: every writer writes a story or several that just "didn't turn out"). But my worry from the way this is phrased is that you tried writing "deliberately commercial" stories, stories you assumed were what will sell.


"But, hey, different strokes for different folks and all that. Nearly all of the writing after like the mid-twentieth century doesn't impress me. Somehow, writing's become too easy and too common, and too many writers have become too lazy."

Writing? Easy?

But I'm sure you didn't mean that the way I'm taking it, so ignore that last snark of mine.

If you're that scornful of most modern trends in fiction, I see the best entry point to Steven Brust being the Phoenix Guards.

(On another discussion list, someone once asked, in all seriousness, which was the best translation of Dumas' The Three Musketeers into English. The two fastest answers she got were "Learn French, as nobody's managed to make a translation that's half as good as the original", and "The Phoenix Guards." The latter was not entirely joking.)

#471 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 12:28 AM:

Alice — Just curious whether it cut both ways. I only took a couple of semesters of CW in college, and never really had to go through the grind of producing ten pages of crap I didn't care about just because I had workshop that afternoon (I saved that sort of thing for my non-fiction classes). I will say that I've gotten a lot out of the couple of semi-pro workshops (Viable Paradise, Strange Horizons) that I've gone to since — there's generally someone in the crit group that provokes that "Maybe you're just stupid" reaction, but generally there's enough constructive commentary to make up for it.

Of course, I haven't gone to those with work I had no intention of doing anything with.

#472 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 12:35 AM:

I, too, served some time reading slush. And I am purely amazed that anyone, ever, writes a personalized rejection letter--when, oh, when, do they find the time?

It might help writers if they would consider their (ouch!) rejections from the point of view of the intern/editorial assistant/other low-person-on-the-totem-pole. These extremely underpaid people reading and rejecting your manuscript do not want to reject manuscripts. They desperately want to find a wonderful manuscript, because then they will show that they can recognize brilliance--or at least best-selling-ness--and maybe get themselves promoted to a position that might actually pay enough that they can buy groceries without borrowing from the parents yet again. In fact, it might be that your manuscript is one the person sending back to you actually recommended for publication, only to have someone up the line hand it back to them for refusal.

As for the willful blindness of some slush pile contributors to their works' awfulness--no, it's not limited to writers. Watch some of the early rounds of "American Idol." Heck, watch some of the later rounds of "American Idol." HOW can these people not know they sound terrible? And on national tv, too! (At least rejection letters are not broadcast!)

#473 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 01:15 AM:

I'm honestly not certain how I would react to something I cared about being workshopped and critiqued.

Because bizarrely, though I couldn't care less what happened to those stories after I received my letter grade and moved on to another pointless assignment, while those students were ripping into meaningless little details of my stories, it felt like they were ripping into ME. Even if my attempt at telling a story was merely a halfhearted attempt to get SOMETHING onto the paper, I'd still be screaming in my head, usually less than 2 minutes into the workshop, 'Did you even READ it?'

So writing workshops taught me precisely 2 things, both of which may well be false: 1) criticism will always make one feel like a rug that's been soundly and thoroughly beaten and 2) your average reader is an idiot.

And to that knowledge, I owe almost $50K in tuition loans.

Forgive my bitterness. It just seems that I've received far more knowledge for free, from this very thread.

#474 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 01:19 AM:

[Steven Brust is] one of the founding members of the I.W.W., the Interstate Writers' Workshop, a.k.a. the Scribblies

Oh. Oh! So that's the derivation of the name! I'd heard it before, but never known the joke behind it.

#475 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 03:10 AM:

Should one assume that it was a deliberate pun on the Industrial/International Workers of the World, a.k.a. the Wobblies?
<Goes off humming 'Joe Hill' ...>

#476 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 09:38 AM:

Patrick:

right down to my toenails. Gosh. Ummmm....

Glad you liked it.

#477 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 09:39 AM:

Patrick:

Blush right down to my toenails. Gosh. Ummmm....

Glad you liked it.

#478 ::: Jan ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 11:04 AM:

Hi, just dropped in via the Koufax-Award-Site. I liked your article, and was amazed by the amount of comments it provoked.. just browsed them, to be honest, but Boy! What a reaction!

Jan

#479 ::: FranU ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 12:12 PM:

I don’t really want to keep covering the same ground--it’s pretty pointless for many reasons, IMO. You and I probably would disagree with each other often considering the overall difference between the way we express ourselves. I always try to inject doubt and subjectivity in what I write, but filling every single sentence with “probablys,” “maybes,” “possiblys,” "unlikelys" would likely turn out extremely boring reading. When you make dogmatic absolute statements like: “Of course I judge books by their covers and their publishers. So do you. So does everyone,” “Wrong,” “Boy, is that ever wrong” to someone with no qualifiers as to those statements being your opinion, no possibles, probablys, or I thinks--the conversation will not likely go much further and be an illuminating one. At least for me. The publishing industry (and the creative arts industry in general) has been accused of being intractable and insular--even by some insiders. Claiming any kind of certainty as to how or what someone else or everyone thinks when you can’t really get inside that person’s head or inside everyone’s head is foolhardy and likely inaccurate, IMO. Which brings up another problem with the publishing industry: it shouldn’t dictate to me or any reader what that reader likes. The reader will decide that.

I’ve already indicated I will leave here. As soon as people start making personalized rude comments, start attacking the poster and not the poster's words, I usually walk away. That isn’t my kind of discourse. But I’ll just address some of your points, for what that’s worth....

“If you become a published author, you'll become more knowledgeable and pernickety and judgemental about those issues.”

--How can you be so certain of a what a stranger posting on a message board would do and know in a possible situation? I tried not to make absolute assumptions about you, but I do have some opinions on your behavior over this. OPINIONS. Subjective ideas, not absolute certainties. Maybe you should consider not speaking so absolutely about something you cannot likely know for certain or else you risk being called a “know it all” and some other things.

As to your "coincidental" comments, I hope it’s coincidental that you’re sounding like every other burned-out editor who’s decided that her views on writing are just perfect, but that nearly all unpublished writers are just bitter, low-talents who are hopelessly deluded. I hope it’s a coincidence that you’re sounding like every other un- or little-published editor who’s decided she can’t make it far enough with her own writing so she will mock writers in the same position she has been in. If I’m not mistaken someone else in this thread (was it you?) argued against the notion of editors being failed writers or aspiring writers and that being so affects their editing work. Saying/believing that many editors are not both editors and writers, and more often than not were writers before they were editors is dishonest, IMO. I said I worked inside publishing--on the technical side, not the acquisitions side. Many of the people I came into contact with there wanted to be writers or considered themselves writers. It’s possible that place was a peculiar example, but I’ve heard the same from too many other people. Several editors here have even said they're both editors and writers.

“Actually, in most cases it tells me a fair amount. The phrasing and capitalization of "ESPECIALLY when those others haven't even SEEN the actual work" tells me a great deal more.”

--What does my capitalization of “especially” and “seen” tell you? I made the statement I did in a writing context. I could and do make similar statements in other contexts, like: “An outside opinion/event on the quality of a meal should ideally tell people little to nothing about the quality of that meal or of a particular cook’s cooking, ESPECIALLY when those people haven't even TASTED the actual meal." Would you make a judgment on the artistic quality of a painting you’ve never seen based on what “someone else said” about that painting or simply based on who the artist was? Why should judging a book’s quality be a completely different process? If three people said to you, “I’ve read Book X and it’s good,” would you just take that their word for it based on their past opinions, based on their personalities, based on things other than the actual book? I think it’s true that many people make judgments primarily or even solely based on some populist organization, some populist media notion, some previous similar occurrence, some other person’s opinion, but I also think doing so is likely inaccurate--that’s what I was getting at in my post. I don’t automatically follow another’s opinion simply because that person has been labeled an “authority.” That you made this absolute-sounding statement: “It is neither elitist nor misleading to observe that while conventional publication is not an absolute guarantee of quality (look at Black Body!), it's definitely the way to bet” suggests to me that you would operate on someone else’s opinion. I normally wouldn’t and I wish that other people wouldn’t about me or about anything....

IMO, a popular consensus isn’t necessarily a correct consensus. Not every published popular-selling written work has remained a popular-selling written work. Old, old works that sold well years ago may have practically disappeared in society’s mind along the way and just aren’t noted today. That likely says little about the actual writing quality of those works. Those works may have disappeared for various reasons. A book may remain unpublished for various reasons, a book may be published for various reasons. Various reasons are likely responsible for whether I or anyone else is unpublished, published, whatever.

I have a question for you: have you contacted Rejection Collection and told them you posted the content of various letters here? One of the things that bothered me is you seem to have taken some rather personal letters/responses and posted them elsewhere, personal letters that may belong to each poster, not to the site necessarily. I didn’t check RC for the amount of each letter and response you copied, but I do see all of that as a defensive and somewhat mean-spirited response (and somewhat justified response) on your part, which could also be said for some of the writers' responses posted at rejection-collection. You’ve labeled me wrong if you've lumped me in with the majority of that crowd, IMO; I know me much better than you do. I'm just a stranger to you. I wouldn’t post a rejection-letter at RC. Nevertheless, if you don’t like the way many writers respond to editors, you could always stop being an editor who reads the slush pile, just as people often say if writers don’t like being rejected, they could always stop being writers who submit. Why is the latter an acceptable mocking critique but the former not? Sure, I’ve accumulated a lot of rejections--a lot of writers have. It sort of comes with the territory, especially for “controversial” writers, and I think when I was new to writing and first tested the publishing waters, I should have reconsidered sending those works to publishers/agents; those works weren’t good enough. (On the other hand, if I'm not mistaken, Nora Roberts supposedly did the same, but that doesn’t appear to have affected her eventually having been published....) At the time I wanted to get an idea of where I stood and actually received a few “not this, but send us something else comments” back. But only one time did I get pissed off and send a response to an agent who lost my material. I choose not to submit/market my writing anymore for a number of reasons, one of them being the business side of writing was interfering with the craft side of writing for me. I was spending too much time on marketing myself. I’ve completed eight novels but haven’t written one, or attempted to write one, in over a year. I don’t always feel well. My “passion” dried up once before temporarily; maybe it will come back--I don’t know. It is kind of irrelevant at this point: if the writing with-respect-to-my-likely-eventual-lack-of-“success” is on the wall, it is on the wall, and I’m not going to keep banging my head against the wall. I used to enjoy crafting stories; I don’t enjoy that much anymore. Sometimes I don’t enjoy it all.

If it makes you or anyone else feel good to peg me as a bitter writer, okay, then do so. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I am one, and don’t be surprised if I peg you as a bitter editor in response partly because of your knee-jerk seeming assumptions about me. I’ve already indicated I was an editor before a writer--unless you consider a few adolescent attempts at writing a novel and short stories, then not picking up a pen to write for over five years, and then not attempting to write again for another five years being a “writer.” I don’t consider that being a writer. I tried various things (scientific primarily) when I was younger and occasionally thought about writing, like many other people probably do. But what I say now about well-written books is what I said back then. You’re mistaken when you say I’m using my “writer’s mind” and not my “reader’s mind.” If you want to believe I’m using my writer’s mind only, I can’t really stop you. But let me just say that your comments in this thread indicate to me that you may be thinking too much with your “editor’s mind.” I have no idea what personal process you use when editing, but I know from personal experience that it isn’t uncommon for editors to become too critical of what they’re reading, or to excessively slam what they’re reading. Sometimes, turning off the I-must-criticize-and-revise button can be difficult. Recognizing the well written parts of what you’re reading often is just as important as recognizing the poorly written parts. Recognizing the good stuff can even be more important: you don’t want to lose the stuff that does work while revising the stuff that doesn’t.

You said my assumptions were wide off the mark when I used Steve Brust's name in an illustrative example; I only used his name because Tina had brought up his name. I have no idea who he is, and what his actual writing and work ethic is like. But you misinterpreted what I said and are coming at it from an overcomplicated angle, and I should have been clearer in that post. Let me clarify my comments. When I said:

“Take the writer you mentioned--Steve Brust. Before he was first published he had written the work that would eventually become his first published work. Assuming his work didn't undergo major rewriting but only minor line editing, what is the overall difference between his actual work before and after it was published? What is the difference in that work's quality? Likely very little to none, IMO."

--I was talking about the actual first work he got published, the state of that work RIGHT before and after it was published. If you mean that he wrote much of that work using your input, or that you gave him extensive notes about it/made extensive revisions on it right before you pushed it through to publication, that doesn’t show what I said is wide off the mark because I qualified my comments with ONLY MINOR LINE EDITING, and I meant line editing on the publisher's part, not on the writer's part while she's revising her work before submitting. I think my meaning wasn't clear enough in my post. But a work’s quality can and ideally should be judged outside of its being published, outside of its being popular, unpopular--whatever. The actual work can stand and exist outside the reader, though I think the reader may and usually does affect the “realities” of the work. Nevertheless, a book suddenly just doesn’t become a good book simply because it’s been published; if the book is indeed good (whatever that means), it was likely good right before it was published too, assuming that it is almost completely the exact same work.

Anyway, I think I’ve said enough. I don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why I write, what I write, or to why I do or say things. Neither do you owe me an explanation, or whoever. But our backgrounds, biases, and personal experiences do likely affect our judgments. I’m not denying that about myself. I hope that others don’t deny that about themselves; if they did, that would be dishonest, IMO.

Fran

#480 ::: FranU ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 12:27 PM:

Wooooow. One of my paragraphs is so damn long; sorry about that to anyone reading. Guess that's what happens with me on two hours of sleep....

Fran

#481 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 01:47 PM:

I'd far rather believe that if I'm unsuccessful at some aspect of writing, it's because I don't know how to do it yet, especially if the alternative is to believe that I'm doing it as well as I can, or as well as anyone can, but for mysterious reasons it's still not working for me. The former's just craft, but the latter is metaphysical wrongness, and beyond my amending.

Or as I always say, anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Humility is the best attitude for learning.

#482 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 02:06 PM:

Fran, I think you have just demonstrated why it's better to lurk before getting involved in a community -- and make no mistake; this may look like someone's personal blog, but it's also a community. But that's just a personal opinion.

If you're still reading, let me note what has been noted elsewhere but may as well be repeated in specific application to our side conversation:

Part of the reason we disagree on the best-seller remark is that you persist in treating it out of context.

AnyWriter says, "It's not fair I haven't been published! What I've submitted and had rejected it way better than most of the crap on the best-seller's list! How come they get published and I don't?"

Learnéd Editor responds, "If you're really writing work that's better than what's on the best-seller list, then you'd be being published." Only, because L.E. is reasonably polite and trying to remain objective, she phrases it slightly more impersonally than that, stripping it of the personal pronouns and rewording.

Random Passerby says, "Hey! That doesn't sound right! I only heard this one sentence and I'm not sure what you're talking about overall but this one sentences goes against my beliefs!"

Faithful Reader says, "That word you keep using, I do not think it means what you think it means."

No, wait. I take that back. Faithful Reader has been thinking about Princess Bride too much because she's planning on running a swashbuckling RPG in the near future....

Faithful Reader actually says, "I don't think your interpretation was what was meant. It's certainly not how I took it."

Random Passerby says, "And it's wrong!"

Other Faithful Readers, Constant Readers, Faithful Commentators, Respondents, and Constant Comment (no, wait, that's tea) Commenters mix in.

Our original Faithful Reader returns and says, "Uh. Okay. Now I'm certain you need some context with your rant. Please go obtain it."

-30-

#483 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 02:11 PM:

Tina: Hear, hear.

#484 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 02:38 PM:

Fran is a Wordplayer from way back when and knows what Crap-Plus-One is:

http://www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp06.Crap-plus-One.html

And she ought to know the difference between "Maybe your work is not as good as the worst of what's out there" and "You should aspire to Crap-Plus-One."

#485 ::: Shalanna Collins ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 03:14 PM:

We've nearly lost the thread of guys in skirts/kilts. Okay, uncle, I give; maybe that lady with the deep voice who let me cut in front of "her" in line at Tom Thumb the other day was really, let's say, differently chromosomed from me. However, I will say that I find pants or jeans or stretch leggings far more comfy than skirts, anyway . . . those guys clearly are not trying to wear cheap pantyhose. Talk about a rash. No, don't. Try not to think about it. I can't get away with not wearing pantyhose with skirts most of the time. But maybe if I were skinnier and more tanned or something. There's nothing hotter than pantyhose and a slip and all that rot and a longish skirt in the Texas summer. *Shorts*. That's the costume of choice.

I salute the notion that an unpublished manuscript may be just as good as or better than the published books stacked beside it on the piano bench. I tend to prefer midlist books to the "blockbusters." But I know I'm in the minority. Business is business, I suppose. There's still a lot of luck involved in all of this.

Oh, and Gordon Van Gelder wrote that he didn't "get" my last two stories. That was about three (five?) years ago. I thought those were somewhat promising rejections. However, it is worrisome that I still "get" the stories. Something's wired differently on this side of the pixelstream. (This is not the only clue I have that this is so, either.)

#486 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 03:24 PM:

FranU: If it makes you or anyone else feel good to peg me as a bitter writer, okay, then do so....

You know what? I apologize for my earlier nastiness. The reason I was nasty is because you were being nasty to Teresa, who is a friend I've known for 15 years and who I feel kind of protective toward, even though she is quite capable of taking care of herself.

Still, I do apologize, because it was wrong of me to return nastiness with more nastiness.

That said, can I make an observation: I don't think anyone is "pegging" you as a bitter writer. From what I've seen of your posts here, you are a bitter writer. You're nasty and mean and angry--

AND THAT'S OKAY.

Really, it's fine. I've been there myself. Not about writing, but a different thing. I was fortunate in that a relative stranger came up to me and said I was bitter and burned out. Of course, being that I was bitter and burned out at the time, I immediately recognized my condition and thanked the stranger for correcting me and apologized to everyone who I'd offended with my bitter, burned-out behavior.

ARE YOU CRAZY OR SOMETHING? OF COURSE THAT'S NOT HOW IT HAPPENED! What actually happened is that I got even more pissed off when that relative stranger said I was bitter and burned out. HOW DARE HE?! He didn't know me from Adam! (An expression I've always found confusing, by the way -- I have a brother named Adam, who I know pretty well.) So I got real angry some more and then I calmed down and realized, y'know, he was right. And I took steps to remedy my burned-out, bitter condition.

FranU: Would you make a judgment on the artistic quality of a painting you’ve never seen based on what “someone else said” about that painting or simply based on who the artist was? Why should judging a book’s quality be a completely different process? If three people said to you, “I’ve read Book X and it’s good,” would you just take that their word for it based on their past opinions, based on their personalities, based on things other than the actual book?

Absolutely, yes!

I recently started reading the "Sandman" comics, by Neil Gaiman. I did it because I kept hearing over and over again how great the comics were, from lots of people who liked the same books I like. I also looked at the cover and leafed through the contents -- looked pretty good. So I risked some obscene amount of money on the first volume, and I liked it.

Of course, I was told by friends that the first volume of Sandman books is actually the weakest of the bunch, and I should just stick with it and there'd be a payoff later. I was told the last chapter of the first volume is where the payoff starts. So far, I've only read the first volume but my friends' predictions were right, the book is enjoyable, but uneven, all the way up to the end, and then takes off in the last chapter when the character of Death puts in an appearance. I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

Likewise, I kept hearing great things about "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson, and tried starting it a couple of times, but I found the first chapter to be incredibly stupid, and I never got past it. One day I was talking with someone whose taste in books is similar to mine, and I told him about my experience with "Snow Crash," and he said, "Oh, the first chapter IS incredibly stupid -- all that stuff with the Deliverator -- but everything from Chapter 2 on is brilliant. Stay with it." And I did and he was right.

Likewise, I was talking with a friend the other day about the "Lord of the Rings" movies, and how much everybody else I knew loved them, and how much I found them booooooring. He agreed. So I said to myself, "Maybe it's not just me."

Do you go to movies? Do you rent them or watch them on TV? If so, how do you decide what movies to go to? Most people rely on word-of-mouth from friends and family with similar tastes, they look at the ad campaigns and trailers, they read a few critics with similar tastes to their own, and then they decide. What OTHER way is there to decide what movie to see -- or what book to read.

(Actually, I know a couple of movie lovers who will simply get in the car, drive to a theater and see the next movie playing that they haven't yet seen. Could be "Dude, Where's My Car," could be "In America" -- they'll see it. But these people are rare -- and THEY'RE the ones whose opinion people like me, who are less avid movie fans, rely on when deciding what movies to see.)

#487 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 03:24 PM:

Anyway, I think I’ve said enough.

Clocking in at just over 2,000 words with quoted bits excluded.

#488 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 04:23 PM:

Among many other things, FranU wrote,
Saying/believing that many editors are not both editors and writers, and more often than not were writers before they were editors is dishonest, IMO.

I, for one, as a professional, working editor would like to say that I have never aspired to be a writer. I am an editor. Like many of my writer friends, I try to make a living at what I do best, because I can't not do it. It's not a job, it's a condition, and I make the best I can of it.

I'm visited by a different muse. She's the muse who whispers ways of untangling tangled syntax and massaging tortured sentences. She rejoices in well placed semi-colons. She finds the beginnings. middles, and ends, and ways to put them together, when their authors can't. She niggles at me when a word's just wrong.

For my muse, I sweat over every em-dash. I spend hours pondering the correct hyphenation of compound adjectives. I sacrifice hobgoblins of grammar and outmoded usage. I put the reader's needs ahead of my own love of sesquipedalian verbiage. I help make books.

It's a different skill set from that of finding the story and needing to tell it.

And editing is what I want to do. I love doing it. I have no desire to be an author. I think authors are wonderful, fascinating people and without them my work would be very tedious. I also think that many doctors are wonderful people, but that doesn't mean I want to be one.

(I have a similar rant about the "those who can't, teach" trope. Teaching is a skill unto itself. Good teachers are rare, wonderful, and gifted. I'll spare you the rest of that rant, this time, though.)

#489 ::: FranU ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 04:25 PM:

I'm still reading for the moment, but I really must go. What you said about lurking before posting for the first time is true, IMO. Unfortunately, I posted after having only read most of this one thread and part of the main page, so the deed’s been done. And I can’t take it back. I’ve been arguing (or at least trying to argue) most of my points from a position of: “Does that person’s statement/position make enough sense? Does it seem 'accurate' if there is such a thing as being 'accurate'?” I do this often, even with my own ideas.

Let me try one last time, and that’s it. If I can’t get this point across, then I guess I’ve failed to explain my position properly, some people do not understand my position, or maybe both those things are occurring and/or some other stuff....

You summarized the kind of statements that bother me very well, with: “If you're really writing work that's better than what's on the best-seller list, then you'd be being published.”

Consider this scenario: Writer A writes Book B. Writer A indicates a history of having submitted Book B and having been rejected; he feels somewhat frustrated and doesn’t understand why his book wasn’t quickly picked up because he really thinks his book is "better" than what’s on the bestseller list. In a discussion about this with Writer A, Editor/Writer C says to Writer A, “If you're really writing work that's better than what's on the best-seller list, then you'd be being published” without ever having seen Writer A’s actual work.

A month later, Writer A signs a publishing contract for Book B, and readers/editors/writers then claim that Book B is better than what’s on the bestseller list and was chosen for publication because it was better than those bestsellers. So, it turned out that according to those new people commenting, while Writer/Editor C was implying Writer A wasn’t writing work better than those bestsellers, Writer A had been writing work better than those bestsellers*.

Editor/Writer C’s statement to Writer A turned out to be premature and inaccurate at the time C said it, according to the readers commenting and considering those readers' comments.

However, there may also exist writers writing works better than the bestsellers but that will never be published. Just because they will never be published does not necessarily mean those works aren’t better than those bestsellers.

There’s also often a time-lag between finishing a book and having it accepted for publication; the quality of the book during the lag-time is still likely the same overall after that lag-time (again, assuming some major rewriting hasn't occured). Why on earth does saying/implying that seem to be disturbing to some people here?

Do a lot of writers believe they’re writing great stuff? I think many do. Are a lot of them writing great stuff? I don’t think so. Do a lot of writers believe their works are better than the current bestsellers? I think so. Are all those writers works “better” than the bestsellers? I don’t think so. Some probably are, some probably aren’t; more probably aren’t than are. Can you (impersonal) tell if their individual works are better than the bestsellers simply by hearing them express their frustration at being unpublished writers without ever having seen their individual works? Not very accurately, in my opinion and from my perspective. Should you judge the quality of their works without having actually seen their works? No, IMO again.

When you said:

“Random Passerby says, "And it's wrong!"”

--If you are implying I am Random Passerby and I said “And it’s wrong!” to you when I responded to your first post to me, I think that is unfair of you and not accurate.... I did not state that about others and their statements (at least I didn’t intend to and tried not to unless maybe they were making personal insinuations/comments about ME), but they did say that about me and my statements. I also did not tell you the statement you made and seem to be referring to now was “wrong.” Teresa said, ““Wrong,” “Boy, is that ever wrong” to me. Mitch said to me, “when in fact everything you're saying is commonplace, and most of it is wrong.” They used the words “wrong” first, not me. And they used them in an absolute-sounding way, not me--from my perspective again. Someone else may think differently about Teresa's and Mitch's and my comments, you make think differently, the person next to you may think differently, etc.

Have I tried to pull apart some statements made here? Yes. That is how I read and think on what I'm reading; that is how I often describe the idea I'm trying to get across or why I agree/disagree with something. Implying I just shouted at you or others that you’re "wrong" without addressing your specific comments and without even reading the thread isn’t accurate and is unfair, IMO, as I said. This thread is huge and takes forever to load on my end; a lot of comments have been made by many. I've responded to relatively few of them in comparison to the whole, and so has nearly everyone else probably.

I’m through discussing this now. There are other things I must do. Goodbye,

Fran


*Add to that sentence: (unless Book B was drastically changed during the publication process and had actually not been that good beforehand...but that could suggest the publisher accepted and published a manuscript that originally wasn’t as good as or better than some bestsellers).

#490 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 05:02 PM:

The problem, Fran, with your post above, is it STILL is ignoring the context.

The context has nothing to do with whether or not there are unpublished works out there that are better (whatever that really means) than what's being published. Nor is it solely about what authors think of their own work. And THAT is why I think you're wrong. You are barking up the wrong tree. You are comparing apples and oranges; you are talking about a note instead of the entire symphony. Insert other similar clichés.

In the context of this thread, the point is more this: if Author X has written a book and sent it out and had it rejected multiple times, and then claims it's not fair he's been rejected because his book is so much better than the "crap" on the best-seller list, there's a pretty good chance that Author X is an idiot.

I am pretty sure that was the point of what Teresa said. It's certainly how I took it, given the context of the thread. And it's what I believe.

So, yes, you are as like unto Random Passerby, who continues to argue a completely different point that had nothing to do with what anyone actually said. It's like I came up to you and said "This fish is red", and all you could talk about is how people shouldn't keep fish as pets, and when someone said, "It's not a pet, it's just a random fish, and anyhow, it's long gone", you tell them keeping a fish as a pet is a terrible thing, and sooner or later, someone asks "Is there some context in the house?"

By the way, strangely enough, people do believe in giving second chances around here. If you want to go lurk a while and then try again, that's actually possible. People wouldn't be engaging you in debate if they thought you were just some random annoying troll who they wanted to have go away. And you haven't been disemvowelled yet, so obviously Teresa believes you're contributing valid debate, no matter how much she disagrees with your actual points.

But it's up to you.

#491 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 05:26 PM:

Did anyone else here subscribe to Aboriginal SF in the late 1980's? I'm reminded of a terribly silly story called "It Came from the Slushpile", which was pretty much the silly-SF take on the horrors that end up in a magazine's slushpile.

The plot is that two interns were sent into the basement to start clearing out the slushpile, the predictable scream was heard, and they were both found dead, buried under a huge pile of bad space opera. As the junior editor was pulling out the bodies, the pile of papers moved...

Anyway. Hillarity ensues. A standard form rejection letter just encourages the beast; a scathing, mean rejection letter enrages it so much that it eats the delivering editor on the spot, and our heroes need all their wits to kill the writhing mass of Star Trek fanfic, Pern wannabes, and apocalypse stories starring a man named "Adam" who happens to meet a woman named "Eve" on the last page.

It's apparently collected in the book "Swashbuckling Editor Stories".

Good thing, too, because I threw out my Aboriginal collection years ago.

#492 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 05:35 PM:

Say the truckstop's just caught fire or been overtaken by a hurricane, and you have only a few seconds to grab a book out of their wire rack display before getting the heck out and spending the rest of the night huddled with all the other refugees in one of the repair bays of a nearby gas station. It's going to be a long, uncomfortable wait. You're definitely going to want something to read. Do you grab the nice fat paperback with an interesting cover illustration, six effusive quotes by authors you've read and enjoyed, and the spine logo of a well-established conventional publisher? Or do you grab one of a stack of ten identical copies of some Xlibris title that appears to have been written by the truckstop owner's nephew?

Couldn't I just grab the entire rack?

(I used to have dreams about my parents' house catching fire and how while the flames crept closer, I'd spend all my time pitching my favourite stuffed animals and books out the window. The books took forever.)

All neither here nor there....

As you were.

#493 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 05:37 PM:

Okay, maybe a change of tense will clarify Teresa's intentions and reduce the tension. Let's try it.

If you really are writing better stuff than what's on the best-seller list, then you *will* almost certainly be published, eventually.

I'm pretty sure Teresa is aware that all published books were originally unpublished. She's an editor--seeing books through that transition is her life-work.

It *is* true that one can write and submit better-than-bestseller-quality material and not get published. It's just that if you do it for long enough, eventually you won't be not-published any more.

It is certainly true that there is good unpublished stuff out there, and bad published stuff. The main reason that most people prefer to wade through the published stuff is that there is a cut-off to how bad it gets. There's no filter on most internet publication, or on any self-publication, which makes it a lot harder to find the gems. Most people have a limited amount of reading time, so they are going to look at something that at least one other person besides the author has read and liked. And edited. They are not judging its actual quality without reading it, but they do know that certain publishers are *more* likely to produce a book of good quality. Therefore, they are more likely to give themselves the opportunity to judge books from those publishers.

Whether or not you're willing to put in the time it takes to be published is a personal decision. I have a great big ego, and want *lots* of people to see how good my writing is, so I'm trying to get published. Alternatively, I have a really nervous ego, and want at least one editor to decide my stuff is worth reading before *anyone* who doesn't love me gets to read it. On the other hand, if I found that the submission process interfered with my writing, I'd probably choose writing new stuff over trying to publish finished work too.

I'm one of the people for whom writing is an addiction. It's what I do at 2 AM when I *really* need to be well-rested in the morning, bleary-eyed, with my mind moving at triple-speed, hearing voices and seeing the shape of worlds and snapping at anyone who tries to talk to me. (Why is anyone else up at 2 AM? Well, my housemates are writers, too, otherwise they wouldn't put up with me). When it works, it's a high like nothing else. When it doesn't, the contrast makes me feel like my head is full of mold, and everything brilliant that was ever in there has long since been used up or gone bad.

After I went through this cycle a few times, I learned that the moldy periods don't last. Eventually, the spark comes back, and I find that without my attention ideas have been formulating beneath the surface, getting ready for the time when I'm able to turn them into words again. I've learned to think of these as fallow times, a different stage of the creative process rather than a break in it. (That last metaphor isn't mine, it's from Judy Collins' song "Fallow Time." Good painkiller for writer's block.)

Which is all meant in the way of some consolation for Fran, who sounds to me like she's in that sort of a state, writing-wise. Eventually, in my experience at least, the 'passion' comes back, and it starts being enjoyable again. Meanwhile, you do what you can to tend the soil over the winter, and trust something is growing there.

#494 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 05:58 PM:

Random thoughts on recent subthreads:

(1) Angry writer. That's okay! Fred Astaire met Michael Jackson once, I've heard. Astaire says (I paraphrase) "you are an angry dancer. You are driven. You force yourself over and over in rehearsal to get it just right. I like that in a dancer. That's how I work, too."

(2) Book A is better than Book B. Sorry, but this line of discussion is doomed. There's something called "Arrow's Theorem" in Economics. Won him a Nobel Prize. He proved that, for very plausible and robust definitions of ranking things by "better than" -- as in an election where voters decide which candidate is better than the other -- there are ALWAYS situations where A is better than B, B is better than C, and C is better than A!

(3) Bestsellers don't happen by accident. Wasn't "Love Story" written on a bet that the Yale (?) English Professor could or could not write one?

(4) For too long, I ignored Stephen King BECAUSE he wrote bestsellers, Figured they couldn't be good. Once I read him carefully, I was astonished at how well he does what he does.

(5) "Dude, Where's My Car?" In terms of an older thread, this is a smart dumb movie. I liked it.

Okay, that's it for now. I'm a little shaken by one of my 20-something students bursting into tears about 15 minutes into a Algebra exam I gave today. I had her step outside with me (into the rain) and counseled her. Gave her permission to take the exam anywhere on campus where she felt less stressed, and leave it in my mailbox when done. I've never had that happen in a class I taught, ever before. Did she read the exam as if it was a rejection letter?

#495 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 06:00 PM:

Fran, listen to Tina. Especially the last two paras.

#496 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 06:07 PM:

FranU: Tina said this better than I will:

You're right about the point you're making. I agree that the objective quality of a sometimes rejected manuscript is not necessarily bad. (See Teresa's original post, and many of the later parts of her list of reasons books are rejected. Some of them do have nothing to do with the quality of the book).

It is not, in fact, a rebuttal of the point Teresa was making.

#497 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 06:19 PM:

It had a bit to do with how she said it.

#498 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 06:40 PM:

But hey, it's writing. It's always about how you say it.

#499 ::: adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 07:01 PM:

Jonathan: Last semester, on the first day of class, shortly after we'd gone over the syllabus and I'd let them go, one of the students lingered. She gingerly came up to me, which I found odd because I'm really not intimidating, and asked "are we going to have to speak in front of the class a lot?"

"Well, yes," I said. "It's a public speaking class."

It was here that she exploded into tears. It was startling, to say the least.

"I can't do that," she said.

"Is this class required for your major?"

"Yes," she said, "But I can't do that."

Long story short--she did manage to do a passable job of it, but always burst into tears either before or after she gave her presentations. We all got used to it.

So far this semester, no one has cried. I'm oddly disappointed.

#500 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 07:07 PM:

An unsubmitted manuscript may be brilliant, it may not be, but no one can possibly know.

A manuscript that's been submitted only once but not bought may be brilliant, or may be not -- maybe it arrived the day after the publisher hit its financial ceiling. Who knows about these things?

A manuscript that's been submitted a dozen times (to reasonable markets -- if someone is sending a sensitive short story about Love in the Hamptons to Popular Mechanics that someone has hit Reason #2 above) but not bought may be brilliant, or may not be, but the odds are starting to shift.

A manuscript that's been submitted to every legitimate paublisher in Writer's Market but still not bought may be a brilliant work of extreme genius, far ahead of its time -- but that isn't the way the smart money bets.

Yes, bad books get published every day. Yes, good books get rejected every day.

But, I say again, good books will get bought in the long run. The proof is this: The existence of published bad books. There are more legitimate publishing slots than there are good books written to fill them.

#501 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 07:52 PM:

Adrienne: In grad school I had to teach 3 full classes (I'll have to again, when I finish post-doccing). After the 2nd semester dealing with 3 or 4 kids a class who would rather lose a grade than give a 5-minute informal presentation, I went and talked with the counseling center. They swore to me that they could get someone over that sort of social phobia in three sessions. The trick, of course, is that the kid has to actually attend those sessions. I only managed to get that to happen once--a guy who ended up writing his final paper on social phobia (it was a psych class) and at least claimed that he was going to get his dealt with. That kid was the teaching equivalent of the publisher buying the book.

Anyway, just to let you know--if that happens a lot in your classes it might be worth seeing if the clinical psychology grads have a program to deal with it.

#502 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 08:18 PM:

FranU, I've counted three separate iterations of something along the lines of "I'm done replying, I'm going away," from you.

Assuming that the third of those is not fundamentally different from the previous two, you might want to consider leaving that bit off the next time you post; even if you mean it when you write it, it's starting to lose credibility.

#503 ::: Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 08:57 PM:

Fran,
Maybe it will help you to understand how I as a reader pick books to buy. This is my version of the reader hat.

I buy based on the cover all the time, especially when I buy romance novels.

The marketing people, especially in romance, do a GREAT job of telling me whether a book will be good for ME. And that's what I care about.

Let me give you an example. There's a whole slew of funny romantic comedies with soft bright tones (peach, turquoise, lavendar, orange), usually pets or some other neat image, and women or men drawn in a particular style on the cover. I buy one of these when I want something funny and witty, that I'm almost absolutely positive won't push any of my gross over-the-top violence buttons.

If I want something dramatic, historical, and sexy, I'll probably go for something with one of those nifty embossed in gold covers. Or with a red cover. And that has Wicked, Dark, or Lord in the title. This doesn't make me weird. It makes me normal (at least for a reader of romance). I didn't need to take a degree in marketing to know that the red cover books are going to be more adult. And the dark blue books with Dark Lord in the title is likely to be angsty.

It could be the best horror ever written, and if I was in the mood for a light (or perhaps "lite" is more accurate) romantic comedy, I would still hate it. And vice versa. I don't care if that makes me a shallow reader; I'd rather just know whether I'll like the book.

I buy paperbacks because I want a reliably good read of whatever I am in the mood for. I want someone to do all the dirty work of sorting for me (urban comedy, Americana, sweet, road romance). That's part of what I'm paying for, as much as for the actual words. The editors' jobs are to tell me whether or not it fits my needs. Not some ideal perfect American novel, just mine.

I want something to read at work while I eat my peanut butter crackers.

Slush, raw slush, would pretty much kill my desire to ever eat lunch again. Who needs that?

It's not my job, as a reader, to like books. Sorry, but it just isn't. And I've read romances that changed me as a person (Seaswept for example). I could say, "Oh Not That Nora Roberts! She can't stick to a single third person point of view per scene!" But why? I enjoy her books tremendously. For me, they are quality. And after reading enough of them, I kind of get to liking the quick POV changes. If you can write better than Nora, well send your stuff out already.

As a writer, I don't like rejection. As a reader, I'm hopelessly grateful. Odd, but there you have it.

#504 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 10:43 PM:

There's also the fact that no book in existence speaks to every reader. It's hard to tell a book that doesn't speak to you from a bad book that doesn't speak to anyone. You can wind up concluding, erroneously, that somehow an unreadably bad book got published.

Further odd things that can happen on the way to publication:

1.

The author has a significant following. An atypical title of theirs gets sold as part of a multi-book contract. The manuscript gets delivered and, my goodness, it certainly is different. Their editor observes that it's nothing he or she would have bought all by itself from an unknown author, but wotthehell; maybe someone will like it, and publishing it will make the author happy. Besides the house has paid too much for it to throw it away.

(I'm still waiting to hear from someone who loved John Le Carre's A Naive and Sentimental Lover.)

Now imagine you're the author. You've made a lot of money for this house, sold a lot of copies. You have a book that, for whatever reason -- you wanted to try something different, it just came out that way, etc. -- isn't quite in your usual line. Wouldn't you want your publisher to give you some latitude? Wouldn't you think you had it coming? Because otherwise, you're going to be having to peddle your poor unwanted book to houses that know they're not going to have a continuing relationship with you; and if the sales force at your usual publisher can't quite think what to do with this one, an unfamiliar sales force is going to be baffled. Not a happy scenario.

Everyone hopes for the best. It's different when you imagine that it's your book.

2.

Another scenario. The author's been writing a series. It has gradually moved from selling passably well, in the beginning, to that death-spiral where the chains order this title's gross based on the previous title's net. Coincidentally, the author's gotten grumpier, more fractious, and more bored with the whole thing.

In the wake of a couple of monstrously bad copyedits halfway through the series, he's declared that no one's ever going to touch his text again, which means the editor can't do anything but write the copy and prompt the creation of the cover. This editor takes this personally. The editor also gets bored shepherding a non-interactive project and a non-interactive author.

The author has a minor stroke with a book and a half still left on the contract. The half is his book that's written but hasn't come out yet. The editor hires a line editor to chew through the existing manuscript and fix what he can. Meanwhile, she tips off Production that this is going to be a messy one. Production has it copy edited twice and proofread once. It comes out looking almost respectable: glory glory, what a save.

The author hates it. He's gotten even more unpleasant since his stroke. All he can see is that somebody meddled with his gah-damn' text, and he's determined to be ungracious about it. After their third attempt to explain how the timing of the book made this intrusion necessary, his publishing house gives up trying.

A year and a half later, the author's agent phones to say he nearly has the last book finished. Per the author's instructions, the agent warns the publisher that if anybody so much as lays a finger on the text, they're going to have lawyers coming out their ears. The agent also warns the publisher that any attempt to wriggle out of the mandated publication provisions will be looked upon with a chilly eye.

What the hell. Everyone feels sour about it, but in the end it's easier to just publish the thing and be done with it. Still, neither the editor nor the author will go anywhere near it. It's production that notices, at the last minute, that the book is supposed to have a double-page frontmatter map, and undertakes to get one made up on the double-quick. They're unhappy too. If you study the coastline of the map, you can find an odd little peninsula that looks like the outline of a curled human fist with one finger sticking straight up. No one notices: not now, not later.

Was ever a book so orphaned and unloved -- and unlovable?

On the other hand, if it were your book, you'd want all those protective contractual provisions honored, no matter what kind of brangle you'd gotten into with you publisher. That's exactly the time when you need them most. If all it took to break them was your publisher claiming your book was no good, there'd be no use to them at all.

3.

And a third scenario. The author's got something of a track record and is looking to change houses. His agent sells his next book to an editor at another house on the basis of three chapters, a very ambitious outline, and some middling-okay sales figures from previous books published elsewhere.

The author settles down to finish the rest of the book. Alas, that very ambitious vision that seemed within his grasp at the end of the third chapter is becoming increasingly impossible to realize by the end of the eighth. In frustration, the author starts rewriting the book from the first chapter onwards. The more he struggles with his refractory materials, the denser, more self-conscious, and more eccentric his prose becomes. This time he gets through the eleventh chapter before re-starting. He doesn't mention this to his editor. She'd only worry.

The work is hard and frustrating. One day, after returning a rented car to Avis on 11th Street, the author gloomily wanders into The Strand (a large and fractally overstuffed second-hand bookstore), where for Goreyesque reasons he finds himself browsing and then buying works by Robert Burton, Sir Thomas Browne, and Thomas de Quincy. He finds that reading them takes his mind off the sorrows of a novel that isn't going well, and so in fact he does read them all, straight through, taking an occasional note on style.

It seems to be helping. His novel starts coming faster. He's almost feeling inspired. He has completely lost track of what his prose now sounds like.

Shocking news: His editor has left! She's gone off to another job, and all her books are now orphans. The house divides part of her list between the remaining editors, and gives the rest to her assistant. Everybody scrambles to catch up on their reading. Somewhere in there, the finished manuscript arrives in-house. Nobody's sure whose it is, or what it is. They barely manage to get around to formally accepting it before the clock runs out, and of course nobody's read it yet.

One afternoon, the assistant takes a deep breath and pitches into it. She manages ten or eleven pages. Good lord, what is this thing? The book is dense, airless, quasi-archaic, and deeply unpleasant. She gives up on it for the day and instead writes some catalog copy that's already late. She makes several more stabs at reading it, fails, digs up the original deal notes and tries to figure out what this book was supposed to be, fails at that, too, and finally concludes that she must not have the refined literary tastes of her predecessor. Oh, well. No help for it. She slings the manuscript into Production only about a month behind schedule.

The freelance copy editor is traumatized, but no one hears her screams. The book continues through the pipeline. The proofreader takes a quick assay of the prose and decides that this is one of those books you strive to proof without reading. Her prudence is rewarded: she recovers much faster than the copy editor. The only people having fun with this book are the art director and designer. The assistant's sketchy, impressionistic descriptions of the book are a veritable banquet of artistic latitude as far as they're concerned, and they make the most of it. The cover and the interior type design are truly beautiful. Sometimes this just happens.

Publicity writes a press release based on the assistant's rather fuzzy description, which is itself based partly on the original editor's deal memo, and partly on the assistant's having read the first two and last two chapters of the manuscript, then riffled through the rest of the pages to make sure nothing radically different happened in the middle. When the bound galleys come in, they're sent out to reviewers along with copies of the press release.

Three reviewers actually read these bound galleys. One starts looking like a Big Daddy Roth drag-racer cartoon before he's fifty pages in. He throws the galley into his trash compactor and takes off for Martha's Vineyard. The second reviewer likes it even less, if that's possible, and retaliates by writing a long, crisp, precise, and deadly accurate review of the book. This is published in Kirkus. The third reviewer says he likes the book just fine. Go figure.

The book is published. The author is delighted. Lots of copies of the finished book go out to further lists of reviewers. These reviewers read at the book, react according to their natures, and when they're done take the copies to The Strand to sell them off. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full. Unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

One day at The Strand you find one of these copies. You start reading. Your heart burns within your breast: your Beloved Manuscript has gotten rejected by three different houses, but this!!! crap!!! gets published by a prestigious literary publisher as a particularly beautiful 6" x 9" hardcover, with text set in an unusual and spanking-new ITC font, and fifth-color metallic ink overprinting and matte lamination on the cover?

THERE IS NO JUSTICE!!!

And yet --

And yet --

If it were your book that was orphaned by the departure of your editor, your book that wound up in the hands of someone who had no sympathetic affinity for it, wouldn't you want it to be given the benefit of the doubt? Wouldn't you hope that all the other departments would do their best by it, even though its new editor didn't really understand it?

Things happen. And sometimes, when the circumstances get weird enough, the thing that happens is a bad book. Still, by and large, the good books are the ones that get published.

#505 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 11:18 PM:

I just want to add that if my screen weren't impervious to small dousings, Alice and Alter and Pericat would have something to answer for.

#506 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 11:46 PM:

Two responses to FranU:
When you make dogmatic absolute statements like: “Of course I judge books by their covers and their publishers. So do you. So does everyone,” “Wrong,” “Boy, is that ever wrong” to someone with no qualifiers as to those statements being your opinion, no possibles, probablys, or I thinks--the conversation will not likely go much further and be an illuminating one.

Well, you're definitely female, and very feminine. Because men speak without such qualifiers all the time. It makes them sound sure of their opinions, even when they aren't, and leads other people to see them as natural leaders. Women tend to undermine their opinions, leading other people to doubt them, too. When I discovered that, I stopped insulting my opinions by using weasly words. If I say it and I'm not quoting or paraphrasing, you can be sure that it's my opinion without my having to tell you so. Who else's would it be? And yes, there are a lot of things that we discuss in general terms, because nit-picking about statistical outliers is boring. So hedging your statements with "most of the time" or "in my experience" is a waste and just serves to make you look like you don't trust yourself.

Nevertheless, if you don’t like the way many writers respond to editors, you could always stop being an editor who reads the slush pile, just as people often say if writers don’t like being rejected, they could always stop being writers who submit. Why is the latter an acceptable mocking critique but the former not?

Thanks for putting words and opinions into my mouth. I'll keep that in mind.


And a reaction to something Teresa said: he's declared that no one's ever going to touch his text again

Years ago, I forced a friend to promise me that if he ever heard me say that I was too good a writer to be edited any more, he would hit me on the head hard enough to make my editor's life easier until publication. There's no worse thing that can happen to an author than for his work to be denied the critical eye of an editor. I've never seen the result come out better than an edited version.

#507 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 12:34 AM:

There does seem to be a lot of discussion comparing "good" books with "junk". I'll make my definition deliberately simple (and fuzzy).

Goodbook: (n) a book that lots of people will buy, now.

If there is a wealth of unpublished goodbooks, then publishers have misread the market and are missing out on a lucrative market niche. This situation is usually short-lived.

If your definition of a goodbook conflicts with that of established publishers then don't complain when they reject you--find a different way to send your thoughts to the world.

#508 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 01:14 AM:

One day at The Strand you find one of these copies. You start reading. Your heart burns within your breast: your Beloved Manuscript has gotten rejected by three different houses, but this!!! crap!!! gets published by a prestigious literary publisher as a particularly beautiful 6" x 9" hardcover, with text set in an unusual and spanking-new ITC font, and fifth-color metallic ink overprinting and matte lamination on the cover?

And--you left out this part--though the book is neither a critical nor a popular success, it wins a prestigious award for book design.

#509 ::: Pookel ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 03:25 AM:

Delurking again, afraid this might become a habit.

Re: Judging books by their covers. I like modern literary novels, both the more popular, Oprah's Book Club type of books and the more obscure and very "literary" books.

My mom goes to library book sales a lot. She has a very bad memory for names. I told her, "Forget who wrote it, just get me any book that is in trade paperback format with a matte finish, not glossy, or glossy is OK if it looks really artistic, but not if it looks too mainstream." I'm rarely disappointed in those choices.

Books of a similar style and genre get marketed in similar ways, and I don't think it makes me shallow to recognize that and to look for what I think I'll like.

#510 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 10:08 AM:

Shush, Robert. It's a fantasia upon a purely hypothetical book.

Ayse: I put in qualifiers where I think they're needed, and I often think I overuse them. What I won't do is sprinkle them about indiscriminately for their general softening effect. My degree of certainty about some statement is a significant piece of information.

Someone who can't converse without a saltshaker of probablys close to hand should get a filter installed on her browser.

#511 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 11:11 AM:

But you CAN tell a book by the cover.

START HERE IF YOU ONLY REMEMBER WHAT THE BOOK COVER LOOKED LIKE
David Hartwell supplied the quotations here, Your Humble Webmaster did the rest...

(1) "Futuristic Mechanical Devices?" Try HARD SCIENCE FICTION, but it might be a trick to get you to read any kind of science fiction.

(2) "Humans Against a Futuristic Setting, With or Without Machines?" Try SPACE OPERA, but it might be some related Adventure science fiction.

(3) "Humans Carrying Swords or Other Anachronistic Weapons?" Try THERE AND BACK AGAIN or UNICORNS IN THE GARDEN, but it might be any kind of "fantasy or fantastic adventure against a cardboard or cliched SF background."

(4) "Hypermuscled Males Carrying Big Swords and Adorned with Hyperzaftig Females, Both Scant-Clad Against a Threatening Monstrous background?"
Almost certainly HEROIC FANTASY, also known as "Swords & Sorcery".

(5) Skulls, Discolored Flesh, Sharp Teeth? Try HORROR: that old black magic, the really scary stuff.

(6) Flying Saucers, Ray Guns, Tentacles, or Bug Eyed Monsters? Try ALIENS ON EARTH:.

(7) Historical Figures in Strange Combinations, Such as Elvis With Hitler, or Civil War Soldiers Carrying Machine Guns? Try ALTERNATE WORLDS.

(8) Cute Furry Animals, No Humans? Try BAMBI'S CHILDREN.

(9) Exotic Flowery Landscape, Perhaps with Castles? Try BEYOND THE FIELDS WE KNOW.

(10) Futuristic Buildings, Weirdly Dressed People Looking Scared or Furtive?
Try CYBER PUNK, DYSTOPIA, or CITIES OF THE FUTURE.

(11) Several Identical People, or Emphasis on Glowing Eyes?
Try CLONES or EXTRA-SENSORY PERCEPTION.

The above from very near the top of the 455K slow-loading but comprehensive:

If You Like This, You'll Like That

where each of the topics above, and many more, are defined and exemplified.

Yahoo just changed their search engine. Now, if you search on "science fiction" -- my page comes in #3 in the world.

So: do the discussions we've been having about Best Sellers apply to web sites? If not, what is the real difference?

#512 ::: Holly M. ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 11:15 AM:

In the middle of Teresa's long and very amusing story of how Bad Books happen to good people, she used this phrase:

"...where for Goreyesque reasons..."

It was a gem in a solid-gold setting. I was rolling on the floor of my cube.

#513 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 11:29 AM:

Teresa: ... The author has a significant following. An atypical title of theirs gets sold as part of a multi-book contract. The manuscript gets delivered and, my goodness, it certainly is different...

I keep wanting this one to end with "after publication they discover the manuscript was submitted by a third party without the author's knowledge or intent." But it would take some serious plot flim-flam to make it work.

#514 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 12:20 PM:

There's no worse thing that can happen to an author than for his work to be denied the critical eye of an editor. I've never seen the result come out better than an edited version.

Indeed, one of my favorite writers has become too boring for me to read, now that it's been discovered that more pages with hir name on the cover can simply be sold for a higher price. The last new thing I read of hirs could have lost three hundred pages and been a better book for it. Long, tedious descriptive passages. Single paragraphs that go on for page after page. Bleagh.

People buy it, so the publishers aren't wrong per se. But I think it's sad.

#515 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 12:43 PM:

There are plenty of books which other people think are wonderful but I think are horrible or can't even force myself to finish. When I was the only person in my Children's Literature class to loathe "The Phantom Tollbooth", I could easily convince myself the problem was that the rest of the class were readers accustomed to dreck. I could shrug and say that my parents don't like scifi because they won't read anything in the genre. It was a different thing altogether to find that well read people disagreed with me over "The Poisonwood Bible".

I'm slow, it took me a while, but now I see we don't all have to agree and not agreeing isn't about being right or wrong but about different views.

#516 ::: Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 01:06 PM:

Re: "DEAR SIR OR MADAM: I HAVE ENCLOSED AN OUTLINE AND THE FIRST THREE CHAPTERS OF MY NOVEL THE AFRICAN PRISONER. IT'S THE THRILLING, FAST-PACED STORY OF AN ORDINARY BANK CLERK IN LAGOS, NIGERIA, WHO ONE DAY FINDS HIMSELF IN POSSESSION OF SEVENTEEN MILLION DOLLARS ($17 MILLION) IN FUNDS LEFT BEHIND BY A CORRUPT BUREAUCRAT WHO DIES IN A PLANE CRASH. IN A DESPERATE ATTEMPT TO RECLAIM PART OF THE MONEY, HE MANAGES TO MAKE CONTACT WITH A KINDLY AMERICAN WIDOW WHO LENDS HIM THE USE OF HER BANK ACCOUNT. WHAT FOLLOWS IS AN EXCITING, DEADLY CAT-AND-MOUSE GAME WITH NIGERIAN CON MEN, PRIVATE DETECTIVES, AND THE FBI BUNCO/FRAUD DIVISION...."

Dear Madam or Sir:

I regret that your ms., _The African Prisoner_, does not pass our believability tests.

Everybody knows that it is the Secret Service, not the FBI, that has principle responsibility for international financial crimes.

Sincerely yours,


J. Bradford DeLong
Quondam Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury

#517 ::: Brad DeLong ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 01:08 PM:

Oh, G**! "Principle" for "principal." How humiliating (bangs head against wall). How humiliating...

#518 ::: Jen S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 01:16 PM:

Sara,

I can sympathize. I think I'm the only person in the United States who doesn't like Madeline L'Engle. (sp?) I tried to read one of her books once and miserably failed.

#519 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 01:22 PM:

Now see, Brad, you need an editor. :-)

#520 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 01:41 PM:

Teresa:

There's another route through which bad books make it through the publishing pipeline.

"On the one hand, my Conan pastiche has all of the elements that made The Eye of Argon what it was, but without being as likeable or amusing. On the other hand, I am Lin Carter."

While people who know who Carter was might be able to understand how the book got an editorial pass, a reader who doesn't recognize the name might well wind up dumbfounded by the fact that the various Thongor titles made it to print.

There are other examples, of course, where who the author was explains how the book got published. And the degree to which readers can be expected to know who the author was varies quite a bit.

#521 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 01:43 PM:

JVP, how long ago did you get those descriptions from David?

Here's the straight dope, as laid out by Debra Doyle during a panel at a 4th Street Fantasy Convention:

If there's a zeppelin, it's alternate history.

If there's a rocketship, it's science fiction.

If there are swords and/or horses, it's fantasy.

A book with swords and horses in it can be turned into science fiction by adding a rocketship to the mix.

If a book has a rocketship in it, the only thing that can turn it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.

An artist to whom I once explained this responded by asking what happens if you have the Holy Grail in the shape of a rocketship. I told him I'd get back to him on that. Then I asked Doyle.

"If you've got the Holy Grail shaped like a rocketship, what you have there is the Hugo Award," she said.

#522 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 02:45 PM:

Yesterday, this thread passed 500 postings. Congratulations!

#523 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 03:27 PM:
"Arrow's Theorem" in Economics. Won him a Nobel Prize. He proved that, for very plausible and robust definitions of ranking things by "better than" -- as in an election where voters decide which candidate is better than the other -- there are ALWAYS situations where A is better than B, B is better than C, and C is better than A!

Not exactly - that's an interesting but fairly trivial result (Arrow might have been the first to notice it, for all I know, but he didn't get the Nobel for it). What he got the Nobel for was his proof that no possible election system could satisfy a set of five properties that were generally accepted as being requirements of a fair election system.

#524 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 04:07 PM:

Don't think so - see e.g. Condorcet for circular preferences discussed and note also that Arrow is both more general in not limiting himself to elections but generalizing to social choice functions and less general in picking his five conditions - that is nobody has shown me that flipping a coin to settle an absolute tie is unfair but Arrow proposed that an ideal social choice function would never have to flip a coin but would always reach a decision. Don't think the general population has ever weighed the impact of irrelevant preferences (Porot? Nader? Dean?) on a fair election either. For real amusement look at Dodgson proposing increasingly fair voting schemes at high table that just happened to reach his preferred result at every change.

#525 ::: Zeynep Dilli ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 06:14 PM:

"If you've got the Holy Grail shaped like a rocketship, what you have there is the Hugo Award," she said.

I'm curious about how many people read this line and instantly had a story idea.

I'm more curious about how many of those had the idea before reaching the words "Hugo Award".

But I'm most curious about how long it'll be before someone supplies the "[Author] did that in [storyname]."

#526 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 06:53 PM:

Jen S: I think I'm the only person in the United States who doesn't like Madeline L'Engle. (sp?) I tried to read one of her books once and miserably failed.

It does depend on which book; IMO she became unreadable as she got older, although that could just be my reaction to hit-you-over-the-head High Churchitude without C. S. Lewis's sense of story. OTOH, my wife has never thought much of her.

There is always room for taste; what started this thread was writers not understanding that they could be the only people who liked their work -- or that experienced professionals could judge that not enough of the readers dependent on the professionals' judgment for reading matter would like it.

Sara (wrt Jen's comment): I have no idea what I would think of The Phantom Tollbooth if I were introduced to it today -- or The Thirteen Clocks, or any of the other books I remember warmly; but first meeting such books in a Children's Literature class strikes me as an outright brutal introduction. And there are other books that no longer hold my interest -- I had read a lot of Norton before I saw more than one of Heinlein's books, and might even be a more civilized person because of this, but now even my favorites seem to be loaded with stale or overdone prose. Editing books for kids may be an even harder job than editing for peers.

#527 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 06:59 PM:

First, thanks to most of the people writing here. This place gave me more than one good evening's worth reading material, as well as great pieces of advice (Hope I'm right with this one plural)

Ms Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote: "Of course I judge books by their covers and their publishers. So do you. So does everyone. A reader would have to be willfully perverse to ignore that much contextual information about a book they're thinking of reading."

Well, to tell the truth... When I started out going for unusual (read not generally advised in school) reading materials, being totally unknowledgeable, I just used to close my eyes, turn around a dozen times, then run towards the bookshelf, alterning jumping and crouching, hands stretched out till they closed on a book.
This, along with making me quite famous in some public libraries,allowed me to chose a book without any external influence. Or so I thought.
Thankfully, I eventually learned to have a good talk with the librarians.
I guess I'll next have to stop choosing my shampoo that way.

Back to the main reason of my posting here:
Thanks for the tonal-deaf writer image. That's something I've been trying to explain for a long time on english speaking forums I attend. Not being a native english speaker myself, I end up one of those all too often. I may have correct syntax and vocabulary most of the time, but clearly lack the capacity to breath life into my sentences.
Now I have a better way to explain it than an almost always "My english isn't very good" mis-interpreted as indulgent self-pitying. [:) as some write]

#528 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 08:23 PM:

Nicest rejection I ever got was two lines:

"I enjoyed your novellette [XXX]. I think it has some promise. And it was clever. Just not clever enough."

"Good luck with it."

/s/ famous SF editor

#529 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 12:50 AM:

CHip, if you read The Thirteen Clocks again, you'll be delighted to discover that it's just as good as you remember it to be. Better, even.

#530 ::: Kim Wallmark ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 02:18 AM:

Teresa, how does that system extend to my new favorite genre, urban fantasy? (Examinations of my shelves were inconclusive, suggesting that the cover should either make no sense without reading the book, or should contain Fantasy Hair (large, long, flowing and brightly-colored) and a machine. I'm not sure either of these are actually distinguishing characteristics of urban fantasy.)

#531 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 03:04 AM:

hi,

i just wanted to say thank you to all of the contributors for an interesting discussion. it has been enlightening and amusing.

#532 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 04:35 AM:

MD^2: Thanks for the tonal-deaf writer image. That's something I've been trying to explain for a long time on english speaking forums I attend. Not being a native english speaker myself, I end up one of those all too often. I may have correct syntax and vocabulary most of the time, but clearly lack the capacity to breath life into my sentences.

I wish you the best in using the new explanation. I grew up in a bilingual household, with a mother who doesn't speak English well and a father who does; I also remember tutoring international or non-native-English speakers with English assignments at university, and it can be tough. But you are one language ahead of me, and I hope you always think of your fluency in more than one language as a gift. (I also remember fighting to get the "are you bilingual?" checkbox replaced with "are you multilingual?" because of my experiences, including with a tutee who checked the former one no because he was fluent in four languages--I think they were English, French, German and something else, but don't remember.) God knows, if you could ever hear my Korean...

Take a look at this Virginia Woolf essay/review reprint, and rejoice in your language skills.

Adam: Ok, I've been rejected, but why??? Some of the letters I have gotten or seen just don't make any sense sometimes.

I don't know if this perspective is going to be useful to you, but it works for me: sometimes I prefer not to know why. I just need to know that this particular story did not work for this particular editor at this particular time. I can't do anything about the editor (nor would I want to!) and trying to do numerological things about the time is, well, time-consuming. I can do something about the story. I agree that it's nice to have some guidance, but that's what critiquers and workshops are for. (And if the reason the story got rejected was that the editor's favourite spider-plant just died, I think I'm better off not knowing. Editors are human. That can't be helped. Well, actually...no. Not going there.)

Another thought: putting the story away for a month (or year or however long works for you), then looking at it again, will often reveal flaws not previously evident. (Argh! The Megaqueen of Baffledom is an awful character! No wonder this story was rejected!) I will not pretend that this isn't extremely depressing. (Looking back at published works can even be depressing, in that sense, as I found. Honest!) On the other hand, it's a sign that I as a writer have grown, and have learned to recognize flaws I might not have recognized before. If the editor told me exactly what had gone wrong with the story (ignoring the epistemological problem of whether or not there is an unambiguous "gone wrong" for a given flubbed story), I would not have had the opportunity to learn to see the flaw for myself. Not, of course, that I ever would turn down an editor's helpful commentary, in a rejection or otherwise. But see, if I think of it in this manner, I win either way! And I figure as long as I keep making new mistakes, I'm goin' somewhere.

Again: this philosophy may not work for you. But I thought I'd add to this admittedly long thread (sorry, guys!) on the off chance that you can extract/mutate something helpful out of it.

Alternately, you can just conclude that I'm a loon, which even/especially my husband does. :-)

Jonathan: Your tearful student may have other things going on that have nothing to do with the class, just stress colliding at an unfortunate point (though I doubt there's ever a fortunate point). Although I'm sure you know far more about teaching than I do...

I also remember the shock I had getting 6/20 on my first prelim in my first real theory math class, and going almost-tearfully to the prof's office to ask him if I should seriously reconsider majoring in math, given my poor performance, only to have him reassure me that I had gotten the 2nd highest undergraduate score, and that I was doing fine. I stuck with it and made it through, but good grief, I thought the curves in comp sci had been brutal...in any case, I'm glad I didn't just lose hope and drop out of the major without going in to talk to the prof! And he certainly would never have known how scared/depressed I was about the whole matter if I hadn't done so.

Not, of course, that the world needs another math major who isn't doing anything with math but getting sf/f story ideas from textbooks. :-)

#533 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 10:59 AM:

I think "urban fantasy" is a broad and somewhat shaggy maybe-subgenre that we publishers haven't quite figured out how to package yet. Thus the inconsistency of approach.

Although I will say that the recent run of John Jude Palencar cover paintings on recent Charles De Lint books (Forests of the Heart, The Onion Girl, Spirits in the Wires, our trade paperback reprint of Moonlight and Vines, and his YA collection for Viking, Waifs and Strays) has appeared to do a very good job of conveying the essence of these books.

All packaging tropes are in a state of constant change.

#534 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 11:16 AM:

Yoon Ha Lee, the inclusion of the link to that delightful Virginia Woolf essay would have been enough alone to justify your post's addition to this thread, notwithstanding that the rest of your content was insightful and interesting.

But why anyone should apologize for adding to the phenomenon that Slushkiller has become, I don't know (Unless they happen to be Dgns, but I digress...).

#535 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 11:18 AM:

Another "author has written wrong book" example (I know the thread has moved on but I found this wiggling around in my brain this morning and can't think where else to put it).

This relates to one of Teresa's reasons for rejection, the one that indicates that the author is working out something personal in the ms., and that for whatever reason, that makes the ms. unpublishable. I feel compelled to point out that many authors often work out things in their mss., and that sometimes these books are publishable, or can be made so after some work. I have worked with a writer the course of whose personal relationship with said writer's spouse was immediately chartable from the relationship between the writer's main characters; I knew the writer was going to divorce before the writer did, I think. When the personal stuff was too naked on the page, I made the writer take it out.

I have another writer with religious convictions and a religious background which are different from the background and convictions of the writer's main character. Most of the time the writer does an excellent job of keeping the two separate, but once in a while things leak. Or the writer avoids dealing with a particular topic because it makes the writer feel personally uncomfortable due to the writer's belief system. I've taken to writing notes to the writer which say, in essence, "this isn't about you." This is relatively easy for me to spot because I don't share the religious background or convictions of either the writer or the main character.

Anyway, back to the wrong book thing.

A writer may write the wrong book when a book is, for whatever reason, personally very important to the writer--so important that the story and characters become buried in facts or polemics. I've seen any number of mss. where the author's research overwhelms everything else, and others where the author is so busy arguing, or having characters argue, a point of view, that there is no novel left.

I'm not saying that novels can't be political or have a point of view--I've edited novels that were really "about" issues like abortion or sexual harrassment--but that novels are novels, not soapboxes. And the book's point of view (which is not necessarily the author's point of view) shouldn't be more important than the story the author is telling. Because if there's no story, there's little incentive for the reader to continue reading.

In this case, the author is writing the wrong book because what the author really wants to write, even if the author hasn't consciously acknowledged this, is nonfiction on this topic. An opinion piece, a scholarly article, a reference work, a nonfiction book. But not a novel.

In my opinion, of couse.

#536 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 06:46 PM:

re: Shush, Robert...

Okay, if you say so... Let's just say then that I'm adding to the fantasy. BTW, I saw a copy of it the other day. It really is a nice design...

#537 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 06:54 PM:

Thanks for the Virginia Woolf link. And don't worry, I do understand that's quite a gift I've been offered, this ability to read various languages.

A thought I've been trying to corner in the back of my from the very start of this topic: I think what must hurt some people is that they adequate not worth publishing with not worth reading, while it is not always necessarily the same thing. I know this not a major point, but it had been really bugging me.

First cover for a "urban fantasy" book ?

A shabby looking conglomeration of grey buildings and a pale light haloed unicorn, or variations on the same theme with another mythical animal. I've seen at leat a dozen of them.

#538 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 07:39 PM:

Andrew Willett: CHip, if you read The Thirteen Clocks again, you'll be delighted to discover that it's just as good as you remember it to be. Better, even.

I reread it frequently, and even dropped way too much on an original hardcover when it looked likely never to really be in print again (just before a TP came out with the original typecraft and illos, argh). The problem I was addressing is that I know I revert, like "Rose Is Rose", to an earlier self when reading it -- at least enough that I can't say whether an adult reading it for the first time would find it as delightful as I do, or unbearably twee, or just boring.(*) It certainly is not a one-year's (or even one-decade's) wonder; I was pleased to find someone 20+ years younger than I am who knew it well enough to quote (but I don't know when she first read it either).

(*) Actually, I can't judge that even for contemporary books; I was blown away by Growing Up Weightless, while a cohort said it was an OK YA. (I could claim he was just too normal for our favorites -- he was a neo then and gafiated not long after -- but I don't understand someone mistaking a book with several juvenile leads for a YA.)

#539 ::: Keith R.A. DeCandido ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 07:53 PM:

Teresa, this is a magnificent piece and does a much more effective and funnier job of saying what I've been telling new writers for years. I intend (assuming you have no objection) to making this required reading for the workshop I'm teaching with Dean Wesley Smith in August.

I always make an effort to make my rejection letters as nice as possible, even the form rejections I had to do for IMAGININGS (where I basically said, "Yeah, this is a form letter, sorry about that"), because I know how painful it can be. On the other hand, I also had to reject friends, and I did it unhesitatingly because I proceed on the assumption that I'm dealing with professionals. If they wish to prove me wrong in their response to my rejection, that's their problem, not mine....

---KRAD

#540 ::: p mac ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 10:47 PM:

[Referred here from Delong's site.]

Fantastic post. But you are missing one critical point. These letters you cite are *explicitly rants*. These are poeple in the first two stages of mourning.

1. Denial and Isolation: The first reaction to learning of terminal illness or death of a cherished [whatever] is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions. It is a defense mechanism that buffers the immediate shock. We block out the words and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.

2. Anger: As the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family.


Their mistake, if mistake it was, was to punch out a window in public, rather than in the privacy of their own home. So, while I agree completely with every word you say, I still think you are wrong in your assessment of the authors. They will get over it, probably after another couple days.

Just as the author shouldn't take the rejection letter personally, despite being nothing other than human, the editor who reads these rants should take them with a grain of salt. There's nothing personal. It's just something that the rejectees have been doing in private since forever.

#541 ::: p mac ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 10:55 PM:

Followup. And if reading slush is anything like reading the comments to this post, no wonder you get giddy from time to time... Yaaahhh. So many comments, so little time!


#542 ::: Grep Agni ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 11:39 PM:

Apparently one shouldn't apologise for posting here, so I won't.

I am neither a writer nor an editor (though there I times I think I should be an editor...) just a reader, but a comment on this thread caught my attention.

Ayse Sercan said:

[Quoting FranU] I hope I wouldn't start judging books by their covers instead of by their content...


Unless you were reading one of my books, in which case I would be heartbroken if you ignored the intricate hand-crafted covers, the quality of the letterpress printing, the unique fonts designed for each book....


There's a lot more to a book than just prose, just as there is a lot more to a good meal than being fully cooked and a lot more to a great item of clothing than coverage of one's naughty bits.

I think many authors, and far too many readers, never give any thought to the non-verbal parts of a book. The line spacing, the choice of typeface and type size, the quality of the paper and binding, and (yes) the cover design, all add or detract from the enjoyment of a book. The worst example I have seen of professionally published material was a translation of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. In order to highlight the difference between the 'real' world and the alternate reality where most of the action takes place the text was color coded. This is fine in theory, but for some reason the publisher chose a cheery green for the 'real' world, and for the fantasy plane, where the bulk of the action takes place, bright candy-apple red.

Reading a sentence or two printed in red is easy enough, but working through page after page of bright red text is exhausting. I did make it all the way through, since the story is excellent and the book short (I was in college at the time.) I would never read that edition again though, and I have not re-read the book in any format. Had the text colors been black and blue, or even forrest green and brick red, the book would have been vastly more enjoyable.

I also think that people who print novels on bright white paper or in san-serif type faces should be shaken until they return to their senses. I am willing to be persuaded on these points, however.

One of my favorite books of all time is Edward Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. As you may have guessed, it's not a novel. The book suggests ways to make graphs and scientific diagrams easier to interperet. I found the subject interesting in its own right, but the real beauty of the book is the design. The author was not able to find a publisher willing to produce the book the way he wanted, so he published it himself. He worked with a professional designer and layed out every page by hand, to ensure that every diagram appears in the same spread as the text that first mentions it, and material that would normally be in a foot note actually appears in the margin adjacent to the text which refers to it. The result is a joy to read. It has since been picked up by a regular publisher, and now has two sequals. The sequals are every bit a meticulously polished as the first.

If only all publishing could be done this way!

Grep Agni

#543 ::: Grep Agni ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 11:45 PM:

Apparently one shouldn't apologise for posting here, so I won't.

I am neither a writer nor an editor (though there I times I think I should be an editor...) just a reader, but a comment on this thread caught my attention.

Ayse Sercan said:

[Quoting FranU] I hope I wouldn't start judging books by their covers instead of by their content...


Unless you were reading one of my books, in which case I would be heartbroken if you ignored the intricate hand-crafted covers, the quality of the letterpress printing, the unique fonts designed for each book....


There's a lot more to a book than just prose, just as there is a lot more to a good meal than being fully cooked and a lot more to a great item of clothing than coverage of one's naughty bits.

I think many authors, and far too many readers, never give any thought to the non-verbal parts of a book. The line spacing, the choice of typeface and type size, the quality of the paper and binding, and (yes) the cover design, all add or detract from the enjoyment of a book. The worst example I have seen of professionally published material was a translation of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. In order to highlight the difference between the 'real' world and the alternate reality where most of the action takes place the text was color coded. This is fine in theory, but for some reason the publisher chose a cheery green for the 'real' world, and for the fantasy plane, where the bulk of the action takes place, bright candy-apple red.

Reading a sentence or two printed in red is easy enough, but working through page after page of bright red text is exhausting. I did make it all the way through, since the story is excellent and the book short (I was in college at the time.) I would never read that edition again though, and I have not re-read the book in any format. Had the text colors been black and blue, or even forrest green and brick red, the book would have been vastly more enjoyable.

I also think that people who print novels on bright white paper or in san-serif type faces should be shaken until they return to their senses. I am willing to be persuaded on these points, however.

One of my favorite books of all time is Edward Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. As you may have guessed, it's not a novel. The book suggests ways to make graphs and scientific diagrams easier to interperet. I found the subject interesting in its own right, but the real beauty of the book is the design. The author was not able to find a publisher willing to produce the book the way he wanted, so he published it himself. He worked with a professional designer and layed out every page by hand, to ensure that every diagram appears in the same spread as the text that first mentions it, and material that would normally be in a foot note actually appears in the margin adjacent to the text which refers to it. The result is a joy to read. It has since been picked up by a regular publisher, and now has two sequals. The sequals are every bit a meticulously polished as the first.

If only all publishing could be done this way!

Grep Agni

#544 ::: Grep Agni ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 11:59 PM:

Though I did not apologise for posting, let me humbly prostrate myself and beg forgiveness for double posting. I was having connection problems and should have been more patient.

Sincere apologies,

Grep Agni

#545 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 12:08 AM:

Grep Agni: In order to highlight the difference between the 'real' world and the alternate reality where most of the action takes place the text was color coded.

I had an old copy of The Sound and the Fury (one of my favourite novels, because it was the first one that I completely and utterly understood) which had been colour coded to help you figure out who was speaking at any given time. I sold it when I moved across the country, and have never been able to find one like it since then. Although now that you mention it, it was pretty unreadable, with all those colours all over the place. But it was a very good reference. I do miss that book.

#546 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 12:16 AM:

Along that vein, if anyone has ever read any edition of Mark Z. Danielweski's House of Leaves, that is certainly an example of a book being far more than the story contained therein.

Most editions I've seen so far involve a black cover which, when held to the light, reveal a pattern in a shinier version of this black. The pattern won't make much sense, since it is meant to evoke a labyrinth - a fact which makes far more sense as one is pulled deeper into this, er, novel.

I hesitate to call it a novel because, while it is a piece of fiction, it goes farther than playing with conventions and breaking rules. Here you have a commentary about a documentary, apparently written by a blind man. A young man with some reality issues finds this manuscript, and sets about reading it and retyping it, adding his own parenthetical comments. However, the documentary doesn't exist. Not in the world of the detached young man, not in ours.

Besides the urging of one of my favorite musical artists (she wrote an accompaniment of sorts to this book), what made me run up to the register and dig out the $20-something for this book was the way it was put together. Flipping through, one can see that some text is sideways, some upside down. Some pages are the same word, typed again and again and again, while others contain a small box in the center that addresses a footnote from the main text. Some pages contain only a word or two, or are completely blank.

And most of all, when you flip past the title page and open to the actual story, you encounter a page with a single line on it which reads: "This book is not for you."

I find it hard to imagine that this format would work for many pieces of fiction. I even find it hard to believe that the bizarreness of this book (and the headaches it must have given its editors) would appeal to all readers. However, the fact that this book was far different from anything assigned to me in all my 16 years of schooling screamed up at me. Fortunately, it lived up to that promise.

#547 ::: Alex Roston ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 12:24 AM:

"Indeed, one of my favorite writers has become too boring for me to read, now that it's been discovered that more pages with hir name on the cover can simply be sold for a higher price. The last new thing I read of hirs could have lost three hundred pages and been a better book for it. Long, tedious descriptive passages. Single paragraphs that go on for page after page. Bleagh."

Well yes, and if we're talking about the same
opus, hir poor research on the sex lives of the
handicapped really pissed me off.

Alex

#548 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 02:25 PM:

There are levels of rejection AFTER you've gotten your story or book in print.

For example, your story appears in a magazine, but never gets nominated for any awards, and/or never gets picked up by any anthologies.

Your book gets published, but never goes into a second printing. Or, even if it goes multiple printings, you never are able to sell a film or television option.

Or your book is optioned, but never goes into pre-production...

Or your book is optioned, filmed, and the film bombs. David Brin, for instance, can complain about what was done to his fine novel "The Postman", but he does live in a 25 room home on 3 acres, or close to that, from the film deal...
John Varley can complain about the film of his time travel novel, on which he himself wrote the screenplay, but he gets at least $100,000 per screenplay, wehether or not the films are ever produced...

Norman Mailer may have won the Pulitzer and other prizes, but is pugancious about never winning the Nobel Prize.

...and so forth. There is a series of higher and higher levels of authorial heaven, but certain psychological types may experience these as deeper and deeper levels of authorial hell. After all, Nobel Laureates and other awarded-heavy writers such as Hemingway and Primo Levi do commit suicide.

Is a suicide note a rejection letter to the world?

#549 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 09:05 PM:

Jonathan, that's plain cruel. Now I'll be thinking of all these rejection levels all the time. I haven't won a Nobel prize yet, and that's completely unfair.

Yoon Ha Lee, thanks very much for the Virginia Woolf link. I write in English but it's not my native language. It's great to see some discussion of this.

I think that what Virginia Woolf says is more about culture than about language. The glitter that she describes is not of the foreign language but of the culture. In a similar way, even if I could write a story whose English sounded correct to the reader not only at surface level, I could not write a truly convincing story set in the US, for example.

#550 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 09:26 PM:

Just "Yoon" or "Yoon Ha" are also fine, if you want to save the typing. ;-) I realize Korean names can be tricky that way; I started sending out manuscripts with "(Ms.) Yoon Ha Lee" after I started getting back rejection silps addressed to a Mr. Not that it makes a difference to me in a rejection, but just in case it's an acceptance. I would be terribly embarrassed to have to correct someone as to my sex or, oh, species.

It's frustrating to realize that anything I could say about Woolf's assertions are suspect, because a) English was not my first language, and b) my parents are Korean. However, I'm not sure it's all culture, myself. There's a magic to the words themselves. I take an absurd amount of delight in passages of Latin or German or French, and I think it's not the same as the culture thereof. My Living German teach-yourself text has cultural bits that are frankly not all that enticing (especially the Hausfrau bits), but I just love hearing the words roll off my tongue. (Well, "roll" is a bit optimistic. I still have difficulty with any form of rolled rhotic.)

#551 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 12:47 AM:

About the language/culture relation, here's roughly how I envisioned the thing (hope it will make sense, I haven't slept nor eaten for far too long and it's starting to take its toll).

1) evident to all, I think, nowadays: the way reality is chopped up into words is different from one language to another (try to go there http://dico.isc.cnrs.fr/dico_html/index.html ,enter a word and use max cluster size for a good look at the way english and french vocabulary overlap. Hours of fun and a very potent tool. If you'd happen to still have doubts after that, try translating "La rivière se jette dans le fleuve" in english).
Also the way we structure words together is different from one language to another. I just love the great exemple of this hopi represents.

From there the most important, simplistic, conclusion I draw is that the music of each languages will be unique, that each will have it's beauty and flavor, and yet, being mostly the product of a set of observable rules, that anyone dedicated enough in studying will perceive it.

2) But on another level words are living thing, they keep bits of their private history while growing old. They display troubled, if not wholly incoherent, relationships. Most of these run so deep, and are so convoluted, yet wide, only the word-alchemists will know of them. Yet every one and last native speaker will have an inate understanding of how they work.
This is the hardest threshold for learners: not only hearing the music, but making sense of the noises also.
And I cannot think this will forever be out of us learner's reach.

[And all this, of course, does not imply some things cannot be translated, but rather that you'll have to translate them using other connections, or even another type of connecting altogether.]

... time to stop, I seems my writing's less and less coherent.

#552 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 06:49 AM:

Yoon Ha, I used cut and paste with your name -- no problem. :)

The gender issue is a real problem. Gordon Van Gelder recently mistakenly referred to my fellow Israeli Vered Tochterman as "he" in the introduction to her story. At that point protesting the inaccuracy is no longer very effective (I wonder if he printed a correction in a following issue). So make sure nobody makes that mistake when they accept your story.

#553 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 10:27 AM:

Cut and paste...why couldn't I be that smart? *grin*

I will be sure to remember that Vered Tochterman is a she. Fortunately, Gordon Van Gelder already knows I'm a she, but I suppose one must be vigilant.

It doesn't help that "Yoon Ha" can be given to either a male or a female, and is, according to my mom, more often a male name. That, plus being a winter birth with the character for "summer/heat" in the "ha," has just made me wonder what the heck my parents were thinking. (They claim it was wishful thinking. But in Houston?) So even if one were familiar with Korean names, confusion would be legitimate. (I have also had people get confused as to just which is the family name, and had a teacher once think I was a "Holly Yoon," not unreasonably. The name is already Americanized in having the family name last, but how would someone know that without being told?)

Alternately, I could try to do the Alice Sheldon thing, except that's aiming way too high. :-)

#554 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 11:36 AM:

JvP: David Brin, for instance, can complain about what was done to his fine novel "The Postman"

I thought the concept was silly as a novella, and its expansion to a novel ridiculous; if I'd been more familiar with Costner when I read it, I would have said it was aimed for the worst that Costner could do. I'm not sure Brin would be entitled to any complaints about what happened.

Longyear, on the other hand, had some pithy comments about what happened to "Enemy Mine" (which I suspect he got a lot less movie money for); I'm not sure the story deserved the Hugo it got, but the movie was a debasement.

-"Everyone has gout."-

#555 ::: Rachel Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 01:04 PM:

CHip, re: JvP: David Brin, for instance, can complain about what was done to his fine novel "The Postman"

I am reminded of what James M. Cain reputedly told a reporter who asked him what he felt about what Hollywood had done to his books: "Hollywood has done nothing to my books," Cain replied. "They're right over there on the shelf, exactly as I wrote them."

That's the spirit. Not to mention the large house. Come to think of it, the same could be said of a rejected manuscript...

#556 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 05:50 PM:

I've seen that in an Alan Moore interview, only Moore attributed it to Raymond Chandler. Does anyone less lazy than me have an authoritative source?

#557 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 07:41 PM:

In order to highlight the difference between the 'real' world and the alternate reality where most of the action takes place the text was color coded.

For what it's worth, many German editions of The Neverending Story do this as well, although the one I read chose less-bright variations of red and green that were eminently readable.

#558 ::: Rachel Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 07:51 PM:

David, re: I've seen that in an Alan Moore interview, only Moore attributed it to Raymond Chandler. Does anyone less lazy than me have an authoritative source?

I don't know about authoritative, but Lawrence Block has repeatedly attibuted it to Cain, and that's where I hear the anecdote. I believe he cites it on his website, http://www.lawrenceblock.com/content_movie.htm

Of course, I don't know his source...sorry!

#559 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 12:46 AM:

Grep, Tufte stacks the deck for himself -- what he does in terms of graphical presentation generally ignores the difference between graphics for analysis and graphics for presentation. In short, he lies with pictures. He is not reliable.

Sorry to be quite so blunt....

#560 ::: mattH ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 01:39 AM:

Alice Keezer re: Besides the urging of one of my favorite musical artists (she wrote an accompaniment of sorts to this book), what made me run up to the register and dig out the $20-something for this book was the way it was put together.

They happen to be brother and sister, Mark and Annie "Poe" Danielewski.

#561 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 12:06 PM:

Yes, I know. I did my homework after having read the book. They collaborated their ideas after they put notes together and discovered they were already, more or less, writing about the same thing - their father. In interviews, Poe has said she that this fleshed out some of her songs, and that she helped contribute ideas to his book.

I can only imagine what their childhood was like.

#562 ::: Kim Wells ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 06:43 PM:

I'm not sure if anyone else has mentioned this, and am having a hard time scrolling through the other entries to see if it's there, but there's a great "rejection letter" that Ursula K. LeGuin once got posted at: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/Reject.html

that might make some of you smile.

#563 ::: scott from _actual time_ ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 09:56 PM:

This is a fascinating discussion, with the perspectives of professionals and the embittered unpublished. As a new visitor I'll chime in, but I must admit more kin with the latter. I'm a PhD biochemist with 20 years of barely published fiction writing experience, four years on the fiction staff of a semi-pro literary magazine including two as Fiction Editor, and a gigging original musician. Coincidently, the sample chapters of the first volume of my fantasy trilogy should be winding back from Tor next month, if the six month reply time holds.

I strongly agree with the inverse correlation between publication and quality, and I think the very nature of "art" in a free enterprise society is the major reason why. Publishing is a business, just like selling records, publishing styles and authors that sell in order to make a profit. The Spice Girls [to pick the worst possible example! :) ] weren't "published" because they were quality, but rather because they sold. There are many analogous fantasy authors, from Tor and other houses, whose work seems to sell inversely proportional to the quality. If there were Renaissance-style patrons commissioning fiction and music, or a non-free enterprise state funding it, these free-market concerns might not exist, but in our society they do.

Rarely, I see popularity and quality collide, putting work like George R. R. Martin or King Crimson at the top of the charts. These fortuitous confluences are just enough to restore a fan of quality work's faith that the free-market system does occasionally work, until the next volume of tripe tops the bestseller lists. The publishing industry can't be blamed for this, since their survival depends on turning a profit, but it makes statements about yearning to find submissions of quality ring a bit hollow.

So where does this leave the unpublished writer trying to attack a pulp genre with quality? My fantasy is narratively precise and character-driven. I write it that way because that's what speaks to me, but I may end up having to self-publish five years down the road since no professional thus far thinks they can sell a subtle genre work by an unknown author. And they're probably right, since they are the sales professionals. I empathize with the unpublished writers who feel frustration, having done everything they know of to do and still encountering nothing but form letter rejection.

I haven't seen many publishing professionals recognize the true futility of the process. In this post-babyboom age, the numbers of submissions to agents and publishers seem to increase exponentially every year. Many of my agent rejections were not based on my material, but rather the glut of the market [or so they said]. The adage that hard work and market research will carry you, or that quality will always find a home, cannot hold true given the math. I have been an editor facing two hundred submissions in six months, so I know that the odds of being plucked from five thousand in a year are practically impossible.

I am also disappointed that the digital revolution has not cracked the stigma of self-publishing. If a band presses their own CD, it has every opportunity to be reviewed and sold, on-line and in walk-in retail, on an even playing field with label records. However, the stigma of vanity publishing automatically trashes any novel published outside the traditional process. I realize that this attitude originated from ostracizing shady operations and scams, and it's also an attempt to winnow the baby-booming slush pile, but even with so many digital options available to writers and small publishers, the stigma is still vigorously propagated by publishing professionals. I know of a self-published author who founded his own indie press that has thus far only published his own novels. I suspect that their positive and growing reputation would vanish if professionals knew that the founder had authored the entire catalog.

I will keep fighting, against the business and the math and the market and the stigma, but those odds can turn even the most dedicated spirit to vinegar.

#564 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 02:34 PM:

scott - it's all very brave to denounce the tyranny of the marketplace, but it appears to me that the free market is a GREAT way to decide what to publish and what not to publish.

Sure, a lot of crap gets published that way -- but that which you and I may call crap is something that another person might really enjoy. And remember that genre writing is still, at least to some extent, ghettoized. Stephen King won the National Book Award, but George RR Martin, whom you cite as a great writer, certainly hasn't won any mainstream literary awards that I'm aware of.

The advantage of the free market is that it's democratic. Anybody with $10 to spend gets to cast a vote on who should be allowed to publish a book next. Under the patrician system, only the wealthy and powerful got to decide what art was produced.

Is the market system imperfect? You bet. Can I think of a way to improve it? No, not really - and I bet you can't either.

#565 ::: Robynn ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 03:29 PM:

Teresa, I just have to mention that I once received a recipe from Patrick for something he called "liquid pizza." I was writing a celebrity cookbook/snackbook, and he generously submitted his recipe. The book never got picked up by a publisher, so I may have to self-publish some day. I acquired quite a few celeb recipes. "Liquid pizza" was a pretty interesting recipe, by the way.But, I'm getting off topic.
I've read through most of this thread and found it engrossing as a good book. I'm a greedy, greedy reader, who is willing to plow through dreck books if nothing else is handy. Sometimes, I find a perverse fascination with poorly written books, though I can't explain why.
I think best-selling books vary in quality and originality. Some are mediocre; some are good; some are brilliant; and a few are horrid. I buy way too many books, but I can't seem to stop myself. My addiction means I'm at times not too picky, though I cheris and keep forever those books that I deem to be brilliant and wonderful. I also switch genres and authors, though I have my favorites.
I'm also a published writer, who has in the past received avalanches of rejections. I've been published by large and small houses (and some in between). Only a few rejections have bothered me, and those came from small, novice publishers/editors (that does sound biased targeting the these specific pubs, but it's been true in my experience). The silliest was from a small, new pub. who didn't like the fact that I included characters with red hair. Apparently, he didn't like red hair, or maybe he'd had a past trauma involving a person with hair of that particular hue. I never figured it out.
I think rejections are simply par for the course. They disappoint, but you carry on. Some can be inspirational, especially when they include personal notes from editors.
To me, there are worse things than rejection that can happen to a writer. I'm also a screenwriter, which means I deal with an amazing number of flaky producers--these are the people who profess great passion and excitement for your project, who promise contracts and options, who solemnly swear that they won't let you down--only to do a complete reversal down the road. Typically, they disappear without a trace, or they turn on you with rabid fury if you dare to ask them for an explanation for their change of heart. I find these situations more infuriating, but maybe I'm getting jaded, because I'm getting less emotional about it all.
At least most publishers won't jerk you about like that. If they're interested, God love them, they usually send the contract and do the deal.
As for editors, I've mostly had good ones and only a few not so good ones. Most are professionals doing the best that they can.
Publishing is a business, which means the bottom line is crucial. The bigger the house, the more people are involved in the entire publishing process. Your manuscript may have to impress an entire editorial department, along with people in marketing. But, maybe that's not something you want to think about too much when you're trying to create.

#566 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 04:55 PM:

I want the recipe for liquid pizza.

More about the rejection history of "The Forever War," by Joe Haldeman, which was a much-rejected novel. The author is asked in an interview about the worst professional advice he ever received:

Besides Leonard Michaels telling me to quit science fiction? Let me see. The cumulative one is the eighteen publishers who turned down The Forever War, saying no one wanted to read a science fiction novel about Vietnam. That's the accumulated wisdom of every science fiction editor except one.

I shouldn't keep perpetuating a myth that's only ninety-five percent true, because the first person who got the manuscript for The Forever War did accept it: Terry Carr, who was editing the Ace science fiction specials. This was a series of science fiction novels that were challenging or out of the ordinary in some way that would make them difficult to publish otherwise. He was unfortunately fired right after he accepted The Forever War and Donald Wollheim, who was his boss, said "you can take all of your novels with you." [laughs] So it was accepted by the first and then not for another eighteen, and then accepted by a publisher who didn't do science fiction at all.


#567 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 05:38 PM:

What you said, Mitch. A couple times over.

Also, the lovely thing about the free market system and the patronage system is that they can be combined. If someone wants to jump in and start handing out money for writers to write books she/he thinks are high-quality, there is absolutely nothing in the current system to stop that hypothetical benefactor of the arts. (And the spelling for the check should be M-A-R-I-S-S-A....)

What we've got now has some of the advantages of patronage for the little person. I consider my book purchases to be a way of saying, "Hmm, interesting, please continue." And this way I don't have to sit down with a reading budget for the year and decide whether I want to commission a novella from Walton or Haldeman (since my budget is not up to a full novel): I get both Jo(e)s. Other people can get both, one, or neither, depending on their taste. It's good. Sometimes frustrating. Still good.

A handful of my relatives have spent their adult lives attempting to make art to their own standards without any external input whatsoever, without real effort in marketing it, just...nothing. Then they stare in bemusement and frustration at the outside world they so carefully shut out: why doesn't that outside world like their stuff? Why aren't they rich and famous, dammit? They're Good Artists! They haven't compromised their artistic vision! The world must be designed for sell-outs!

I don't think it's made for better art in their various endeavors, and I don't think it's made them happier people. It's very easy to decry the influence of the market, but the market is composed of actual human beings. Art, last I checked, was supposed to involve communicating with other actual people, and that's not at all the same thing as selling out.

#568 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 06:00 PM:

I am also disappointed that the digital revolution has not cracked the stigma of self-publishing. If a band presses their own CD, it has every opportunity to be reviewed and sold, on-line and in walk-in retail, on an even playing field with label records. However, the stigma of vanity publishing automatically trashes any novel published outside the traditional process.

I suspect, though, that the analogy it would be most profitable to look at here isn't between a band successfully pressing its own CD and a writer successfully self-publishing a novel, but between a band that's playing on a level polished enough to get gigs and a writer who's writing on level polished enough to get professionally published.

I also suspect that Patrick, who both plays music and edits books, would know better than I whether that's the case.

#569 ::: David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 06:10 PM:

It also probably has something to do with the fact that while most musicians — including plenty of very successful ones — are clear on the idea that the major labels are diabolical fiends engaged in a conspiracy to defraud their artists and deaden the ears of the listening public, it’s usually only the unpublishable authors who feel that way about the major publishers.

And for what it’s worth, Brin seems to think the movie version of The Postman has generally been underrated.

#570 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 10:55 PM:

Scott: The Spice Girls [to pick the worst possible example! :) ] weren't "published" because they were quality, but rather because they sold.

IIRC, they (like NKOTB) are analogous to a ghost-written book; somebody said "this is a great concept!" and threw together people to do it. These two groups lasted a short time, then faded, because there's only so much that marketing can do with dreck; similarly, some heavily-hyped works allegedly by major (non-author) names tank, at which point some of us cheer (especially if the alleged author is Newt Gingrich...). (And I suspect others just groan -- getting people to drop an Andy on something that turns out to be dreadful is a good way to make sure they won't take such a risk again.)

#571 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 11:17 PM:

Random thoughts:

It takes a certain kind of paranoid solipsism to assert that the standards of the publishing industry are way too low, except in the case of YOUR book. Hmm.

Or maybe it's just easier to go on a rant about commercial writing sucks blah blah genre fiction all the same anyway blah blah Robert Jordan blah blah than to really think about why bestsellers appeal to thousands of people. "They're sheep" is the wrong answer. If you're turned on by King Crimson and George Martin, it just means you feel more rewarded by art that has a certain... complexity. But it's like taste in wine; I like forty-dollar-a-bottle stuff more or less the same as the kind that has a screw-off cap, and might be hard pressed to tell you the difference between them. Anyone who thinks this is some kind of reflection on my character is a jerk and a snob. Being contemptuous of people who don't mind if their art has a screw-off cap is just as nasty. Which makes me suspicious of folks who say "Whatever happened to language?" as though nobody uses it but them.

"But yew didn't wanna make MOOO-vies. YEW wanned ta make FEEE-yulms."

Anyway.

I sympathize deeply with people who hate rejection. I recall I did my share of bitching and whining about just that not so very long ago around here, and many of the veteran Making Enlightened were probably a lot nicer to me about it than I deserved. The solution really is simple: don't submit if you don't expect to be rejected. I offer that up without a trace of sarcasm or contempt, as a fellow-sufferer. It's a legitimate option. Writing isn't about being published or making a living at it or having thousands of readers and a fan club, though all those things might be nice. Writing's about making something that wasn't there before. Full stop. I figure that, if nothing else, one other person responds favorably to my inner six-year-old saying "Look what I did!", the effort was worth it.

I think self-publishing's a fine thing; it's a delight to live in a time where the gap between the idea and the finished work is so easy to bridge. And, hey, if nobody who's any good ever does it, then it will only be practiced by the unpublishable. It's just not the Magic Solution to all your problems. If you want to make a parallel with musicians, remember that anyone who's smart enough to hook up a mixing board to a computer can make a CD, but if you're not good enough (or "commercial" enough) to get gigs, you're not going to sell any of them.

Both aspiring musicians and writers would probably do well to disillusion themselves of rock-star aspirations. I don't exempt myself from this one - it's a potent, seductive fantasy, and maybe it's puncturing that that makes rejection (even the idea of rejection) so hard to take for lots of us. Of course you want the brilliance of your work to be the ticket to quitting your stupid day job and rolling around naked in money while fans line up outside your door. Gods know I'd like that, hell yeah. But again, it's not a reason to write. I find it's best to acknowledge the fantasy, size it up for what it is, and set it quietly aside so I can get back to the business of putting one word after another for its own sake.

And finally, as an aside: I met Dr. Brin about five years ago when I was shelving the SF section in Borders in downtown DC, and found him to be (as well as very nice) quite good-humored on the subject of The Postman. As I remember, he hadn't expected a Hollywood movie to be anything but a dim reflection of his book, but he did mention being disappointed that Kevin Costner hadn't at least taken him out for a beer. He smiled when he said that, though.

#572 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 06:55 AM:

> don't submit if you don't expect to be rejected

If you rephrase it to "don't submit if you don't accept the possibility of being rejected" then I'll agree wholeheartedly. It's just that I see writers setting a rejection goal, and my thought is: if you submit with the plan to get rejected, then why are you submitting in the first place? Okay, I do have one story out that I think will get rejected. That's because I'm submitting it to pro markets instead of the market I think it fits best, since I prefer a pro acceptance and don't want to make the editors minds for them. But normally I prefer to submit thinking that the story will get accepted, and yet realising at the same time that it may be flawed (in a way I can't currently perceive) or not to the liking of the editor.

#573 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 10:31 AM:

> If you want to make a parallel with musicians, remember that anyone who's smart enough to hook up a mixing board to a computer can make a CD, but if you're not good enough (or "commercial" enough) to get gigs, you're not going to sell any of them.

Unless you're "working" the NYC subway system, lol. In addition to the official "Music Underground" program (for which people have to audition and then are assigned specific performance locations in the system), musicians often set up in stations or even ride the trains (like a couple of terrific drummers I heard last week). Many of these performers, in addition to passing the hat or keeping an open instrument case at their feet, sell CDs.

I can't quite imagine people doing readings from their self-published books and then selling copies, but it's an interesting thought . . . .

#574 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 10:49 AM:

> Both aspiring musicians and writers would probably
> do well to disillusion themselves of rock-star
> aspirations.

I have found this day dream to be unkillable. No matter what evidence the world throws at me, no matter how many rejections, no matter how many times I close my eyes, wrap my imaginary fingers around the throat of this fantasy and squeeze, I can not destroy it.

I can chop it to pieces, throw it in a pit and bury it under rejection slips, but it always finds a way to sneak up behind me and whisper "That's award-winning work you're doing there!"

All I can do is shout: "No, it's not! Shut up shut up shut up!"

#575 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 11:58 AM:

Melissa Singer, re: musicians on the NYC subways: I can't quite imagine people doing readings from their self-published books and then selling copies, but it's an interesting thought

There was actually an article in the NYT a few months (?) ago about a guy who did just that. Self-published, hand-sold, and got a publishing contract out of it.

*hits Lexis*

Ah. Behind a pay wall on the NYT site, unfortunately, but here's the abstract:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F70A1EFF39550C758CDDA80894DC404482

His name is Heru Ptah, and MTV bought & reprinted the book, _A Hip-Hop Story_, in partnership with Pocket.

#576 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 12:30 PM:

Heru Ptah? Talk about your obvious pseudonyms...I guess his wife is named Isis Hathor or something. (Not Hathor Sekhmet, I hope. That actually (mythologically) happened, and it was Very Bad.)

#577 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 01:06 PM:

I don't have visions of sugarpl^Wawards dancing in my head yet. But I do have delusions of movie rights that won't go away.

"You know, this book really would translate well to screen," my ego-mind says.

Yeah, it probably would translate pretty well, the realist in me thinks, because, well, it probably would.

"If you sold the movie rights, you could go full-time as a writer."

Well... maybe, yeah. That would really depend... I'm not all that sure how much movie rights typically sell for unless your name is Stephen King or something... But the idea certainly has a certain attraction. Give up the day job for a full-time writing gig? Yeah, yeah that sure sounds nice.

"I mean, this really is pretty much the same sort of stuff that is in shows and movies now."

Um.... well, yeah, it's definitely in a subgenre that is currently kinda popular... My eyes glaze with daydreams a moment. ...look, I don't want to get my hopes up here. You may have noticed--

"Oh, there's no harm in dreaming about it." And the undercurrent of 'the first hit is free' is simply palpable.

The book hasn't even been submitted yet. Why am I thinking about this?

Rational mind is good at ending the conversation with that bit, but the part of me that has delusions of rock^wmovie star likes to keep me up late at night, particularly after a bad day at work.

#578 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 01:23 PM:

Tina, me too me too, except my book isn't even written yet...which I hope will demonstrate to you that there's always someone more pathetic than yourself.

#579 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 02:56 PM:

Tina: if what you want is a movie, why don't you write it as a screenplay?

#580 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 04:32 PM:

The answer to that is mostly: it's not, so much, what I want.

I wrote it as a book because it is a book, and I wanted a book, and I'm happy with it as a book, mostly, except that lingering authorial doubt.

But books do get made into movies, and it might work well as a movie, and where the pipe dream part of it comes in is not "I wrote a movie" but "I made more money on this because it also will be a movie and now I can afford to write full-time, and hey, look, movie."

I mean... I suppose I could write the screenplay version, it'd be a neat exercise, but that's not my first ambition. My first ambition is to be able to walk into a bookstore and see it on the shelves, or better still, to get on a train or the El and see someone reading it.

The movie part has at least as much to do with money as it does anything. The rest is mostly egoboo. Movie options fall into the same category as, say, award nominations, in my head.

#581 ::: Jeff Allen ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 05:37 PM:

In re: the subway poet. I hope it wasn't the "Published poet sells his work" guy. He would sit around town, sometimes in Washington Square and sometimes in the subway, most recently West 4th (downstairs, F/V). He'd sit behind his makeshift desk and talk to people. If he got bored, he'd stroll around and spout off his work. Very bad. Especially late at night. Especially when I was drunk.

#582 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 08:14 PM:

Jeff Allen: he was a novelist, not a poet.

#583 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 09:55 PM:

The ultimate slushpile: essay questions on the SAT. Very much in keeping with this blog's current thread:

Would Shakespeare Get Into Swarthmore?",
John Katzman, Andy Lutz and Erik Olson
[The Atlantic Monthly, March 2004]

One of several illustrative examples below.

Directions: Consider carefully the following quotation and the assignment below it. Then plan and write an essay that explains your ideas as persuasively as possible. Keep in mind that the support you provide—both reasons and examples—will help make your view convincing to the reader.

"Writing is the most demanding of callings, more harrowing than a warrior's, more lonely than a whaling captain's—that, in essence, is the modern writer's message." —Melvin Maddocks

Assignment: In an essay, discuss your opinion of the quotation above. Support your view with one or more examples from literature, the arts, science, politics, current events, or your personal experience or observations.

------------------------------------

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.

------------------------------------

Reader's evaluation: Although it displays a solid vocabulary, Mr. Hemingway's essay lacks specific examples and clear topic sentences. Too undeveloped to be good. Grade: 3 out of 6

#584 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 11:13 PM:

There are a number of street corners in Phoenix where you frequently see shabbily dressed guys holding signs saying something like "HOMELESS. HUNGRY. PLEASE HELP."

Back a few years ago, I saw someone like that who was holding a stack of stapled-together pamphlets in the crook of one arm. His sign read "HOMELESS HUNGRY POET. PLEASE HELP. BUY MY POEMS."

He was making sales, too. (Never saw him but that one time. Probably rousted by cops for not having a business license.)

#585 ::: KeVinK ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 01:00 AM:

Teresa --

I s'pose I fall into the drive-by poster cat., as I've never been here before. I did take the time to read the entire thread, tho -- actually, I took three times, since there was too much to get through in one sitting.

Keith DeCandido, writer, editor, book packager, bon vivant, and man about town, not only required participants in an upcoming workshop to read your piece on rejection (as he vowed to do upthread), he e-mailed all of last year's participants and -- I think -- all the writers he's rejected in the last few years (I fall into both groups, so I'm not sure what boolians he employed) and required us to read it as well. I'm glad he did; it's delightful.

I will be sending the link to your essay to members of a couple of writing groups to which I belong and may require my students to read it as well. (Perhaps with a sidebar on why arguing with an instructor about a grade is as pointless as arguing with an editor about a rejection.)

Now that I've found you, I hope to visit you again. I do enjoy your take.

-- KeVin K.

"It's your dream; make it work."
-- Valerie K., in response to her husband's announcement that he wanted to be a writer.

#586 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2004, 11:33 AM:

KeVinK: a 'drive-by poster' is a species of one-shot troll, IIUC. You don't fall into that category at all.

#587 ::: Adam Stemple ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 01:23 AM:

With apologies to Tenacious D, this is the greatest and best thread in the world. Theresa, your insight into the world of editing and slush is invaluable, and I, as a new writer, appreciate it. And the comments of everyone else, as well, disemvoweled or not.

Some things I have found useful in my (now successful) quest to become a published author:

From my esteemed father, in regards to editorial comments:

“You can deny the solution, but you can’t deny the problem.”

Which is to say, a reader, and a professional one at that, had a problem with some or all of your story. You may not agree with their take on it, or their suggestions to fix it, but you should at least review it with a critical eye. Why didn’t they “get” it? Is the story/section/sentence really bad or did I not get my point across? You may decide the editor is just an idiot, but you need to reexamine your work.

Now, my mother is a well-known (and extremely talented, skillfull, ground-breaking, er...um...ok, yes she reads this blog. Hi Mom!) author. I grew up around and among writers, editors, illustrators, agents. But contrary to popular belief, nepotism does not get you published. It does, however, get you the occasional handwritten rejection letter. I was determined not to waste this birthright, and when my first rejection letter arrived with notes scrawled in the corner, I paid attention. The editor said she thought the story was too long and not that original. Hard words for a novice writer to hear, for sure. But with my father’s statement in mind, I chopped aggressively the sections of the story that dragged. As it was a retelling of a folk tale, I could not make the story fully original, but I punched up those parts that were.

The story sold to the very next market I submitted to.

I even wrote the editor who had rejected it a thank you note for her comments with my next submission to her magazine.

She rejected that story, too. Them’s the breaks.

The other thing that helps me get over the sting of rejection was something written by Jerry Oltion on the SFWA website. One of his “50 strategies to make yourself work”: keep 5 (or 10) manuscripts in the mail at all times. Choose a number that'll make you stretch a little, but one you can realistically maintain.

I went with 5. It keeps me working, keeps me submitting. Sure, the rejections come fast and furious every once in a while. But I always have a new market in mind and a new project in the works. Hope really does spring eternal, and you’d be surprised how little the rejection stings when you have the story out the door the next day.

Random comments:

To the idea that publishing is a BUSINESS: Made me think immediately of the story of the publisher’s son who wanted to buy Lord of the Rings. His father asked him how he thought the book would do. Son told father, “I think it’s pure genius. And we’ll lose a thousand pounds.” His father told him to buy the book.


Jennie’s post on the editor’s muse was brilliant. It put me in mind of a conversation overheard in an elevator. One woman was relating how her mother was a professional golfer, back before there was any money in the women’s tour. Her friend asked, “Why would she do that, if there was no money in it?” As a musician/writer who on more than one occasion has spent a week or two eating off the Amoco credit card, the answer was obvious: it’s what she did. She was a golfer. It’s not just artists who have a “calling.” I would venture to say that everyone in life has one, and whether there’s money in it or not, you’d best follow your muse. If you don’t, you will spend a lifetime dissatisfied and never really know the reason why.

Ok, I’ve taken up enough of everyone’s time. Back to lurking.

---Adam

#588 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 07:35 AM:

And it looks like "Slushkiller" has finally been crowded off the main page. Did we break the 600-comments mark?

#589 ::: jane yolen ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 11:56 AM:

It's wonderful to know when you've raised a smart and good son. And a great writer. (Hi, Adam.)

Follow your muse. Follow your bliss.

Just don't expect rewards for doing so.And every nonce in a while you will be happily/pleasantly surprised.

Jane

#590 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 03:10 PM:

But you can run into the opposite problem.

I recently came to the realization that every piece of writing I'd done for the first 24 years of my life was written for me. "This one is practice," I'd say, or "This is to help me deal with my fear of mirrors."

(For those who may be wondering, it comes from a variety of sources, but mostly a literary namesake, and being told by my parents I was also related to the REAL Alice, the one Mr. Dodgson told his story to.)

So, while I was writing because I wanted to, the idea rarely crossed my mind to try to SELL any of it. Whether it was publishable or not was irrelevant to me; I'd written it for myself, therefore, no one else could possibly want to read it.

I'm working on it. That the novel I started when I was 11 finally looks halfway plausible does help that fact.

#591 ::: Jenny Bannock ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 03:40 PM:

Another thought: putting the story away for a month (or year or however long works for you), then looking at it again, will often reveal flaws not previously evident. (Argh! The Megaqueen of Baffledom is an awful character! No wonder this story was rejected!) I will not pretend that this isn't extremely depressing...On the other hand, it's a sign that I as a writer have grown, and have learned to recognize flaws I might not have recognized before. If the editor told me exactly what had gone wrong with the story (ignoring the epistemological problem of whether or not there is an unambiguous "gone wrong" for a given flubbed story), I would not have had the opportunity to learn to see the flaw for myself. Not, of course, that I ever would turn down an editor's helpful commentary, in a rejection or otherwise. But see, if I think of it in this manner, I win either way! And I figure as long as I keep making new mistakes, I'm goin' somewhere.

Well said. That's something I discovered only within the last two years of my writing. I have to make myself do it, because there are times I think I've simply written PURE GOLD, but I do know it's better to step back and look at it later.

I wrote a fanfiction piece that, at the time, was probably the best thing I'd ever written. It was certainly the only novel-length story I'd ever finished, and that alone made me proud of my accomplishment. I posted the fic on several websites and received several hundred reviews (which, in reality, doesn't mean anything, but compared to my other fanfic pieces, that was a LOT). I still get people emailing me about it even now, and I wrote it back in 2002.

Six months after I'd completed the fic, I was bored one day and decided to read through it.

I was...stunned.

It wasn't a BAD piece, really, but it was nowhere near GOOD by my standards. I had written it straight through from chapter 1 to the end without a true edit. There were plot holes, dropped threads, whole paragraphs of stilted dialogue...the works. I realize now that I'd essentially posted a rough draft, and passed it off as a finished product. To be fair, this IS fanfiction I'm talking about, and the readers still enjoyed reading, but it was a sobering experience for me.

I want to be a GOOD writer; the only way to become a good writer is to be honest with my work.

So really, I learned two things here. First, that stepping back from my work BEFORE I submit/post/publish/whatever will help me avoid mistakes like that in the future. Second, no matter HOW brilliant I think I am, a first draft is nothing more than a first draft. There is always room for improvement.

...sorry. I know I'm rambling, but I keep coming back to this post again and again. As an unpublished writer, I find the insights and answers here to be very helpful. I'm glad I caught the original post before I got my first rejection letter, because now I think I'll be more level-headed about it. I have no idea what my reaction WILL be, but at least I'll think about the reasoning behind it, be it a form letter or a personal note. Thanks to all of you for your help, however unwitting. ^_^

Jenny

#592 ::: Geoff Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 08:31 AM:

There's a California literary journal which provides one-word rejection letters:

"Onward!"

I like it.

#593 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 10:47 AM:

Adam and Jane, thanks for posting that.

The stuff about "follow your heart" seems gooey when you're due to graduate college in a few months and need to rent an apartment and find a real job.

But it's good to be reminded that it works and that it's something worth going after, even on the days it seems like it's not.

#594 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 01:40 PM:

Cassandra - You're about to start one of the best times of life. I envy you.

#595 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 01:45 PM:

594, and you can still get here from the comments list.

#596 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 01:50 PM:

Adam, if every time you delurk is like that, please delurk frequently.

#597 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 02:10 PM:

"Onward!" is even better than my favorite rejections, "Not quite," from Light.

---L.

#598 ::: Holly M. ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2004, 05:12 PM:

Warning: self pity ahead.

Alice Keezer said while I was writing because I wanted to, the idea rarely crossed my mind to try to SELL any of it. Whether it was publishable or not was irrelevant to me; I'd written it for myself, therefore, no one else could possibly want to read it.

Right now I'm trying to get back to that happy state, where I write because it amuses me. Every time I start trying to submit things I get so paralyzed and depressed about the overwhelming odds that I can't even READ, much less write, because my editor brain gets out of control and chokes my muse senseless.

The last time this happened, it took me a year to start writing again. I become like da Vinci, adding tiny strokes to the Mona Lisa over and over again instead of going on to something new. I could simply be going through a mild bout of depression, after all it is February, but it's tragic because I just finished my best novel yet and I have two other totally different projects sitting in the queue.

(To which my editor's mind sneers, "You can't write something totally different, even if you ever get published your audience won't follow you across genre lines."--See what I mean?)

Is fear of success is a real thing or just an 80's pop psychology term?

#599 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 12:01 AM:

Holly: It's been said but bears repeating; if your writing is any good, then you're not competing against all the other stories that crossed the desk that month. 95% of those were dropped at once. If you're any good, capable of constructing a clear line of thought with decent grammar (Such as, say, your post above), then you're competing with the top 5% of slush. That makes the odds far less daunting.


Yes, and if I keep telling myself that enough, I might start to take it seriously too. I know it's not easy.

I'm not afraid of success. I'm afraid of looking back in a few years and thinking, "Crap. I didn't make it even though I was clawing like hell to get there."

The trick is to be *more* afraid of looking back in a few years, and thinking, "Crap. I wanted it, but I was too much a wimp to try."

Also bad pop psychology, but it's a legitimate case of using whatever gets the sample chapters and synopsis in the mail. Another trick I use is to over-buy foreign stamps (for SASEs) so I actually have to up the pace of submissions a bit to get them all out before the next rate change (Works better if you're outside America and the UK, I suspect).

#600 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2004, 03:24 PM:

Fear of success is very real.

Thing is that I think success is not what the people are ACTUALLY afraid of, they're afraid of the things that go along with success. Fear of being Found Out for the fraud that they are (this is related to the imposter syndrome). Fear of having to give up comfortable excuses for not trying. Fear of change. Fear that the higher you go, the further you can fall.

#601 ::: tomb ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 12:57 PM:

Reading a book I picked up at Potlatch, I encountered this paragraph, which seemed apropos:

Somewhere in the mass and morass was a chapter and a half of a novel he was looking for. He paused to read an item done on IBM Executive typeface, From the desk of Sydney Sherman. "Once again, as he is obliged too often to, Mr. Sherman finds it needful to draw contributor's attention to his very minimal standards for manuscript presentation. Mr. Sherman does not require manuscripts intended for his establishment to be engraved in copperplate on cream-laid paper with deckled edges; although such items are admittedly pleasant to receive, Mr. Sherman has not received any since he left the staff of Delineator late in the Coolidge Era. However, he draws the line and will continue to do so at items typed single-spaced with a red ribbon, on yellow or orange or blue construction paper, particularly when it is a worn red ribbon. Mr. Sherman also objects to MSS. mailed rolled up, as they require four hands to hold them flat and Mr. Sherman only has two--much as it may surprise such contributors. He did indeed at one time employ a chimpanzee to scrutinize such MSS., but it was found that the animal lacked editorial discernment, and it was persuaded to take a civil service appointment at the information window of the Main Post Office instead. Stories and articles, cobbled together with paper clips, Scotch or Irish or bicycle tape, surgical sutures, or even wholesome old-fashioned library paste, meet with a gentle but a rather unenthusiastic reception from Mr. Sherman. He wishes this were more widely known. Mr. Sherman is a devout supporter of the United Nations, and it is a source of much anguish to him that he is unable to retype and translate MSS. inflicted by threshing machines on extra-thin onionskin paper, well as he understands how high the postal rates are from Catalonia and Bhutan. He hopes that this inability will not cause political unrest in such renascent nations, for whom he will continue to entertain the highest regard, you should know. During the years 1919 and 1920 Mr. Sherman frequently took off his hat as parades dedicated to the cause of female franchise passed by, and he sincerely trusts that his positive refusal to peruse MSS. on which the baby has wee-weed or the children's luncheon jam been dropped will not incite supporters of the suffrage movement to place bombs in his mailbox or--" Nate dropped this and continued to shuffle the papers on his desk.
#602 ::: Jennifer ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2004, 06:19 PM:

My college roommate's mom was an agent and would send her letters on the back of (rejected) unsolicited mss pages. We really enjoyed reading the bits of slush; I'm unsure if she selected the most amusing pages to write on the back of or if they were all so funny.

#603 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 12:00 AM:

If I were together I'd remember who I sold A LIKELY STORY to at Potlatch....

#604 ::: Holly M. ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 11:08 AM:

Thanks, Lenora and Mitch. After some reflection, and reading your comments, I think it's not fear of success that's my problem at all. I have fear of failure. Things have always come easily to me, and I am something of a spoiled brat who doesn't want to pay the same dues as everybody else.

Well, February is over and I am done bitching for another 11 months. Thank you for your support.

Oh, and I put the MS in the mail this weekend, too.

#605 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 12:44 PM:

Actually, I think fear of success is just another face on fear of failure.

If a person doesn't put in their best effort, they can always say that any failure is not really a failure, since they didn't try their hardest. If they sabotage their own efforts, they can blame the subsequent failure on the sabotage.

However, if they give everything their complete best effort, and they then fail, then they're just going to have to face the fact that they're just not good enough. And is their biggest fear.

#606 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 01:16 PM:

Teresa,

I suspect that my earlier comments might have gotten lost in the deluge of posts, and my e-mails might not have gotten through. Did you ever receive the e-mails that I sent after you so generously asked me to give you the title of the submission I'd sent to Tor (and which had then gotten lost, with no responses to my query letters or e-queries over the next year and a half)?

In case you didn't receive either of the e-mails, the title of the novel segment I sent was "Conscience of the Demon", and I sent it in December of 2001, I believe.

Thanks,
-Patrick


#607 ::: Zach Collins ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 01:27 AM:

I was sent a link to this article fourth-hand, mailing list to mailing list from other readers. It reminds me of when I actually subscribed to a writers' magazine and read similar articles, right down to the occasional item which I have to research to be sure I understood it properly (the poetic reference, which in my memory was not included in any of my English classes).

From Holly M, above:

(To which my editor's mind sneers, "You can't write something totally different, even if you ever get published your audience won't follow you across genre lines."--See what I mean?)

To which I reply, "Then build audiences in multiple genres. They'll mix if they want to."

#608 ::: Robynn ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 04:04 PM:

I've posted once here about Patrick Heyden's description of Liquid Pizza. I also pontificated about writing, rejections, and a lot of other brain-wad.

I don't think anyone is actually reading my posts, so I'm in effect blathering to myself. But that's okay. I'm in the thick of deadlines, and I love any excuse to shirk (work).

I have this sense I'm talking like a character from Alice in Wonderland, but not nearly as cleverly.

About fears of success and failure. Right now, I have a stronger fear of unpaid bills, so I'm thumping along and ignoring my whining inner voice. Gotta keep writing, gotta keep writing.

Hah. If anyone wants to exchange blathers with me via email, please do. I need more excuses to shirk (work).

Oh, Holly, if you're listening. I don't think you're a spoiled brat. I think you're more like the rest of us than you realize. I want success served on a big, fat silver platter. I really do. I'm a born slacker, who's forced to work despite herself. Congrats on sending your manuscript. Excellente...Robynn

#609 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2004, 02:50 PM:

Robynn - Sometimes when you post to a public forum, people don't respond because they're not reading your posts. Other times, they don't respond because they like what you said and have nothing to add. And you never can tell which.

And I'm STILL waiting for the recipe for liquid pizza.

#610 ::: Robynn ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2004, 05:02 PM:

Hi, Mitch,

I realized that my post was one of many. That's okay. Thanks for responding. Being alone with my own words (writing and rewriting) can cause
a degree of madness. You asked for the recipe of Liquid Pizza, and so you shall receive. I hope Patrick doesn't mind me sharing :). He sent this in 1997, so it's been a while.

One can of Campbell's Tomato Soup
1/3 stick of butter
Basil
Oregano

Make tomato soup, melting butter in as it heats. Add basil and oregano to taste. You may add Tabsco or pepper sauce. He said, "The taste is uncannily that of terrible school-cafeteria pizza...transubstantiated into liquid form." He suggests you serve garnished with "fluffy, white
supermarket bread."

I also have recipes for Stephen King's Lunchtime Gloop, Vanna White's Jello dessert recipe, Bruce Campbell's Grape Nuts special mix, Poppy Z Brite's sour plum treat, some soap star's recipe for Dump Cake and others. It was fun collecting the recipes and snack ideas, but the book never got published.

I have recipes for weird snacks from people from around the world as well. One of the grossest was fried Mars bars..but wait, there was that one from Korea that involved larvae...ugh...

It was a fun project, even if the results are languishing in my desk drawer :)


#611 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2004, 11:56 AM:

Better they should languish than you should actually EAT them. Especially the larvae.

Thanks.

#612 ::: Adriana ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2004, 05:12 PM:

I've been on vacation, skiing in Sun Valley for a week, wioth no access to the internet. That turned out to be a good thing because I got a lot more done on my novel.

We went to a bookstore and I got two books by Gary Paulsen, which I devoured (somehow he's just able to tell you what happened without any hoptedoodle and you're just entranced by something that should logically be boring) and the lady at the bookstore gave me a free recycled book, which she's not allowed to sell. It was the 2002 Farmer's Almanac, and I found this in it:

In Japan, I'm told, magazines turn down unsolicited manuscripts by sending the author a note saying something like "Our humble publication is not worthy of the great honor you do us. Your article/story/poem is so much better than the miserable work we normally pass off on our ignorant readers that it would be a crime to take advantage of your generosity. Please submit your work to a higher quality magazine."

Well, its interesting.

And Robyn, I know sort of how you feel. I will do anything to distract me from homework. I feel like there's a lot of pressure because I got six A plusses and two A's last quarter and I really should do that extra-credit science report which is due April 8, but its so much more interesting to write about the history of cleotans (don't ask)

Also, this is more of a friendship thing, but I need some advice. My best friend, who is sometimes more of an irritating little sister, has an idea for THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. It's a science fiction - well, I think it could be great if a decent author wrote it. The concept is brilliant, but my friend frankly doesn't write, and she would make a total mess of it. Its probably just my inflated author ego, but I think I could do a good job. If she writes it it will probably just be dreck, and she's too lay to even write it. I finally got her t write the opening sentence during Latin the other day, and it was, "I looked out the window at the bubbling fountain." I'm asleep already.

So what should I do? I don't want to betray her, but I feel a sort of duty to write this book. It explores life and death... you know.

#613 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 20, 2004, 09:00 PM:

Adriana, perhaps one thing to do is ask yourself how you would feel if someone undertook to write your novel for you. This would be an imperfect analogy, because you don't know me well enough, probably, to consider me an anything, let alone a friend, but suppose you had posted your concept and discovered that I had taken it, and was writing it, because I thought I would write it better? If you don't like that thought, or this is making you mad, there's an answer right there. I'm glad you asked, because it means (to me, at any rate) that you're taking your writing seriously and gathering opinions (even if you end up disagreeing with them) before taking action.

Besides, one never knows--this idea your friend has, she may hold in her heart where others can't see it for 20 years (or longer!), then one day decide she will write it. And do something beautiful and unexpected with it. It would be a hard thing for her to lose that possibility, however remote; novels from such origins have gotten published. Some of them are among my favourite books.

Finally, and most importantly, in the course of days, months, years, you will come up with a great many ideas on your own as a writer, and it is almost certain that you will like some of them--maybe all of them!--better than this idea of your friend's. And I look forward to a day when I might be able to pull one off a shelf in a bookstore or library and read what you've done with it.

Best wishes with your writing, Adriana, and keep us posted. Or keep me posted, anyway, as I oughtn't presume to speak for everyone. :-)

#614 ::: Cathy Wald ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 11:36 AM:

I've read this thread with great interest, and I'm not at all insulted by the fact that some consider the postings to my site to be the perverted whining of childish, entitled, immature, unnsophisticated tyros. That's part of what the site is for. The real point, of course, is to get whatever feelings rejection engenders (and they can run pretty deep) out of your system, or at least get enough distance from them so that you can get back to your creative work.

Too often people are told to be mature about rejection at the expense of validating their legitimate, if inappropriate, emotions. I just want to keep the subject open for discussion so that emotions don't fester and so that those who are really called to create aren't stopped by their own feelings of artistic impotence.

Thanks for discussing the site and adding a great deal of really interesting viewpoints to the discussion!

And Theresa, if you have a chance, please get in touch with me. I would like to talk to you about possibly posting some of your blog on my site.


Best,
Cathy@rejectioncollection.com

#615 ::: James Angove ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 02:59 PM:

So, has anyone taken a look at this Salon peice yet?

http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2004/03/22/midlist/

It's written in a style I find extremely difficult to read, but it seems awfully topical.

#616 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 03:56 PM:

Yes, I saw the mind-numbingly stupid Salon piece. Is Salon the same place that publishes Caleb Carr's ramblings and David Brin's blather?

See my comments on it here, and John Scalzi's comments on it here, and some other folks' comments on it here (and following).

I also wrote a sharp letter to the editor at Salon, but I don't know if it'll be printed.

#617 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 04:07 PM:

I knew my readers were brilliant, but this is the first time you've started commenting about something before I'd finished posting about it.

#618 ::: James Angove ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 04:28 PM:

James: Yeah. Salon did the first (George Lucas is a Space Tyrant!) David Brin piece, which I don't really agree with but kind of enjoyed, and the Caleb Carr piece, about which I remember exactly nothing beyond its existence. I can't even remember if there was more than one peice, or if I'm interfiling a book review or two. They then followed up with David Brin's Tolkien piece, which I think we can mark as patient zero in a strange new Brain Eater plague.

This most recent bit seems the oddest though. I can't believe that the editors don't expect scathing responses to this stunning display of inferiority complex. And its just so incoherent.

Its not just me, right? Salon really has gone to shit, yes?

#619 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2004, 04:34 PM:

James, come and repost that in the comment thread about the Salon article. I've already recopied your first comment to it.

#620 ::: Morgard ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 03:16 PM:

Great idea, invite a bunch of writers to share their rejection experiences, then systematically dismiss and ridicule each one. No, editors aren't insensitive. Not at all.

#621 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 03:18 PM:

Morgard, you're not paying attention to who's doing what here. Take a more careful read.

#622 ::: morgard ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2004, 09:54 PM:

Don't presume, Xopher. I have read all the posts. My opinion is my own, and, believe it or not, your condescension has not made me see the error of my ways.

Sorry! I took this to be an open discussion. I will go away now. Please continue with the sneering and the sucking up.
Cheers!

#623 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 01:59 AM:

My knee-jerk reaction is to say, "Oh! The letter-writer identifies himself!"

But that isn't very nice of me. And I do strive to be nice. Really. My apologies.

So allow me, in a non-condescending way, to point out that rejectioncollection.com is NOT affiliated with Tor or our gracious hostess. Our hostess stumbled upon it, and was appalled enough by the premise to give her perspective, from the editing standpoint. Perhaps some of the discussion has been insulting, but I found it illuminating - if I'm going to submit to slush piles, I must check over my manuscripts to the best of my ability so that I do not waste the slushpile reader's and my time. This thread also took the sting out of the imagined pain of rejection (imagined because, I'll admit, I've never submitted anything, but now feel motivated to do so).

So yes, your opinion is allowed. But your assumption that Teresa invited the remarks from rejectioncollection.com is a false one.

And what about the notion that people sniping about editors behind their backs might hurt THEIR feelings? To the best of my knowledge, there's no site where editors can vent en masse about their woes, of which I'm sure there are plenty. Editors are people, too. What of THEIR feelings?

/suck-up

#624 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 10:15 AM:

Alice:

Haven't you read the memo's? That publishing used to be about giving vast sums money to the bitterly talented, regardless of profitability, but now has descended to the state of the same ethical vacuum you find in subcontinental sweat shops?

So editors can be sorted into the two categories of running dog lackeys of the evil publishing system, or doe-eyed dupes of the same.

And, of course, writing a rejection letter means you hate writers.

Treating everyone in publishing as human beings trying to do their best.. dear me, wherever will that get you?

(answer: combined with talent & perseverance... everywhere. Sadly, I have only the respect part...)

#625 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 11:25 AM:

It's that darned reading comprehension problem again.

Poor Morgard reminds me of that Grimmett character back in Something New in Short Creek. Utterly clueless about URLs.

#626 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 11:28 AM:

Thanks Alice. I didn't have the patience to spell it out as you did. If Morgard really went away, though, so much the better.

#627 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 11:30 AM:

And if Morgard's writing contains tautologies like "my opinion is my own," I bet s/he gets lots of rejections.

#628 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 12:05 PM:

Heehee.

Y'see, as bitter as I am about humanity, I still have this strange tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt. I'm more likely to assume they read something wrong or missed a pertinent part of the conversation. Therefore, if I clarify, perhaps we'll all be able to just get along.

Incredibly naive, I know.

But "My opinion is my own . . ." Hmm. I agree one's opinion is one's own, but it really should incorporate facts into it at some point.

#629 ::: Pam Calvert ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 02:31 PM:

I am a rejection collector (I've collected neary 100 of them!) I was the recipient of Rejectioncollection.com's "Rejection of the Month" award in October 2001 (which I hold in high esteem.)

I am thankful for rejectioncollection.com because it provides an outlet for "us authors" to share in something that hurts us deeply--rejection.

We are supposed to be professionals, but we are not treated like professionals when we are asked by a publisher to submit our manuscripts (exclusively), we wait months and months (and we are not allowed to ask about them nor are we allowed to vent about it publicly), and then we receive a form letter! And it isn't just any form letter, it is written on a 1/4 sheet of paper. The author of this website says that it is just stationary--oh no! I've received those quarter slips of paper from publishers and then submitted something else and received nicely written rejections on the REAL stationary with the raised imprint of the title of the publisher. No, those forms are meant to save money by wasting as little paper as possible and therefore, making us feel as if we aren't professional. No publisher should ever use such a form.

That said, I've made it my mission to help writers out of the doldrums--the depression that comes upon us after each and every rejection. I have a part of my website set up for rejection alone--it's called Inksplaaat!

http://www.pamcalvert.com/custom.html

I have worked with many editors and they are not heartless. Most of them are wonderful people who are overworked and underpaid. But they do not hold an author's pen and therefore, cannot comprehend how frustrating it is to get some of these unprofessional rejections.

I also take issue with editors judging us when they have not lived it--have not lived the depression of trying to become published. But maybe we are earning our reward for when our name is put on a cover...

And their's is not...

#630 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 02:40 PM:

And after several comments here and multiple e-mails to Theresa from different addresses, I still have never received a response from Tor about my novel – which is someplace else now, anyway, making it largely academic. It was an interesting discussion nevertheless, and it's been good to see the many opinions out there. For my part, I plan to use it as a learning experience, seeing how even the most obviously well-intentioned efforts can often go awry due to misunderstandings on either side.

And, given Tor's track record with lost rejection letters and responses to queries, I suspect that simultaneous submission will soon become the only prudent way to handle things.

-Patrick

#631 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 10:30 PM:

More sucking up?! Crimeny, I've been sucking up all day - I'm exhausted.

Okay, let me see what I can muster up:

Teresa, you look lovely today. Have you done something with your hair? It's quite becoming.

And, Patrick, might I say that your necktie brings out the colors of your jacket most cleverly and subtly?

However, I don't think the big clown shoes really work with the whole ensemble.

Damn, I blew it on that last paragraph. And I was doing so well too.

#632 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 11:07 PM:

Tor's response time and responsiveness in respect to the slush pile is terrible. I'm one of the people responsible for this. Frankly, I find the problem overwhelming, and there isn't a day on which there isn't a more important problem to be addressed.

My assistant Liz Gorinsky, who's been on the job since last summer, has done a lot toward making us more organized, but ancient omissions and disorganizations still haunt us. Frankly, if I could reinvent Tor from the ground up, we wouldn't have an open submissions policy. Sorry, but there it is.

#633 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2004, 11:28 PM:

Patrick - If you didn't have an open submissions policy, how would you develop new talent? Or would you just not bother with that - leave it to other publishers to develop the new talent and cherry-pick the best?

#634 ::: amd ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 12:54 AM:

I have read nearly this entire discussion today, & greatly enjoyed it! It has made me laugh, think, read sections aloud to my husband, and bookmark other sites to read later. And as a writer (published in magazines but without a published book--yet!), I think Teresa's entire Slushkiller blog entry is on the mark.

I recently judged manuscripts for a writing contest, and while none of the manuscripts in my judging stack were horrible, most of them were just...misguided somehow, or competent but lacking anything to make them stand out. I've also worked as a technical writer & editor, having to turn engineers' prose into something a layperson could understand (!), and my brother has worked as a script reader, which I understand was a rather painful experience!

However, I also think that some of the virtual eye-rolling about the writers at rejectioncollection.com takes the site a bit too seriously. I stumbled onto rejectioncollection.com a few years ago and it gave me a chuckle. I wracked my brain to think of something I could submit to the site from my own rejections, and eventually submitted a couple of my rejection stories there, though they weren't particularly angry or sad (or interesting!) stories, so they weren't mentioned here (the one I recall was probably in the "sob stories" section instead of the "read 'em and weep" section). Yes, some of the rejection reactions posted at the site are over the top, such as the one Teresa cited from the writer who got angry and borderline threatening about a wonderful and encouraging rejection letter most writers would love to get. But most writers who have posted at rejectioncollection.com were probably not primarily bitter or hysterical writers who went out looking for a place to vent their rage or sadness, but rather writers who also just happened to find the site and though it would be fun or cathartic to post something. I'm also guessing that some of the drama there is played up in fun, just to make it more worthy of complaining about. After all, if a writer just posted "I got a form rejection. It didn't really bother me," it wouldn't be too interesting to read about. The site is popular because writers enjoy a bit of commiseration, just as slush pile readers do (and we technical editors definitely did!), but for a lot of us, venting about our rejections is just a way to bond and blow off steam, not something we take terribly seriously.


#635 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 10:36 AM:

This page is now 997.27 KB. Can we drive it around the block a few times until the odometer rolls over?

#637 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 01:56 PM:

I just had a Great Idea! Let's have a volunteer project...the Tor Slush Pile Reduction Intiative (Non-Governmental). That's right, the Tor SPRING. Perfect time of year for it.

Volunteers (I could give a couple hours, how about you?) could come in and read slush, with a checklist consisting of Teresa's first 5 to 7 items above. Each manuscript would be labeled accordingly; the ones that pass that initial process would go on the pre-screened pile, for actual Tor staff to look at and evaluate.

Tor would provide coffee (cheapo, no fancy Starbucks stuff), donuts (ditto), and the checklist forms. We'd bring our own pens.

When we got tired of looking at terrible manuscripts, we could work at the reject pile, shredding them and/or stuffing them into SASEs with a cold, heartless rejection slip. One in a hundred of these could simply bear the word 'idiot' in 6-point type, with no punctuation.

This wouldn't get rid of the whole thing, but it would almost certainly reduce the pile dramatically. Also, the pre-screened slush would be a much less odious, and therefore daunting, object to approach.

The Tor SPRING could continue until we'd gotten the whole pile pre-screened, until the last volunteer gives up in horror and exhaustion, or until Tor's parent company sends tanks and soldiers to slaughter us all, pronouncing a bloody end to "editing with a human face."

#638 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 01:58 PM:

1000.22 KB! Woo-hoo!

I can die fulfilled and happy now.

#639 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 02:02 PM:

And yes, I'm mostly kidding...but perhaps the basic idea has merit. Any fan could at least get rid of the first couple of categories. Reducing the slush pile is good for everyone, even the rejected authors, who could submit elsewhere (especially for those in case 2).

#640 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 04:17 PM:

The author of this website says that it is just stationary--oh no! I've received those quarter slips of paper from publishers and then submitted something else and received nicely written rejections on the REAL stationary with the raised imprint of the title of the publisher. No, those forms are meant to save money by wasting as little paper as possible and therefore, making us feel as if we aren't professional. No publisher should ever use such a form.

I try not to be mean, but that's ridiculous.

Some publishers do their correspondance on quarter or half sheets. Some do it on full sheets. Some buy stationery with thermography (the raised letters) and some choose another printing method. Some use a serif font, and some use a sans-serif font. Some hand-sign, and some use a rubber stamp or no signature at all.

To make judgements about professionalism from design decisions or stationery choice is as bad as rejecting a manuscript because the author used 20-lb bond instead of 35, or Times New Roman instead of Garamond. I appreciate that the small paper makes you feel bad, but nobody did it to make you feel that way. And if you're the sort of person who takes offense at stationery, there's clearly very little that can be done to make you happy, so why bother?

I re-iterate my advice for sensitive authors: every day, take out a short story collection and write the sort of rejection letters you would want to receive. Do this for at least a month. Then get back to us about how rude and insensitive editors are.

#641 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 04:34 PM:

No, no, you don't understand. She clearly said 'stationary', not 'stationery'. That means the editor was just too lazy to get up and take out a full sheet...or the stationery she later received. Or perhaps that the manuscript wasn't going to go anywhere.

#642 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 05:07 PM:
And yes, I'm mostly kidding...but perhaps the basic idea has merit. Any fan could at least get rid of the first couple of categories. Reducing the slush pile is good for everyone, even the rejected authors, who could submit elsewhere (especially for those in case 2).
If it were me I'd get some unpaid interns to do it, probably college students who are aspiring writers (they're thick on the ground up in Yonkers at Sarah Lawrence, and probably lots of other places around NYC). It'd be good for them.
#643 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2004, 08:25 PM:

If I were anywhere near Tor, since I don't have any novels complete yet, I'd volunteer to cull slush. Get me out of the house. And it sounds morbidly fascinating.

Strangely, I always felt cheered by those small-slip rejections: the publishers were saving a few trees! I have a guilt complex about trees...

#644 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2004, 06:45 PM:

Out of curiosity, I did a search using Dogpile for "thestorymonkey," which was part of the e-mail address for morgard--Google didn't come up with anything. The only URL I could find was for http://michaelcanfield.blogs.com/storymonkey/, which has as it's contact address the e-mail address morgard used.

If this is a sample of morgard's writing style, I suggest they'd be better off sucking up to any editor they can find instead of making snide comments about websites run by editors.

Then again, I may just be grouchy because I lean towards Mark Twain's comments about "the editorial 'we.'"

#645 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2004, 01:09 PM:

Regarding Tor potentially closing themselves off to unagented, unsolicited fiction, Mitch wrote (to PNH, not to me):

"Patrick - If you didn't have an open submissions policy, how would you develop new talent? Or would you just not bother with that - leave it to other publishers to develop the new talent and cherry-pick the best?"

That's an inherently loaded question. In fact, Tor could still publish an enormous swath of new talent. They'd just be limiting themselves to folks who got agents beforehand. Saying that any publishing house that doesn't accept unsolicited unagented fiction doesn't care about new talent is somewhat disingenuous. It is equally valid to say that they care so much about publishing new talent that they only look at agented fiction or works that they have specifically requested, in order to ensure that their manuscript pile is small enough for them to give every submission a thoughtful read -- instead of only having time to do the "two page test" on the enormous piles that they get by accepting stuff from anyone. It's the idea of giving a new author who is good enough to get an agent a 5% chance of being published, instead of giving anyone who can work their printer and figure out the post office a .001% chance of being published. It could be argued that right now, those promising new authors are buried in a waist-deep slush pile filled with awful prose, rampant grammar misakes, and hideously done-to-death ideas.

I don't currently have an agent, so if Tor went that way, I'd be out of luck -- but I would understand their reasons for doing so. I'm also currently looking for an agent, since most major publishing houses have in fact gone to the Agented Fiction Only side of the fence.

#646 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2004, 02:03 PM:

Er, I think folks are being a little hard on rejectioncollection.com. (Have those bashing it visited it?) Yes, there are authors who are a little too, well, let's call them perspective-challenged. The overall tone of the site seems to be more one of trying to jolly oneself out of despair, not sharpening the pitchforks to march on Those Evil Editors.

#647 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 30, 2004, 09:13 AM:

Patrick Weekes:

Regarding Tor potentially closing themselves off to unagented, unsolicited fiction, Mitch wrote (to PNH, not to me):

"Patrick - If you didn't have an open submissions policy, how would you develop new talent? Or would you just not bother with that - leave it to other publishers to develop the new talent and cherry-pick the best?"

That's an inherently loaded question.

Actually, no.

An example of an inherently loaded question is, "Patrick Weekes, why is it that you accuse me of attacking Patrick Nielsen Hayden? Why do you assume I am attacking Tor, when even the Tor staff resident in this blog do not indicate that they feel attacked? Didn't your teachers ever teach you how to read? Are you the product of a public education?

Actually, those are three loaded questions. Or four, depending on whether you consider the first sentence one question or two.

#648 ::: Katie ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2004, 06:00 PM:

I love this blog. I should be studying calculus right now, but I went online and got completely distracted.

If a girl can turn into a sphinx, is it necessary for the story to take place in Ancient Egypt? Mine's in North America, when Indians were still here.

Does anyone here like Greek Mythology? Can Athene predict the future? I can't find that anywhere on the internet.

No one's going to answer this. Oh well. I should get back to studying.

#649 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2004, 06:13 PM:

Mitch: Clever AND helpful. I suppose we could debate the semantics of "Or would you just not bother with that - leave it to other publishers to develop the new talent and cherry-pick the best?", going back to Indo-European language roots as necessary, or we could just agree now that I thought you were implicitly taking a shot at publishers who "cherry-pick the best" while leaving other publishers to develop new talent, and you apparently didn't think that you were.

Care to defend your personal attacks, now? Or is that going to devolve into a defense that you were actually just attacking my teachers and public school? Or would you care to demonstrate your brilliance by actually addressing the majority of my post?

#650 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2004, 07:42 PM:

Katie --

Traditionally, the Olympians know some things about the future, but not others, which are in the hands of the Fates.

Given that sphinxes are part lion, and that (until our neolithic ancestors ate their foodsupply) there were big, impressive lions in NorAm, I see no reason you couldn't have a North American sphinx if you wanted one. There'd be all the ingredients, people telling stories and the thing, or the idea, or the image, where the story started.

The general trick requirement is "anything you can make convincing enough that the reader believes it is fine". Samuel Delany made cultural revolution due to people being able to plug vacuum cleaners into their central nervous systems believable; there's a lot of room there.

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