Getting Beyond “Yes or No” Thinking in Writing, Part Two

So, last time I wrote about tips and techniques I’d learned from others to get past seeing rejections as personal (“My story sucks”), pervasive (“I’m a loser”), and permanent (“I’ll never sell a story”).   Rejection is a fact of life for writers–the rate of rejection will go down as one gets better, but it will never go to zero.  Even the best writer produces a lousy story on occasion.

Chances are, you’ve noticed how binary humans can be in their thinking, i.e. that attitude of “It’s either Yes or No.”   So this week I want to go into more depth about getting comfortable with searching for the wriggle room between the “Yes or No” mindset.

Since we’ve been discussing the pursuit of publication through a traditional publisher or magazine, let’s use it as an example of the wriggle mind game.

Playing Mind Games with Rejections

On the surface, it seems so straightforward when a story is submitted to an editor–it’s either a sale or no sale.

But if we dig a little deeper, we find that not all No’s are equal.   There’s:
1) “No, but please send us your next story.”
2) “No, but interesting story.”
3) “No.”
4) “No.  This story is not to my taste.”
5) “No.  The craft in this story is poor.”

That third “No” can have a lot of hidden background that the writer doesn’t see.  It might just be a plain old “No, this story is no good.”   But, it is also possible the editor was swamped with stories and had to do form rejections for everyone, even the ones that were liked.  Or a story was recently published that was very similar to yours, so they had to pass on it.   Or the editor wanted to buy it, but the sales and marketing department rebelled.

Too often, writers see all No’s as exactly the same, because they’re focusing on selling one particular story instead of focusing on establishing a relationship with an editor.

I’m sure you’ve heard salespeople talk about cultivating clients.  Writing is no different.   Over time, as they submit story after story to an editor, writers have the chance to cultivate an editor by showing what they can do.   Stephen King did not sell the first novel manuscript he sent to William Thompson.  Nor the second, nor the third.  It was on the fourth manuscript, CARRIE, that he finally made a novel sale.

That’s why pro writers with 20+ years experience making a living as writers emphasize the importance of “keep submitting a work,” and “keep writing new work.”    A “No” isn’t about “No,” it’s about cultivating potential business relationships that may result in a sale a few years later.

The Wriggle Room Between “No Control” and “Absolute Control”

So, we’ve seen that when we look closer at rejections there’s more going on than a simple “Yes” or “No.”  Another example of that binary attitude at work is when we see a situation as having “No Control vs. Absolute Control.”  Oftentimes, there’s wriggle room if we look closer.

This is probably best explored with an example.  Let’s take the example of … book covers in publishing.

It’s rare that a writer gets absolute control of his or her book cover unless the book is indie published.

But often we go to the opposite extreme in mindset, and assume we have no control at all when our book is traditionally published.  But if we sit down and brainstorm ideas, sometimes we can come up with ways that can “tweak” what is going on with a book cover at a publisher.

Okay, so I’m going to take a moment and try to brainstorm ways I could wriggle past “No Control” on book covers with a publisher.  There’s no guarantee that any of them would help, but I wouldn’t know unless I tried.

Brainstorm Ideas to Get Past “No Control” Over Book Cover

1)  I could learn more about book covers in publishing.  Laura Resnick has a great series of articles to read on covers.

2) I could make a collage of favorite photos and pictures about the book, and send a JPEG copy to my editor to share with the art director and/or book artist.

3) I could ask for “cover consultation” in the contract if I have some clout; if I have major clout, “cover approval.”

4) I could demand a particular cover artist in the publishing contract if I have enough clout.

5) I could ask for final approval of the cover artist chosen written into the publishing contract if I have the clout.

6) I could provide a list of cover artists I admire (with their website gallery addresses) to the editor.  The editor and art director might throw the list out, but there’s a chance one of the names might catch their interest.  Can’t hurt to try.

7) I could politely ask the editor for a chance to see the cover sketches and layout before the final cover is done.

8) I could take a class on Photoshop, graphic design, or illustration so that I had a better understanding of what a book cover artist does.

9) I could go to bookstores to study covers, and browse through e-bookstores to look at thumbnail-sized covers.

10) I could find out who has won awards for their cover design work, and study the award-winning covers.

I could go on, but I’m certain you all see the point I’m getting at.   Sometimes even in situations where the writer officially has “No Control,” there’s wriggle room IF the writer is pleasant to deal with.   Woo, don’t whine.

So, to reiterate, remember that there’s more to a “No” than just “No.”  And keep an eye out for ways to wriggle out of a “No Control” business situation in publishing.   Good luck!

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