Coffee, conversation, and some free advice

I sent off an email to a friend today, offering suggestions as to what she might do, now that her manuscript has been rejected once again. It struck me that this might be a good time to get together with her, and with other unpublished emerging writers, for coffee and a chat, so that we may share stories, and strategize as to what we should do next with our manuscripts, and writing careers. So, pour yourself a coffee, or a cup of tea or hot chocolate, find something yummy to nibble on, and post your conversation below in the comments section – questions, comments, suggestions, war stories, anything at all to do with your experience of trying to get published, ponderings as to how to go about it, or advice from those already published as to what the rest of us should be doing. Please respond to each other with new comments, play nicely, and remain positive. Or I will sic Mr. Griz on you.

By the way, for the purposes of this particular conversation, self-publishing is not an option. Please consider traditional trade publishing only when offering advice.

If you would like to post this conversation to your own blog and involve other friends, please direct them back here with a link, so we’re not all talking overtop of one another.

I have my cup of coffee (and a cannoli, as there were two left yesterday). Please feel free to begin the conversation… Now!


26 responses

  1. Wow, this page exploded over the course of the day, didn’t it…! Fantastic.

    Thanks for the advice on sim subs, bjH and Susan and Wayne! Wayne, I think personally I have to stray more towards the “telling them” side of things, though, as it seems to be my own personal curse that whenever I’m NOT open about something, it comes back to bite me in the ass ๐Ÿ˜€

    Thanks also for the general all-round encouragement from all, and from such excellent, well-published company. I love the war stories — please keep ’em coming; I think they make us all feel better…


  2. Wayne Arthurson

    Interesting conversation but one that happens all the time. First, ignore any “no simultaneous submission” requirements. In fact, you don’t have to tell them. No publisher/agent/mag can tell you where, to who and when you can send your stuff, except if you have a contract with them. Second, write the story you want to write, not the one you think will be more attractive or marketable to publishers. Don’t follow any advice or trends on what is hot in publishing because what’s hot now won’t be in a couple of years. Third, the secret to getting published is simple: work hard, write what you want, write as much as you can and accept rejection. It’s all part of the process. My second novel was rejected by over 15 CDN publishers and almost every single Cdn agent so I went to the US. In three months I found a reputable agent and the first US publisher she sent it to made me an offer for a two book deal. First novel of that deal will be released Spring 2011. So if you’re Canadian, seriously consider submitting to the US, especially if you write genre novels. That said, when I got my US deal, I already had one novel published in Canada and I had been working professionally as a writer since I was 24 (I’m now 47). So my final comment is that if you want to be a published writer/novelist, try getting a job as a writer. Go study journalism or advertising or something that will land you as a job as a writer. Most of the published novelists I personally know have worked or still do work as a writer. Even if you don’t that novel published soon, you’re still working as a writer, which is pretty awesome.

    1. I think your advice to consider US markets is a great addition to this dialogue, Wayne. Although I haven’t published in the US nor do I have an American agent, on the queries I’ve done, I’ve appreciated how much more quickly both publishers and agents respond. What I’ve also found, is that there is another tricky layer of industry; a couple of queries to publishers brought quick encouraging rejections with the offer to refer me to a “book doctor” who would most certainly be able to help me re-work the ms for a sure sale. Even had a phone call from a notorious (and obnoxious) US book doctor who’d gotten my name from an agent I’d queried. So my additional advice is to do some good research or networking to make sure you’re approaching ethical agents and presses.
      As for choosing a career as a writer (studying journalism or advertising) as the route to becoming an author of fiction, I think that works for some people but the published novelists and short story writers I know come from a broad range of age, experience, education and occupation. I think for me, a career as a writer — journalist, copywriter, technical writer– would have used up so much creative energy that there wouldn’t have been much left for fiction. And the career I did choose has given me more material for story than I will ever be able to put to the page in my lifetime. Each of us on our own track, and I like that.

  3. What a great conversation! Thanks for starting it, Susan.

    Betty, thanks for the numbers from your experience reading manuscripts. It’s always good to get real numbers from real people!


    1. Thanks to Vicky for putting that little bug in my brain first thing this morning! Great conversation, everyone! Thanks for taking part, and please continue. Now that Mr. Griz knows he doesn’t need to coerce or corral anyone, he’s asleep.

  4. So much good advice in these comments! Just want to chime in and say, Vicky, the fact that you’re getting encouraging rejections is HUGE, and makes me think it’s just a matter of finding the right fit rather than rewriting the project. So congratulations on that and chin up.

    I don’t know about simultaneous submissions for novels, but I break the rule over and over and over again for short stories and nothing bad has ever come out of it.

  5. Darcie, if your middle name isn’t Tenacity, I christen thee so. This is exactly the wacky kind of carnival ride we have to be able to endure before we can get off and enjoy the rest of the fair. So glad you persisted!

    1. I had motion sickness for the longest time on that ride!

      And I humbly accept my new middle name ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I second that “glad you persisted”, Darcie! And I know this is just the beginning.

  6. Right… Simultaneous submissions. I didn’t plan to. But after I’d submitted to Publisher A, I met Publisher B at a launch. He agreed to read my ms. While Publisher A went through their process with my query and samples, Publisher B reviewed the entire ms and suggested I hire a good editor for one more complete “rethink.” So I “hired” you, Vicky!

    Four months later, with a fresh draft on his desk, publisher B went to Germany for half a year, leaving the ms in Canada.

    By then, it had been a year since querying Publisher A. I wrote them a letter, included another story, and hoped for a word.


    So, rather than wait for Publisher B to return from Europe, I decided to test the waters with Publisher C. After all, what were the chances?

    Right around the time that Publisher B returned home, Publisher C asked to read the rest of the stories.

    Both had a policy against simultaneous submissions. But what was I to do? On the advice of an agent, I gave them each what they asked for. This was no time to be up front and lose both possibilities.

    Soon enough, Publisher B declined the book, citing “too many stories about very young people.” But at least there was still Publisher C.

    In the meantime, though, who did I hear from but the until-then silent Publisher A. It had been a year, but yes, they would like to read the entire collection. Only, though, if it wasn’t being considered by another publisher.


    After a total of 15 months, Publisher C, too, said no. And I’d all but given up on hearing from Publisher A. Surely my stories had accidentally fallen down a hole, and with them, any way to contact me and request a duplicate.

    Enter Publisher D, who also took the collection to their final board meeting.

    And another no (at which point I had a complete departure from hope, and my sister had to come stay with me for the weekend).

    Still, I put the next iron in the fire, with little expectation. Or worse, expectation of another near miss with Publisher E.

    But then, what do you suppose? Publisher A sent a letter, saying they intended to publish. An intention that is right now at the printers.

  7. Let’s see. Ten years ago, with my first two books thoroughly (and rightly) rejected and stuffed into shoeboxes (lately in the shredder…that’s right, so don’t even ask), there began Book three. Short stories. Literary short stories. Which meant I might as well have just started looking around for another shoe box right away.

    Fast forward a few years.

    With a few stories published or nodded to in a regional contest, and journal rejection letters enough to wallpaper my padded cell, I decided it was time to send a query and samples to a book publisher. Sure, the ms wasn’t finished. But since it was going to take about a thousand such casts of the hook to get a nibble, why not get started on getting rejected early? (It worked out, in a way, but I do not advise such an approach).

    A few months later, said publisher wanted to see the rest of the book. Rest? What rest? So, in a panic, I wrote the last three stories, added them to the rest, acknowledged there were some rough (snort) edges, and…

    “This is not yet ready for a literary audience,” they replied.

    Boy, they were not kidding.

    While the first few titles were solid enough (though still amateurish and way, way too “purple” in hue), it was true. The remaining stories were little more than me dragging emotional baggage across the page, dropping socks and toothbrushes as I went.

    Next stop, the Humber School for Writers, where I submitted myself to be skinned alive by one of the country’s best and toughest writer/teachers. I rewrote the book, up to five times in the case of one story, and emerged from the experience in roughly the shape of the writer I was going to become.

    More rejection letters.

    Three publishers took my book all the way to their final board meetings before saying no. Two of them took more than a year to reach their decisions. And then, wouldn’t you know it? The publisher from the beginning, the “not yet ready for a literary audience” one, they made an offer.

    My first book will be released this fall. Ten years after I wrote the first story. Thirteen years since beginning the two books that are on their way to becoming paper cups and napkins.

    Who knows? The very cups and napkins that I put out at my book launch in September might have started their lives as my first two books.

    1. Hello all!

      I thought I might chime in on this wonderful dialog with my own story. After 20 years of writing and submitting, I got a contract this spring and my debut novel is coming out next summer. I will absolutely echo so much of what you all have said about sticking with something and not submitting too soon. I think back (wince, really) about the projects I sent out early on too soon–and even the book that was eventually purchased is so very changed from the version that first garnered me representation–and I thought THAT version was done.

      I cannot tally the number of rejections over the years–and I was not surprised or even insulted when my crit group at our last meeting, when I spilled my news, asked how many times the project was rejected before being bought, and when I offered up a pretty hefty number, they were all quite thrilled to hear it. Bottom line, it takes just one fabulous agent/editor to fall in love with your work. There is no maximum on rejections, otherwise I would surely have filled my quota and been asked to leave the game.

      That said, I also cannot count (or maybe I could since I saved every last letter) all the supportive agent/editor responses with advice on how to strengthen my writing. Every nugget, no matter how small, is invaluable and must be seen as a brick in the long road.

      I would certainly recommend multiple submissions, but most of all, I would recommend keeping track of your submissions and responses. Some of the agents you query may say your current project won’t work for them but to please consider them for future work. Those connections are invaluable if treated with courtesy and professionalism. I found my own agent through the referral of another agent, with whom I had no prior connection before a simple query, and this gracious agent considered several more of my projects in the years that followed, always offering such helpful advice, until I produced a manuscript that she couldn’t take on, due to a heavy client load, but felt strong enough about to refer to another agent.

      Sorry to be so long winded, all. Just wanted to share some of my experiences in the great conversation!

      Best wish to everyone,
      Erika Marks

      1. Thanks, Erika! Good luck with the publication of your new book. Please come back and make an announcement here when it’s released.

      2. Oof. I send out some truly cringeworthy things! Including that too-early draft of the collection that’s now being published. I’m so grateful that the publisher (which later did become my publisher) took the time to say it wasn’t ready for a literary audience. I needed to hear it.

        Congratulations Erika!

  8. It’s important to believe in ourselves, and to believe in our work, but it’s also important to strive to be the best writers we can be. This could be an opportunity to take another look at the story.

    A writer said once told me she thinks many writers submit too soon. I know I did. I kept getting rejection letters, and decided to keep improving so that they just couldn’t say no. Eventually, I did get a contract. My fourth book is coming out in October.

    I’ve heard that 80% of submissions are awful – simply too bad to be considered. Our first task is to make sure we’re never one of those 80%.

    I think it’s hard to judge our own work, to know when it’s ready, so I’d suggest working with a published author, a friend or a hired editor or a mentoring program, and see if revisions would make the story stronger. That’s what made the difference for me.

    Now I’m glad to have that pile of rejection letters. If my first novel had been published in the form I’d first submitted it in, I’d be really embarrased now.

    Of course, your story may already be brilliant and just need to find the right home. Either way, best of luck with it.

    1. I second pretty much all of this, Maureen. Especially your advice about getting feedback on the work and polishing it to a high sign before sending it out. If your novel has made the rounds in an early draft, you’re likely to have burned bridges even if you do a substantial rewrite. Unless a publisher suggests that they’d like to see a ms after you’ve taken another run at it, they do NOT want to see that ms again.
      As for 80% of submissions being dismal, I hate to think it’s that high. I spent 18 months as the first fiction reader for a lit mag, and my job was to cull the pile to the stories I considered “maybe”s, given the editorial slant of the mag and the sensibilities of the fiction editor who I know quite well. I usually sent on about 40% of the submissions — perhaps 30% were in the “has potential” range and the other 10% in the “I wish I’d written this!” realm. My frustration was that there are so many good writers in this country, so many fine stories and so few pages to hold them all. I think we need to keep that in mind as well. That there is probably as much good writing gone to rest in bottom drawers as there is on bookstore shelves and some of our own work may well suffer that fate. But does that shut any of us down? Of course not!

      1. The best thing I ever did, after my first book rejection with a ms I really cared about, was take the editor’s advice and start again. I went to school, then worked independently with an editor, and finally had something worth sending out again. Luckily, that first publisher, Thistledown Press, did take a second look. But only, I suspect, because I outlined exactly what I had done immediately after their initial rejection.

    2. Congratulations on the book, Margaret! Tell us more! Can we pre-order, and from where?

      You raise a very good point about submitting too soon, and I’ve been wondering myself where the line is: when do you know it’s time to haul the book back to the drawing board, or to keep sending it around (like Wayne’s 15-publishers war story!). In my case, I worked with two very good published authors before I started submitting, and it’s fairly early days yet, but I do have to bear in mind that an editor and an agent have read it in its entirety (twice, in the agent’s case) and still not picked it up, which makes me think it’s missing the je-ne-sais-quoi that makes it irresistible. I just don’t know what that is, because no one’s really given me something to sink my teeth into that I can go forth and change, although I’d happily revise if they had! I think I rather like Betty Jane’s “8 rejections” rule. So 4 more, and I overhaul ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. I went to hear Catherine Gildiner speak a few years ago and she talked a little about her first published book Too Close to the Falls. She said she completely disregarded any and all advice not to submit her ms simultaneously. She sent it out to all the publishers she wanted to all at once. Two or three (I can’t remember how many) bit and she ended up with a nice little bidding war on her hands. No negative repercussions. Isn’t this the way it should be?? I can’t say I will be as brave as to do this, but I sure would like to. Why should the publishing companies dictate where we can try to sell our books?

    The tide seems to be turning with lit mags. More are accepting simultaneous submissions these days. Maybe book publishers will too if enough writers just go ahead and do it.


    1. Thanks, Amy! But, in response to your question, Why should the publishing companies dictate where we can try to sell our books?

      Because they’re taking the financial risk to publish your manuscript. If they are going to spend the time evaluating your manuscript then they should receive the courtesy of knowing that no one else is considering it at the same time.

  10. I admire all of you who can continue to go out with submissions! I think the key is to be so completely proud of your work and know it’s complete. I sent out my manuscript to three places, didn’t hear back from two, but got a long rejection letter from the last one but with some good revision advice. Problem is, I have no motivation to revise! I’d rather just start the next book…which is in the “works” meaning, I have it in my head but haven’t put one word down. Alas, procrastination is a writer’s bane of existence! I’d say keep going, as Betty says, you need to get more rejections before success!

  11. I have a friend who, every time I mention that I’ve had another rejection (be it a book length ms or a short piece to a lit mag) says, “Great! The stats say you need 8 rejections (or 5 or 12 or 22) for every piece that finds a home. This means you’re getting closer. “The kind of cheerful optimism that makes you want to cram that ms down his well-meaning gullet. But in fact, he’s right. Sometimes there is beginner’s luck, but the most important thing we bring to writing (after the necessary measure of talent and craft, of course) is tenacity. Sometimes downright ridiculous persistence in the face of rejection. I have a fat collection of those stock replies from agents and publishers, all in the vein of “I like your style, the story is fine, but I am not passionately enough engaged with your work to be able to sell it in today’s tough market.” Pfffftt. Good thing you didn’t take it on then! Because I’m looking for the agent or editor who loves my ms as much as I love it. Or more.
    As for sim subs, yes. On queries, I always say: I am sending this query to other presses at this time, but the full manuscript is not under consideration anywhere else. Should someone ask to see it, I will let you know immediately.” I’ve never had to deal with the happy problem of two bites on a book at once, but if I did, I would just keep everyone informed. If the water is suddenly teeming with hungry fish, then I think you might be able to interest an agent in helping you haul in the biggest (or the prettiest).
    With stories to lit mags, my strategy is different. If guidelines say no sim subs, I respect that, but on my own timeline. No reply after six months, I send an email asking for an update and saying that if I haven’t heard from them within a month I will assume a rejection and send the story elsewhere. I also include a sentence along the lines of “I do not imply criticism in any way. I’m well aware of the huge number of stories you read, and the fact that the readers for your fine magazine are volunteers.” I find the lit mags very courteous in replying to such a request.
    But the key: tenacity. Keep on keeping on, Vicki!

  12. Thanks, Vicky! I think, as far as simultaneous submissions go, they’re okay as long as you tell the publisher or agent you’re doing it, and also as long as they don’t say on their website that simultaneous submissions will not be considered. For querying first, though, doesn’t it make sense that you send out a bunch at once? Then, if someone requests a full manuscript, you should let everyone else who expresses an interest know that it’s already being considered. As long as you’re open about it all, editors and agents probably expect that they’re not your exclusive choice in the search for publication. Anyone else care to comment?

  13. Stupid meetings. I’m here now, with tea, instead of coffee! That counts, right?

    What a fantastic idea, Susan. Thank you! Just so you all know where I’m coming from, I’m also going to out myself as the friend who was just rejected once again (boo!!). Four so far, for my novel, which was my MFA thesis. Very encouraging rejections, mind you, in the “this deserves to be published, but I’m not the right agent/editor for it” vein, but rejections nonetheless.

    So as I steel myself for the submission battle once again, my question for all y’all has to do with simultaneous submissions. I know this is an age-old question, but what is people’s take/the current view on submitting to a couple of places at the same time? Honestly, I don’t want to have to wait 6 months only to find out I’m rejected, then send it off to the next place, wait six months, repeat. Say you submit to a couple of places at once. I’m getting ahead of myself a little (!), but what do you do in the happy instance where an editor/agent bites, asks for your manuscript, and then asks for exclusivity? Do you tell all the others to hold off, or do you wait until an offer is actually on the table?

    And while I’m here, just wanted to point people to a couple of my favourite writing blogs: Agent Kristin Nelson: and other agent Betsy Lerner’s blog:


    1. Boo, hisssss. But yes, “good rejections” are cause for so much hope, even though there’s no getting around them being horrible all the same.

      When I found myself in the seemingly sticky situation of having two publishers reviewing my stories at the same time, I consulted Margaret Hart (who, you of course know, is the agent for the Humber School for Writer’s agency). I hadn’t planned to get myself into this situation (see comments that follow) and was really worried I’d somehow dashed all my chances. She said, and I quote, “These things have a way of working themselves out.” And they did. And then I signed with Margaret, because she’d been such a steadying influence. And the money I’ll save in postage alone when my next book is done (a thousand years from now)!

      Have you considered submitting to her?

      1. …You know what, I hadn’t considered Margaret Hart, until this morning, when Susan mentioned it too ! Why didn’t I think of this earlier?! Sheesh.

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