Writers spend a lot of time and energy fretting about and suffering over rejection. That’s understandable. As an agent, I get rejection letters every day for my clients’ submissions. It feels a little like going to the dentist. We have a lot of posts on “Ask the Agent” analyzing this painful subject. Today I want to repost an article by a book acquisition editor, Anna Leinberger, of Berrett-Koehler Books. It’s good to see what the other side has to say about this.
On Vulnerability and the Submissions Process
Submitting your written work to a publisher or an agent is one of the most terrifying things a writer experiences and, even worse, one that any writer must constantly repeat. Vulnerability is an inextricable element of the publishing process, and it is not something that humans particularly like, and not one we do well. An author is virtually guaranteed to be rejected most of the time, especially when starting out. Adding insult to injury, the rejection does not necessarily end once you have been published. Truly, it does not end until you are E.L. James; the editors I work with regularly reject book proposals from authors we have already published if we think the new proposed book is not ready, if their last book did not sell well, or we don’t think there is a market for the new topic (etc.)
Humans are really good at protecting themselves from this traumatic experience. We build glass castles around ourselves- elaborate constructions built of justifications, defensiveness, and preemptive strikes. Query letters are full of flashy language designed to get an editor to take note; letters contain demands: “respond promptly” in an attempt to grasp some power in the relationship. Here is the thing though- none of those tactics work. Tactics don’t work. The only thing that is going to catch my eye is a great idea that is plainly stated. That is it. There is no secret, no elaborate scheme that will convince me that your idea is great if it is not great. If it is, and a host of other elements are in place (people know who you are, you have credibility, the market is not already saturated, we did not just publish two other books on the topic, I am personally interested….and on) you will have a shot at being published.
Glass Houses Are Not Actually Safe.
Humans love these glass houses because they offer us the illusion of safety. “I must have messed up the cover letter!” or “My hook was not strong enough!” or “My idea is genius, it is just that I don’t have a platform and that stinking publisher is only after money!” But it is a fallacy. When the glass house shatters, the only thing you are left with is that the idea or your platform was not ready. It is the most human thing to try every mental trick possible to protect yourself from the idea that your book was not up to snuff. But in blaming it on a typo in your cover letter, rather than facing the cold hard truth, you are losing a profound opportunity to face reality and choose to make your project better.
Be terrified. Put your work out there. Accept the news that it is not ready yet. Take every piece of feedback you can get your hands on, and be brutal with yourself. Don’t waste brain power creating elaborate judgments and justifications. As painful and scary as you might find it, face the rejection, look it in the eye, and squeeze every last piece of useful information out of it. When you have done that, move forward again. Be vulnerable again, and again, and again.
About Anna Leinberger
Anna is a writer and editor at Berrett-Koehler Publishers in Oakland, CA. You can follow her on twitter or Medium for more on writing, editing, and literary witchcraft.