Do you remember that girl you used to sit by? The one who annoyingly covered her mouth, trying to stifle laughter at all of the teacher’s corny jokes? Yeah, the same book nerd that either had her nose buried in a book or had her head bent, furiously scribbling in her notebook all the time? That wasn’t me.
If you want to know who I am, drive as far away from the city as you can. Then, run out into a field and fling open your arms. Smile up at the sky and turn around in a circle until you’re so dizzy you fall down. That’s me.Fredom
I’m a country girl who lives on one of the oldest farmsteads in Western Kansas. I have horses, cattle, chickens, and I love the outdoors. However, I also have two bachelor’s degrees and close to 1,000 books lining the back wall behind my desk—all of which I’ve read at least once. The books closest to me right now are Philosophy of Law, Analyzing English Grammar, The Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, Winter of the World (Book Two of The Century Trilogy), andWishing for Tomorrow: The Sequel to The Little Princess. For creatures that long for order, editors often have surprisingly eclectic tastes.
The one thing that I’ve learned during my time working in the publishing field is that while there are objective standards, there is also always a pendulum of subjectivity threatening to slice into that detached demand for perfection.
We are word lovers, and books offer the only place to fill that deep desire to read. So, when we fall in love with a story, we fall hard. Manuscripts provide a unique opportunity to fall in love with writing or a story, and tweak and perfect what we already adore into something even more exquisite. I think what writers should understand is that when you are querying to an editor, you may be writing to your first unbiased fan. That being said, it’s important to note that what may seem like chaos to you may feel like order to them.
When you go to a restaurant, you expect a particular taste or essence to resonate with all of their food. Even if everything is different, there is still a sense of overall unity and familiarity. You wouldn’t, for instance, expect to receive a Wendy’s burger when you ordered from Applebee’s. Nor would you expect a steak from Red Lobster–not that the steak wouldn’t be prepared well, it just wouldn’t fit with the restaurant. If it doesn’t fit, it’s probably not going to be marketed like the rest of the menu.
That’s how writers should see agents and acquisition editors. Just because one didn’t take a sample of your dish and go crazy to offer it to their patrons doesn’t mean that it’s a bad dish. All it means is that perhaps there is an agency or house that more suitable to your work.
You and your agent want your editor to love your manuscript. They are going to read it over and over and over, making sure you haven’t misplaced a modifier or used the same word like a hundred times in like the same like sentence. Just because your dish, or manuscript, is good enough to publish, that doesn’t mean that all editors will offer it an equally good home.
Having worked as an acquisitions editor, I can tell you that editors are only objective to a certain degree. In the end, they have to use a degree of subjectivity: Does this story still stick with me after I set it down? Am I bursting at the seams to read it again? You want your editor to answer yes to both of those questions. So, if you get a rejection, that doesn’t mean the editor read your work and thought, What a waste of perfectly good paper. More than likely, they just didn’t answer in the affirmative to one of the questions I posed above.
As an agent, if I reject your manuscript, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like it—I just didn’t fall head-over-heels in love with it. I have eclectic taste, but I am also extremely picky. There have been many times I have caught myself, elbows on desk, head in hands, sighing because I would do anything to prevent having to hit the send button on a rejection message. There are books that I like—that I know are publishable, but either they weren’t a good fit for what my agency, or I don’t love them enough to do them justice as their agent. Those are the tough ones. The ones that make you Tweet “ugh” and sign off for the day.
That, of course, is the beauty of living on this farm. When an excruciatingly difficult decision must be made, I just grab my daughter and a hiking pack full of fun treats and a good book, saunter over to our—currently dry—pond and delve into a book another agent and editor have already made a decision on.
Note: If this post sounds familiar, that’s because it was recycled and modified from it’s original publication. I left my former role of Managing Editor of Anaiah Press in November of 2014 to better assist writers by opening up my own literary agency.