publishing tips

5 Ways to Avoid Publishing Rejection by Being Human

Last week I made it my mission to get my ass out into the community. I’ve lived in Portland just over two years and had my head down for too long, grinding and whatnot. And when you work from home—no matter how terrific and cuddly your pets are—the need to be around humans intensifies.

Besides the array of local bars and coffee shops in my neighborhood, there is another convenient place to be around other humans…MeetUps.

I joined A LOT of them. Hence, the reason I ended up dancing in a Bollywood class, signing up for a marketing conference, and going to church.

Church? I know. They even let me in, can you believe it?

All joking aside, I went to church for this Willamette Writers MeetUp. The topic was all about how to get published…and how not to.

Presented by Tod Davies, Editorial Director of Exterminating Angel Press, Tod is an author herself with a colorful career track record as a radio host, screenwriter, and indie film producer. I’m not ashamed to say it—I was smitten when I discovered she co-wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (Yep, that’s pretty damn cool.)

There is a Shit-Ton of Noise

This might be the part where some of you that have known me for years are wondering why I, a devout indie author with three self-published books under her belt, strolled into a MeetUp to learn tips about traditional publishing.

The rest of you probably want me to shut up and talk about the publishing tips, because you were lured here after reading the title of this blog.  Don’t get your panties in a bunch, or scroll down if you can’t handle the suspense.

Besides the MeetUp’s promise of writerly camaraderie, I have decided to give traditional publishing another go when I finish my fourth book this year. There are things I love about self-publishing, and things I don’t.

Without diving into a pros and cons moment here, I’ve talked about the struggle of being an indie author many times. When I wrote Why Writing Isn’t Enough—The Savvy Writer’s Guide to Success over at Kristen Lamb’s blog some months ago, I gave other writers the tough love.

We’re running a business. It’s the last thing any creative type wants to hear. But, it’s true—and we have to get our ducks in a row, like these guys.

writing as a business

In today’s publishing world—both indie and traditional—there is a shit-ton of noise. We know that. It’s not like the good ole days, when there were less authors and blogs. The accessibility of technology has opened the flood gates, and the market is…flooded.

Back in 2012, when silly me decided to pursue published author glory after I “finished” my first book, I diligently created a spreadsheet of every literary agent that seemed like a good fit from a hefty publishing book my mom gave me.

During the submission process, I acted personable and professional—hell, I was in my first marketing job at the time, so I knew a little something about PR. Still, I was ignored or rejected again and again and again, until the crazy time when a big shot agent in Manhattan actually considered my manuscript for Beneath the Satin Gloves.

I thought: This is it!

It wasn’t. He passed.

“Spectacular writing is writing that fits the category and fits the need. For example, with pornography you don’t want it to read like Proust.” – Tod Davies

Even though I didn’t get any feedback besides the “this isn’t right for us” pillow talk, I reworked my manuscript to make it stronger and I self-published it. Years later, I revised it again and republished it on Amazon, applying my recent years of writing experience to make it even stronger.

Looking back on it all, I realize I just wasn’t ready. And I think that’s a mistake a lot of writers make, whether they are self-publishing or shopping it around.

That doesn’t mean we have to spend years on a quest for writing perfectionism. That quest will make your life miserable and your book will never see the light of day. And simmer down, because you’re probably breaking it.

We absolutely have to put together the best possible work. But, we also need to consider the “now what?” phase. If you’re self-publishing, how are you going to get people to read it? If you’re going traditional, how are you going to get it picked up?

Here comes the “B” word again. We’re running a business.

publishing tips

We’re All Humans, So Act Like One

So, where was I? Oh, yes. An indie author walks into a church…

I’ll admit I was skeptical about the MeetUp, because it was the first one I ever attended. I sat in one of the back pews, close to the exit in case I needed to bolt. I was pleasantly surprised by not only the educational value, but the entertainment as well.

Tod Davies knows her shit, and she was up front about her goal to create an interactive experience for the crowd.

During the “what NOT to do” part at the beginning there was some tasteful role-playing—with the desperate writer acting out each point to the publisher searching for an escape route.

Though they may all seem like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised how many writers regularly commit these atrocities and become a part of the “guess what this writer did today” discussion when publishers get together for drinks.

What NOT To Do

Be insistent
Be confident
Be oblivious
Be pretentious
Be yammering

While I enjoyed the playful approach, the shining moment of the MeetUp happened in the second half, during the “what to do” segment.

This was when Tod went through each point from her publisher’s perspective, inviting the audience to freely ask questions to fuel the discussion. So, here they are:

What To Do

Be informed
Be courteous
Be open
Be professional
Be yourself

“Be yourself. Don’t try to be somebody else, Because that’s what you’re bringing to the party.” – Tod Davies

At the beginning of the talk, Tod asked us one no-frills question that stunned the room: How many of you know that publishers are human beings?

I wish I could have been standing where she was, taking in the blank stares. I imagine it was a bittersweet mixture of comedy and frustration for her. When she posed the same question again, cautious hands began to rise from the tattered pews and laughter enveloped the musty space.

So, if thinking about your writing as a business doesn’t resonate with you, then remember humanity. Be human, be yourself. Because there is a human on the other side of every part of this.

Who’s reading your book? A human. Who’s reviewing your book? Oh look, it’s a human. Who’s editing, formatting, designing your book? Still a human. Who’s reading your eager email when you submit your pitch to a publisher or agent? I think you get it.

We’re all humans, so act like one. Interesting concept, eh? See what that does for your success as a writer.

Have you ever been to an amazing MeetUp? Or, do you have any great tips for pitching to publishers?

23 thoughts on “5 Ways to Avoid Publishing Rejection by Being Human

    1. Thanks, Stan! This was a MeetUp any of you guys would have enjoyed attending, so I did my best to share it with you.

      I don’t know how confident I am, exactly. Just ready for a new adventure! 🙂

  1. Entering the church and sitting in the back near the exit… that made me laugh so much! I once attended a course on world religions at our local Unitarian Church and this is exactly where I sat on the first day, ready to bolt is anyone dare spot the nervous atheist in the room. But then, the minister got up and she said, “So, I’m agnostic, but I think the different religions have a lot to teach us”. Needless to say, it ended up being a great course!

    1. Haha, too funny! I’m always the back of the room kind of girl, but I especially was this time.

      What a great opening from the minister! Good way to put everyone at ease.

  2. Interesting that you’re having another look at the trad route Britt. Probably right in that you’re in a way better place now than before. (I’ve only approached one agent/publisher ever and was pleased to get a quick response, albeit negative.)

    I’m sure meet-ups and networking are a good way to go, for business generally. The Net is so faceless. There sure are no short cuts to success unless you catch a rare break.

    Looking forward to reading your fourth book.

    1. Yeah, I kind of figured what the hell, at this point? And, I know I always have self-publishing to fall back on. There is no rush…that, at the very least, I have learned. 🙂

      Agreed that the faceless factor of the online world can be tough. It was great to be surrounded by other writers in the flesh, since those relationships have been entirely online for me these past few years. The energy in the room was great inspiration for me. It was cool to sit there and think…all of these people are writing books!

      Looking forward to finishing this damn thing, so you can read it, Roy! 😉

  3. “Looking back on it all, I realize I just wasn’t ready. And I think that’s a mistake a lot of writers make, whether they are self-publishing or shopping it around” — this resonates with me so much and is the real reason I haven’t gone indie with my novels. I think I knew, deep down, that they weren’t ready. And I don’t base if off the fact agents haven’t been calling me 24/7, but because I have finally learned how to be objective with my work. I think that’s the hardest, but most important, step an author needs to make. And it has to do with, as you say, looking at our creative work as a business. When I was finally able to re-read my work from a business point of view, I saw the issues.

    I have gone indie with my handbooks for other authors, but here again, that is for my business–as a freelance story coach. I’m publishing blog posts about the same stuff anyway, so the books are just an extension of what I’m yapping about online. From a business POV, self-pubbing the WU series made sense and is a helpful tool when I’m working with writers.

    My fiction is different because it comes from a different place–my soul–and that’s harder to spin, I think. I’m at a better, stronger place with my fiction now than where I was 5 years ago and I thought my novel was shiny-ready. Nope. But I’m done licking my wounds. I’ve learned A LOT. And I can’t wait to get back in the game!

    Awesome post, girl!

    1. Nice comment, Kate. Yes, I agree, we need to wait until our work is truly READY before we pass it along to the ‘world’ out there. And we need beta readers, a critique group, and for some, an agent and an editor, before we know if our book is truly READY. Good luck to you! xo

    2. I am definitely more business savvy now, and I know that has definitely helped improve my writing, editing, and the way I will approach submissions. Being objective is very hard when we are so close to our words!

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with diversifying our publishing channels a bit. For the longest time, it was you must choose this or that. Who cares? Try some different things out and see what works. You’re rockin’ it, doll!

  4. THIS IS SUCH A GREAT POST!! It didn’t convince me to switch from Indie publishing to traditional. I’ve researched both options ad infinitum, and I’m still on the Indie side. But whichever way we go, your points from the Meet Up are right on. However, as a devil’s advocate, I will add that some agents forget that they’re ‘human’ and become mechanical with their rejections, or their lack of any response at all to a writer’s proposal. That’s not human. The field IS crowded out there. The more ‘human’ we each act, the better the chances for the delivery of wonderful literature – fiction and non. Thanks. You’ve actually spurred me on to my next blog post about the ‘agent dating’ forum I participated in. ACK!! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Pam darling! I’m always a champion for us indies, so I think I’ll explore the indie publishers a bit this time to find a happy medium. Since I’m on my fourth book now, I feel that it’s time for a new adventure. And hey, if I get completely ignored, then I know I can always self-publish again.

      I agree on what you said about the agents. That agent dating forum sounds crazy!

  5. I’ve been enjoying the variety of MeetUps in my area. I’ve gone to two for writers. The one in Dayton was great, but their meeting time conflicts with my schedule too often. Still, it’s nice to connect with other writers. Wish I had more time to devote to “my business” instead of squeezing it all in after my day job.

    1. I hear ya, hon. It’s great to meet up with like-minded people and get some fresh inspiration. No matter how busy we are, it’s important to take time out to do that for ourselves.

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