Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lois Winston Talks about Rejection

One of the things Five Scribes is known for is that it's a writing blog.  Lois Winston is on blog tour of her Readers' Choice-nominated book, DEATH BY KILLER MOP DOLL.  Yet she finds time to stop in and talk with aspiring authors.  Her articles are frank, but lest I rhyme, when it comes to the publishing industry, you can take her advice to the bank.  Please welcome both literary agent and author, Lois Winston. ~ Donnell

Once in the proverbial blue moon, someone writes a first book, gets an agent, and scores a six-figure, multi-book deal, all in the course of a few weeks. For most writers, it takes years, even decades, for that first sale to happen. During that time we deal with lots of people telling us our baby is butt ugly. We try to develop a Teflon-coated skin to keep the rejections from getting to us, but it’s hard. Part of what makes us writers is our emotional awareness. Who among us hasn’t cried while reading or writing a poignant scene? That same heightened sense of emotion is what makes it so difficult for us to deal with rejection.

But publishing is a tough business. It’s run by bean counters, and bean counters are notorious for only looking at the bottom line. Not only do you have to convince the editor you’ve written a wonderful, saleable book, the editor has to convince the bean counters.

The truth about publishing is that you WILL get rejected. Everyone gets rejected, even bestselling authors. If you can’t deal with rejection, stop before you start.

When I started writing, no one told me the facts of life, publishing style. I had no idea the odds were stacked against me. By the time I discovered this, and received my share of form rejection letters, I’d been so infected by the writing bug that I couldn’t stop writing.

If you HAVE to write, if writing is as much a part of you as eating, sleeping, and breathing, then keep writing. But know that you may never get published.

Eventually, an agent liked my work enough to offer me representation. By this time, I had several manuscripts ready for publication. But the rejections continued to pour in. No longer were they form letters, though. I was now receiving rejections filled with praise. The following are comments made about one book:

  -- …many intriguing elements involved in this contemporary romance.

  -- I found this to be an enjoyable read. I think the writing is solid. The characters were interesting as well.
  -- …the writing was strong and the sexual tension high.

  -- …a solid writer. She creates an intriguing world that is full of interesting and compelling characters.

  -- …the author caught my attention right away with the opening scene and held it with her strong, engaging writing style.

  -- …this is very readable, and the author does a good job balancing the romance and suspense elements.
  -- The conflict for both the hero and heroine is strong.

But no matter how praise-filled the letters, they were still rejection letters. Few editors indicated the same reason for rejecting, so there was no clear clue as to what was wrong with each manuscript. What one editor praised, another mentioned as the reason for rejecting.

Here are some of the reasons given for rejecting the same book:

  -- I didn’t find the characters compelling enough.

  -- The heroine isn’t as sympathetic as I’d wish.

  -- I felt (the romance) had a “too good to be true” quality.

  -- The writing is not as strong as that of other submissions currently under consideration

  -- (The hero) was completely unconvincing.

  -- The story line didn’t hold any appeal for me.

  -- The emotional conflict was not as strongly developed as it needed.

Then I began racking up *near* sales. The reasons for my rejections changed. The senior editor who had to approve the buy didn't like the book. The marketing department didn't think they could sell a book the editor loved because it didn’t fall neatly into one genre. A senior editor wanted one of my books for a new line the publisher then cancelled. The editor who loved the book took a job elsewhere, and her replacement didn’t have the same enthusiasm for the ms.

Do I have luck or what?

it’s not good enough to write the best book you can. And it’s not good enough to have an agent who believes in your work. If your book doesn’t wind up on the right editor’s desk on the right day, you don’t win the publishing lottery.

I eventually sold my first book in 2005. Not for 6 figures, not even for 5 figures. For an extremely low 4 figures.

And that’s another sobering reality of the publishing industry. Those 6 and 7 figure deals you read about in the news are literally 1 in a million. The average advance for a first sale to a New York publisher nowadays is less than $5,000, often much less. So if you think that you’re going to write your way into a life of luxury, think again. Many a NY Times bestselling author can’t afford to quit her day job these days.

And just because you’ve sold a book, there’s no guarantee that you’ll sell another. The rejections don’t stop after your first sale. My first two books received dozens of fabulous reviews. Both won awards. Yet after having a release in 2006 and another in 2007, I didn’t sign another contract until 2009.

So if you can’t handle the rejection, get out now while you still can. If you have the tenacity to continue writing against all odds, then each time you receive a rejection letter, pull up your big girl (or big boy) pants, sit your butt back down in front of the computer, and keep writing. If the writing gods are smiling down on you, your efforts will eventually pay off.

The Top 10 Reasons a Manuscript is Rejected (in no particular order)

1. author hasn’t done his/her homework (book not appropriate for targeted editor or agent)

2. sloppy editing/proofing

3. poorly written query letter

4. poorly written synopsis

5. no opening hook to grab an editor’s or agent’s attention

6. poor technical skills (grammar/punctuation, POV, passive voice/telling instead of showing the action, etc.)

7. poor story-telling skills (plot, characters, dialogue, etc.)

8. she’s just not that into you(r voice/style)        

9. poor timing

10. book not yet written (pitching or querying on a book that isn’t finished, and by the time it is finished, the editor/agent is no longer interested)

About the Author:
After selling her first book, Lois Winston was invited to join the agency that reps her. Now she experiences rejection for both herself and her clients. Lois is
currently writing the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Read an excerpt at Visit Lois at her website: and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.

Throughout January, Lois will be on a blog tour to promote the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll. Post a comment to any of the blogs on the tour to enter the drawing to win one of 5 signed copies of the book. You can find the complete tour schedule at her website and Anastasia’s blog. Lois is also giving away 3 copies at Goodreads:


Larissa Reinhart Hoffman said...

Thanks for this post, Lois. I take such comfort in hearing "rejection" stories, as odd as that sounds. Knowing the realities of publishing helps to build my "rejection armor" as I send out queries and submissions. Thanks for being so honest and open about your experience.

How do you enjoy agenting?

Theresa said...

Hi Lois, welcome to the Five Scribes!

It's so nice of you to share the brutal truth of publishing. As the coordinator of The Sandy and the Co-coordinator of the Crested Butte Writers Conference I talk to a lot of new writers.

And newbies need to know this and I hate always being the one to educate new writers and burst their bubble of enthusiasm. They give you SUCH heartbroken looks--for an instant before I see them mentally coming to the conclusion that I don't know what I'm talking about.

There's nothing wrong with writing for your own self fulfillment, but if writing for publication . . . I think it's always best if the writer has realistic expectations. So thanks for the reality check!

Donnell said...

Lois, thanks for the reality check, and as always your words of wisdom. Ouch!!!! :)

Liz said...

Anastasia's life must make even your worst day seem better. Glad you triumphed over rejection.

Victoria Dixon said...

Thank you for this, Lois. It really does help to know you're not alone. Also, I believe it's beneficial to recognize that your own insanity and accept that it won't change, so you might as well write. LOL

This morning I contemplated stopping for the umpteenth time. Then I realized I'd stop breathing if I did stop and that seemed like an extreme response.

Lois Winston said...

Blogger is giving me problems today, so I'm going to try to post my comments again.

Larissa, you've got a great attitude about rejections. As for agenting, like everything else, it's got it's good days and bad days. :-)

Thanks for the welcome, Theresa! It's unfortunate that so many writers refuse to accept the reality of the publishing world. The ones that do are the ones with a much better chance of being successful.

Donnell, sorry for the boo-boo. :-)

Liz, you have to put everything in prospective, right?

Lois Winston said...

Victoria, are you suggesting we authors are not sane? LOL! I'm afraid you're right.

Jane R said...

Wow! Writers really need to have skin as thick as an elephant's. It would be so hard to be criticized for something you've put your heart and soul into... especially when some of the criticisms aren't even logical or rational. I think that would drive me nuts! Thanks for the eye-opening post!

Lois Winston said...

LOL! Yes, we do grow thick skins, Jane.

jenny milchman said...

Lois, you and I have spoken (and commiserated) in person about this! Last we spoke, you were well published, with the first Anastasia out...and I had just been turned down by--let's just say a big 6--my ms having wound its way all the up the spiral staircase to the person at the top.

I think it hurts more the closer you get.

And as you point out, at that point the rejections usually don't have to do with the book being not good enough. It's just a matter of stars and events aligning--right person, right house, right book.

But they can do and align. You're proof of that. I finally found my way.

If you're reading as far as these comments, and haven't yet been published, you probably have a dream. Hang in there. Dreams do come true.

Theresa said...

Hi Jenny, I think the closer I get . . . the more I realize writing is SO subjective and I'm not sure that it doesn't make me more okay with the rejections. I've had a good NY Agent who couldn't sell a book she loved--with NO consistent feedback in the 15+ rejections.

That really killed my confidence for a while, but I realized the true joy in writing is the writing and getting better with each book and the blessing of wonderful writing friends I've made through the years.

And somehow keeping my eye on THAT ball vs the one I can't really control, soothes the sting of rejections.

I truly believe that when the time is right and the stars are aligned just so . . . and I've continued to get to be a better writer. .. the publishing will come.

Meanwhile, last summer I made a video of my writing journey to remind me that all those rejections and time spent were not wasted. They served a purpose.

I think everybody should make their own video to celebrate their personal writing journey and blessings.

Lani said...

Hi, Lois! I loved your post! And it came at such a great time too. For me, since I love writing so much, I have bouts where I won't even try to get published, but just sit and write. My butt increases everytime I do this, but still it's so much fun not to worry about if a publisher would like this, is this sellable, etc. But then I try again to start the query writing process. Right now, I'm getting my groove on for query writing, and this time it feels different. My goal this time is to see if I can get 50 rejection letters before I give up and try a different approach, and lately I've been thinking 100. I read that Janet Evanovich got more than 100 rejections, so I might shoot for that number too. But through it all I'll write. Hell with if I can get published or not, I say, let's just write some fabulous work!

Lois Winston said...

Jenny, you're now proof, too. Can't wait to read your book when it comes out.

Theresa, you have a great, positive attitude. Best of luck to you.

Lani, the only people who fail are the ones who don't try. Keep sending those queries out. You just never know when those stars will be aligned for you.

Donnell said...

Lois, it's always a pleasure to have you on Five Scribes. Great blog -- well about as great as any blog on rejection can be. I know many folks have been checking in, but only the brave folks made comments. Best of luck on your blog tour!

Suzie Tullett said...

Hi, Lois. Great post. When it comes to rejection, I always tell myself and others that just because someone says no, it doesn't necessarily mean our work isn't any good; it just means it's not to their particular taste. And with that, it's back to the keyboard once more. I think when it comes to getting published, the writing industry is as much about perseverance these days as it is about talent x

Lois Winston said...

Thanks for inviting me, Donnell!

Suzie, publishing has always been about having the right manuscript land on the right editor's desk on the right day. That's why it's important to keep trying.

Ellis Vidler said...

It's interesting to see both the praise and the reasons for the rejection on the same book, a good reminder of how subjective this business is. I'm so glad you persisted, Lois. Good luck with your books.

Shannon Baker said...

Thanks for telling it like it is. I've quit several times. I never did get an agent to take me on, however, I did sign a contract with a great publisher. So, as is reiterated in the comments, it DOES happen. But it won't happen if you quit for good. Thanks, 5 Scribes.

Lois Winston said...

Thanks, Ellis!

Shannon, I'm so glad you didn't give up.