Saturday, April 2, 2016

Four Publisher Responses and Author Reactions

My writing this year has taken off in a direction different from what I expected. But not in a bad way. Definitely not. Reflecting on that, I started thinking about the kinds of responses publishers give to authors. Some responses are good (We Want YOU! Comes to mind 😍) while other are less than good. But an offer doesn't mean an author should say yes, and a rejection isn't always a closed door.
Here are a few examples of responses an author might receive from a publisher:
1. Dear Author,
We've reviewed your project and decided that the story isn't right for our house. Best of luck.

Personally, I think this response is the absolute worst because it gives the author nothing to work with. WHY isn't the story right? Is it truly an issue of the story just doesn't fit the publishing house's focus or target audience or some other not-personal-regarding-my-craft reason? Or is the publisher politely saying, "Your writing needs work. Sorry." I usually worry it's the second, but I'm probably paranoid. I HOPE I'm paranoid. There's not a whole lot an author can do about this response except check that publisher off the list for that manuscript. However, this doesn't mean future projects can't be pitched to that publisher too. And if you have the opportunity for a meeting at a conference with the acquisitions editor, you can discuss what kinds of stories their house IS looking for. 

2. Dear Author,
We've reviewed your project. You know your craft and tell an excellent story. However, we saw a problem with your POV choice/character arc/subplot inclusion/any-other-of-a-dozen things. The manuscript would be better stronger if you made changes in that area. If you do decide to make changes, we’ll be happy to look at this project again.

While still a rejection, this response is so much better than the first. At least you have a solid, fixable reason for the rejection. Of course, now you have to decide whether to make changes or not. Even if you make changes based on the publisher's feedback, that's no guarantee they'll make an offer. Their needs may change before you resubmit. Maybe you still miss the mark they want you to hit. So before you begin a major revision, you'll have to decide if you agree with the publisher's assessment. Maybe what they've told you explains why you've been getting so many of the first, generic rejections. Or perhaps their assessment is personal preference. 
One house rejected two of my manuscripts and gave reasons both times. The first rejection included a possible flaw in the MC's character arc which might explain the other rejections that manuscript received. I appreciated that rejection and explanation SO much! While I haven't tackled any revisions yet, when I'm ready I'll know what I can do to improve that manuscript and possibly resubmit it to publishers.
The second rejection I received  provided a suggestion I disagreed with. The revision they suggested would be major, but I don't think it's necessary. However, I'm not dismissing the suggestion forever and ever. Who knows, maybe one day I'll make those changes too. 

3. Dear Author,
We've reviewed your project. You know your craft and tell an excellent story, and we'd like to make an offer. However, we do want the following revisions made to the manuscript. If you are willing to work with our editor making these changes, then see the terms of our offer below.

This response is a great response, since, after all, it includes an offer. However, it also includes the promise of work. More work than the normal polishing up with an editor (I’m assuming). So like the second response, you'll have to decide if you agree with the changes the publisher wants. Maybe they've suggested you remove a subplot or change locations or delete a character. Can you live with those changes? Will this still be the story you envisioned? Or will this change create a totally new story that isn't the one you wanted to tell? So if you receive this kind of response, don't shoot back a "yes, yes, yes!!!!" email. Take time to consider the offer and the changes. And go out to celebrate regardless of what your decision is. Because any offer is worth a celebration 😀

4. Dear Author,
We've reviewed your project. Your storytelling skills and knowledge of the writing craft are stellar, and we'd like to make an offer. Our terms are below.

Of course, this sounds like the dream response. Hopefully, they don't see any major changes they just aren't voicing, and you'll have only a little cleaning up and polishing to do. But like with the third response, you shouldn't shoot off a "yes, yes, yes!!!" email. Consider their terms. Consider what the publisher is able to do in terms of distribution and marketing. Consider their expectations of their authors. Are those expectations ones you can confidently meet? Do research on their authors and books, if you haven't already. Then decide if you want to work with this publisher or not.

I’m sure there are many other responses a publisher can give along with several variations of these examples. The important thing to remember is that every publisher response, except for the generic, we’re-not-interested one, requires careful consideration before making a decision. One day, that perfect response will come. Maybe in a form similar to number 3, but you’ll know when the offer is the right time, the right place, the right path for you. 
Without naming any names, what are some helpful or not-so-helpful responses you've received?

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