I saw an interview with James Patterson recently where he said he got 31 rejections with his first book. Of course, numbers like that are meant to be an encouragement to those of us who are racking up rejections. But the interview also made me think about how much publishing has changed.
Gone are the days when authors can joke about having enough rejection letters to wallpaper their offices. Part of that change is because these days many publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. They only take submissions from agents. Also, many of the publishers who do accept submissions have a policy of replying only if interested. That can be discouraging for writers.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to avoid some of that frustration because much of my work is for educational publishers and they operate a little differently. Those publishers know what they want, and they are looking for people to write the books they need. It means I start a project knowing that it is something a publisher wants. There is no stress about spending a lot of time on a project and then not being able to find a publisher for it. Also, if you do a good job for an educational publisher, there’s a good chance you’ll get future assignments. With today’s publishing climate, it’s nice to have those relationships with educational publishers.
Of course, I also have ideas, such the picture book biography I’m working on, which don’t fit the needs of educational publishers. And so I’m collecting rejections. So far, I’ve sent my picture book to an agent and four publishers. The agent, who I had met at writers’ conference, said the manuscript wasn’t competitive in today’s market. But she gave me some good tips for improving it. That kind of personalized attention is rare these days and I appreciated it.
As for the editors, one of them sent a form rejection with a short handwritten note wishing me well in placing it elsewhere. Disappointing, but at least it’s definitive. With the other three publishers, I’ve had only silence. They follow the policy of replying only if interested, which leaves me with mixed feelings.
I’m grateful that they even accept unsolicited manuscripts when so many publishers don’t. On the other hand, their silence gives me hope when it shouldn’t. I need to fight the urge to cling to the possibility that the editors haven’t had time to read the manuscript yet. After all, it’s only been a few months and we’ve all heard stories about the stacks of manuscripts waiting for an editor’s attention.
However, in my more realistic moments I realize that my book was most likely recycled months ago and I need to send it out again. I’ll do that, but first, I have rewriting to do. I made the changes the agent suggested, but as I continue to learn more about picture book biographies and read those that have been successful, I see other ways to improve the manuscript. So I’ll do some rewriting and then get it back in the mail.
In the meantime, I’m curious, writers, how do you deal with those “silent” rejections from publishers who only reply if they’re interested? How long do you hold out hope that your manuscripts are still under consideration?