Publishing, part 3 of 5: Rejections, waiting, and contracts

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So, now you’ve prepared your manuscript, researched your publishers, and sent it off… now what? A lot of people might think that this is it, but in reality, it’s far from over! You’ve still got a long and difficult road in front of you. But don’t worry: it’s a well-traveled road, and there are still a lot of things you can do to make the wait bearable, and get over rejections fast.

Managing your submissions

The submission process can take a very, very long time, and it can become easy to lose track of where you sent which submission and when. Since not everyone has the same turnaround time, you might have to check your calendar often to remember when you’re expecting a response. It can get especially complicated if you’re very prolific, and produce a lot of work, because then you’ll be managing multiple titles.

There is an easy way to deal with this: write a list of everywhere you sent your submissions to, sorted by book title. Write down the name of the publisher, the email address (so you can search your email for it later on) and the date you sent it. Calculate the date when you can expect a response, and write that down too. On the next line, write down all that information (but wait until you’ve actually sent your submission to write the dates) for your next choice. Don’t erase it when you get a negative response, just write “rejected” or something to that effect, and fill in the dates for the next publisher, then make a third line for the publisher you’ve prepared your next submission for. This way, you always know who’s considering your manuscript, when you’re supposed to get an answer, and you never run the risk of submitting the same project to the same publisher twice. It goes a long way towards helping you put it out of your mind while you wait!


While you’re waiting

There are many ways to wait for a response from a publisher. The first way is to be anxious, check the mailbox (or inbox) every day, bite your nails, and count the days on the calendar, worrying when you don’t get a response on the exact date of the expected response. This is a terrible way to live. It’s stressful, it’s not positive, and it will eventually drive you to harass the publishers or agents to whom you’ve submitted, which is never a good thing to do.

The second way is to be overly enthusiastic, to convince yourself that it’s the good one, that this time they’ll say yes, that it’s absolutely right this time. This is great for conserving energy, and does help you get on with your life and your writing projects, but can be a crushing disappointment when you get a rejection letter, even the best kind, and the time it takes to pick yourself up after that kind of disappointment sometimes nullifies all the work you did while you were convincing yourself that this time, you had made it.

Another way is to be stoic about it, to expect rejection, to send the submission without thinking you’re going to get published, ever. This makes rejection a little bit easier to take, granted, but you will definitely not be enthusiastic about your work enough to write a good cover/query letter, and it’s a lot more likely that you will give up altogether after just two or three rejections, because, well, you never believed that anyone was going to like your work anyway.

The very best way to wait for a response is to try to put it out of your mind altogether. You might get rejected, you might get accepted, but while the submission is sent and you are just waiting for a response, there is nothing you can do about it, and no amount of fretting or hoping is going to change the outcome. So send it, being full of hope and enthusiasm, and then promptly forget about it. Write a date on your calendar if you fear that you will forget when the reply should arrive, but don’t think about it.

I know. It sounds impossible. And it is hard. But there is a sure way to do this, which will serve many purposes at once: start a new project. Get excited about this one. Get lost in a new world. Not only will you find it a lot easier to put the work you’re waiting an answer for out of your mind, but you will also be producing more work, getting better at your craft, and have more material for future submissions.



Unfortunately, rejections are a part of every writer’s path. They happen, sometimes quite a lot. There are tons of reasons for this, but before I get into this, I want to make one thing clear: Persevere. Don’t let rejections bring you down. A lot of excellent books have gotten TONS of rejections, some of them going on to win many prizes, or become literary classics. The Diary of Anne Frank was rejected repeatedly, and is one of the top ten most read books of all time! So don’t worry too much about it. You are in good company. Check out this list of great works which were rejected, repeatedly. Print it out and put it on your wall, so that you know not to lose hope. And remember: it is your work that is being rejected, not you. I know that writing is a labor of love, and can feel intensely personal, but still, publishing is a business, and rejections are not personal.


Most common causes for rejection

There are many, many reasons that books get rejected, and a lot of them actually have nothing to do with the actual quality of the manuscript. But it’s good to know them, because although there are a lot that are beyond your control, the majority of them are completely under your control, and there are things you can do to avoid them. They can be broken down to three main categories: the story, the presentation, or the publisher.

The story

Although I said that rejections do not always happen because of the quality of the manuscript, of course, a lot of them still do. Too many first-time writers send in first drafts, or manuscripts that really have not been through enough revisions, or that have not been shown to anyone else. Do yourself a favor, and revise properly! Watch out, especially, for the larger story mistakes that can be found in the second half of this post.

The presentation

This covers mainly how the submission was prepared, packaged and sent. Believe it or not, there are still some people out there who photocopy their handwritten first draft and send it off to a publisher. I’ve said it in my last two posts, and I’ll say it again: FOLLOW THE PUBLISHER’S SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINES! Adjust your manuscript to their standards, and send it the way they wish for it to be sent. It’s really the least you can do to show them that you are someone who will not be impossible to work with! Make sure you’ve included everything they asked for, in the way that they asked for it.

Also, and this may seem commonsense, but it happens anyhow, make sure you can be reached. If they ask for a SASE, make sure to include it. If you are mailing your submission by snail mail, make sure that your name and complete contact information is on your letter, synopsis, and manuscript. Sometimes, envelopes are opened in the mailroom, and get thrown out. If this is the only place where you left your contact information, don’t be surprised if no one contacts you. If you are submitting through email, make sure to check your spam folder very often!

The publisher

Again, make sure to research your publisher carefully! Take a look at the other books they are publishing, and make sure they’re a good fit for your book. Don’t just send to any publisher you’ve Googled that falls in your general genre: for example, if you write science-fiction, make sure you have the right subgenre, too: some publishers are only interested in sci-fi thrillers, or military, so if you’re writing a sci-fi romantic comedy, it just won’t be a good fit for this publisher.

There are also a lot of personal reasons a publisher might not pick up your story, and those are just beyond your control. First of all, even though your story’s fine, they might just not like it that much. If they hate vampire stories, for example, it doesn’t matter how compelling and well-crafted your story is, if it’s another vampire romance, they won’t like it. Or, they like the story fine, but they don’t like the way it ends. Or, they like the story fine, but a more prominent author has just submitted something exactly like it, or they have just signed someone that has a very similar book. It can even be ideological; publishers are people too, and they have opinions and values, and if your story’s premise contradicts these, if they fundamentally disagree with some of the topics or themes, or if they find it too controversial for their company because, for example, you have a lot of erotic scenes and they also publish children’s books, then they won’t pick it up, either.

Sometimes, publishers will tell you why they rejected your book, and what you could work on. There are even times when they will tell you to resubmit. Unfortunately, though, this is getting rarer and rarer; now that a lot of publishers are accepting email submissions, the slush pile has tripled in size, for most of them, and there simply isn’t time for that. So if you do receive that kind of rejection slip, please go ahead and pat yourself on the back; you’ve written something solid enough to impress.

Publishing contract

The publishing contract

Eventually, after going through a few rejections, you will land yourself a publishing contract (one hopes, at least!). If you have an agent, great! You should still read ahead, but negotiating contracts is an integral part of their job; whatever you want most, just make it known, and they’ll make sure it’s included in the terms. If you don’t have an agent, consider hiring a lawyer (one who, of course, is specialized in business law, and has at least some experience with publishing contracts). I really do NOT recommend that you negotiate your own contract, unless you have an extensive knowledge of business law, AND the current market trends.

I was going to post an overview of the terms of the publishing contract, and I realized that I couldn’t really explain anything well in the amount of space I have reserved for it. Instead, I will urge you to look at SFWA’s excellent intro to publishing contracts, which is a 34 page document which goes over all the terms and explains them fairly well.

I will, however, leave you with a few recommendations:

– Never, EVER sign anything you have not COMPLETELY read and UNDERSTOOD.

– Always come prepared to the negotiation table. Make a list of the things you want. Make sure you identify the things that are absolute deal-breakers, and those that are more wishes. Order them by priority. You might not get everything that you want, but if you do this, you should be able to get what matters most to you.

Always get everything in writing. Amendments may be made over the phone, but always check that they have been added to the contract before signing it!

– Don’t be afraid to ask questions or for clarifications. Make sure you understand everything!

Take your time. Think it over. Don’t do anything because you feel rushed. It’s ok to ask for time to think about it. Never jump on anything or make an emotional decision; talk it over with someone you trust. If you have doubts, voice them. Do your research.

Finally, check out Writer Beware’s post on publishing contracts, which offers and excellent list of resources, as well as this post, which brings up an interesting thought on legal responsibility.

Next week’s post will conclude the series on publishing fiction, and will concentrate on self-publishing, promotion, and other avenues of income for writers.

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