I’m really beginning to feel like a professional now. Not only have I begun to send out query letters to publishers, but I have even received my first response! Surprise, surprise, it was a “polite decline.” I won’t get in the habit of posting all of my rejection letters, but the first one has sentimental value. This particular letter was, graciously, very cordial and constructive. The editor wrote,
Dear Scot Fagerland, Thank you for your inquiry to our website regarding your work-in-progress, The Evolution of Human…
While I share your sense of the need to think deep and incorporate an evolutionary perspective, my acquisitions responsibilities at Hot Button Press have shifted to a focus on environmental science and I am not able to consider new opportunities in evolutionary anthropology, etc. I encourage you to approach other publishers with your ambitious project but would also advise that you propose a single-volume synthesis, as I don’t expect many publishers would warm up to the idea of a multi-volume set. I appreciate your interest in Hot Button Press.
Sincerely,J. Edgar Anonymous
Senior Sponsoring Editor
Hot Button Press
A few thoughts:
The letter addressed one of my most important concerns, which is my volume of material. The two chapters that I’ve written already are big enough for a book. While I will probably keep all of my material here on the website, I have been wondering if I should try to rewrite each chapter 4 – 5 times more concisely so I can pack it all into one print book. Apparently I should. Wow, that will be some challenge. If you thought that writing a world history was difficult, try doing it in 100,000 words or less! Brahms had something similar to say about composing music:
It is not hard to compose, but what is fabulously hard is leaving the superfluous notes under the table.
This letter also brought home to me the real-world, pragmatic character of publishing. We non-famous people tend to envision the whole world of publicity as a magic kingdom. Just write something decent, take it to the pearly gates, and it will be exalted to the heavens. But you know what, the publishing industry is nothing more than individual agents and editors with specific jobs. One editor might have his hands full with books about apples. Submit to him a book about oranges, and he just won’t care. That’s not his job! As a lawyer, I have to understand that. My practice area is pretty narrow. When people call me with questions about custody battles or wrongful termination, I generally advise them to try someone else. Getting published isn’t just about writing something that your mom would be proud of. It’s about getting lucky and finding an editor or agent who is actually looking for what you’re writing, when you’re writing it. Don’t look for someone to do the job for you. Do his job for him.
It is a tantalizing fantasy to write a “Why Not?” response to a rejection letter. When I read this one, I thought, “Oh yeah? I looked you up on GoodReads, and your last three books were about evolutionary anthropology!” Needless to say, that approach will get me nowhere fast. I have to take each rejection at face value, learn from it what I can, and make the next query all the more appropriate and focused.
Finally, in my studies of the publishing industry, I have discovered that there is a whole small but inspirational niche of Rejection Letter literature. All artists have been rejected at some time or another. We love to read those rejections and laugh at how foolish the agencies were. “See, they’re wrong!” Apparently, we all like to be reminded that value is subjective. It helps us feel a connection with our favorite artists. We begin to believe that rejections like this one are just a necessary first step in our great career: