The Writing Zone: Stage 8 - The "Rejection-Proof" Manuscript
Is it possible? No.
There, I said it.
Actually, "Nobody's work will ever be rejection proof," was what one of the editors shared, a contradiction to the name of the standing room-only session, "Making Your Work Rejection-Proof", during the San Francisco Writers Conference. It was met with a combination of laughter, applause, and a fair number of resigned sighs from those that probably were looking for an easy path to publication success.
The thing was, it wasn't just the audience that agreed with that sentiment. The panel of editors that sat on the stage all agreed with the editor that spoke those strong words, some with nods and others with tightened lips and shocked eyes, as if the editor spilled the beans on a dark secret within the publication world.
With that dirty secret out in the open, the large group of panelists proceeded to share their thoughts on a variety of practices, tips, and expectations that an author should have if they want to get their work published. The group of editors - fourteen in all - covered almost every genre combined, from memoirs and literary fiction to young adult, middle grade, and adult science fiction and fantasy. This session was also one of the longest, which made sense - there was a LOT to potentially cover, and boy did these editors share useful information!
I'll break everything up below for easier reading - a summary of my takeaways from this session on how to create a "rejection-proof manuscript".
- Have a passion for your subject matter.
- Whatever you are writing - whether it's high fantasy, mystery, horror, or science fiction - you want to exude confidence in your manuscript's subject matter. If someone asks you a question about the material in your book, you want to not only be able to answer it immediately, but answer it such that you probably could talk for the rest of the day on that and related material. You want to feel excited to talk about your book's subject matter whenever someone approaches you about it - that passion will clearly show in your writing.
- Read books that are related to your genres of interest.
- Kind of a no-brainer here: Your writing will reflect how much you read. If you don't read books, you shouldn't write - period. That said, when you are reading, be sure to collect books that reflect the genres that you intend on writing, as they will give you a good idea regarding what works today for that genre. I do feel that there is value in reading outside of your favorite genres - I've recently been reading some YA fantasy in the form of Harry Potter - but if you are writing historical fiction, you'll want to have your book list mostly filled with historical fiction novels.
- Learn to love editing your work – writing is revision.
- As I've been learning first-hand, editing your work is hard, especially when you have to cut chunks of material out. In my case, I've removed over twenty thousand words from my manuscript so far, a large chunk of which included the downgrading of a main character and cutting out all related subplots. Revising your work can hurt, but realizing that it brings your book that much closer to its final version - and subsequent publication - makes the pain worth it.
- If you aren’t happy or feel joy with the revisions you make, the revision will not work.
- Related to the above. I'd be lying if I told you I was initially happy with the cuts I've made. I was pretty bummed about it, but thanks to the reasoning and recommendations given by my alpha readers, I grew to accept the choices I made. Today, I am very satisfied with the decision to downgrade a main character, but if you never find happiness in your revisions, it will show, either in the form of plot holes, inconsistent fixes, and structural issues.
- Deal with personal rejection, as opposed to rejection of your work.
- I'll be here soon, I'm sure, but in previous jobs I've had to deal with rejection in a variety of forms, from job interviews that went south to losing support for projects that I was responsible for. Through it all, I never took it personally, though many people may take something as personal as their creative writing being turned away by an agent to heart. I wouldn't blame them if that were the case, but know that rejections happen - it's a part of life. If you received feedback as to why you were turned down, see if any of it can be applied. If you simply got a "No" and that's it, just brush it off and keep moving forward!
- Being a writer is being a performing artist.
- In other words, get ready to put yourself in public speaking roles as part of being a writer. From online and panel interviews to attending book signings, having a physical presence is one crucial way to drive success out of your writing career.
- Be willing to spend money for good editors and money towards improving your skills in the profession.
- I never majored in an English degree, nor have I ever received a formal educational background in writing (writing code, yes - writing novels, no). But even if I did have an English major, I'd still hire a professional editor to give my manuscript a thorough review before shopping it around to agents. For most, it is an editor's full-time job to read through manuscripts, provide revision suggestions, story strengths/weaknesses, and line edits. On a similar note, it is worth taking time to educate yourself on the mechanics behind writing, such as concepts like "show vs tell", active vs passive verbs, adverb use, and much, much more.
- Understand the market: Why someone would want to spend money on your book.
- You have a great idea for a novel - awesome! Now go check Amazon, Goodreads, and Google to see if your idea wasn't already published. That isn't to say that you wouldn't be bringing something new or unique to the table, but it is always worth analyzing the book market to see if what you intend on writing - or are already in the process of writing - is something that people would want to buy if they saw it on a digital or physical bookshelf. Understanding the current and historical trends will help you see where your book would fall once it is published. Your genre could be popular now, but could trend downward by the time your book is for sale.
- Consider the reader of your work – don’t forget about them.
- In the end, you're writing a book that you want to be read by others, so it would be prudent to think about those people when you are crafting your work.
- Attitude and professionalism – you have to work hard to turn writing into a career.
- Having the courage to even start writing can be daunting, but finishing your manuscript? Well, that requires a lot from you as a person. (I talked at length about having the right state of mind when writing in an earlier Writing Zone post.) And then there's the process of getting your work published. And then there's the big question: Do you want to write as a career? I'm sure I've said it already, but it is HARD. Fortunately, there are a plethora of materials available for writers to not only understand the craft but to know what to expect from every milestone you would hit. Turning your passion for writing into a viable career path is not easy - if someone does, they're lying.
It is always amazing to me whenever I think about how complex the process of publishing one's book can be, especially when you aim to go the traditional route as opposed to self-publication. However, what the editors all shared made perfect sense to me. There is a lot that goes into your manuscript beyond its creation, and it pays off to understand what the road ahead looks like. I want my work to be read by as many people as possible, and I'm sure you feel the same way about your work. But getting your book in front of people first requires it to be published, and getting to that point can be a journey unto itself.
Where are you in the journey towards publishing your novel? Feel free to share your story or tips in the comments below!