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Feeling beaten
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exhaustedwriter · 09/01/2022 22:31

I've just had my novel rejected by a small publisher and just feel so exhausted by the whole process. I'm in a mess. I'm working on a collection of short stories as well as a trilogy of novellas. Haven't even bothered looking for a literary agent. Well I've tried one or two but haven't got any responses. Several publishers have asked for the full manuscript but have rejected. I think I may have to go back to the novel and rewrite it to make it clearer but my biggest bugbear is isn't that what you do with the editor once you've been accepted?

What I mean is you sign up, they give you notes on what can be improved and you potter off and make changes. I don't understand why my manuscript is being rejected if it only needs some clarification. That's the feedback I've had anyway.

Anyone else exhausted with it all? This is the first time and I've been writing for a long time, that I've seriously considered giving up. Anyone else?

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kungfupannda · 10/01/2022 09:50

Your novel should be the best it can possibly be before submission. An editor wouldn’t generally accept something that needed a full rewrite, unless the concept was mind-blowingly original and exciting. If you have a niggling feeling that something isn’t clear and it needs to be rewritten, then chances are that you are right - we tend to go slightly blind to any issues in our own work when we’ve been plugging away at it for a long time, so when you do see that something isn’t working, its highly likely that your instinct is correct.

The edits for my first novel were relatively brief - a couple of name changes, some sentence-level suggestions, a tweak to a character’s back story, that sort of thing.

I’ve got something out on submission at the moment which I have that niggling feeling about. My agent is happy with it, but I think I’m going to ask her to pull it so I can rewrite. You generally only get one shot at submitting to a particular editor, so submitting in the hope of them being willing to work with you to get the manuscript to a publishable standard is a very risky strategy. I do know a writer who hooked an editor’s interest with a high-concept but fairly unpolished novel, but all that happened was multiple rewrite requests, and the editor ultimately losing interest because something else had come along in the interim. This was all at the pre-contract stage, so a demoralising waste of time for the writer.

Are the rejections personalised with specific feedback? If so, any common themes? Or are they the standard ‘not quite right for our list’ type response? Have you considered paying for an editor to look over the manuscript?

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exhaustedwriter · 10/01/2022 15:51

@kungfupannda

Your novel should be the best it can possibly be before submission. An editor wouldn’t generally accept something that needed a full rewrite, unless the concept was mind-blowingly original and exciting. If you have a niggling feeling that something isn’t clear and it needs to be rewritten, then chances are that you are right - we tend to go slightly blind to any issues in our own work when we’ve been plugging away at it for a long time, so when you do see that something isn’t working, its highly likely that your instinct is correct.

The edits for my first novel were relatively brief - a couple of name changes, some sentence-level suggestions, a tweak to a character’s back story, that sort of thing.

I’ve got something out on submission at the moment which I have that niggling feeling about. My agent is happy with it, but I think I’m going to ask her to pull it so I can rewrite. You generally only get one shot at submitting to a particular editor, so submitting in the hope of them being willing to work with you to get the manuscript to a publishable standard is a very risky strategy. I do know a writer who hooked an editor’s interest with a high-concept but fairly unpolished novel, but all that happened was multiple rewrite requests, and the editor ultimately losing interest because something else had come along in the interim. This was all at the pre-contract stage, so a demoralising waste of time for the writer.

Are the rejections personalised with specific feedback? If so, any common themes? Or are they the standard ‘not quite right for our list’ type response? Have you considered paying for an editor to look over the manuscript?

Thanks for your response, I really appreciate it.

Feedback tends to be this isn't for us but writing is subjective. I had feedback from one publisher saying it's confusing. I don't know where it's confusing or in what way. That would be really helpful to know but feedback has never been particularly specific. If it's confusing I can work on making it less so, which is why I'm talking about an editor giving me the chance to rectify. It doesn't mean a major overhaul in order to add some clarification somewhere.

Asking an editor to look it over is a really good idea. I suppose i expect the publisher to have their own editor who can give me clarification. My novel is not meant to be easy to interpret as it's told via reports and journal; it's an epistolary.
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MargaretThursday · 10/01/2022 16:54

You may find something like Scribophile helpful.

You post chapter by chapter, some people will keep coming back to critique each chapter, sometimes you get someone does a few, and sometimes people do one.
If you find one person says "I was confused by the second paragraph", but the others loved it, you can then say it may be fine. If everyone's confused, then you need to do something about it.

Alternatively look for a book editor. Warning though: They do cost ££££-a good one does anyway.

The publisher would only give it to their editor if they'd decided to publish it, I think. Otherwise what's in for them?

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exhaustedwriter · 10/01/2022 17:41

@MargaretThursday

You may find something like Scribophile helpful.

You post chapter by chapter, some people will keep coming back to critique each chapter, sometimes you get someone does a few, and sometimes people do one.
If you find one person says "I was confused by the second paragraph", but the others loved it, you can then say it may be fine. If everyone's confused, then you need to do something about it.

Alternatively look for a book editor. Warning though: They do cost ££££-a good one does anyway.

The publisher would only give it to their editor if they'd decided to publish it, I think. Otherwise what's in for them?

I'm obviously being confusing with what I'm writing, In answer to this question: The publisher would only give it to their editor if they'd decided to publish it, I think. Otherwise what's in for them?

What I meant to say was, if they like the book, want to publish but think it's confusing, then that's surely the point of having an inhouse publisher. They obviously don't like the book enough to publish. I have had several full requests and one publisher wanted to publish but hasn't. The one who wanted to publish didn't say anything about it being confusing, she just said that she loved it.
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kungfupannda · 10/01/2022 17:44

Okay, so the 'this isn't for us but writing is subjective' type response tends to be a form reply. Anything personalised at all is a more positive type of rejection - if a rejection can be positive - because it means they've actually taken the time to type a response, rather than just hitting whatever shortcut key inserts their form rejection text.

If you've had mainly form replies would unfortunately suggest there's something fairly major that's not working with the novel - voice, plot, setting, character, writing style - or that it's not up to scratch yet. How many edits have you done yourself since finishing the first draft? As an absolute minimum, I do a structural edit, a line edit and a copy edit/proofread. The structural edit is the big one, where I make major changes, tidy up the plot, take out chapters, put new ones in etc. The line edit is the beautifying process, when I make sure my text flows. The copy edit and proof read is essentially checking for errors - typos grammar, wrong names, timeline not making sense etc. For a recently completed - and complicated - project there were probably around 6 full edits.

I think you might need to adjust your mindset/expectations of editors. Even small publishing houses are overwhelmed with submissions. They will accept only a tiny fraction of those. They're not realistically going to give someone a chance to rectify problems, firstly because they don't need to, and secondly because they simply won't have time to commit to something they're not sure they're ultimately going to buy.

As a general rule, writers are usually going to get one of three responses:

  1. Yes, I love it, I want it, here's a contract, my edits will be with you in 3 months.
  2. This isn't for me but writing...subjective...etc etc
  3. This is an interesting idea and I love [insert what they like] but [insert what they didn't like] didn't really work for me. I'd be interested in seeing your next project.

    If you're submitting via an agent, you're more likely to get specific feedback, as there are agent-editor relationships to be maintained. If you're submitting directly to an editor's slushpile, that kind of tailored response is far harder to get, as there's no existing relationship.

    It is much rarer for an editor to provide specific feedback and ask to see a reworked version. It does sometimes happen, and if it does, you can be pretty sure you're on the right track and getting close to where you want to be.

    You mention thinking that the publisher would have their own editor who could give clarification on any issues. It doesn't really work like that. The people you're submitting to are the editors. You're offering to sell them something. You might feel less down about the process if you recognise it for the business transaction that it is. You're not being knocked back by someone whose job it is to scout for talent and give people opportunities - you're just not quite managing to sell your particular product to extremely critical and fussy buyers in a very saturated market.

    If you're looking for someone who will work with you to get your book submission-ready, then you might want to think about submitting to more agents. While you should still have the book as good as it can possibly be before submitting, agents are generally looking for writers whose career they can invest in, not just for a specific finished product that will make them money in the short term. I know several writers who have had the kind of back-and-forth I think you're looking for, but with agents, not editors. Agents are more likely to give specific feedback - although the majority of rejections are still form rejections unfortunately - and may ask to see a reworked version. They are sometimes in the business of giving writers a chance to go away and fix things, where editors rarely are.

    If you've never had any sort of detailed feedback on your project, it would certainly be worth thinking about using a literary consultancy or a freelance editor. In terms of consultancies, Cornerstones are great, as are Jericho Writers. They provide editorial reports and also scout potential talent for agents.

    Your comment about the project not being easy to interpret does ring a few alarm bells, I have to say. It's fine to leave some things open to interpretation, and to make a reader work hard, but you do have to have a clear narrative thread. If it's actively confusing, readers (and editors and agents) will just close the book and move on. Given this has been raised, I would be inclined to give it some very serious thought.

    Out of interest, how did the requests for full manuscripts come about? Was it the usual submission process of first three chapters and a synopsis? Or was it a query letter of some sort? If it was the former, then that's really positive in terms of writing quality and opening hook. It's a big hurdle to get over. Full requests not translating into acceptances suggest something structural or thematic being an issue, rather than basic writing style or voice. If you got a full request off the back of a letter or summary, with no actual example of writing included, then that suggests you have an interesting idea/concept, but it's harder to speculate on what the problem might be.

    Don't give up. You say you've been doing this for a long time. That might be the case for the actual writing, but it sounds like you're actually at a very early stage in the submission process, and it may well be that you've just skipped over some crucial steps. Also, if this is your first full novel, then it is entirely possible that it will ultimately turn out to be the project that teaches you how to write and finish a novel, and how to approach the submission process, rather than the project that gets you an agent or gets published. The vast majority of published writers have unpublished manuscripts floating about. I have two. The first one had my soul poured into it and its rejection after a series of near-misses nearly broke my heart. I reread it recently and I can see exactly what made it unpublishable. I learned a lot from it, and it got me an agent, but it's a very flawed project. I still love it though, and I may do a print-on-demand copy of it one day, and put it on my shelf and stroke it lovingly from time to time.

    The really positive thing about your position is that you've completed the novel and got to the point of submitting it. 99% of aspiring writers won't ever get to that stage. Most people start, realise how hard it is, and give up. Or fiddle around half-heartedly for years, without ever finishing the book, or ditching it and moving on. If you actually complete a novel, you're already in a tiny minority. Definitely keep going!
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kungfupannda · 10/01/2022 17:45

Wow, that was long!

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kungfupannda · 10/01/2022 17:56

Whoops - started typing before the school run, and missed the replies before hitting post.

@MargaretThursday already said much of what I was trying to say, and much more concisely!

If you have someone who wants to publish, that is brilliant. How was it left with that editor? And what sort of press is it? You do need to be very clear on the type of publishing house you're dealing with. What do they offer the writer? Do they do the whole package, edit the book, design the cover, market it, pay an advance or royalties? Or do they ask for a contribution from the writer and expect you to market etc? If it's the former, then great. If it's the latter, then do be very, very careful. The rule of thumb is that money should only ever flow one way - to the writer.

Just picking up on something in your most recent post - if they like the book, want to publish but think it's confusing, then that's surely the point of having an inhouse publisher. They obviously don't like the book enough to publish. Yes, they do of course edit in house if they like the book and want to publish, and yes, a rejection means that they ultimately don't like it enough to publish, but there's also a lot of space between those two extremes. They may like the writing, but think the plot is confusing, and not be willing to devote the time to getting it to a point where it can be published. They may love the writing or the idea or the setting, but not quite be able to work out how they would change it to make it less confusing. It's not binary.

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exhaustedwriter · 10/01/2022 20:07

@kungfupannda

Okay, so the 'this isn't for us but writing is subjective' type response tends to be a form reply. Anything personalised at all is a more positive type of rejection - if a rejection can be positive - because it means they've actually taken the time to type a response, rather than just hitting whatever shortcut key inserts their form rejection text.

The writing is subjective responses, came mainly from agents not publishers. Rejections from publishers were that they didn't feel I was right for them. Ones where they saw the manuscript ranged from we just aren't passionate about it to it's too confusing. There is no one generic response to the manuscript.

If you've had mainly form replies would unfortunately suggest there's something fairly major that's not working with the novel - voice, plot, setting, character, writing style - or that it's not up to scratch yet. How many edits have you done yourself since finishing the first draft? As an absolute minimum, I do a structural edit, a line edit and a copy edit/proofread. The structural edit is the big one, where I make major changes, tidy up the plot, take out chapters, put new ones in etc. The line edit is the beautifying process, when I make sure my text flows. The copy edit and proof read is essentially checking for errors - typos grammar, wrong names, timeline not making sense etc. For a recently completed - and complicated - project there were probably around 6 full edits.

The novel I'm currently subbing took over ten years to write. I started in 2006 and finished in 2018. So I've done literally a hundred edits to it. I've also had others read it for feedback. The positive responses are those that see the whole manuscript and say it's too confusing. Like I said it's an epistolary novel written in notes and diary extracts. I have had an offer of publishing it but got ghosted by the publisher. She hasn't published anything and was just starting out so perhaps it was a lucky miss.

I think you might need to adjust your mindset/expectations of editors. Even small publishing houses are overwhelmed with submissions. They will accept only a tiny fraction of those. They're not realistically going to give someone a chance to rectify problems, firstly because they don't need to, and secondly because they simply won't have time to commit to something they're not sure they're ultimately going to buy.

I woudn't expect someone who didn't want to publish to give me editorial direction. Of course they're not going to give comprehensive feedback. My point was, if they like the book and want to publish then they'll help me to clarify whatever is confusing.

It is much rarer for an editor to provide specific feedback and ask to see a reworked version. It does sometimes happen, and if it does, you can be pretty sure you're on the right track and getting close to where you want to be.

I wouldn't expect this.

You mention thinking that the publisher would have their own editor who could give clarification on any issues. It doesn't really work like that. The people you're submitting to are the editors. You're offering to sell them something. You might feel less down about the process if you recognise it for the business transaction that it is. You're not being knocked back by someone whose job it is to scout for talent and give people opportunities - you're just not quite managing to sell your particular product to extremely critical and fussy buyers in a very saturated market.

I've been writing since the 90s and know it's a business transaction. I'm just expecting an editor to give feedback if they want to publish, nothing more.

If you're looking for someone who will work with you to get your book submission-ready, then you might want to think about submitting to more agents.

I don't get anywhere with agents, i've submitted to a handful and got nowhere with them. I get more feedback from publishers.

If you've never had any sort of detailed feedback on your project, it would certainly be worth thinking about using a literary consultancy or a freelance editor. In terms of consultancies, Cornerstones are great, as are Jericho Writers. They provide editorial reports and also scout potential talent for agents.

Thanks I'll look into those.

Your comment about the project not being easy to interpret does ring a few alarm bells, I have to say. It's fine to leave some things open to interpretation, and to make a reader work hard, but you do have to have a clear narrative thread. If it's actively confusing, readers (and editors and agents) will just close the book and move on. Given this has been raised, I would be inclined to give it some very serious thought.

I've had a mixture of feedback from readers and have given it to five people to read. There is confusion there but for most it was interesting and we had long conversations about what it meant. It is meant to be challenging but perhaps too much.

I'm actually working on other things now. This novel was finished in 2018 and i'm working on a collection of short stories and a trilogy of novellas at the moment.

Out of interest, how did the requests for full manuscripts come about? Was it the usual submission process of first three chapters and a synopsis? Or was it a query letter of some sort? If it was the former, then that's really positive in terms of writing quality and opening hook. It's a big hurdle to get over. Full requests not translating into acceptances suggest something structural or thematic being an issue, rather than basic writing style or voice. If you got a full request off the back of a letter or summary, with no actual example of writing included, then that suggests you have an interesting idea/concept, but it's harder to speculate on what the problem might be.
submissions depended on what the publisher was looking for. It could be a query letter and the first 5,000 words. The most recent one wanted the whole manuscript as he really liked the intro.

Don't give up. You say you've been doing this for a long time. That might be the case for the actual writing, but it sounds like you're actually at a very early stage in the submission process, and it may well be that you've just skipped over some crucial steps. Also, if this is your first full novel, then it is entirely possible that it will ultimately turn out to be the project that teaches you how to write and finish a novel, and how to approach the submission process, rather than the project that gets you an agent or gets published. The vast majority of published writers have unpublished manuscripts floating about. I have two. The first one had my soul poured into it and its rejection after a series of near-misses nearly broke my heart. I reread it recently and I can see exactly what made it unpublishable. I learned a lot from it, and it got me an agent, but it's a very flawed project. I still love it though, and I may do a print-on-demand copy of it one day, and put it on my shelf and stroke it lovingly from time to time.
I've been writing since the 90s and this is my second full novel. I had a lot of positive feedback for the first one. I thought this one would be the one that got published as it's a lot more marketable (Gothic/speculative)

The really positive thing about your position is that you've completed the novel and got to the point of submitting it. 99% of aspiring writers won't ever get to that stage. Most people start, realise how hard it is, and give up. Or fiddle around half-heartedly for years, without ever finishing the book, or ditching it and moving on. If you actually complete a novel, you're already in a tiny minority. Definitely keep going!

Thanks for the encouragement, I really appreciate it and appreciate you taking the time to post all that.

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exhaustedwriter · 10/01/2022 20:13

@kungfupannda

Whoops - started typing before the school run, and missed the replies before hitting post.

*@MargaretThursday* already said much of what I was trying to say, and much more concisely!

If you have someone who wants to publish, that is brilliant. How was it left with that editor? And what sort of press is it? You do need to be very clear on the type of publishing house you're dealing with. What do they offer the writer? Do they do the whole package, edit the book, design the cover, market it, pay an advance or royalties? Or do they ask for a contribution from the writer and expect you to market etc? If it's the former, then great. If it's the latter, then do be very, very careful. The rule of thumb is that money should only ever flow one way - to the writer.

Just picking up on something in your most recent post - if they like the book, want to publish but think it's confusing, then that's surely the point of having an inhouse publisher. They obviously don't like the book enough to publish. Yes, they do of course edit in house if they like the book and want to publish, and yes, a rejection means that they ultimately don't like it enough to publish, but there's also a lot of space between those two extremes. They may like the writing, but think the plot is confusing, and not be willing to devote the time to getting it to a point where it can be published. They may love the writing or the idea or the setting, but not quite be able to work out how they would change it to make it less confusing. It's not binary.

The publisher that wanted to publish my book was a Gothic publisher who had just started out. She asked to publish a year ago but has basically ghosted me now. I'm aware of vanity press and am not expecting to pay anyone to publish my work.

My point was that an in house editor would be able to help me tweak it if they were interested enough to publish. I'm getting full manuscript requests but have been unlucky so far with getting acceptances. Even then it's still difficult as I'm so desperate to be published I'm just sending it out to anyone accepting submissions. It's still a minefield even if it does get published.

I really appreciate you taking the time to write all that. Thank you!
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Subulter · 11/01/2022 22:52

I hear your exhaustion and sympathise, but think you should redirect your energies to submitting to far more agents if you want to go down the trad publishing route — if you’re just submitting to any publishing house that accepts unagented MS, the ‘not for us’ responses are probably reflecting the reality(and the huge numbers of submissions they get).

. Getting an agent can be tough, but that agent will gain you access to all the editors who will only read something sent them by an agent, and they will have ideas about who might go for your work.

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Roosk · 12/01/2022 18:14

My point was that an in house editor would be able to help me tweak it if they were interested enough to publish.

But it seems clear that the problems, whatever they are, with your MS are such to prevent an editor wanting to buy it. Being blunt, it's competing in a buyers' market with novels that are already less problematic and more marketable at the point where an editor first reads them.

It's a bit like trying to sell a quirky house with a tricky layout in an area where there are already lots of perfectly straightforward houses with easier/logical layouts available, so potential buyers can move straight in, without having to imagine how they could alter the interior.

It may have the potential be a great place to live, but require too much work to make habitable in the way the buyer wants within the buyer's timeframe.

The fact that you say 'tweaking' suggests you see editors as only making minor changes during the publication process, but this isn't necessarily the case. One of mine lost one of its two narrators, hence an entire subplot and about 30,000 words during editing. A friend, who is a quite prominent novelist, had her editor strongly lobby to change the entire ending of her novel.

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MargaretThursday · 12/01/2022 18:45

It's a bit like trying to sell a quirky house with a tricky layout in an area where there are already lots of perfectly straightforward houses with easier/logical layouts available, so potential buyers can move straight in, without having to imagine how they could alter the interior.

Or perhaps buying a do-it-up house for the same price as an identical one that's just been recently renovated. The time, effort and money means that people don't do that.

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MissBattleaxe · 13/01/2022 19:25

I would echo the advice given and go to a company like Jericho where they will edit and give invaluable advice that could realistically push you up the queue. It might cost a few quid but it would save you a lot of heartache and disappointment in the long run. Sometimes you can't see the wood for the trees. Also, it doesn't matter how long you've been writing, harsh as it may sound (and I've been there) nobody owes you for that time.

I also recommend a book called Save The Cat which totally changed the way I wrote. It was a game changer.

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