Recently I received the following e-mail from an editor: “Larry, much as we like the idea, we cannot see ourselves moving forward at this time.” Couched in these carefully chosen words was a message most authors face, but no one wants to hear. Thanks, but no thanks. Your proposal has been rejected.
I’ve faced rejection before. I expect that before I power down my computer for the final time, I’ll face rejection again. Disappointment, doubt and much soul-searching inevitably ride on rejection’s coattails, but I take comfort knowing a few things. First, I am not alone. Many others have been down the same path. John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was rejected by a dozen publishers and 16 agents before finding a home. For Stephen King, J.K. Rowling and Ursula le Guin, the story is much the same – a dozen or more rejections before Carrie, Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone, and The Left Hand of Darkness saw light of day. An award for sheer persistence must go to Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, though. Chicken Soup for the Soul received 134 rejections before tasting success.
I also know that there are a myriad of reasons why my proposal might have been rejected, some of them beyond my control. In 77 Reasons Why Your Book Was Rejected, author, agent, and editor Mike Nappa unravels some of the mystery. While factors like writing style, subject matter, accuracy, character development and plot choices are in my hands, other elements guiding the decision to reject are not. I do not know, for example, the latest company sales figures and the projections for the future, what is already slated for publication this year and next, or what other proposals are being vetted along with mine. Like all businesses, profit margins guide decisions. Publishers choose carefully, betting that the money they invest will pay off. Even though rejection is a bitter pill, reminding myself that the decision might have to do with factors that are out of my reach removes some of the sting.
But perhaps the most comforting factor lies in the ‘we’ word that the editor used in her email. Although I don’t know what occurred behind closed doors, ‘we’ suggests that the decision was a group one. Probably my proposal was discussed with another editor, or by a team at an editorial meeting or, if it made it even further along in the vetting process, at an acquisition meeting attended by representatives from a number of departments such as marketing, education, and subsidiary rights.
In 77 Reasons Why Your Book Was Rejected, Nappa explains what goes on at an acquisition meeting and the key role that the editor plays. From the hundreds of projects on the table, the editor selects only those that she favours and believes are commercially viable. Then the editor becomes an advocate for those select few. If there was an acquisition meeting, she went through a few hoops before it, probably crafting a proposal citing such things as what she feels about the project, why it is right for the publisher, what expenses and profits it entails, and who the author is and why he/she would be a good choice. Then at the acquisition meeting, the editor made her pitch. She likely had only a few minutes, perhaps 10, to sell the project.
However far my proposal went along the acquiring lines, ‘we’ tells me that the editor took the time to consider it carefully. There were also a few additional words in her e-mail, and these helped ease my disappointment, too. Right after her rejection line, the editor noted, “This seems more like a chapter to a book rather than a whole book itself.” Not everyone who is rejected receives feedback, but these words kindled a fire of sorts inside me. What if the editor was right? If this was a chapter in a book, what kind of a book would it be? Maybe there’s hope for something else, a different kind of book than I first imagined.
Although I didn’t receive the news I wanted, I know that my editor-advocate gave the project a fair and honest appraisal. What I do about it now is up to me.