In today’s featured article, Diva Shay is going to pull from her background as an acquisitions editor and delve into how a lack of professionalism can keep you from being published.
Rejection letters. Strange how two innocuous words such as these can make one shake in their proverbial boots. More often than not, a rejection letter consists of little substance beyond the indication that the publishing house or agent isn’t interested. The lack of information about what you are doing wrong can get a little disheartening.
So why is your manuscript being rejected?
Well, manuscripts are rejected for a variety of reasons, and the least of which is that the story is a grammatical nightmare. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that grammar is unimportant—plenty of manuscripts are rejected because the author forewent basic editing—but in the scope of story-destroying issues, grammar is the easiest to fix. And what’s more, issues with plot, characterization, pacing, etc. are not the only reasons why manuscripts are passed over. So if you’ve assessed your grammar, punctuation, and the substance of the story and found that it’s okay yet your story is still getting rejected, it’s time to look in another direction.
Perhaps it’s the little foxes that are spoiling your literary vine because a pile of small issues can lead to a rejection in the same way that an unfixable plot hole can.
I’ve found that most of these little rejection-causing annoyances can be attributed to one thing, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the story. So, if it’s not the story, what is it? A lack of professionalism. At best a lack of professionalism will irritate an agent or publisher, but at worst it will lead to a rejection.
Unprofessionalism comes in four general forms. I’ve outlined them below.
#1 Lack of Research
—Know the publisher.
Have you taken the time to research your potential publisher, or are you sending your manuscript to everyone with a job title and a pulse?
If I had to pick the number one reason manuscripts are rejected, it would be because the story isn’t what the publisher is looking for. You can save yourself some rejection angst by simply visiting the publisher’s website and taking a careful look at the submission guidelines. Publishers tend to be very open about what the types of stories they will consider. Do your homework; it’ll pay off in the long run.
—Don’t ignore the submission guidelines.
Do this and it’s a guaranteed rejection. Whether you send a manuscript in that’s an undesired genre, ignore the formatting guidelines or neglect to send the information the publisher has requested, the result is another refusal to paper your office with. Publishers’ guidelines are non-negotiable.
Ignorance of what the publisher desires can be willful, an indication of a bad attitude (see below), or just a general lack of research. Regardless, if you send the publisher something they don’t want or in a form that is different than requested, they will reject it. A publisher of true crime is not going to want your historical romance. And an improperly formatted manuscript is difficult to read. Acquisitions editors are extremely busy people and they will not take the necessary time to wade through specialized fonts, graphics, and nonstandard formatting.
And finally, do not make an editor email you and ask for additional information that was indicated as necessary in the submission guidelines because they may not bother. Your query letter sells you as an author and your synopsis sells your story, and they are just as crucial a part of the querying process as the polished first chapters of your manuscript. Without them, your chances of getting published are nil.
—Know your acquisitions editor.
Despite popular myth, acquisitions editors actually are human beings and not big ol’ meanies who delight in dashing the hopes and dreams of authors. They have favorite genres, pet peeves, and decided opinions about various types of plots, characterization, and narrative perspectives. If your manuscript is full of things an acquisitions editor dislikes, it will be rejected. This is why having an agent is so crucial.
Agents build relationships with publishers. It is their job to know the acquisition editor’s personality and proclivities and to understand what will tempt a specific editor or publisher. Agents use this knowledge to place their authors, and it’s a system that works very well.
But what’s an agentless author to do? No one likes receiving a scathing rejection for their parody of modern society from some humorless curmudgeon at Snobby Books R Us. And it’s not like you have a relationship with the acquisitions editor or know their likes and dislikes, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t get some insight. It may take some digging, though.
Keep in mind this insight will help you pick and choose to whom you send your manuscript. Just like sending your manuscript to a publisher who wants the type of stories you write, sending your manuscript to the right editor can save you a lot of heartache.
The first place you should look is in the publisher’s catalog. Research the imprint the editor manages. Do you see books that are similar to what you write? If so, this is a good indication that your manuscript may be well received. The second place to look is in guides to writers’ markets. These will list the name of publisher, the managing editor, and the genres they are looking for. Your third option is to write the acquisitions editor and talk to him or her about your story. Very few of us are bloodthirsty vampires with an appetite for aspiring authors who email us (instead we tend to be the benevolent, sparkly variety of bloodsucker). A little bit of conversation can go a long way. Your fourth option would be to talk to others who know the editor you are interested in querying. The insight they give you can be invaluable in helping you hone your approach.
—Resist the temptation to engage in one-size-fits-all querying.
Do you know the name of the editor or agent you are querying? Or do you just send out a generic letter?
You can make your query letter stand out by addressing your chosen editor by name. It’s not only a nice touch, but it indicates that you are willing to go the extra mile. While sending out a generic query letter won’t get you rejected, when combined with other issues, it may be indicative of an endemic laziness that could cause an acquisitions editor to give your manuscript the thumbs down.
#2 Bad First Impressions
—Don’t query a publisher or agent with unedited content.
Your query letter and synopsis are the first impressions the publisher will have of you. Don’t insult the agent or publisher you are querying by sending them something you’ve quickly thrown together. If you query an editor with a letter and synopsis that is full of grammatical errors, they will assume three things:
- You’re not professional or lazy, or both.
- Your manuscript is as badly written as your synopsis and, therefore, is not worth their time.
- You’re incapable of learning basic skills in English and if they sign you, you will be an excessive drain on the talent and resources in the editing department.
If you make a bad first impression with your query letter or synopsis, an agent or editor may not give you the chance to revise that impression with your wonderfully crafted story.
Imagine the querying process as a first date. If the publisher shows up for your date dressed well, takes you to a lovely restaurant and engages you in witty and entertaining conversation, you’d have a good impression, yes? Well, consider the other side. Just as you are judging the publisher by your interactions with the acquisitions department, they are also judging you. The last thing you want to do is show up for your “date” in anything less than your best.
#3 Lack of Professional & Social Presence
—Make yourself attractive to publishers.
An agent or editor should know from your query letter that you are a serious, career minded author. Anything less can undermine you. Show that you have improved yourself with specialized education, that you have connections in the industry, and list any books you’ve published and awards you’ve won. And if you do not have these things to recommend you, it’s imperative you comport yourself in the most professional manner possible and that you have a manuscript that shines. The last thing you want to imply is that you are a hobbyist. Publishers want authors who write bestselling books, not individuals who want to see if they are good enough to be published.
—Don’t underestimate the need for social media know-how and a willingness to market yourself.
Are you active on Twitter? Do you have a blog? Are you on Facebook? What about LinkedIn? Are you making connections with other authors and bloggers? Are you prepared to go out and speak at author events and sign books? If you aren’t, you are sending a terrible message to your potential publisher. And if you show a marked disinterest in such activities, it could cause a publisher or an agent to reject your manuscript.
#4 Undesirable Attitudes & Personality Traits
—Don’t think you are above the rules.
Agents and editors have very little patience for authors who think they deserve special treatment or authors who think they should be able to ignore the rules. Even a hint of this personality trait will ring alarm bells with your acquisitions editor, so mind yourself.
—Check the diva-like attitude.
It is important to be cooperative. Publishers will expect you to work with a variety of people, and they have little tolerance for someone who has the potential to mistreat their editors, their fellow authors, book bloggers, or their readers. Who you are and what you do reflects on your publisher, and they are not going to take a risk on someone who will possibly make them look bad.
—Publishing is a rough and heartless industry. Be prepared.
Acquisitions editors not only have a nose for a good book, but they are also keen observers of personality. It does not matter how good your book is if your potential publisher thinks you are unsuited or unprepared for the rigors of being a published author.
If you show signs of oversensitivity or instability or of being a bully, a diva or a person who crumbles under pressure, you will not make it through the acquisitions process.
If you want to be an author you must be prepared for the following:
- having your manuscript rejected and critiqued
- having others improve what you’ve written
- scathing criticism in public forums
- writing your next book when everyone around you is criticizing you and belittling your talent
If you are not prepared for these challenges, make writing your hobby not your career.
Ultimately, bad attitudes and overly sensitive personality traits will purchase you a one-way ticket to Rejectionville.
A bad attitude can land your manuscript in the slush pile faster than you can say: “Really, I’m a lovely person; even my mom thinks so.” And if you appear to be too tenderhearted or invested in people liking your story, your potential publisher will see you as unsuitable for the industry (see above).
I’ve provided a shortlist of attitudes and character traits that will guarantee your manuscript will never see the light of day: desperation, fearfulness, immaturity, disrespect, overconfidence, crankiness, rudeness, narcissism, undue pride, laziness, lackadaisical nature, or a general sense that you’re a pain in the ass.
There is more to getting published than just having a great book. Amateurish comportment and interaction are the driving force behind the rejection of otherwise “good” stories. Aspiring authors do themselves a disservice by focusing solely on selling their book because agents and publishers are looking for much, much more. While the condition of a manuscript matters, the level of professionalism that is expressed through attitudes and actions matters just as much, if not more.
Acquisitions editors are not developers of books; they are discoverers of authors. And if you have a great book but show little potential as an author, it could be the end of your hopes. So in the same way you polish your manuscript, polish your image. It could be the difference between success and failure.
Talk back to the Divas. Have you ever been rejected by a publisher? Did they give you constructive feedback? Have you made the mistake of acting with a lack of professionalism during the querying process?