[Worldcon] How to Get Your Work Rejected

Sunday (September 2) at 1630: How to Get Your Work Rejected
Panelists listed in program: John Berlyne, Lee Harris, John Helfers, Susan MacDonald

Disclaimer: These are my notes from the panel and my own, later thoughts. I often was unable to attend the entire panel, and also chronically missed panelist introductions. When possible I try to note who said something, but often was unable to. Also, unless something is in double quotes it should be considered a summary and not a direct quotation.

1) Recognize that you’re a genius and the ordinary rules don’t apply to you.
You can’t break the rules until you know what they are.
And this isn’t just about the rules of writing. You should also ignore the guidelines put down for submission by the publisher! That’ll make it stand out, right?
Using google to track down the editor of the publishing house and then sending your MS to their home address totally isn’t creepy at all.
[Saving the Pearls joke by Lee Harris. A grand total of two of us in the room get it. OH MY GOD DON’T YOU PEOPLE READ THE INTERNET?]
Sometimes a little humility is not a bad thing.
Confidence is good, arrogance is not.

2) Talk a LOT about your project (tell everyone you know what you plan to eventually write about). 
Lee hates the aspiring writer label. You either write or you don’t. If you’re writing, you’re a writing. If you’re not writing, you aren’t.
“Aspiring brain surgeon” XD
A lot of people want to have written a novel. They don’t want to actually write a novel.
Lee: It doesn’t matter to an extent how bad your book is. If you sat down and do the work, fucking good on you because you have done something most people can’t do.
Writers deserve to be congratulated for finishing something. Then you get into the problems.
John does not like getting talked AT or people who just endlessly go on and on about their work.
You can’t be a writer unless you write. It’s about work ethic as much as anything.
The worst excuse you can give yourself is that you don’t have the time. You do have the time. The excuse actually means you don’t want to write. Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier, and write one page (250 words) then in 100 days you have a novella. In a year you have a novel.

3) Stay in your comfort zone. Classes are a waste of time for someone of YOUR talent.
Susan: “Writing in a way that seemed natural to me was very easy. Then I took courses and the teachers made me do exercises that left me feeling so uncomfortable that I went home and cried. But I forced myself to do it and it changed my ability to write. If you move into a field that you’re not very good at it stretches your abilities as a writer.”
Join a writing a group. Classes aren’t the be all and end all. You have to make sure you’re challenged. Try new things.
Read outside your comfort zone too.
Just have your mum and your friends read through it and mention what they say in your cover letter.
Often having attended a real workshop (particularly if you paid to do so like with Clarion) will catch attention because it shows you have invested in your work.

4) Workshop your piece until it’s perfect. Don’t write anything else. 
Continual revision based on the opinion of others.
When is it actually finished? No piece of work is ever 100% finished. You will never be completely finished. You just have to get it to the point that it’s good enough and then send it in. If you try to make it perfect, you are wasting your time, which could be better used to write something else.
Do nothing but revise! Make sure that first half chapter is utterly perfect!
You can actually over-polish something until it’s been ground away to nothing.
Don’t follow up to a submission immediately with a revision to the publisher. It just will not work.
On the other hand, you just can’t send in the first draft. Finish the novel, put it in a drawer, and let it percolate/ferment/fester for a while.

5) Get only your mom’s opinion. 
Only get opinions from people you know will love it! You just need what you already know confirmed.
Exception: your mom is a NY times bestselling author or a managing editor.
Get opinions from people who will be good at giving you the truth.

6) Send your manuscript everywhere and to everyone!
Approach every possible agent you can find a contact address for regardless of their interest in genre. And make sure to cc one e-mail to all of the agents at once and start it with “Dear Agent/Sir/Madam.”
Google Jinny Good and he has tried to schlep his novel to every agent in existence and has posted all their rejections with their contact info. A lovely display of demented vitriol. Not so much shotgun as howitzer.
Having a website where you loudly shit on everyone who has ever rejected your work, you will be guaranteed to continue being rejected!
Counter: research with the internet.
Lee: we’re not looking for reasons to reject you. We’re looking for reasons to publish you. Relationships between authors, agents, and editors need to be long-term relationships built on trust.

7) Ensure your submission really stands out (sticky notes to point out the best parts)!
Submitting a manuscript is like applying for a job. We’re looking for professionals we can take seriously.
Your query letter is the first example of your writing that you read.
When you do get published, you might get sent to do publicity. Publishers are expecting you to represent the company well. “You wrote a good story but we also felt you wouldn’t embarrass us.” Bathing is good (not while you’re at the interview)
Lie in your query letter. (We have the internet too. We will find out. And we don’t want to work with you if we can’t trust you.)
This is a small community and agents and editors talk to each other. They’re not just in competition. They talk about who they all do not want to work with.

8) Include a bribe with your submission
Someone sent a bird skull with their MS.
A guy dressed as a barbarian went to the Tor offices and asked if his MS had been read yet.

9) Write and tell the editors who are too stupid to accept your MS just how stupid they are.
AKA don’t shit on your own doorstep.
Acceptance is not a negotiation. No one ever got published by harassing an agent.
There are several authors who have acted themselves out of very promising careers. Don’t be a hot potato that no one wants to touch because you’re crazy.
When you are rejected, don’t react personally. It’s business.
No matter how painful it is (and it is painful) the fact is you have to develop a very thick skin. It’s a very small field; if you trash talk it will get back to the person your trash talking.
A rejection letter says, “This isn’t quite right for us please send more” you should be elated. It means they saw something in you they want to work with.
Once the an agent has picked up your book, HE is invested in it. Then the agent faces getting rejection as he tries to find a home for it. But then he finds an editor. Then that editor has to go to the acquisitions meeting and HE faces being rejected within that meeting. The editors and agents get invested in your book.Then the marketing and sales guys have to convince the trade they have to buy the book. Then the bookstores have to persuade the public to buy the book. Your rejected experience is the same all the way up the food chain. We understand you. This is why we spend so much time in bars.

10) Send your MS back to everyone who rejected you. Just change a few names, no one will ever notice!
Also totally send your MS that was rejected by one editor in the company to another editor in the same company!

Sending a thank you when you get rejected is polite but pointless. We will assume that you’re thankful that we rejected you nicely.

Award wins aren’t bad to mention. If an editor/agent is at all curious about you, they will google you though. If you don’t have a presence online they do find that very strange. And don’t make awards up. We will find it out.

Closing remarks:
Don’t be insane. Oh wait, this is how to be rejected. Be insane.
Professional, patience, politeness, and persistence.
We write because we have a compulsion to write or love it. And it’s wonderful if you get published. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t. Write because you love it.


Hands down, this was the most hilarious panel of the weekend. Please realize that a lot of the remarks here are sarcastic advice on how to ensure that your work is going to be rejected, not serious at all.

Other than a lot of laughter, the two things I really got from this panel were:

1) If you’re a nominally socially functional human being who has the necessary attention span to sit down and actually write a damn novel, you are way, way ahead of the game. Way, way, way ahead. I am utterly stunned by the amount of utter crazy most of the editors and agents see.

2) Enough with the aspiring writer thing. If you’re a writer, you write. Period.

That’s actually not the first time I’ve heard #2, not by a long shot. I think the first time I heard it put that baldly was at a Mile Hi Con panel, and that’s what motivated me to really buckle down and write. You’re either a writer or you’re not. And that powerful little boot to the head is what ultimately motivated me to start submitting stories.

…which I think will be a post all its own some day.

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