Dear Readers, Editors, Writers, Friends, Anyone-out-there:
Please tell me what the following means. It is one version of a general response from several editors about MY SISTER'S WEDDING:
"Your book is great! Well, done! Strong voice. But, not quite right for our list."
I have heard this response, written and verbal, from many-a-editor over the years of submitting both on my own and through my beloved agent. I have two questions: 1. What the hell is the "list"? (I know what it is literally but I want to know what it REALLY is.) 2. If the books is great and strong and the voice rocks, why oh why aren't publishers giving me a book deal, like NOW?
If any of you have an answer that I feel really satisfied with, I will send you a free copy of one of my books. Okay? Answers cannot include: "Well, it means exactly what it says. You have good book just not good for there list." Or, any version of that response.
Also, tell me about your rejection stories. Not the long version of them, the short, please!
Are these YA editors so blind and/or stupid that they'd let Maddie slip through their fingers? Do they not see the potential? They make favorable comments about the book, the writing, and yet they reject it. It makes no sense. I think "the List" is a euphemism for "My hands are clean, it's the list who's at fault." It's a little like when the President said, "Mistakes were made." They can't or won't admit their own stupidity. Of course not, they just can't see it because they're so @#&*% blind.
Regarding rejection letters, I don't know how to email
to your blog (if that's what I'm supposed to do). But
I've gotten TONS of rejection letters. I used to get
discouraged and take it as a sign as my manuscript was
no good. Despite the fact that I was an editor with my
own likes and dislikes, I began to think all editors
would have the same opinion of my manuscripts. But
then I somehow started selling manuscripts that had
been rejected by TONS of other editors. I have a book
coming out this fall (City Witch, Country Switch) that
I started sending out in 2002. I stopped sending it
out for about a year and then started again--and
suddenly two editors were interested. Both wanted me
to make changes--so I started changing it in two
ways...then one editor dropped out...and I sold my
book. Another book, I started sending out around 1999
and it ended up getting bought in 2002 and not
published until 2005!
I know you know this but it's true: you have to be
patient. You also have to be willing to make the
changes requested by the editor (up to a point, of
course). And you should also be sending as much stuff
out as possible. That's what I do...so I almost forget
about what I've sent out because I'm so busy producing
more and more and more. I know you write longer
manuscripts than I do, so this might not be as
feasible, but I think that focusing hard on one
project can be discouraging.
I loved reading "My Sister's Wedding". As I read it,
though, I was aware that it was somewhat different in
format and sophistication than many typical YA books.
It didn't matter to me--and I know it wouldn't matter
to many readers, but to an editor who has certain
slots to fill and certain sales reps to please, he/she
might not be able to take it. But then again, someone
may come along who loves it as it is and is able to
publish it that way, or who know just the tweaks or
changes it needs to fit onto their list.
I haven't talked to you in a while so I'm not sure if
this is the main book you're trying to sell, and why
you haven't sold it yet. But if it is a format or age
thing, what if you did something like putting your
manuscript aside for a while and starting new--using
the same character in different setups. Maybe a book
of letters between the main character and a friend;
maybe mimicking the format (word count, level) of an
existing series of books but using your story;
maybe...I don't know what.
If an editor sends a rejection that says it doesn't
fit on her list, ask her to send you a catalogue and
see what's on her list. Then go look closely at those
books at the book store and see if you could put your
book into that format. I'm not saying this to say you
should be a conformist, but the fact is that many
editors just won't take anything that isn't "right for
their list"--which has to do with word count, level,
subject matter, etc. I know alcoholism is a popular YA
subject--so if the only thing you have to change is
the format, why not?
Sorry this is so long and wordy...I'm just thinking
out loud. But I know you are a great writer and you
have every reason to believe your book(s) should be
published. But it may take some changing on your side
if it means enough to you.
Hmmm. I think "not quite right for our list" is a polite way to say no.
(Although if they gave you positive feedback they probably do mean that)
Could be for a million reasons. They truly did like it -- but didn't love it
enough to commit to working on it for 2+ years. They liked it but already
have committed to too many similar chick lit type projects and want to
balance it with other stuff. They liked it but marketing/their boss/whoever
didn't. They liked it but didn't think it had enough of an original "hook."
They liked it but they are bothered that it's been self published and don't
want to say so.
Can you get your agent to pry off the record which it is?
The first time around, I got same type of rejections -- love the voice, but
don't want to joke about religion, etc. I know its especially frustrating --
if you like it, why don't you want it???
Here are my thoughts on the publisher's reply - "Your book is great! Well,
done! Strong voice. But, not quite right for our list." Though I haven't
been at this as long as you nor do I have as much experience, I have seen
these also. Some that only say - 'thanks for allowing us to read your
manuscript, but your story does not fit into our list'. I only feel good
about their politeness.
Coming from the creative writer viewpoint - What does that comment mean?
It leads me nowhere. I followed the same thought process you did - the
obvious - if it is 'great' and has a strong voice - tell me why you don't
want to publish it. And of course, they don't give you any more help on
understanding that part.
So, I thought about this in other terms - business terms. I think that
is where the last comment comes in ' not quite right for our list' and the
crux of the matter. Let's think about a publisher like a financial investor
who has a specific amount of money to invest and needs to return a specific
amount of profit on that investment. Let's say that financial investor is
conservative since I believe publishing houses are mostly conservative. (I
could be wrong, but this is my opinion.) When you invest your money
conservatively, you invest most of your money in less risky areas like money
market bonds that are steady and most often will have a small but positive
return for you. A small percentage of your money is invested in riskier,
higher yielding stocks. Investing in this area means you are taking a high
risk that you may or may not make money on these. You don't know for sure.
In publishing terms, the known authors are the less risky investment - more
apt to sell books and make a profit and so they make up the largest portion
of the publisher's 'list'. The unknown or new authors are high risk and the
publisher will only take a chance once in a while on one or two of these
authors. For a clear picture, I could attach numbers, like 80 -85 percent
of the whole publishers' list is made up of known authors and 15-20 percent
of the list are new authors they are willing to give a try or take a chance
on. And these numbers could even be 90 percent known authors and 10 percent
You can see how the publishers' list is 'closed' or set in stone and
hard to change or get on for the new authors. The publisher is only taking
a chance on a few new authors! Then add to this picture, the number of
manuscripts they receive from new authors! Some how we are trying to get a
publisher to read our manuscript amongst the many and believe there is a
chance our story will sell. They also will need to invest some more of their
money on marketing the new authors' books they choose to publish, hoping for
a return on their investment.
I don't necessarily like putting my creative story in business terms but
I think for publishers they have to make money and it comes down to that.
I re-read this and I am sorry to say, it isn't very encouraging for us. Except,I will say that the more manuscripts we send out, our chances continue to increase as we take the risk and opportunity for the right person to read our story. We can't give up. It just isn't in us to quit!
Yes, it's frustrating, and I totally agree with the above analyses of the situation. However, if you read Miss Snark's blog, it means just what it says, the MS doesn't fit whatever it is they are putting together for their future lists.
I think your novels are quieter and more grounded in reality than much of what I see being sold and published right now. There's an amazing amount of urban fantasy, slipstream, vampire, werewolf, mean girls with supernatural powers stuff being published and sold.
I know you're already working on the further adventures of Maddie, so keep on keeping on, and keep on revising the first two. Every go round should be submitting an ever tighter, more focused MS.
What does your agent say? Is this the publisher you were hanging a lot of your hopes on? If so, this really sux!
Keep your head up. It's enough to send you into a week in bed, I KNOW.
Oh, and yeah, I've had a gazillion of these kinds of rejections.
At least you've snagged an agent.
As a "test", have you thought about writing something completely lame read: "main stream") and see if you can get that through? Obviously it's not like you can whip something out in an hour, but just as a social experiment, it might be interesting. Would it be interesting (professionally) to see what your version of "main stream" is? Along a similar vein, what if Hannah Goodman was to write something in a genre that you have no interest in? Like a Tom Clancy spy novel? Or William Gibson scifi? Not to say that you can't write in those genres; just that I don't imagine you were terribly interested to do so. What does the Hannah Goodman version of a vampire
novel look like?
What about taking one of the Maddie stories and just add in something
completely out of style, something Harry Potter-esqe. Just f' around for shits-and-grins. That would be punk-rock!
What about a story a someone trying to publish and she freaks out and
destroys all the major publishing houses? "Fight Club" meets... ummmm... a girl... [I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about.]
[As I was writing the last line I thought "'Fight Club' meets 'Joy Luck Club'". I started crying it struck me as so funny. Write that story!]
In case no one else said it, you should continue to do what you want in terms of writing and create content that you think is right for you. Don't go selling your professional soul just yet. You have good product; don't compromise that [even if that was what I was suggesting above].
Just my $.02.
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