Chris Roerden (Guest Blogger)
I'm puzzled by the way some writers misinterpret a less-than-enthusiastic acceptance of their submissions. Okay, I'll call it what it is — rejection — but it's not the I'd-rather-swallow-a-snake form of rejection.
Some years ago I met a writer who worked for a successful producer of online games. Lynn's first attempt at a novel and her first rejection letter brought her to me. "They hated my work," she wailed. "This—this agent simply hated it." I read the letter. It began, "I like your writing style—"
"She lies," Lynn said. "If she liked my writing, she wouldn't have rejected it." Blind Spot #1: equating a compliment or encouragement with a willingness to make a financial investment in every book that's likable.
The letter continued. "Though this novel isn't for us, I hope you'll let me see your next one." Despite my translating what "isn't for us" means in publishing, Lynn was unconvinced. Even my pointing out the rare invitation to send the agent her next manuscript didn't overcome Blind Spot #2: a crippling determination to feel rejected, no matter what.
To the writers reading this, let me know what you make of all this. Maybe Lynn's reaction was related to something editor Anne Mini reported: More than half of agent invitations to revise and resubmit are not acted on. Yet these invitations are for manuscripts already inside the door, if the writer chooses to step through it. So I'm not sure of the reason for Blind Spot #3: not following up on a request to revise and resubmit. Does the revision suggested by the agent seem too difficult, too much work? Is that why my silent auction donations to edit the first 10 pages of a mystery, good for a year, remain unredeemed by three-quarters of those who've paid a dozen conferences for their winning bids?
What I do understand is the reaction of an author to being edited. I'm not talking about those heavy-handed copy editors who change dialogue for characters they don't relate to, or perversely swap the punctuation of every "it's" with "its" — and vice versa — as happened with a manuscript I'd edited between the time I sent it to the publisher and got it back for proofreading.
No, I'm talking about a thorough developmental and line edit. One's baby, red slashed across its face, would overwhelm anyone. (Which is why I use pencil.) Then comes anger: that stupid, evil editor! "Murderer!" Eventually, professionalism prevails and the author recognizes the validity of perhaps 75 to 98 percent of editorial suggestions.
I doubt that this understandable reaction is related to Blind Spot #4: a conviction held by some that their work is perfect as is. Here's but one of many stories I can tell you. (I've quite a few.) A New Jersey radiation oncologist who planned to self-publish had the perfect reason: she could market her nonfiction book directly to cancer patients.
She had her manuscript expensively typeset and composed, with dozens of medical photos, and took the finished page proofs to a top-level publicity outfit. They read the work, said they would not accept it unless the doctor had it professionally edited, and referred her to me. I was still editing full-time then and willing to postpone a mystery manuscript to take on a technical edit.
I requested a sample and received the autobiographical chapter. Impressive credentials, well-written. So I asked for my deadline, half the fee, and the pre-typeset, pre-composed manuscript files. The writing was dreadful. I edited and rewrote 1,500 sentences, inputting all of it to the e-file. For hundreds of ambiguously described medical procedures, too muddled to guess at, I queried. And I met my deadline.
Her complaint? Too much editing. "It took me 12 solid days to get through the edited manuscript and make the changes you suggested. You made me miss my deadline." Surely the doctor found merit in my queries since she chose to address them instead of meeting her deadline (self-imposed).
What's too much editing for a book intended to make cancer patients better informed, less fearful? I could reveal this New Jersey radiation oncologist's name, since my legal judgment against her for nonpayment of the balance is a matter of public record. But I don't need to. My point is the blind spot. Only some writers have it, along with some inventors, musicians, and artists. Not editors, though. You think?
Chris Roerden is the author of DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION, the all-genre version of DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY, winner of the Agatha Award and nominee for the Anthony and Macavity awards. Authors she's edited in her long career are published by St. Martin's, Berkley Prime Crime, Midnight Ink, Viking, Rodale, and many others. Visit bellarosabooks.com for more information.