By Catherine Rudy, Dec 1 2013 12:28AM
The overall criticism of independent presses and self-published authors is that they lack quality control of their work. In part, this is true, but in varying degrees. Some independent publishers are meticulously attentive in editing and production, and put out excellent books. But more and more, I’ve found that these are not the norm. There are hundreds of small, independent presses, and the quality of their production runs the gamut of good to atrocious. Without a doubt, all of them extoll their invested interest in literary quality, yet that is not always the case in reality. The problem lies in little or no editing, lack of editing skill by their staff, and indifference in their end product. This is a shameful attitude to be found in such a noble art form as literature. Much like texting is dumbing down the skill of conversational writing, the lack of editing in literature is lowering the standards of what readers should expect in books. This is a travesty that must be remedied for the betterment of an educated society.
This flaw in publishing is not limited solely to small independent presses and self-published writers. It is understandable—but not acceptable—why self-published writers put out less than perfect work. They may not be well-versed in editing or objective enough to self-edit. They may be anxious to put out their work and short-change themselves on editing to do that. However, there is no excuse for a publishing company that touts itself as a conscientious publisher to chintz on the editing phase of producing a book. In the past, the traditional icons of major publishers have turned out exceptional works of literature, regardless of genre. Their editing quality was superb, almost flawless. They gained the right to demand perfection from writers who wanted to submit their work to them. They even gained the right to demand writers to get an agent before submitting to them. This snub against writers was a slap in the face to aspiring artists in the literary field. But an agent was meant to screen manuscripts for quality. This effort was met with mixed emotions—disdain from writers who now had limited avenues to publication, and approval by the reading public. No one wanted to pay hard-earned money for a book that was poorly written, and major publishers ensured that these works wouldn’t find their way into bookstores.
However, at some point, editors at the traditional big-time publishers have begun to lose their edge. Their quality control has dwindled. Their production is suffering. The overall quality of literature is crumbling. With that, I wonder what right they have in telling writers to get an agent for screening purposes. Who is at fault here: the agents or the editors at the publishing houses? Why is there a serious lack of quality control now?
I have been an editor for several years, even while working in a non-editorial job to pay the bills and support a family. I have diligently kept up with grammatical rules and changes, and invest myself in demanding perfection in literature. I have even spent some time running a publishing company to experience what writers submit as finished products. It was during this time that I realized the sad state of the future of literature. I gave up the publishing company and created The Wolf Pirate Project to teach writers the rules of writing, how to self-edit, and what to expect out of the publishing industry. Improving literature is more important than churning out books for profit. Personally, I would be embarrassed to release a book riddled with grammatical mistakes, or one that is not pleasing to read. That is the responsibility of a publisher, although I feel they are faltering in this respect.
A publisher has several responsibilities in producing a quality book. For one, its editors need to review the manuscript’s content for consistency and completeness. Then they need to edit for grammatical errors, typos, and proper sentence structure. Of course, style in creative writing is independent of each writer, but there is no excuse for poor grammar or spelling errors. There are also key concepts, which we teach in our writer’s classes, that are integral in literature. As explained in the classes, these are not rigid rules, but guidelines to follow. These include keeping point-of-view consistent, active versus passive sentences, showing over telling sentences, and avoiding an overabundance of purple prose. For the most part, these are what publishers demand from writers, and there is a good reason for it. For example, keeping the point-of-view consistent avoids confusion and facilitates a more vivid story experience. Active sentences are more natural to read, while passive ones are clumsy and sound awkward.
Since the inception of The Wolf Pirate Project, I have been inundated with work. All my time has been spent editing writers’ works and teaching writing concepts. I haven’t had time to read for pleasure. Recently, though, I realized I was losing touch with contemporary publications. I wanted to read for pleasure again. I carved out some time to do that, going to a Barnes and Noble and browsing for books that struck my fancy. I grabbed several at a time and began reading—only to toss one after another aside because they didn’t meet my high standard of acceptable literature. The editing was unsatisfactory. In some cases, it was deplorable. Inevitably, I turned the book over to read the publisher on the spine and winced. Many of these books had been produced by the traditional major publishers. I was shocked and disappointed. I went back to the bookstore and grabbed another bunch of books. Some were well done, offering me a satisfying experience of reading. But many were unacceptable. I couldn’t get through them. I shoved them in a closet, knowing I’d never read them through. Nor would I donate them to charity because I don’t believe in sharing poorly produced books with the public. Overall, purchasing those books was a total waste of money. Hard-earned money, at that. How many other people do the same thing every day.
What frightens me the most is that people will eventually get used to this poor quality of literature coming out on the market. Just like the populace has accepted texting in lieu of their diminished writing skills, the reading public will inevitably accept subpar literature as the norm. That is a horrific shame. Humanity will then have peaked in its advancement and started its downward slide. No one will even know this is happening.
The editors at The Wolf Pirate Project have decided not to let this happen. Not willingly, at least. We have taken it upon ourselves to critique the editorial work of publishers. There is no excuse for poorly produced works of literature. A publisher should be proud to put their name and logo on a book. The content of the book is a reflection of their idea of what they consider acceptable work. Readers should demand more perfection in what they read. Reviewers should be honest in their assessment of literature, not keep with the current practices of having a publisher write their reviews for them. (This is another travesty in the literary industry). There is no excuse for publishers to put out subpar literature when they demand so much from writers in the first place and have a staff of editors to polish the work up before publication.
In critiquing editors of publishing houses, we will focus on the editorial aspect of what a publisher is responsible for. We are aware of what a publisher demands in a book before it is accepted for publication, and we will grade on those issues—grammar, sentence structure, typos, and key concepts of storytelling; those being keeping point of view, active versus passive sentences, telling versus showing, and avoiding an abundance of purple prose, among other criteria. We will minimize critiquing the author’s work, although we will note where the publisher failed to correct consistency in the story or credibility. Anything a publisher should catch and correct will be addressed in these critiques. It is not meant to embarrass a publisher or editor, but to educate them in where they went wrong. The point is to be educational, to push for the improvement of marketed literature. It is only fair to expect this, when hard-earned money is being spent on what they produce.
These critiques will be sent directly to the publisher, along with the book they go with. The critiques will not be posted on the web site in the spirit of not embarrassing the writer or publisher. The goal is to inform the publisher where their quality control faltered in an effort to put it back on track. I encourage anyone who encounters a book that falls within the category of subpar work to submit the title to us so we can do a critique on it. If everyone who finds a book that is poorly edited stands up and speaks out, we can change the way others are edited and improve the overall quality of modern literature.
We hope editors take note of this feature and take heed. Reviewing the rules of grammar can do wonders in boosting an editor’s skills. Paying attention to the writing is another manner of doing the job they are meant to do. Having an invested interest in what is produced is imperative in producing a good book. Caring about the course of literature in modern society and drawing more people to reading for leisure is imperative to keep this industry alive.
By Catherine Rudy, Mar 24 2013 6:43PM
WHAT A WRITER CAN DO TO HELP THE INDUSTRY
You say you are a writer and that’s great. You sit down for hours a night and bang out words on a computer, spilling your heart and soul into whatever project you’re working on. You believe your work is of great worth to share with the world, and you may even be right. But how do you get it out to the general public. This isn’t a rant to tell you how to do that. If I knew, I’d be able to get every work we support to the right readership and brag about it. But I don’t. There’s some secret formula I haven’t figured out. But that isn’t the issue I want to discuss now. I want to talk about how you’re going to save the writing industry.
“Me?” you ask. Why should you do anything to save this flagging industry. Unless you’re a published author (through the traditional houses) and have seen significant return on your investment of time and effort, you probably don’t think it’s your responsibility to help the failing book market. You would be wrong. You want to reap the rewards of mass distribution of your work, you better start thinking about how to beef up the demand for them. And don’t be fooled by prospectives that show how book sales have increased. Everyone knows the market is a numbers games. You can tweak anything to look either like it’s in a deficit or profit. However, the matter still remains that less and less people are reading for leisure and buying books. Many of them are buying second-hand books because they’re cheaper. If you’re all about the royalties, this hurts you. I look at it as another person who has enjoyed what you have to share, regardless of how they acquired it.
Those of us in the industry—writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, and educators—should be worried that there is a decline in what the future holds for us. For the most part, educators will always have to teach children how to read, but there lies the problem. What happens when teachers discover that children no longer want to read. Their students want to play video games or watch television. Or just text mindless dribble on social media sites. A teacher’s job has just become a lot more difficult. He must discover other ways of reaching a child. He has to pique a child’s interest in reading. If you are an educator, take a peek at the Wolf Pirate Project’s Reader Appreciation Class on the web site. It’s a pretty comprehensive curriculum about instruction on reading.
The problem for booksellers is obvious. No demand, no need for supply. Simple economics, end of story. Let’s move on to publishers, who find themselves in the same position. Booksellers don’t have so many people to sell to so they reduce their inventory. They order less books from publishers. Publishers become more discerning on what they invest money in. Whereas they were once putting out a hundred books because the demand was there for them, they are now putting out eighty. Other factors come into play, as well, on a publisher’s end. Printing costs go up. New taxes now put a demand on a publisher’s operating methods. Employees are let go. A work’s profit margin takes the hit. Marketing budgets get tight. Less books are produced. More books are only seeing ebook status, which is equivalent to the death knell to its prosperity. Yes, it’s in electronic form, but it’s virtually stagnant in distribution if there’s no heavy marketing to expose it.
Jump now to editors. They’re one of the employees that get let go in the budget cuts. Less editors now work in a publishing house to ensure quality control. Whereas the remaining ones had a week to editor a book, they now have three days. Someone has to pick up the slack. Sure, they’re still good editors, but if you rush perfection, you get mistakes. I’ve seen it plenty of times in books produced by the big publishing houses: grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, and mistakes in continuity. I’ve even seen cases where the main character’s name changed to something different in places. Astounding, you say. No, not really. It’s hard to edit a book to the end and catch all the typos and mistakes a writer makes. And yes, he makes them—in droves.
Which brings me to writers. How do you fare in this flagging market? Isn’t it obvious. Haven’t you already experienced the drawbacks of a failing industry where readers are dwindling? Your work gets rejected by the publishers who count. Who are they, you wonder. Let’s name a few so you get the gist. Random House, Penguin Putnum, Berkley, Daw, Ace, and others. These are the ones we deal with at The Wolf Pirate Project. These are the industry greats who can get books out through distribution. Forget the small presses. They don’t get the time of day from distributors, who decide what books get peddled to bookstores. You didn’t know that? Surprise, surprise. You thought you only had to write a book and it would get published. No, that wasn’t the case. For one, good luck getting published by a large house that can do part-and-parcel of all the marketing and distributing for you. If you have been picked up, fantastic. You are one of the blessed. But for most writers, no matter how exceptional you are, you might not find a home for your work. Not to sound depressing, but that is a fact. You turn to the smaller presses or, God forbid, a subsidiary (one where you pay part or all of the printing process), thinking that just getting the book printed will save your writing career. Oh, not so. Many of these presses, especially the subsidiary ones, will only offer your book online at their web site. Yes, they will tell you that they will make your book available on Google and Amazon, as well, but you can do that yourself. Still amounts to no sales unless you have your book marketed to the public; which, of course, will be something they offer for an extra fee (heavy traffic through Internet search engines, which is not real marketing). Or—and here I cringe—if you send them your contact list, they will send advertising material to everyone on it. If you send them your contact list, you are only giving them a database to spam your friends. Don’t do that to your friends. So, what do you ultimately do. How can you change the industry?
You can’t. Not alone. Everyone has to do their part. You have to start with the basics. Encourage reading in others. Start with your children if you have them. Don’t shove your lovingly created book in their hands and tell them they’ll love it; let them pick what they want to read for themselves. Yes, it might kill you to see your own children read someone else’s book, but at least they’re reading. I have yet to have one of my children read one of the books the Project supports. Is that an embarrassing admission? It is on the surface. But, think about it. Reading is a personal choice. What you choose to read is based on what you want to read. You browse through a bookstore for books you want to read. The same is true for everyone else. If your book doesn’t pique their interest, there’s nothing you can do to make them read it. Maybe your mother will because she’s your mother. Or your sister, but chances are your spouse won’t. If he or she does, cherish him or her forever; they are the exception to the rule. The point is you can’t pick someone’s book for him to read. Choosing a book for yourself is like picking out your own clothes. Would you let your mother choose your wardrobe? I wouldn’t.
Be content with encouraging readership in others, regardless of what they chose to read. They might not want to read your book, but another writer’s child might want to read it. If more people encouraged reading for pleasure, there would be more demand for books. All different types of books. You would have an audience out there that might find your work interesting. This is only a tiny step in the right direction, but with the amount of aspiring writers out there, if everyone got just one person interested in reading, there would be thousands of new readers in the world. Once you’ve hooked someone on reading, they generally talk about what they read. They might even change another person’s mind about reading and convert them, as well.
This brings me to what I ultimately want to get at. This is for you writers out there. I want to be absolutely straightforward with you. What I have to say may not be what you want to hear, but you should listen. This is important. For the future of the industry, for your children, and for yourself. You need to get over yourself. You are not God’s gift to the literary industry. No one takes that prize. You may be a great writer, but you are not above partaking in the pleasures of reading yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from writers that they don’t have time to read. I only shake my head and rue the fate of this industry. If the world’s writers don’t read, what’s becoming of the state of our literary culture? How can you expect anyone to read your book when you don’t read any yourself? Reading is extremely important for a writer. You need to keep abreast of current trends in literature, familiarize yourself with your fellow writers, learn what attracts a publisher’s attention, and keep in touch with the working of proper grammar. Let’s be honest; I know why you don’t want to read someone else’s work. You’re envious of them. Their book bears the distinguished mark of a big publishing company’s logo on the spine. It’s not fair. They got published and you didn’t. They have some special in or know the publisher. I can’t say if that’s true or not, but the fact is, they did get published. They got in. It’s hard to be happy for them when you’re still on the outside looking in, wishing you were there. Out of spite, you stop reading. You immerse yourself wholly into writing because it’s the only thing that gives you pleasure. I want to tell you that you shouldn’t do that. For one, you’re setting a bad example to your children, the same ones you want to learn to read for pleasure so they might grow up to read your work. Secondly, all writers (or those without the special connections or celebrity to be published simply because) start off in the same boat. It is inevitable that some will grasp the brass ring. They’ve worked just as hard as you have but got lucky. They hit the right publisher with the right story at the right time. Give them some kudos for their accomplishment. If their work is up your alley, read it. It would behoove you to know what gets published. And remember, each book sold is another statement to the industry that it is still alive.
Let’s get right down to it. Writers need to be more supportive of each other. Not on the surface, fake-listening to each other, waiting for an opening in the conversation for when they can start talking about their own work, but actually communicating with each other. Start praising each other for their accomplishments and congratulating them if they get published. Ask to read their work. Buy their books (don’t just take the free copy). Become friends again, not nemesis. This is a dog-eat-dog industry to begin with. Fighting amongst yourselves will only see its demise. If we each do our little part in trying to revive it, we might see some reward came our way.
I, for one, am trying to do my part. I founded The Wolf Pirate Project to help writers learn to hone their craft. We offer editing for free if you’re willing to undergo the grueling experience of the Writer’s Workshop (and if you have tough skin to be critiqued). We give out books for free. We have writing classes to guide you through what editors and publishers are looking for. We even have a reader’s appreciation class to help parents and educators help others learn to read for pleasure. I even write these rants to be brutally honest with you, so you aren’t deluded in your writing career. Not everything is pretty, but I won’t lie to you. Other than all that, what more can I do? I’ve done my part to help this industry. All I’m asking is that you help as well. Turn just one person onto reading and start reading yourself. Take time out of your busy schedule and rekindle what you once loved to do. Escape from the troubles of the everyday world by immersing yourself in a story that takes you to different lands, ones you didn’t create yourself. Indulge a little.
By Catherine Rudy, Mar 21 2013 4:38PM
WRITING WRITING OFF AS A TAX DEDUCTION
So you call yourself a writer. When you meet people, you might even introduce yourself as one, even though the way you support yourself is from your job as a bookkeeper, delivery person, or receptionist. After all, telling people you are a writer gives you a different dimension. At The Wolf Pirate Project, we look at you as an artist. However, in the practical sense, you should consider your writing as a business. The Internal Revenue Service gives you the right to deduct business expenses on your income tax. If you itemize your deductions, it would behoove you to take advantage of the business deductions as a writer.
The IRS states that you can deduct expenses for a business or trade if you intend that business or trade to produce a profit. So, if you intend to sell your work to a publisher or the public, your writing endeavor qualifies for the business deduction. If you only write for a hobby and don’t intend to peddle your work to publishers or have it self-published for sale to the public, you cannot take the deduction. Submission records and response slips from publishers would be the proof of the difference between these two endeavors. Be forewarned, though, the IRS will question whether your writing business is a for-profit endeavor if you do not turn a profit for three out of five consecutive years. This is a difficult pill to swallow, since many writers can tell you how disappointing sales are for their work. It is not a simple matter of selling your work at a craft show or distributing it to local bookstores. There are obstacles standing in your way. There are other factors you can use to prove you intend to make a profit with your writing rather than doing it as a hobby. Some of those include how you run the business, your expertise in your field, the amount of time you put into your business, previous profits, whether writing is your sole source of income, and if it is a type of activity that can be considered recreational or a hobby.
Diligent record keeping is the key to successful itemizing. Store your receipts and correspondence, including all those dreaded rejection letters. Staple them to a copy of the query letter you sent out so the form rejection letters have some validity. Keep your manuscript and business files on a separate flash drive that has no other personal files on it. If you have a home office, be careful not to share it with the personal aspect of your home life. The IRS is very particular about what they consider a home office used for business. You shouldn’t consider this a drawback, though. If you intend for your writing to be viewed as a business, then treat it like a business. Yes, writing is a creative function and there’s no reason why you can’t get enjoyment out of it, even as a business; but there is another side to writing than contributing art to humanity. There is the ugly business side of it, the angle where you have to sell of your life’s work to keep afloat or feed your family. Easier said than done.
In the meantime, if you intend your work to become published and make it onto a store shelf, take advantage of the business deductions. There are many costs you can write off, including ink for your printer, paper, stationary, postage, reference books, and computer hardware and software. In some instances, a computer is taken at a depreciated value. Check with your accountant or a qualified tax preparer for how this is done. The use of your car may also be deductible; however, you must determine what percentage of use you use the car for your business against its personal use and deduct only that percentage. Keep records on mileage to and from business-related trips. If you attend book fairs to sell your printed book, you may deduct the cost of space and certain items related to the trip. IRS Publication 535, Business Expenses gives a complete account of what costs you can deduct for a business.
If you have space in your home set aside for your writing, you might be able to deduct part of your home’s utilities, insurance, mortgage interest, repairs, and depreciation. However, the IRS is particular about what qualifies as a business office in your home. For one, the space must be exclusively dedicated to your business. You cannot share the space with personal or home activities. Secondly, the home office must be your primary place for doing business, even if you work outside the office. If you satisfy these two rules, you may deduct the same percentage off your utilities, insurance, mortgage interest, repairs, and depreciation as your home office is of your entire house. For example, if your spare bedroom is your exclusive business office and it is 200 square feet and your home is 2,000 square feet, you can deduct ten percent of the aforementioned items as a business expense. But, be forewarned, this deduction is applied only if you show a profit for the year. For more information, you can read IRS Publication 537, Business Use of Your Home.
On the surface, it may look appealing to deduct the cost of writing as a business expense, but please be aware of the rules to avoid future trouble with an audit. If you sell periodic articles, do freelance writing, or publish through any means that reaps financial rewards, it might be in your best interest to itemize your expenses. The IRS requires that you report earnings on your writing endeavors; it only seems fair that you should deduct the expenses required to make those earnings possible.
By Catherine Rudy, Jan 22 2013 7:34AM
THE DECENCY IN REJECTION LETTERS
A Word to Submissions Editors
Yes, there is decency in rejection letters, although 99% of the letters writers get have none of that courtesy at all in them. This is a shame, considering that writers have shared their life’s work with publishers and agents in the hopes of sharing their stories with the world. I won’t go on and on about that, other than my initial declaration that writers spill their heart and soul into writing their stories, not to mention time and money, at the expense of spending personal time with family and friends, doing more immediately rewarding activities or even investing their time in a paying job. So, for all those editors at publishing houses and literary agencies, maybe you should keep that in mind before you shove one of your misaligned photocopied letters into the writer’s self-addressed stamped envelope to return to them. Yeah, yeah, we get it; your time is precious and you are inundated with queries. Pales in comparison to the amount of effort a writer has put into his life’s work.
I suppose most editors have stopped reading this by now, making note of my name to hold me in contempt forever, but I am done coddling editors in the hopes that being nice will gain any favor in attention for the works I submit to them. However, for any editor who’s bold enough to keep reading this, I applaud you. Maybe there is some hope for you after all. What I am proposing is nothing that will take up any of your time or impose any more work on your busy schedule.
First of all, I do understand your workload. I was in charge of a small publishing company for a few years and was swamped with queries, too. I got a taste of what editors in a publishing house and literary agency suffer. You probably snort in derision at my position in a “small” publishing company, daring me to compare the number of submissions I got to what you review on a daily basis. But I was the only one reviewing these works, while an editor at one of the traditional houses is just one of many others, or has assistants or readers who sifts through the piles of submissions for him. The point is not who had more of a workload, but to say that I was in a position to say I walked a mile in your shoes. I can speak with authority of what is wrong with your regular practices and how they should be fixed for the benefit of the writer.
The first thing to do is to stop being a martyr. Writers don’t care that you are pressed for time and can’t give them the decency of a personal response. They get it. They’ve had enough falsely sentimental rejection letters to know that. In fact, you’re just wasting the ink in your printer when you add those few lines of explanation in your form letters. Most writers zero in on that nefarious word, “Unfortunately,” and stop reading any farther. They know what the rest of the letter says. You might as well write a big bold NO on their query and be done with it. Telling a writer that you are overburdened with queries is a slap in the face to him. He’s just spent months and months working on a story to share with the world and you’ve just told him you don’t have the time to do anything but whisk a form letter off a stack of others and put it in his envelope. Yeah, he doesn’t care. And you aren’t making him feel any better.
Secondly, adding pat responses that don’t universally apply in your form letters is just cruel. As part of The Wolf Pirate Project, we sponsor excellent writers to the literary community. In that, we submit queries to publishers and literary agents to find our sponsored writers a home in a publishing house or with an agent. We create an entire query package customized for each writer and his work. This requires that we know the writer’s work backward and forward, analyze it, point out its strengths, and extol the merits of the writer. We also do an analysis of our interaction with the writer so the commercial editors can understand what they’re getting into should they begin a relationship with the writer. In other words, we invest a lot of time and energy with these writers. When we get a form rejection letter back from a publisher or agent, it is a slap in our faces, as well. We feel exactly what the writer feels. We also know when the patent excuses in the form letter are bogus.
Let’s take, for example, my favorite: “… the manuscript needs editorial work.” This is one that really gets my goat. All of the works we put out go through multiple edits, and I am the one to do the final edit. I not only teach editorial lessons to writers, but I constantly review and reinforce my understanding of editing by referring back to the Chicago Manual of Style. My hard cover copy of the Manual is highlighted and annotated from cover to cover. I keep it handy for any discrepancy I need to clarify. I do not rely on my schooling of the English language from years back. I study my craft! So, when I receive a response that one of the works we support needs editorial work, I want to know what that is. Educate me where I have failed. For heaven’s sake, I’d love to correct whatever misconception I might be passing along to students of our classes. This pat response—“the manuscript needs editorial work”—was recently given in the form of an answer when an editor had reviewed a manuscript after requesting to see the full book. I requested in a purely informative manner what kind of editorial work was necessary and if the editor could tell me what was wrong with the work so I could adjust our editorial protocols to fix future works. I got no response back from the editor. Amazing how an editor in the industry wouldn’t take ten minutes to pass along pertinent information to a purveyor of education to aspiring writers. I was led to believe that the rejection from this editor was just a patent response to avoid a lengthy explanation. Or maybe this editor doesn’t care about the future of the next generation of writers.
So, what to do about your patent responses in form rejection letters? Leave them out. Adding in the ambiguous phrase, “needs editorial work,” doesn’t help any writer. That’s like calling the police and telling them there’s a bomb in a building. It doesn’t help. It just causes panic and a lot of work that isn’t necessary. In the case of telling a writer that his manuscript needs editorial work, the writer takes it personal, starts doubting himself, goes over his work again and again to figure out for himself what’s wrong with his writing; when, in actuality, there might not be anything wrong with it at all. God forbid this distraught writer shells out big bucks to a book doctor to fix something that isn’t broken. If you want to help, leave that patent phrase out of your rejection altogether. If you don’t have the time or inclination to critique the writer’s work—which we all understand, because you are so busy—then don’t mislead the writer into thinking something that doesn’t apply to him.
The next tip in how to improve your rejection letters is not to lie to the writer. Stop ending your form letters with false sentiments that you wish him luck in finding a publisher or agent elsewhere. We know you don’t wish any such thing. You barely looked at his query, maybe didn’t even read his sample chapters. If you hope to see that his work gets published, you would have accepted the work yourself. Once again, this is just a waste of ink on paper. The writer doesn’t even read that far down on the page. Most likely, he’s opened the thin, single-page response, pulled out an obviously photocopied form that doesn’t even bear his name or the name of his work, and has no signature on the bottom, and knows it’s a rejection. All he looks for is, “Unfortunately.”
Now that I have lambasted you to no end, what is it I propose for you to do? A less heartless way to reject a writer would be to simply write, “Not for me,” on the author’s query letter. Write it yourself and sign it. I’ve gotten these before and I feel strangely more amenable to those. I see a human being putting an effort into communicating with me. When you send me back the query letter I sent you, I envision that you held it in your hands and maybe read it. Then you picked up a pen and scribbled a quick note informing me of your response. You might not think it’s much of a difference than shoving a form letter in an envelope, but it is. It’s the impression that seeing your handwriting on the query letter that makes it more personable. But more than that is the simple three-letter response, “Not for me.” You are telling the writer that the work doesn’t suit you. At The Wolf Pirate Project, we try to tell writers that the chance of getting accepted for publication or representation is subjective to each editor. Every editor is unique and has personal preferences in what they look for in a book. What one editor likes, another may not. Telling a writer that their work is not for you gives the writer hope that it might be for someone else. You are not dashing the writer’s hope completely.
Having been a publisher myself, I understand the myriad reasons why a work might be rejected. Those reasons are too diverse to write into a rejection letter, but I would like to share those with writers here. First and foremost, it may be that the work doesn’t fit the type of writing you publish or represent. This is a completely acceptable response for writers where it doesn’t crush them or their passion for writing. Perhaps, the work is too similar to another project scheduled to be published and you don’t want to get in a rut of repeating themes. It happens. It’s not your fault or the writer’s fault. The next reason might be that your catalogue has been filled for the upcoming seasons or that an agent isn’t taking on any more clients. Again, another acceptable response. This doesn’t attack the writer’s work or ability to write. Another reason might be the length of the work; it’s too long or too short. Again, understandable. Or perhaps you don’t feel there’s enough commercial appeal for the manuscript. This is your opinion, as we all know that marketing is behind commercial appeal. Marketing can make a blockbuster out of crap. And a writer should understand that. It is not the worth of his writing, but that your publishing house doesn’t have the funds to push his work in a big commercial promotion. That’s understandable. Then there’s the possibility that your publishing house or agency might have its own policies or theories about the length of a book. It’s not a slight against the writer’s work. Perhaps there’s even office politics at play. You might like the project but know it’ll get stonewalled by a senior editor. These are not a reflection on the writer’s work, but on fate. Do you see how many other excuses you can offer in a rejection letter that won’t hurt the writer or his dreams of becoming an acknowledged author. Well, at least the way they view their work after they’ve read your reasons for rejecting them.
If you’ve read this article all the way to here, I applaud you. Maybe you don’t realize the power you have over a writer’s self-esteem; or, God forbid, you do and you get off on crushing them. But your rejection of their work is an awful thing. It grates on them, ruins their day, or even finally convinces a writer to give up his dream of ever being published. Your rejection might stop a fantastic writer from ever trying to get his work out to the public. Is that the legacy you want to leave—crushing artistic talent? Is that why you became an editor? An editor is meant to correct what has been written. In essence, you are meant to be an educator. Have you lost sight of that? Take a good look at yourself and decide if you are a supporter of literary art or a commercial drone for marketing a public commodity.
By Catherine Rudy, Jan 20 2013 7:50AM
I often lament over the distinction of categories for fiction, constantly quavering over what some of them mean. Literary, contemporary, commercial, mainstream: Is there any working man’s definition for these to navigate safely around? We can all figure out what falls within categories like romances, fantasy, science fiction, and the like; but it gets pretty murky when publishers and agents list literary, contemporary, commercial, and mainstream as their catch-all preference for fiction. I’m left wondering whether to include these people in the list of possible publishers and agents to submit a work to. Is it just an editor’s highbrow manner of deflecting writers of category fiction from submitting their work? Or is it a snub at writers of category fiction.
What is category fiction, you might ask. It is a broad term meaning fiction that can be sequestered into an identifiable category like science fiction, mystery, thrillers, and such. It generally excludes ambiguous fiction like literary, contemporary, and mainstream works. I have often discovered that some elitist editors use this term in a derogatory manner, as if there is something lacking in works that fall within category fiction. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth because the writer’s work has already been judged just by placing it in an identifiable category. These editors feel it is beneath them to give this type of fiction a read because it hasn’t been labeled “literary.” Shame on them. How could they possibly know that the style of writing in category fiction isn’t beautiful and important to the writer if they don’t even read it.
Let’s explore what the industry considers to be literary fiction. Works that can be classified as literary are those where the writer values the quality of style and writing above the story itself. In literary fiction, the writer applies imaginative techniques to his writing style over and above developing the appeal of the story. Literary fiction claims to have an elevated sense of artistry. To me, I find this to be a failure on the writer’s part. I would think a quality piece of fiction is one that meshes artistry with a great story. Why should readers settle for half of the whole thing? Why can’t a mystery have been written with the same “literary” flare found in a flagging “literary” novel? I’ll tell you why. Because publishers and agents demand that you categorize your novel before you submit it to the proper editor. You’re stuck saying your mystery is a mystery. Or your science fiction work is science fiction. Or your romance is a romance. Your category fiction may have a strong theme, well-developed characters, a good pace, and an exciting plot. And, in addition to that, your work may be exceptionally well written, with great care given to infusing vivid imagery, fascinating relationships, and beautiful narrative into a fascinating story. Yet you get snubbed by editors because you have been forced to classify your work as category fiction. I find this to be a travesty not only to writers, but to the industry as a whole. These exceptional works of literary art will never get a chance to shine in public because elitist editors refuse to recognize them for what they are.
However, category fiction editors will often acknowledge the merit of the types of works they prefer to review (mysteries, romances, thrillers, etc). These editors should be applauded for accepting category fiction in their repertoire of materials to consider. One of my most favorite writers comes from the fantasy category. Kate Griffin’s Midnight Mayor fantasy series is an amazingly entertaining volume of books written so beautifully and artistically that they should be listed as literary fantasies. These books were published by Orbit, a premiere publisher of science fiction and fantasy works, both of which are category fiction. In addition to that, these books are found in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of Barnes and Noble, a section most often relegated to the back of the store, behind the fiction and literature shelves in the front, where most fiction readers browse for new releases. A shame that Ms. Griffin doesn’t get the meritorious declaration of artistic work by being placed in the literary section, where her work might attract more interest by the casual browser.
In The Wolf Pirate Project’s Writer’s Class, we strive to give writers an understanding of what publishers and agents are looking for in writing. In both the Beginning and Advanced classes, there is a lesson about “purple prose.” The majority of editors frown upon the use of purple prose, yet I contend that this is exactly what literary-favoring editors are asking for in literary fiction. Taken directly from the lesson in the Beginning Writer’s Class, purple prose is “a literary term used to indicate flowery, elaborate narrative that overextends itself in terms of portraying the story. This type of writing focuses on the writer or the writer’s ability, not the story itself. It is self-glorifying on behalf of the writer. Moreover, it suffocates the purpose of literature. For all intents and purposes, literature is intended to be a gift to readers, not a platform for the writer to extoll himself of his skill with words. In this respect, purple prose is a blight on creative writing.”
If it sounds like I am against literary fiction, you would be half-wrong. I am in favor of beautiful writing in all types of literature. I am wholly against the rigid categorization of writing that excludes artistic works of category fiction simply because they have a definable plot. I applaud any writer who can spin artistry and style into telling a fascinating story for the purpose of entertaining readers with the enjoyment of that story, not because he’s created a swill of words that sound melodic but lead nowhere. Why can’t the “literary” writer bump up his skill level to create a stunning story with his beautiful prose? Why is it the category writer who is the one who’s deemed subpar? I believe it is because of the pretentiousness of the art world.
Literature is art, no doubt about it. And just like in every medium of art, there are elitists who try to elevate themselves by giving credence where credence doesn’t necessarily exist. They perceive more into a piece of work than there is. They use ostentatious words (like ostentatious) to extol the superiority of a writer. They state with definitiveness how other readers should view the writer’s work. They even interpret the work for other readers who might enjoy the work and come up with their own interpretation for what it means. In other words, they take the fun out of reading. Come on, guys, stop complicating things and just let the rest of us enjoy the story. You’re making it seem like literature is beyond the common man.
But let’s get back on track. The point of this rant is to encourage writers of category fiction to evaluate their work for quality in writing and style. Don’t sacrifice that for the sake of the story. I know I have already lambasted literary fiction writers for elevating the quality of their writing in lieu of crafting a good story with that writing, but I don’t want to give the impression to category fiction writers that they should settle for bland narrative just because they have a fascinating story to tell. The Wolf Pirate Project exists to help writers do that. Do yourself justice. Show the world that your great story is conveyed through stellar writing. Insist that in your queries to all publishers and agents. Extol your writing as well as the plot. Attest that you may have to categorize your story in a rigid classification such as a romance, fantasy, or mystery, but it is first and foremost written in an artistic manner. Reinforce that with samples of your writing. Don’t let elitist editors thumb their noses up at you because your story fits into a category.
Secondly, I want to chide literary writers for losing sight of what storytelling is all about. Yes, I applaud you for your ability to write beautifully. That is a skill not many writers have. But unless you are giving just as much attention and effort into creating a fascinating story, you are doing only half your job. Literature is not about you, the writer. It is about entertaining the public, giving them enjoyment for investing time and money into reading your story. When I pick up a book, I look first and foremost at the blurb on the back for what the story is about. I’m not swayed into putting down hard-earned money on a book in which the blurb on the back babbles ambiguously about a story that goes absolutely nowhere but is beautifully written. I might as well read poetry, if that’s the case. If the back blurb tells me the gist of an exciting story, I’m going to buy the book. If I then read it and discover the narrative is written beautifully, I consider it an extra bonus and the story will stick forever in my mind. I will remember it fondly and refer it to others. So, you can see how an artistically written category fiction book will have more return value for the reader than one of either half the accomplishment.
Lastly, I would like to scold the literary editors in the position to make or break writers for how they judge works of fiction. Shame on you for prejudging a book without its cover. Shame on you for forcing writers to make a choice of how they classify their book. Shame on you for giving writers of category fiction the impression that their work isn’t up to par because they don’t list it in the ambiguous category of literary fiction. Shame on you for falling into the rut of categorizing anything. You are right in demanding quality work from writers, but you’ve forgotten what literature is all about. It is not about the writer hyping himself up on how well he can put words together. It’s about entertaining the readers, giving them the enjoyment of immersing themselves into a story that holds them entranced for the duration of the book.
People, remember what the point of writing is all about. It is to please the readers of the world. No matter how large your audience is, writing has to satisfy the demands of those people who will pick up your work. That means giving them a world they can escape into for a short time, living vicariously through your writing. Should writing fail to do that, you will see the number of readers begin to dwindle, and you’ll only have yourselves to blame.
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