Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writing Lesson #11: The Evolution of Rejection

I joined the road paved with rejection slips in 1987, when I started sending out my early horror novel TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD. So by the time I received the publishing contract for SUFFER THE CHILDREN, I had been travelling that rejection road for over twenty years. And I’ve noticed some changes in that time.

I learned fairly early on that there was no point in sending your manuscript direct to publishers. You had to have an agent. I also learned that between UK and US agents, there was a difference in submission requirements. UK agents want the first three chapters and a synopsis. If they like what they see they will ask to see the full manuscript; if they don’t, they return the pages to you in the required SAE. There is one extra step with US agents, as they want a query letter first, then a partial if they like the query, then eventually the full manuscript (if you’re lucky).

In the early days, everyone wanted hard copy. I have spent many a lunch hour over the last twenty years queuing up in the Post Office, with my envelope containing my first three chapters or my short story, unsealed so when I got to the counter I could get it weighed to find out what the postage was going to be, get the equivalent amount for return postage, stick the return postage on the SAE before sealing the envelope, sticking the other stamps on the outside envelope and dropping the whole thing in the post box.

Having the pages returned to you, though, is often just a formality. When your pages come back to you in the SAE, they are generally in less than pristine condition and not really fit to be sent out to anyone else. After all, you don’t want to make a bad impression with agents and editors by submitting dog-eared and coffee-stained pages.

Submitting to international agents was even more of a challenge. Once upon a time you could send an international reply coupon, but over the years they became unpopular. It became easier to buy stamps whenever I went to the US, to use on SAEs when I submitted to American agents. But because I only visit the US once every couple of years I tended to stockpile the stamps, which would generally mean US postage would increase before I’d used all the stamps up, resulting in the necessity of trying to get hold of a load of 5-cent ones to make sure my SAE had the correct postage on.

But then, a few years ago, things started to change. We began to see an increase in small, independent publishers, who were happy to look at unsolicited manuscripts from new writers. Often they wanted to look at the whole thing, not just three chapters. Sometimes they were even happy to have the file sent as an email attachment.

The new writer is no longer limited to sending their manuscript to agents. The number of independent publishers continues to grow, and most of them are still happy to look at unagented writers. And nowadays it’s not just the new publishing companies that will accept email submissions. Many agents will accept emails also (but not all – there is still a need to check the individual requirements carefully before submitting).

Email submissions are far better for the writer. No more queuing up in the post office; no more small fortunes being spent on stamps, printer ink, paper and envelopes.

There’s an old saying about most writers having enough rejection slips to wallpaper their office with. I still have that old file, labelled ‘rejections’, but I haven’t added anything to it for a while. But not because I haven’t been getting rejections. My most recent rejections are all saved on the PC, in a sub-folder of my email inbox called ‘rejections’.

And this is another advantage of how technology has made submissions better. Electronic files don’t bulk out the folder the way paper does. If you can’t see the rejection folder getting visibly fatter, you get far less depressed.

1 comment:

Nerine Dorman said...

TBH, I hardly, if ever bother querying with hard copy unless it's via a personal recommendation to one of the bigger players who're expecting my material.

And... You know what? I'm quite happy working with my two chosen publishers as I can see now that I'm starting to build a back list, I'm getting a bit more coverage.