Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Reason They Make Chocolate And Vanilla

Making the jump from writer to author is an incredible journey that should not be taken lightly. It is not for the faint of heart. You need to shift the passion that drove you to the written word to getting those words in the hands of a publisher. In the beginning, it is filled with as much disappointment as it is enjoyment. It is the acceptance of this that will eventually fuel your success. The only thing that can derail you is if you allow the disappointment to commandeer your career. And by disappointment I mean rejection letters.

Why do we get so upset over a rejection letter from a publisher? We deal with rejection everyday in some form or another. There is your friend who you were going to meet for lunch, but then she had to cancel at the last minute. Rejection. Then the jacket you wanted to buy online, but when you go back to purchase it you find it’s out of stock. Rejection. You want to watch the big game, but find it pre-empted by the network at the last minute. Rejection. And on, and on it goes. So, how is this different than a rejection from a publisher? They aren’t really, unless you take it that way. You can always call another friend for lunch, or pick another jacket you like, or get cable and watch the game. So why not try another publisher?

If you’re seeking instant gratification, show the manuscript to your mother, sit back and enjoy the accolades. But if you seek approval and credibility from your writing peers, be prepared to fight for every page of your work. You need to put just as much effort, if not more, into the first contact with a publisher as you did into the manuscript. The query letter should not be an afterthought. You have seconds and only a few sentences to get an editors attention. Make the best of it. I received nine months of rejections for my first book, enough to paper my bathroom, but something in each one of them made my next query that much better. When I compared my first query to the one that led to a publishing contract, it looked like two different people wrote them about two different books. In effect, the publishers who passed on my book were indirectly responsible for my final acceptance. Now I’m competing against the books they didn’t reject and there is a little poetic justice in that.

Think about this. You’ve finally put the last touches on your manuscript and you’ve turned your attention to submitting the work to publishers. You’ve drafted a few queries, pulled the sample chapters out and compiled a list of likely publishers. You put together 4 email submissions, along with a few paper packets for those publishers who still enjoy a traditional approach. You check and double-check everything, and then hit the send button and mail the rest. Sure, you’ll put together another group of submissions as a back up, but you’re quite certain within a few weeks you’ll be sifting through offers and they won’t be needed. And then it happens- your first rejection letter arrives.

It’s a form letter so don’t take it personally. There is a reason why they make chocolate and vanilla, and no better example can be made for that statement than a rejection letter from a publisher. If you let one person’s opinion consume you, defeat is inevitable. All that passion and enthusiasm you put into every word will have been for nothing. “How did they not like my work?” you’ll mumble to yourself. You’ll sulk and complain how maybe it just wasn’t good enough; maybe you’ll rewrite parts, changing from 1st person to 3rd person POV; maybe you’ll put it aside, think about it after a few months have gone by. If you let it, those months will turn into years.

Now, for every handful of form letters you’ll probably get a response that is more constructive in nature as to why it was rejected. These are the seeds of success and, as such, need to be acted on. Look for the commonality in the letters and address that with the next query. Take this on as a challenge, and whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep pitching the book and eventually you will find a publisher that enjoys the same flavor you do.

R. Michael Phillips, Mystery Author: Along Came A Fifer

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