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So, I got another rejection today...


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...and I've finally come to a conclusion about my book.  But I'll save my conclusions for later.

 

Thus far, these are the individual flaws that publishers or agents have cited on my submission.  These are not in any order.

 

1) Written well, but there is too much exposition in the first third of the book.

 

2) Written well, but the book's premise is bad.

 

3) It's written in third person, omniscient, and that pulls the reader out of the story.  The hero doesn't seem to change or grow (which was incorrect, and the editor obviously didn't read all the way through the book).

 

4) The book's premise is good and the story is well written, however, there is a disconnect between the narrative style of the character, and his internal dialog.  The entire book should be written as if the author was a 21-year old community college dropout (which is the main character).

 

There is another that I can't find at the moment, but needless to say it differs from the other four.

 

Now, there are commonalities in these rejections, and it is in the positive aspects of the manuscript.  These are as follows:

 

1) Excellent world building.

 

2) Unique characters.

 

3) Excellent character relationships.

 

4) Good dialog.

 

5) Well written.

 

These descriptions - in one form or another - were cited by 2 or more of the people writing the rejection letter.

 

Mind you, my beta readers cited NONE of the criticisms noted above.  However, they also cited two or more of the positive aspects detailed above.

 

The question I'm posing is simple: what conclusion do you draw?  I have my opinion, however, I reserve that for a later time.

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My first conclusion, which may not be the right one since I've never tried to publish anything properly, is that maybe the publishers don't know what they are talking about. How many beta readers did you use? Unlike the publishers, the beta readers read all the way to end of your book and thought it was good. Which sounds like they didn't have a problem with the exposition, premise, or the narrator. 

 

Maybe this is just one of those cases where the critics don't know what the audience likes? 

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2 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

...and I've finally come to a conclusion about my book.  But I'll save my conclusions for later.

 

Thus far, these are the individual flaws that publishers or agents have cited on my submission.  These are not in any order.

 

1) Written well, but there is too much exposition in the first third of the book.

 

2) Written well, but the book's premise is bad.

 

3) It's written in third person, omniscient, and that pulls the reader out of the story.  The hero doesn't seem to change or grow (which was incorrect, and the editor obviously didn't read all the way through the book).

 

4) The book's premise is good and the story is well written, however, there is a disconnect between the narrative style of the character, and his internal dialog.  The entire book should be written as if the author was a 21-year old community college dropout (which is the main character).

 

There is another that I can't find at the moment, but needless to say it differs from the other four.

 

Now, there are commonalities in these rejections, and it is in the positive aspects of the manuscript.  These are as follows:

 

1) Excellent world building.

 

2) Unique characters.

 

3) Excellent character relationships.

 

4) Good dialog.

 

5) Well written.

 

These descriptions - in one form or another - were cited by 2 or more of the people writing the rejection letter.

 

Mind you, my beta readers cited NONE of the criticisms noted above.  However, they also cited two or more of the positive aspects detailed above.

 

The question I'm posing is simple: what conclusion do you draw?  I have my opinion, however, I reserve that for a later time.

I am sorry about the rejection!

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3 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

The question I'm posing is simple: what conclusion do you draw? 

 

confused1.gif.1e6bbf9a39a3888d36e3a309e803ddcf.gif

 

I got nothing.

 

That's why I self-published.

 

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Posted (edited)

I'd suspect it's maybe a bit more complicated. A purchasing decision will have many, many more variables involved than, say, weighing a melon. One should give the same answer no matter who you ask, while for the other, it will involve different tastes, as well as what the editor is looking for to match their publishing house's brand, and even what may be currently needed to round out the current line to be published.

 

In everyday terms, there are a lot of good reasons that everyone in the world doesn't dress exactly the same as I do. We all have different tastes in clothes, we all may want to present ourselves to the world in different ways, and when it comes to making a purchase today, I'll readily pass up an item that looks like something I already have, no matter how good it may seem to be.

 

If a dozen people would make a dozen different purchasing decisions, it may not be because they don't know how to choose, but because they're looking for different things. While the editor's comments to us may hopefully provide some helpful guidance, expect it to always be biased toward the editor's needs, rather than ours. That's where the seat of their judgements is likely to reside, whether or not they notice it.

 

 

Edited by Wes B
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As someone who wrote a LOT of rejections back in the day (including all the thorny ones), I wouldn't read too much into a rejection rationale it is seems clear they didn't read the entire manuscript. There are lots of reasons why one might not accept a manuscript–they don't need stories from that genre, they don't care for the style of writing, they clash with your underlying mindset–but the one major conclusion is they didn't like it for whatever reason, and that's ok. A rejection is an answer to a question in its more binary form: accept / didn't accept. And if they didn't accept, it's possibly or even likely their stated reasons aren't of any Earthly help.

Being published by a mainstream publisher is hard. You have to send them a manuscript that's so entertaining that they can't help but work with you to deliver a manuscript they think they can sell. It's hard enough if you're part of the same world they're living in, I think it's much harder when your worldview differs on something as fundamental as 'who is God to you?' So no news there–you already knew it would be hard, and you're doing the work to improve. 

It seems to me the real question is 'how do I get feedback which will help me deliver a can't-miss must-have manuscript.' Your answer there may be to try something new.

For me, I've seen the most improvement and fresh growth by signing up with a community of professionals and authors to learn something new. I joined the Story Grid Guild in 2019 when it was announced (I was the first to sign up by virtue of the fact I was in Nashville when it was announced and I had a plane to catch to return home). I have access to teaching in the SG Guild that I didn't have before and I network with other writers / publishers who are where I want to be. There are plenty of other similar organizations. Maybe it's time to level up your game and join one of these groups.

While in this group, I heard about SHEG: Super Hardcore Editing Groups. I joined two other writers and we meet every week. I turn in a new chapter and read their stuff. SHEG is an editing group, not a writer's group, and we're less interested in line-edits than we are whether the chapter contains the Story Grid 5 commandments of storytelling - are the scenes turning correctly, is the crisis question a Best Bad Choice, are there Progressive Complications which grab you by the throat and surprise you, push your character, that kind of thing. My friends Anne Hawley and Sue Campbell have a free, short webinar where they talk more about starting or finding a SHEG.

It's easy to get lost in the weeds of a rejection letter, but much of the time, they're just a fancy way of saying 'this didn't work for me,' and I wouldn't take that too personally. If you really believe your story is already good enough that it would compete with other works of its sort if someone published it, your solution is to keep sending it out. If it can use a little tweaking, maybe some of these other resources can get you to the next level.

Last, and not least, in case I haven't said this recently, I'm cheering for you. 

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30 minutes ago, Johne said:

It seems to me the real question is 'how do I get feedback which will help me deliver a can't-miss must-have manuscript.' Your answer there may be to try something new.

 

Actually, I think the feedback provided was good, especially when editor / agent says something that overlaps with someone else.

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Posted (edited)

Feel for you Jeff.

However the fact that you are getting feedback from them is a good sign. It got off the slush pile.

 

Both Wes B & Johne have given good advice. ( I like the idea of the SHEG. Unfortunately I just don't understand the story grid approach so no good to me. )

 

At the end of the day it is your work not theirs. By all means edit it but be careful not to lose the essences of it. Good luck.

Edited by Shamrock
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You are ahead of me. I seldom get any response. It means you are close. 

 

About the character growth. You have a trajectory in mind and perhaps the editors are impatient. My approach would be to insert failed opportunities for growth that are obvious. This may only be taking an existing scene and adding an interior monologue reaction or telling third person description of the decision that makes it obvious that the character flaw influenced a bad decision. Even have the character waver, or take a step in the right direction before turning back and going their usual route. This will establish the tension, that growth is possible and desirable but being resisted. Give the reader a reason to root for them and be disappointed. It will engage them more.

 

Fixing a bad premise is hard. I usually build my books around more than one. It creates suspense and surprise and one premise may resonate with a reader while the other does not.

 

I usually write first person or third person close. For a romance, I use the hero and heroine for two POVs. 

 

One story I wrote half of and will get back to when I am finished with my current nonfiction. I wanted the attitude of first person but had a hard time deciding which character to chose - the narrator or POV character has to be in most of the action, and not all stories can be told that way. I ended up making the hero's magic pendant the POV character, as he sometimes gives it to his girlfriend for protection. This solved the problem of having a character that is present in all the action.

 

The movie "Stranger than Fiction" had its own clever way to approach the problem - making the narrrator a godlike writer who was dictating the fate of the main character, and also making the Will Farrell character's wristwatch into a character in the story.

 

In another novel of mine, my narrator was a prisoner who found his enemy's diary when it was accidentally dontated to the prison library with a load of books. I can then trace the hero's journey from the past at the same time as I trace the criminal narrator's journey in the present, until he can escape prison and try to get revenge when their stories converge.

 

So you see, there are clever ways to attack the problem of the narrator and make your story unique. Some are only suited to fantasy stories, but other sorts of frame stories are employed by people writing more conventional genre fiction.

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Ok, here's where I chime in.

 

Most of the people I have submitted to would be considered "secular."  I just want to put that out there.

 

I've submitted to 50 agents with 2 manuscript requests.  This means that the agent read the first 1 - 3 chapters of my book, liked what they read, and wanted to read more.  I've submitted to 11 indie publishers, and got 2 requests for a manuscript.  Only 1 of the submissions had sample chapters thus far.  So, that's 3 requests for a manuscript after reading a sample chapter.  Remember that.

 

Now let's go through the criticisms.

10 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

Written well, but the book's premise is bad.

 

Only one person has said this.  Likewise, the most recent rejection started with:

 

Jeff, I love the premise of your story and what you're trying to achieve with it.

 

So, I don't think that's a glaring issue, if even an issue at all.  In fact, NONE of my beta readers, or the editor highlighted this.

 

10 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

t's written in third person, omniscient, and that pulls the reader out of the story.  The hero doesn't seem to change or grow (which was incorrect, and the editor obviously didn't read all the way through the book).

 

The series follows the character in their growth, and there is growth from about chapter 7 on.  And thus far, no one - and I do mean NO ONE - has thus far complained that third person pulls the reader out of the story.  If that was the case, the three requests for manuscript would have never happened.

 

So this is some editor's subjective call.  Not every YA novel needs to be first-person.  Cripes, the latest trend is for 5th graders to be reading Lord of the Rings.

 

10 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

...there is a disconnect between the narration style and the character's internal dialog.  The entire book should be written as if the author was a 21-year old community college dropout (which is the main character).

 

(Sorry, I changed that to be more precise.)

 

Once more, if this were an issue, I would have heard it from my beta readers or from my original editor.  And if this were the case, I wouldn't have had three manuscript requests, because this would be clearly evident in the sample chapters.

 

So it doesn't wash.

 

The last one (which was the first one), however:

10 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

Written well, but there is too much exposition in the first third of the book.

 

This actually holds a little weight.  And, moreover, this was something touched on by my beta readers, but only as it related to the descriptions of overland travel.  The editor did mention that their readers liked faster-paced books.  As to whether this is the kiss of death for mine, I think that is debatable, but unlikely.

 

Moreover, there is literally no overlap in the criticisms, with the exception of the exposition.  I think part of this is due to the fact that people looking over manuscripts are looking for something to criticize, whereas the person who buys the book is hoping to like it.  And I'm finding that when most of them cite "the rules," they only seem to apply to my book, and not other authors who have been successful by essentially ignoring those rules.  "Rules" are rules regardless of whether you're Steven King or Joe Nobody.

 

In the end, I don't think this matters much.  I'm setting my sights on self-publishing.  Much of what I've experienced over the past 6 months has pretty much confirmed, in my mind, what I originally suspected.  Plus, it's pretty clear to me that if they don't "love" the book, the odds they'll market it hard are next to nil.  So I'll end up carrying that load anyways.

 

But there are still several submissions out there.  So we shall see what happens over the next year.

 

 

Edited by Jeff Potts
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Appreciate all that you are saying but as Wes has pointed agents & publishers are assessing your writing from a different perspective to beta readers. 

 

They are looking at it as a product they will have to invest in and sell.

 

As I have said you done well to get the feedback so far. It now a matter f it landing on the right person's desk. 

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8 hours ago, Shamrock said:

They are looking at it as a product they will have to invest in and sell.

 

That's only half correct.  They are looking at it as a product they can sell with minimal investment.

 

And it's not just publishing that has that viewpoint.  A lot of businesses take that stance.

 

The only difference between a good book and a best-seller, or a mediocre book and one that makes money is - basically - marketing.

 

 

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11 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

"Rules" are rules regardless of whether you're Steven King or Joe Nobody.


In theory. The rules exist in part as a mechanism to explain why something isn't working, and also as a justification for editors looking for a reason to reject.

In practice, following the rules only matters for so long. When you get to a certain level of success, the books sell because of the name on the cover and they can get away with almost anything if people are still being entertained. There comes a point when the biggest names can get away with practically anything.

I've been rereading Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins series, and Mosley is not a great stylist. He has a pattern that he adheres to, and it's not particularly endearing. But he puts his Black detective in tense situations and uses a rogue's gallery of vibrant friends to help him get out of it. Also, he talks a lot about the Black experience during the decades his stories are placed, and that's kind of a big deal. But if his name wasn't Walter Mosley and he was trying to get published now writing in the style he does, I'm not sure he'd be picked up. He's not a brilliant prose guy, but he is prolific, and he caught fire with the right character in the right setting at the right time, and now he's achieved a measure of literary tenure–anything he writes will sell.

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Posted (edited)
14 minutes ago, Johne said:

In theory. The rules exist in part as a mechanism to explain why something isn't working, and also as a justification for editors looking for a reason to reject.

 

Then they are not "rules."  Rules are not arbitrary.

 

14 minutes ago, Johne said:

When you get to a certain level of success, the books sell because of the name on the cover and they can get away with almost anything if people are still being entertained. There comes a point when the biggest names can get away with practically anything.

 

The issue I have is that people say this - and to a certain extent, it's true - but I can cite certain individuals who broke through on their debut, breaking these very same "rules."  When they strike it big, and you point out that their beginning was dry, or they used a prologue in their first book, the answer is, "Well, they are so-and-so.."  They weren't so-and-so when their first book came out.

 

In my opinion, it comes down to an implicit bias, and a judgement call.  But what bothers me is that they don't just outright say, "I don't think this will sell."  They try to cover their opinion by claiming there is a fault in the manuscript.

 

Every manuscript has faults, and you cited a perfect example.  Mosley may have found lightning in a bottle, but that's only because someone took a risk.

Edited by Jeff Potts
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18 hours ago, Shamrock said:

However the fact that you are getting feedback from them is a good sign. It got off the slush pile.

 

Yes.

 

In fact, going direct to publishers yielded results almost right away, relatively speaking.  And the feedback I've gotten was far-and-away better than anything I got with agents.

 

I feel like I've wasted six months of my life chasing after agents when I should have just bypassed them altogether.  I'd rather sell 2000 books through an indie publisher, than no books through a non-existent agent.

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25 minutes ago, Jeff Potts said:

Rules are not arbitrary.

 

The application of said rules, however, are. This is not a fault of the rules but of the rule-enforcers. Which is why a publisher will accept a stinking pile from Mr. BigName and reject a real gem from Mr. Nobody. At the end of the day, Publishers care about one primary thing–sales.

For instance, when I was publishing our Space Opera magazine, I got submissions from Mike Resnick, a Sci-Fi Grandmaster (or, rather, he sent them to us when he heard we were interested in anything he might care to send). He didn't submit so much as send us stories to reprint, which we did on the basis of his name and reputation. I didn't give a single thought to whether his stories adhered to the rules of writing. He was a known author and we were a largely unknown magazine. When Mike Resnick sends you stories, you publish them. And he did, and we did.

Which is not to say newer authors shouldn't know and use the rules. What it means is I'd adhere to the rules as much as is practical until you get so good or so big that they no longer apply.

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36 minutes ago, Jeff Potts said:

In my opinion, it comes down to an implicit bias, and a judgement call.  But what bothers me is that they don't just outright say, "I don't think this will sell."  They try to cover their opinion by claiming there is a fault in the manuscript.

 

True. When I was writing rejections I didn't candy-coat anything. If it was a personal decision, I said so. 

I think the larger question is 'How do I break through?' and the answer is not comforting: hard work, being in the right place at the right time, and a heaping measure / act of God. Of those three elements, the only thing we control is the hard work part. 

The question becomes, what will you do if a good manuscript is rejected by a publishing house who nominally should like it? Tinker and resubmit there, resubmit elsewhere, or try something else. And there's seldom a crystal clear indication of which to do.

I respect your work ethic and your history of rejections. The popular opinion is the more you submit, the rejections you pick up, the better your chances of landing something somewhere, and one you get your foot in the door, your chances improve in the future.

You're well on your way. We're all cheering for you.

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21 minutes ago, Johne said:

I respect your work ethic and your history of rejections. The popular opinion is the more you submit, the rejections you pick up, the better your chances of landing something somewhere, and one you get your foot in the door, your chances improve in the future.

 

The fact is, it's not much different than looking for a job.  I knew in advance that this was a numbers game.  However, my list is now running thin.  My gut feeling has been that going direct to publishers was going to yield better results than trying the agent route.  This mirrors my past experience going through headhunters vs. submitting a resume direct to an employer.  On average, employers were always far more interested in my talents and skills that the recruiters.  The same, it seems, applies here as well.

 

What I did not expect (and did not know) was what an absolute bust going the agent route really was.  But, until you exhaust that avenue, you don't really know whether or not it's worth trying.  I tried it.  I doubt I'll ever try it again.

 

Given the arbitrary reasons for rejecting, I'm nearing the point where it's just not worth the time or the frustration going through the traditional route.  They take weeks and months to make a decision, which usually isn't to my benefit.  However, if they do, I now have to traverse the contractual minefield, and may have to face an editor who will strip the manuscript of any and all color and life.  Then it's hoping that the publisher markets my book aggressively - something that I have no control over.

 

All of these things are governed, not by any sort of objective standard, but often times by how someone feels about you and your vision.  It's the same way with software.  I already know how this game is played.

 

In the end, I see me self-publishing this series.  I have next-to-no confidence in the traditional publishing route given my experiences.  I've done enough investigation, and listened to enough BookTubers and comics fans to see a growing divide between what traditional publishers and pumping out, and what the reading public actually wants.  I see an opportunity to exploit that divide to my benefit.  Maybe I'll be successful, and maybe I won't.  But I won't know until I actually try.  Waiting around for some gatekeeper to let me through the door risks missing that opportunity. 

 

If I am persistent, I know something I write will hit.  When that happens,  I'd rather have a healthy backlist already established, than to waste the next five years of my life waiting for a bunch of nitpickers to finally pick up on my vision.

 

I know that some of what I post looks like me whining.  That's partly true.  It's also me thinking out loud.  Plus, someone giving me a contradictory view tests my arguments.

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On the contrary, I think you've articulated very well the many reasons people are dipping their toes in the Self Publishing world. 

It's also why some of us are cautiously interested in the new Kindle Vella short fiction thing - another way to get eyeballs on our work without having to play the wait-and-see numbers game of traditional publishing.

I still hope to write something which attracts the attention of an agent to represent it to one of the Big Five publishing houses, but I'm not holding my breath, and I'm not waiting for them to find me. I have an in through Story Grid Publishing I'm pursuing, and if that doesn't work out, I'm ready to self publish.

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8 minutes ago, Johne said:

On the contrary, I think you've articulated very well the many reasons people are dipping their toes in the Self Publishing world. 

 

I agree - you have articulated the issues well.

6 minutes ago, suspensewriter said:

I hate to say this, Jeff, but nobody seems to want to publish your work. 

 

At the moment - the market is still very conservative with the pandemic and agents/publishers not very adventurous. I would hang on in there Jeff for a bit longer. don't throw in the towel just yet. Take a break. Write some else then look again at your MS and query letter. You are obviously doing something right otherwise you would not be getting any feedback which you are. As someone said to me recently, 'it's like through spaghetti at a wall.' Some of it will stick eventually.

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Posted (edited)

Here is one case of an author whose experience may resonate with you. 

 

1). The author's experience with her book

The author reported that she has received multiple rejections before finally one publisher decided to publish her book. The book has now received some accolades, winning the author some awards. 

 

2). My experience reading the book

When I first started reading the book (because it was a required reading), I nearly gave up on the first pages. I could not figure out where the story was going. But I have to persist. The story got interesting as it progressed. I found out, the book is actually a well-written work, with a good deal of suspense and timely and evocative theme. When I look back now, I can say that this is one of the most impactful books I have read in a decade or so.

 

3). A friend's experience reading the book

A colleague of mine -- he knows a lot about books -- told me how he gave up on the book after a few pages. But based on my recommendations, he promised to take up the book again.

 

Long story short, learn from this author's case and persist in approaching different publishers. 

 

 

Edited by Teddy
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