Monday, August 3, 2009

Rejection: Why It's Happening to You and How to Avoid It

How could I not go to a session at the PNWA conference with such an alluring title? Having sent out five query letters and having received four silences and one printed rejection postcard in return, I definitely qualifed as a Reject. But in the publishing industry, where rejections hover around 98%, I knew this session wouldn't be me and three other Losers circling up our chairs.

In fact, by the time this session rolled around, I already had a very good guess why I was a Reject. Or, at least, an Instant Reject. After all, only one agent had even gotten a writing sample. The rest took one look at the query letter and hit Delete. Firstly, my pitch was too wordy. But if I managed to hold them past three sentences, they choked when they hit my novel's Word Count. Instead of writing a decent first novel that came in around 80,000-100,000 words, I'd written a 130,000-word behemoth. Apparently this is a no-no, unless you write sci-fi or fantasy, and even then, you'd better not be a first-time author.

If I didn't know my word count threw me in the Auto Reject pile when I started the conference, I sure did by the end. Different agents had their upper limits (the most generous being 120,000, but even she said she would Delete 130K "on a bad day"), but I was beyond all of them. And in my live pitch, the agent and I were having a lovely time talking my plot, my imagined audience, what kind of writing career I would like, etc., and she'd already asked me to send three chapters, but when she found out how long it was, her face fell. "That's long," she said simply.

So I've been furiously slashing and burning (it now stands at 123K+ and I'm not done), but without a professional editor, I doubt it'll ever see 90,000. A learning experience. Really, it's not so shocking when I consider the concrete costs of printing long books. Long books are more expensive, simply. And if you're not an established author, no one wants to foot the bill for your long book. Not to mention decimate great swathes of old-growth forest for paper to print it on.

I seem to be the only person in America who, upon opening a trade-size paperback, puts it back on the shelf if it's only 250 pages with big print and wide spacing. I hate that! Give me some meat!

What do you think? Short book, long book?

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