Writing never feels more lonely than after you’ve sent your manuscript out to every agent and publisher you can think of and gotten nowhere. Of course, you can always take comfort in the long list of massively successful books that were initially rejected by nearly everyone who saw them. But for every brilliant book that gets rejected out of blindness or stupidity, there are thousands that get rejected because they’re just not very good. How can you tell which camp you fall into?
The quality of your rejections are a good sign. Granted, form rejections don’t tell you much, but if all of your rejections are form letters, it’s probably time to either start a major rewrite or put this manuscript in a drawer and start the next one. (If your manuscript is getting repeatedly turned down on the query alone, you might want to take a second look at your query letter.) If you’re getting glowing rejections (“I love the book, but it’s not right for our list.”) then you’re probably doing something right and should keep sending the manuscript out — though you might want to refine your agent search to make it more likely it will hit the right desk. And it’s still a good sign even if you’re getting, “I love the book, but . . . “ If a publishing professional has taken time to give you free advice, then your manuscript is probably worth the effort.
You don’t have to rush to take the advice. Individual taste matters a lot in publishing, so don’t rip into your manuscript unless most of your feedback starts to agree. If three different professionals tell you your main character is off-putting, that’s the time to consider if you’d like to hang out with this person.
Independent readers may give you a fair assessment of your manuscript, though the quality of that assessment depends on the expertise of your reader. For ego support, there’s always your family and friends. Fellow writers in mutual critique groups offer a bit more know-how, since they’ve at least gone through the same struggles as you. But writers often help you by telling you how to write more like them, which isn’t much help to you. Realistically, the best way to get a detailed, expert assessment of your manuscript is to pay for it – to hire an independent editor. I know that, when I’m reading a client’s manuscript, I can’t cover more than 40 or 50 pages an hour, and it takes me at least three hours to write up an assessment. So if your manuscript is 300 pages long, you’re talking about an investment of ten or more hours’ work. If you hire an editor who’s thorough, expect to pay accordingly.
Be careful, though. There are plenty of scammers out there happy to give you the praise we all long for just to pry some money out of you. So be leery of praise from people with a vested interest — agents who ask a modest up-front investment to represent you, e-presses that will publish your book for a reasonable design and marketing fee, or small presses that promise to publish your book if you’re willing to have some editing done. Any one of these might steer you to you an in-house editorial “service” or a less than qualified editor who pays kickbacks.
Some years ago, two of my clients who’d had work done by one of these editorial mills were kind enough to send me copies of the critiques they’d gotten. When I compared the two, it was obvious the reports were at least half boilerplate – you could see where the blanks had been left for someone who had skimmed the manuscript to plug in a few individual details. Essentially, every manuscript got the same advice. It was the kind of “editing” that could have been done by a relatively bright high school freshman, and the authors were charged premium rates with the promise of publication dangled in front of them.
Then there’s Quoth the Cabbage. [Read more…]