Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Dreaded Rejection Letter

This may turn out to be Part 1 of a series.  

Among my "circles" on Google+ I met a Paranormal Romance Writer (what a co-incidence!).  Her name is Azure Boone, and I haven't read any of her romance stories yet, but her Google+ profile says (irresistibly) "Writer of paranormal romance involving demons and angels."

So I saw her note about a blog post she'd written:


That's a Wordpress blog so you don't see the title in the link.  It's "Rejection is not my color."  It's a suggestion that editors use a color code with rejection letters, pointing to a set of "reasons for rejection" posted online, so the rejected writer can know why their manuscript wasn't suitable.  I have way too much to say about that, but I've said most of it previously on this blog. 

I let the post pass by me, then went back and dropped a comment, and pointed Azure to another item I'd just dropped on Google+.

It went like this:

I posted about Talentville.com
---------- QUOTE--------
Now this is an intriguing concept, but it's expensive to join in.
-----------END QUOTE------

Talentville.com is a new online screenwriting community connecting aspiring writers with Hollywood Insiders, created by Final Draft co-founder and creator Ben Cahan.  It charges an annual fee, and is for very serious screenwriters investing in their education.

I found Talentville.com mentioned on a Facebook Group of screenwriters I belong to, and Final Draft is my software-of-choice for screenwriting. 

Then I saw Azure Boone's post about rejection -- and "click" went my mind.

So I posted to Azure using her "handle" so she'd see it, on the Talent.com post, and flagged a Screenwriter ( +Randall Oelerich )who had just noted how much fun Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had starting out at the beginning of the PC revolution. 

------------ Here's what I said ---------
+azure boone Saw your note on rejection letters. I've gotten my share, and my share of acceptance letters, and my share of queries. Professionals ahead of me on the career track always said don't listen to others who are at your level of development as a writer. "If you listen to the dogs barking, you'll go deaf before you learn anything." -- But I found that adage to be dwindling into the middens of history.

With fan-fiction writing and now with organizations like Taletnville.com (there are a number of these things around), peer-review is beginning to be the training ground. Screenwriters are getting "audience-review" on YouTube when they hook up with short-film makers. Some enterprising folks are monetizing these efforts, so participants have to think "business model" when deciding to join.

We are creating an entirely new world. As +Randall Oelerich noted about Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, they had fun in "the early days." THESE are our early days. We have to learn to use language accurately, and not call it "rejection" when an outlet takes a pass on a project.

Azure responded very quickly with this:


Hello, and thanks for the wisdom. I was thinking that no rejection letters come with the word rejection written anywhere on it, but a writer doesn't need it to, a rejection is a rejection, or a pass, is a pass.

The issue I addressed isn't about the word or term as we have come to understand the process of "rejection" but the manner in which the pass/rejection is made. I think the publishing industry would further the entire cause for writers and publishers if they worked together on meeting needs, not at a feel good word level, but at a functional level. The solution I presented in my blog was literally a solution, even though I made it fun.

Did I misunderstand you?

Well, no, she didn't misunderstand me, but even though it was only a few minutes later, I'd already thought a thousand thoughts.  Well, you know me, I think and my fingers fly over the keyboard, and before I knew it, I had a whole blog post in my answer to her.  Here's what I answered.

+Azure Boone Before I drop the link I have for you, I need to say this.  Yes, I do in fact love your basic thinking behind suggesting quick-color-code answers -- and yes, I got it that the suggestions were laced with humor.  This is the kind of thinking that we need to keep doing, not just stop right there where you ended off.  Your post should be a springboard into this knotty topic.

And it is knotty, because it's a whole "point of view" thing, and it is the BIG point of view/business-model thing that new writers (in text and image industries both) come acropper on over and over.  There's "art" and there's "craft" and there's "social networking" and there's "audience building" and there's far-out nebulous philosophy stuff of which thematic statements are made.  AND THEN THERE'S BUSINESS.

But ultimately, delivering the artist's view on a theme to a consumer who's in the mood to be enchanted by participating in a game of ideas, is a business.  At least in this world we currently live in, it is a business.  Note how quickly media promotion folks grabbed onto social networking, and are busy twisting "social" into a tool to warp behavior.

When you present your art-product to an "editor" (producer, first reader, whatever), when you take your product to market you are crossing the line from creation of a product to the marketing of that product.  You are not talking to a "partner" but to an "exploiter" whose living depends on taking your product and putting it on a store shelf.

Think about those drum-pounding people who try to sucker "inventors" into patenting something through their business.  Or think about that "seen on TV" website where these handy inventions are marketed - think about the catalogs that market gadgets.

That's the realm you venture into when you first send your manuscript out the door.

And right outside your door, the path to your audience takes a right-angle bend!

You and the editor are actually working at cross purposes.

If you ever studied vector analysis, you know that I'm describing the straight line that goes up the graph at a 45 degree angle -- that's the path that leads to the audience, or market.

The editor is looking for a product that can be shoved along that 45degree angle path directly to the market that editor has been hired to reach.

It is not the editor's JOB to educate writers in the business.  Nor is it the Agent's job to teach writing.

(truth is, that's become my job these days!)

If the editor spends even one second trying to determine how to explain (to a total stranger who might be an amateur writer with their heart on their sleeve) what exactly disqualifies this manuscript from this publication line, that will probably mean the editor will get fired for not performing the job they were hired to do.

That job is to provide a steady stream of product for a conveyor belt that CAN NOT BE STOPPED OR PAUSED -- it is a relentless, timed, mechanism that only makes a profit if it moves at that steady pace.

Editors rarely last long in any job.  And long-working editors are getting rarer and rarer.  They run panic-stricken most of the time, when the sales numbers come back.  Sales tracking is a whole new world too!

Editors can't stop to tell you why your product doesn't fit their requirements. 

Mostly they don't know, and don't have the time to care, nevermind figure out how to explain it.  

Their job isn't explaining.  Their job is picking, and picking correctly.  Then picking again, and again.  FAST. 

But they can (and do) tell you what they need.  And your color-code system has potential to streamline the editor's direct call for a particular product.  Only they won't call to writers.  They will call to Agents.

Used to be that was done over the Power Lunch (I've been at many such Manhattan lunches).  Agents and editors hang out, make friends, and the agent scopes out the editor's "buttons" -- what they really like, and what they are madly searching for.  Then the agent lets certain writers in their stable know what there's a market for -- the agent chooses those writers by what the writer has already produced along that line.  (I've been on all sides of this process.)  The Agent's profit margin depends on generating the right product for the right editor. 

The reason it works this way is simply, "TIME IS MONEY."  Nobody has any time to waste, training writers to write.  This is even more true in the screenwriting biz.

Agents have the same biz model.  Time is money.  They must supply product to the editors in a form the editor can use to fill their conveyor belt.  The product must FIT that pre-built conveyor belt.  It's a pipeline from the publisher to the reader who will pay for that product.  The pipeline is built by business, and it's as fixed and solid as an oil pipeline.  Like an oil pipeline traversing thousands of miles, it carries product that's hot and under pressure, and must arrive at the destination exactly, thusly, so! 

The pipeline costs a lot to build and maintain, so it must deliver enough product to make back that cost plus the salaries of everyone who shoves product into that pipeline -- and these days, it must also make a profit for the shareholders of big corporations that own publishers (or film companies). 

The commercial art delivery system is a relentless business model.  If the pressure ever slackens, the razor-thin margins collapse bringing the company down with it. 

If you find that you, as a writer, can't or don't want to produce for pre-built pipelines, then maybe you don't want to write commercial fiction.  Today there's a market for "handmade" (no two alike) novels.

Manhattan, the Big Six, and Hollywood are mass producers.  That's why it's called "Mass Market Paperback" -- because it's a product designed to be mass produced, like the Model T Ford and all its successors.  Thousands of identical items produced and moving through that delivery system fulfill the voracious needs of a "mass" market -- i.e. lowest common denominator taste.  Many novels, different authors and titles, the same words arranged differently, identical product that gets assembled along the conveyor belt and then fits the pipeline.  Model T's were all black.  Today we get cars in different colors, but the production principle is the same.  Mass produced cars; mass produced entertainment. 

Maybe you, as a writer, would prefer the "Tailor Made" or "Hand Made" business model, of original art pieces, no two alike, no duplications -- paintings such as you see in an upper class Art Gallery, not prints you find in Target. 

It's something to think about before you launch a career.  You can do both.  That's what Pen Names are for!

You might want to read my blog post on whether you should create a pen name.



So now I've accidentally written a whole blog post, I'll insert the link to my 7-part series on EDITING, which is aimed at trying to give writers insight into the editor's point of view, so the writer can make a smoother approach and carry on the business of selling art to the commercial market.


That link leads to Part 7, which has links to the previous parts at the top of the post.  (yes, I write humongous-long-insanely-abstract blog posts).

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. "Professionals ahead of me on the career track always said don't listen to others who are at your level of development as a writer."

    I've seen similar advice from several authors -- don't enter into a critique partnership with someone below your own level of development. One catch, though: If everybody followed that advice, nobody would ever have a critique partner (unless two people at exactly the same career point happen to find each other). :)

    Personally, I think there is some use in critiques even from people who aren't at a "lower" level, because they can give you an intuitive reader reaction. If something doesn't work for them, then you can analyze it yourself to figure out why not.

  2. I meant ARE at a lower level. Aargh.