Is Your Writing Being Rejected?

Been enduring an unnerving spate of rejections to your writing submissions? You’re not alone. Slide over to the Brevity Magazine blog to read about my own recent experiences submitting my work.

The essay is called Sixth Sense Submissions, or Publishing Blind.

Leave a comment if you can relate. Oh, and I hope you’ll take a look at the enlightening comments left by others. Thank you.

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Are Literary Agents Outmoded? Should They Be? Part 1

Disclaimer: My one contact with a literary agent about my own work was pleasant and professional. My opinions below are based on agent blogs I read online.

The ferociously fast rise of self-publishing has significantly reduced writers’ dependence on agents—the first line of publishing gatekeepers. A good thing, too.

Self-Pubbing’s Not All That’s Undermining Agent Influence
Perhaps acknowledging the extreme difficulty of writers securing agents to represent their manuscripts, several well-known publishing brands have instituted unagented submission periods: Harper Voyage, a division of HarperCollins, offered writers two agent-free weeks in October 2012. Avalon; Avon Impulse; and ChocLit accept submissions directly from authors. Most of these houses publish romance; some indicate an interest in mainstream and mystery manuscripts, as well.

And those writers who keep a sharp eye on Twitter are rewarded with tweets notifying them of other publishers who accept unagented work.

Yet, agents seem cling to the belief that they remain critical to the realization of writers’ publishing dreams. Though their careers are dangling by a thread, many continue to act as if they are central to the publishing process and that writers should be happy to kiss their rings for the privilege of their attention.

I’m ready to select Agent and hit Delete.

Agents Are So-o-o Busy

Writers aren’t?

At least agents get salaries and benefits to be busy. Most writers don’t. We find the time, outside of our jobs, our writing, and the regular responsibilities of life, to submit our work. But many agents apparently are too busy to even generate click-of-a-button auto-responses to our queries. So even when we follow their onerous submission rules, it’s unlikely we’ll get a response for our trouble.

Given the complaints of many agents about their workloads, they might be happy to see authors publishing their work without them. After all, if the tweets and blog posts of some agents with large online audiences are to be believed, these literary professionals are responsible for so many tasks that securing new writers is at the bottom of their list of workaday priorities. So, they’re forced do most, if not all, of their manuscript reading and evaluations at night and on weekends. How sharp is their judgment after a long week of work?

As author Lynda M. Martin blogged to agents, “[As] the self-appointed guardians of the castle . . . you complain you can’t handle the traffic.”

Is this a workable business model?

“[T]hey simply don’t have time to read all the books they’d like to read, even the ones from writers who sound like they might be talented,” writes, Michael Bourne, in his balanced article, “A Right Fit”: Navigating the World of Literary Agents. “So, agents work with people they know, and friends of people they know.

“If that sounds like I’m saying, ‘It’s all about who you know,’ that’s because that is exactly what I’m saying.’ ”

The trash-talking agents whose blogs and tweets I’m referring to are quick to tell writers in snarky, schoolmarmy tones, that they don’t have time for queries or mss that don’t conform exactly to their agency’s strict standards (which, by the way, vary from agency to agency). Small author oversights are punished with manuscript exile.

Martin notes in her well thought out post, Are You Looking For A Literary Agent? Want To Vent a Little? that writers have to go a-begging to agents, following each one’s particular submission whims. She calls querying, “most humbling,” and quotes one agent: “[P]art of our process is to see how well you take instruction.” Talk about school-marmy!

Who would tolerate their busy doctor or mechanic or insurance underwriter dissing them like they were pond scum? After all, writers are agents’ clients; it’s our 15% they live on.

I spent decades as a manager and director in for- and nonprofit organizations. Know what? In each, I encountered customers who misunderstood or deliberately flouted rules and guidelines. Was I allowed to be snippy towards them? Hell, no.

I hope you’ll continue with Part 2 of this post.

Resource: Ask the Agent: Rejections and Rude Agents . . . What to Do?

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Don’t Submit Your Writing Yet—Please!

Whenever aspiring writers send me their “fantastic, soon-to-be-bestseller” to compliment, I cringe. They’ve put a ton of effort into their manuscripts. They’ve neglected their family and social lives—and maybe even their paying jobs—to imbue their narratives with all the talent and skill they can muster.

But when I read these works, I’m reminded of my own early, unschooled efforts. I expected immediate acclaim, but, my work wasn’t nearly ready. I didn’t believe that creative writing is a craft—like carpentry—that one must learn. Now I cringe at my own beginning efforts.

Nicola Morgan has a post titled, Failure to be Published; Harsh Reality. In it, Morgan, now a repeatedly published author of YA and children’s books, says of her decades of rejected writing:

“I thought I was better than I was. I didn’t know what mistakes I was making.” [Emphasis mine.]

And that’s the thought I hope aspiring writers will internalize.

I’ve tried hinting, coaxing, and cajoling the sincere new writers I meet online.

I’ve suggested they learn the ingredients and skills that make good writing, and have their work critiqued by experienced writers. I’ve urged them to hold off posting or mailing their work to agents, until it’s polished and powerful.

I’ve tried to discourage them from sending out query letters before they understand querying. (The same problems that appear in their manuscripts pop up in their query letters.) And to know what publishers and readers want.

So, for your own peace of mind, let your work be seen by professionals and the public only if:

  • Your spelling and grammar are impeccable. (Spell check has its limitations.)
  • You know where the punctuation goes with a quotation mark, and understand the purpose of commas
  • You know what a paragraph is, so your words and sentences don’t run on and on
  • Your writing is free of clichés
  • Your word usage is correct, because you keep a dictionary near, as you write
  • You use words that precisely express your meaning, because you frequently consult a Thesaurus
  • Your characters are complex
  • You’re sure of the purpose and construction of scenes
  • “Show, don’t tell” is clear to you
  • Your story’s got an irresistible hook
  • Your story contains nicely unpredictable elements
  • You’ve had the final draft fully proofed by someone with strong proofreading skills
  • People who are unrelated to you enjoy reading what you’ve written
  • People who read something you’ve written ask to see more of your work

Read articles and posts by successful writers that explain how to write well. Take writing classes; join a critique group of good writers. Hire a writing coach or an editor. Keep practicing. Keep getting better.

If you found this post helpful, you might also like Calm Down! It’s Just a Draft. If you’re ready for even more “tough love” for writers, see Why Did You Resign?, by Mike Cane.

Need help improving your drafts? Get in touch with me; I’ll help you out. I’m experienced and easy to work with. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Testimonials tab on this website, then get in touch.

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Switching Memoirs—Temporarily

I’ve put aside work on the memoir, My Mother’s Money, that I’ve written several posts about. The opening chapters could do with some revisions, and I don’t have many creative thoughts about them right now.

I still feel the story is a gripping one, but I need to take a break from it for a bit.

In fact, the whole time I was churning out those opening chapters, my other memoir, the one about my trials and tribulations working for 11 bosses in 11 years—at a single institution—kept calling to me.

So, I’ve resumed work on that memoir. I’m happy to say that I’ve got four or five chapters done. Skirt! Magazine even published an abbreviated version of it in an essay I wrote, called “From Part Time to Parting Time.”

The Lesser of Two Evils
One of the perils of memoir writing is the crappy and/or unresolved feelings the process dredges up. So, I’m choosing my current poison, so to speak. It’s less unnerving to write about bosses and colleagues, and the various lives we live at work, than to write about my parents’ costly peccadilloes.

Oh, and by the way, the reason I have the luxury of revising the opening chapters of My Mother’s Money is that the agent who was reviewing it decided not to pursue publication. But, an online contact (whom I hope to meet in person next month), has indicated that her publisher would be willing to take a look at it.

So, at some point in the not too distant future, I’m going to have to go down that depressing road again, writing about my siblings’ and my missing inheritance.

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Reasons Writing Gets Rejected

Most writing fails to get published because of one main reason:

The quality of the writing is weak.

It’s flat, predictable, and uninteresting. It lacks depth and vitality. It doesn’t grab the reader’s attention quickly.

Or it might be that the story, characters, language, or settings don’t show originality; everybody’s writing on that topic, and publisher are sick of seeing it.

Here are some resources to improve your writing.

Failure to Be Published: Harsh Reality
After twenty-something years of trying to publish her novel(s), Nicola Morgan, the author of this blog post admits, “I wasn’t good enough. And maybe . . . sorry . . . you aren’t either. But maybe, by listening and learning and improving, you can become good enough.”

Basic Writing Principles Across All Media
Scroll down to see the excellent tips.

Write Better
This is a (short) list of (long) articles from Writer’s Digest, covering novels, memoirs, and interviews with some well-known authors.

To rise above the mediocre writing out there and attract a publisher’s attention, we have to constantly tweak our writing, making it as strong and engaging as is humanly possible.

That’s our mission.

To read more about strengthening your writing and getting it published, click on Polish and Publish at the top right of this page.

And if you’ve recently had writing rejected, “3 Critical Steps After Rejection,” by Jane Friedman should strengthen your resolve.

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Who’d Read This Book Anyway?

A dying woman wanting her daughter to find money she’s hidden in her house.

Three people in mid life finding out that their mother has left them money, but who have little idea where it is?

And before they can get some of the money they know is waiting to be claimed by them, it mysteriously gets moved to a different location?

That’s my memoir. Would anybody want to read it?

I’m encouraged by the enthusiasm of people who’ve followed the story of my search for the money my mother left to my siblings and me and all the revelations my quest has dumped into my unwilling lap.

I recently dug up a manuscript I wrote years ago about women and money. A publisher, Basic Books, I think it was, had expressed interest in it.

But just before the deal was sealed, the editor I’d been working with left the company. The next editor wanted my manuscript rewritten in an entirely different format—at my own expense.

Since I’d already spent a small fortune collecting women’s stories of their histories with and attitudes towards money, I wasn’t having any of that. Instead, I just shelved the book.

But, I can see that parts of that manuscript are going to come in handy, as I finish writing My Mother’s Money. Nothing wrong with a little recycling, is there?

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Rejected Writing

When I started this blog I promised to share some of the few works I’ve submitted for publication that were rejected—and explain why I think the work wasn’t accepted.

So, it is with a certain amount of embarrassment that I’m fulfilling that promise here.

Before I submitted an essay to More magazine online that they accepted and posted (“After Burnout, a New Career Helping Writers“), I submitted “Hot Flashes and the Fashionable Woman,” below. More rejected it.

If you’d like to take a crack at the probable reasons it was rejected, go ahead. I’ll tell you my guesses in my next post.

Hot Flashes and the Fashionable Woman

You’re seated in a meeting when a mystifying mustache of moisture settles above your upper lip. Everyone is staring at the sudden splotches you feel blooming on your throat. A strange warmth skulks downwards, dampening your cleavage. Your heart begins to pound even though your boss hasn’t yet asked why you didn’t complete the reports she assigned you. You’re hot, which is odd, since you were the one who just groused that the room was too cold. Well, you’re having a hot flash, and it can’t be helped. What can be helped is how you handle it, particularly when it comes to what you wear. Menopause presents challenges to the middle-aged fashionista that require a whole new wardrobe accompanied by behavioral modifications designed to preserve her sang froid.

As a hot flash sufferer for more years that I care to remember, I want to offer some tips on how to remain fashionable, in spite of a strong desire to strip off (to cool off) in a meeting with a suspicious IRS auditor, or on arriving at a restaurant for your first date with the only older man you’ve met who’s not interested in women the same age as his daughter.

It’s important to know what a hot flash is so you know if you’re having one, or are just flushed from lying to your boss about those reports. Simply put, they are just another of the discomforts (think menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth) the universe sends to plague women, or at least slow us down. These scourges attack “women of a certain age,” that is, anywhere in the vicinity of 50 years old. According to, 75% of American menopausal and peri-menopausal women experience hot flashes. For some, the palpitating warmth spreads over their bodies one time, then thankfully, never again. Most women have to endure them for approximately six months. The truly unfortunate are dogged by them for a decade or more; I suspect some still have them during mahjong games at the senior center, or, heaven forfend, while receiving extreme unction on their death beds. So, they can span from a one-time event to the rest of your life, notwithstanding what unsympathetic doctors might tell you. (If your doctor is male, he might mumble something unintelligible that will sound to you like, “Suck it up. I’ve got patients with real problems to treat.” Don’t take it personally; his wife has hot flashes and he has no idea what to say to her, either.)

The upper chest and neck are the hot flash’s prime targets, but no part of your person is safe. They are particularly pernicious on cool, damp and hot, humid days.

Based on my extensive experience, as well as discussions with other hot flash victims, here’s my advice for remaining stylish, even when sweating bullets. Here’s what to wear/avoid.

Ditch your tights and pantyhose, though my husband’s cousin, Angela, who’s suffered from intense hot flashes for 15 years, still wears them.

Ditto turtlenecks. I only wear them when I’m outdoors in a blizzard with my jacket open to allow the snow to blow directly onto my broiling chest. Angela (see above) feels funnel-neck tops are okay. They’re not.

Forget about long, clingy sleeves, unless you want to be discovered yanking scissors out of your desk drawer and slitting your clothes as you ask a job applicant if she’s good at multitasking.

Buy twin sets. Cardigans with sleeveless tanks make attractive ensembles for the hot flash-prone, especially if the cardigan has short or three/quarter length sleeves.

If you must wear a jacket, make it a long tunic without closures. Buttons and zippers will only slow you down if you need to flap that jacket open quickly. You’ll not only feel cool, but the way the backs of some tunics sway when you walk will make you look sexy.

Don only low cut, sleeveless nightclothes. There’s something called “night sweats,” a term for hot flashes that attack you when it’s dark outside and you happen to be horizontal. Those are the ones that feel as if someone has placed a pillow loaded with lead over your face.

Wear tank tops—even in winter. You’ll thank me for this advice next December. It’s okay if some are lined or have boatnecks or princess necks; wear those on the sub-zero days. For all other seasons (and those weird mid-January days when the temperature in New England unaccountably rises to forty-five degrees, but feels like eighty-five degrees), if you’re having a hot flash, wear thin scoop neck tanks. In fact, don’t even put them away in the fall. Remember, hot flashes seek out your upper body like a stealth missile.

Skirts, dresses, and shorts keep you coolest in the summer. If you must wear pants, only wide legged ones will do. You want to attract a draft wherever you can.

Feature cotton and linen in your summer wardrobe, although, in all fairness, some clothes made of the lighter synthetics are okay, as long as they are loose fitting—say, six sizes too large for you.

Now, a fashionable woman must conceal her hot flashes with aplomb, so here’s some advice for managing those pesky public situations should a marauding hot flash find you when you’re in a meeting with colleagues, your child’s teacher, or that IRS investigator.

Select a seat as far away from other humans as possible. You don’t want their normal body heat triggering your extreme body heat. (Although, here’s an interesting medical claim: Even in the midst of the worst hot flash, your body temperature will be whatever’s normal for you, somewhere around 98.6 degrees, or even several degrees lower!)

Delicately dab your mouth (to soak up the perspiration that’s beading on your upper lip), as you would after eating. Put your head in your hands, as though you’ve just heard something upsetting, to surreptitiously mop the sweat on your hairline.

And always, always arm yourself with a large iced drink. When a hot flash threatens, grip your glass with both hands as if someone’s trying to snatch it away from you. This really works.

Finally, don’t be ashamed to open your windows, or run your fan or even your air conditioner on “high” in the middle of winter. Those who share a bed with a middle-aged woman get used to it. My husband has.

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