While writing yesterday’s “writing” posts, I found a couple of other links that I felt like sharing (aka – having accessible for my future reference). Both of them actually were linked from Neil Gaiman’s blog (from 2004-ish)…
First, a link to Making Light, a post entry written by Teresa Neilsen Hayden discussing how to rethink rejection from the slushpile. Key thing to consider – “you” don’t matter*, it’s what’s on the page, and how clearly the story comes through. I like the 14-point list (under “Context of Rejection”) that I am snipping to here, just to keep it available.
Manuscripts are unwieldy, but the real reason for that time ratio is that most of them are a fast reject. Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:
- Author is functionally illiterate.
- Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
- Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
- Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
- Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
- Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
- Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.
(At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)
- It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
- Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
- The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.
(You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)
- Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
- Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
- It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
- Buy this book.
Aspiring writers are forever asking what the odds are that they’ll wind up in category #14. That’s the wrong question. If you’ve written a book that surprises, amuses, and delights the readers, and gives them a strong incentive to read all the pages in order, your chances are very good indeed. If not, your chances are poor.
The second is Neil’s own thoughts on being a writer (as of 2004)…
If you want to be a writer, write. You may have to get a day job to keep body and soul together (I cheated, and got a writing job, or lots of them, to feed me and pay the rent). If you aren’t going to be a writer, then go and be something else. It’s not a god-given calling. There’s nothing holy or magic about it. It’s a craft that mostly involves a lot of work, most of it spent sitting making stuff up and writing it down, and trying to make what you have made up and written down somehow better.
It does help, to be a writer, to have the sort of crazed ego that doesn’t allow for failure. The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering “Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!” and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there’s nothing left to write. Because the rejection slips will arrive. And, if the books are published, then you can pretty much guarantee that bad reviews will be as well. And you’ll need to learn how to shrug and keep going. Or you stop, and get a real job.