Category Archives: Editors

Pushcart’s COMPLETE ROTTEN REVIEWS AND REJECTIONS

I think what I love most about Pushcart’s COMPLETE ROTTEN REVIEWS AND REJECTIONS, edited by Bill Henderson & Andre Bernard, is that it lifts the veil of mystery between writers and the publishing world, and shows us just how human we are all are despite our attempts to become omniscient.   Mistakes get made.  Critics and editors get cranky and misunderstand an important book.  Writers insult other writers.

Any writer who is feeling timorous about submitting his or her work should consider reading this book.  Reading the nasty reviews and rejections other writers have received was an excellent antidote for self-pity.  The book also provides a peek into history, since Bill Henderson made an effort to include rotten reviews going as far back as 411 BC.

I don’t want to spoil the fun of what is inside, so instead I’ll quote from the back cover:

Alice in Wonderland was greeted with “a stiff overwrought story.”  Reviews of Moby Dick cited Melville for “tragic-comic bubble and squeak.”  Classic rejection slips were delivered to John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold: “You’re welcome to Le Carre–he hasn’t got any future,” and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years,”…

My one gripe is that the book has no index, and since the excerpts are not arranged chronologically or alphabetically, I have to randomly flip around to find the author or quote I’m looking for.

This book combines the three separate Pushcart editions of ROTTEN REVIEWS, ROTTEN REVIEWS II, and ROTTEN REJECTIONS.  So you’re getting three books for the price of one.  A great bargain.

Laura Resnick’s REJECTION, ROMANCE & ROYALTIES

I think what I value most about Laura Resnick’s essays in REJECTION, ROMANCE, & ROYALTIES: THE WACKY WORLD OF A WORKING WRITER is her brutal honesty.   This is not an essay collection for the faint of heart.

Let me provide an example from her essay “Passion” in the book:

Editors have told me that my advance is more than I’m worth; my work isn’t that good; I should write more like so-and-so; my work is “shit;” I don’t know how to write; my work is an “insult” to them; and I don’t “appreciate” them enough.   Agents have told me that I’m “not worth” their time; my query is an insult to them; I’m “self-destructive” (based on my choosing to fire that agent); they “hate” my work; and I’m lazy (I wrote a mere 1,400 pages that year).

Resnick covers a variety of topics in her essays, such as writer’s block, editors & agents, contracts, readers, horror stories about publishing, horror stories about book tours, nerves, cash flow, rejections, etc..

Because this is a collection of essays, certain thoughts get repeated over and over.   This becomes a mild irritant if one sits down to read the book in one sitting.  I found it better to stop for the day after reading four to five essays.

Resnick makes her living as a fiction writer, and she does not spare the reader details about the ugly side of the business.  However, she also has a wicked sense of humor.  Here’s a sample from “It Can Happen Here–And Often Does:”

Trish Jensen, writing under the pseudonym Trish Graves, sold them a novel called Just This Once in which the hero, among other things, mentors a teenage boy, steering him away from street gangs and toward organized sports.  So you can imagine the author’s shock when, upon reading her galleys, she discovered that the editor had changed the boy into a raccoon.

(I think I speak for everyone here when I say, “What?”)

You’ll have to read the essay to find out if the novel was published with the raccoon character change.

Learning About Publishing Contracts

I’ve met writers who refuse to learn the basics of a publishing contract, or who skip reading the entire thing before signing.   This always drives me crazy, because they’ve just signed a legally binding document that could result in all kinds of heartbreak because they wouldn’t accept that publishing is a business, like any other business.  You can get sued.  You can go bankrupt.  You can discover that you can’t exploit certain rights to your work because you signed away all the rights when you shouldn’t have.

A publishing contract is a business contract.   If you sell your writing to a publisher, congratulations, you’re now a small business of one.   And if you sign a bad contract, you can be dealing with the repercussions for decades.  Or out of business entirely.   Doing the writing is art, selling the writing is a business.

So, where to start learning the business law basics a freelance writer needs to know?   I started with the THE WRITER’S LEGAL GUIDE:  AN AUTHOR’S GUILD DESK REFERENCE, THIRD EDITION by Tad Crawford & Kay Murray.  Get the most recent edition to read since publishing law and technology change quickly.  This book provides a great summary of the business law a freelance writer needs to know, from copyright to publishing contracts to agent-author agreements to IRS tax law.  By the time I finished this book, I felt I had a good understanding of the legal basics.

There’s another book to consider reading next, even though it’s from 1999–KIRSCH’S GUIDE TO THE BOOK CONTRACT by Jonathan Kirsch.  Kirsch is a practicing attorney in publishing law, and he had lots of valuable anecdotes and examples to provide as he went through an entire sample publishing contract.

For both books, I found it best to read 10 pages or so, and then stop for a few hours.  The legal matters can be mentally tiring to wade through quickly.  Also, there were times it was helpful to mull over a newly learned fact or law before moving onwards.

Some writer organizations have sample contracts you can look at or lectures about contracts at their national conference.  Definitely check to see if any organization you are a member of provides such services.

Janet and Isaac Asimov on HOW TO ENJOY WRITING

I stumbled across a hardback edition of Janet and Isaac Asimov’s HOW TO ENJOY WRITING: A BOOK OF AID AND COMFORT (published 1987) at a used bookstore.  The book is out-of-print, so you’ll have to buy a used copy or go to a library if you wish to read it.

This book is not written for beginners.  It does not discuss how to write science fiction or how to get published.  Readers will get more out of it if they’ve been writing for a few years and have a basic understanding of the publishing industry.  Janet Asimov chooses to focus on the psychological aspects of writing (which makes sense since she was trained in psychiatry).   The writing style of the book reminds me of long rambling talks with a favorite academic adviser.  If you don’t enjoy chatty talks, you’ll probably get restless reading this book.

Despite having read many books on writing, I found fresh insights in Chapter 3:  Coping, Ch. 5 : What Writers Go Through, Ch. 8: Words vs. Pictures, and Ch. 16: Integrity.  Here’s some advice Isaac Asimov gave a young writer from Ch. 3:

And most of all, to be a writer means to write whether there is any reward or not.   That is why a writer finds it so difficult to overcome the feeling of annoyance at any interference with his writing whether from a friend, from an editor, or even a person whom he loves above all else….

Write for the pleasure of writing only, and never think of whether of what you write is “good” or “bad.”  Do you wonder whether the echo of your footsteps is good or bad, whether the blink of your eye is good or bad?  Writing is a bodily function for a writer and it is what it is.

It may be wise to give up the illusion of being a famous writer, a renowned writer–but it is never an illusion to think of being just a writer….

ISAAC  (at the top of his voice):  Please don’t help me!  Happiness is doing it lousy yourself.

For over a century, the publishing industry has debated if books will disappear due to each new development in the entertainment industry (vaudeville, radio, movies, VCRs, video games, internet, etc.).  In Ch. 8 Words vs. Pictures, Isaac Asimov talks about this debate in depth.  Even though the chapter is over twenty years old, he brings valuable insights to share about writing as a form of communication in human history: 1) writing has been around for thousands of years and still provides a way to get certain information across that no other form can, and 2) the percentage of humans who are intense readers has been, and probably always will be, small–but those readers are loyal.  I’d rather not summarize his arguments here; better to go read the chapter to get his thoughts straight from him.

Their book also has cartoons about writing done by Sidney Harris.  My favorite is the one about Hemingway’s dog meeting Faulkner’s dog.  🙂

Jennifer Crusie on Finding an Editor or Agent

Back in 2005 Jennifer Crusie wrote an essay each month that gave advice to writers on editors, agents, publishing, and the writer’s life for the ROMANCE WRITER’S REPORT (the magazine for the Romance Writers of America).   Her advice was blunt and pithy, and it has stayed fresh in my mind.   She’s posted those terrific essays, as well as others, on her website under For Writers.

Under the Publishing subcategory of For Writers, you will find her advice on planning your career, and finding an editor or agent. Make sure to read her essay IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU before STALKING THE WILD EDITOR: HOW TO GET PUBLISHED, MAYBE or THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM: HOW TO FIND YOUR PERFECT AGENT.   Let me provide an excerpt from IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU that explains why you need know yourself:

A good agent will look at your work and love it for what it is and foster your vision by making suggestions that enhance the story you need to tell. A bad agent will look at your work and make suggestions that fit the trends of the time. The only way you’ll know the difference is if you know what your story is.

But knowing your story, yourself as writer, is not enough because once you sell a story, you take on a second career, this one in publishing. Writing and publishing are two entirely separate things, and you need to know who you are in both.

If you have the time, read all of the essays in the Publishing subcategory.  Plan to set aside thirty minutes a day for a week or two to sit quietly with a notepad and Crusie’s essays, writing down answers to the questions Crusie asks you consider before you approach editors or agents.

Also, hidden away at the bottom of the For Writers page is a great essay on dealing with jealousy, GREEN IS NOT YOUR COLOR.