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JK Rowling reveals cringe-worthy rejection letter telling her to join writing class

25 March 2016

From The Telegraph:

They have been some of the most painful career mistakes in history: the record-label which turned down the Beatles, the editor who told Walt Disney he lacked imagination, and the publishers who rejected J K Rowling.

The misery of the latter has today been compounded after Rowling shared the painful rejection letter she received, warning her adult crime novels could never be commercially successful.

The author, who wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, was turned down by several publishers after submitting her manuscripts anonymously.

. . . .

She has now disclosed the details letter sent by Constable and Robinson, a noted crime imprint, which advised her to learn more about how to pitch and consider joining a writer’s class.

“I regret we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we could not publish it with commercial success,” it reads.

“At the risk of ‘teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, may I respectfully suggest the following.”

The publisher went on to list tips and tricks to help a budding would-be author, including asking a helpful bookshop for advice on who would best represent their style of work, learning how to write an “alluring” 200-word blurb to sell it and picking up the Writer’s Handbook.

Apologising for being unable to provide constructive criticism about the manuscript itself, it added: “A writer’s group/writing course may help.”

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Mia for the tip.

PG thinks that successful authors, indie and traditional, releasing rejection letters would provide a clearer view of the competence of publishers.


75 Comments to “JK Rowling reveals cringe-worthy rejection letter telling her to join writing class”

  1. back when I was chasing trad pub, if they actually sent a rejection letter, they were always polite. I never encountered anyone rude or dismissive

  2. Ah yes, trad-pub seems to know what readers will want to read about as well as those sales clerks at radio shack knew about electronics. (at one time you might run into a clerk that understood a bit of what they were selling, but those were few and far between …)

  3. Thanks for posting this. I would love to see a video of someone informing the publishers they just told JK Rowling to take a writing class.


  4. Reminds me of the famous studio review of Fred Astaire when he tried out for a part in a musical:

    “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”

    Unfortunately, many literary agents and editors at publishing houses are just as bad at evaluating talent – or in this case, determining what will have commercial appeal.

    • Barbara Morgenroth

      Before Astaire went to Hollywood he had been on Broadway for quite a number of years. He and his sister had great success as a dance team. I suppose if this studio person was really dense he might have been unaware of Fred Astaire’s resume.

  5. I have to disagree with you here, PG. Agents and publishers turn down books all the time that they believe are quality books that would sell. Why turn them down? Because they don’t fit in their line, because they have already signed all they can handle this year, because they just signed something very similar, because they know they are not the best representative for it.

    I have lots of gripes with trad publishing, but this isn’t one of them.

    Also, let’s not forget that Rowling’s crime fiction didn’t sell well AT ALL until it was “leaked” that she wrote it. It was NOT a commercial success for whoever published it.

    I don’t know why we should assume that there’s anything incorrect in that rejection letter. She may have written a crappy query, and her first pages may not have been particularly enticing. They may have been as bloated as her last several HP books.

    No one can pick a best seller out of the slush. No one. If they could, they would very, very, very rich indeed. Agents and publishers are human beings who pick projects they are passionate about, because those are projects they can champion. If they’re lucky, the buying public will also be passionate about the book. But there are no guarantees.

    • Yes. I wanted to say the same thing, far less eloquently. I’ll get PG to assume it came in under my name instead 🙂

      (Right after he tells me what he did with his WordPress install so that his RSS feed works properly. Mine won’t validate. Grrr…)

    • Agents and publishers turn down books all the time that they believe are quality books that would sell.

      The problem is that they rarely position their rejections as such, and the further problem is the orgy of masochism that arises when writers express solidarity in their rejections. “It thickened my skin!” “Thank goodness it wasn’t accepted.” “It just wasn’t good enough.”

      Blah. Blah. Blah.

      Agents and editors position often position themselves as experts. On quality, on trends, on marketing, on contracts, on business, on legal matters —

      And meanwhile most have no qualifications as such. The agents (and editors) who have either MBAs or JDs are exceptions to a rule of English or other majors who started as interns and followed the job as high as they could.

      • Dean Wesley Smith

        What Will said. I had sent in a proposal to Pocket Books on a project and got a form rejection from a younger editor with a note scratched along the bottom about how nothing like this would be right for Pocket.

        I thought it funny.

        I picked up the phone and called a publisher friend there, since I had already sold over 35 books to Pocket and they had hired me a number of times to ghost. Project sold.

        But a clear indication of exactly what Will was saying combined with no sense of history or even knowledge of each publishing company’s own authors. Just head-shaking.

        • same as Will and Dean; Agree.

          Had a lower case ass’t ed reject a big ms. Upper case Ed. accepted exact same precis.

          I’ve so many rejection ltrs I could paper a barn w them. Many were form letters, ‘we regret your x is not right for our line.’ Which I/we preferred to that far too many that sounded like they were written by a person who was in the midst of turning into a lonely demon chimera. and couldnt control their acid and bile. I began reading them in performance on stage. They are actually funny when you can understand them with some perspective.

          Some few were angel-like, saying things like Please try us again with your next ms … or cant do this now, try later. Or, this is good writing, just not for what we’re doing right now.

          You know how you LIVE on those few last words. For years.

          Now, these many years later, a successful author with many books which do well, I think most of all I treasure the publisher [moderate size] who 25 years ago sent me a scathing letter of rejection… listing all the reasons my work was c.

          But, five years ago, at Book Expo [the book was published by one of the big pubs about 23 years ago, and did and does very well] went out of his
          way to stand in line as I sat there signing books. You know that terrible feeling that all your guts have just turned to trembling water. I considered needing right that minute to go to the bathroom… forever.

          But, when he came up even in line, he blurted out an apology, said he didnt have the vision to see my work’s value back then. That he was sorry for it was a terrible business decision on his part. I was so overwhelmed to hear his humility, I didnt have the heart to remind him of his screed, line by line. I wished then, that ANY publisher/editor/asst who wrote not civil things to ANY writer, would also make better peace with the writers. Thicker skin doesnt save any creature from a hatchet.

          Life brings plenty of harsh challenges, And if one is into ‘building
          character’ in others unbidden.. being harsh in order to say no thanks, is to my mind, unnecessary. Yet… some humans have a weird sense that power to say yes or no, is some kind of fascist fiat meant to be unleashed == and a lot of harsh rejection letters sound more like the porkinous Queen of Hearts screeching “Off with your head!!” , instead of their being what the rejection letter writers really is, an employee who is trying to make money for their employer. Instead, some seem to think they are somehow christened ‘Godzilla, Protector/Protectress of all Literarah Kulchir.’ No offense to the great apes.

      • Most agents and editors have no values of their own; they acquire books by extrapolating from past successes.

    • You may be right, Melissa. On the other hand, if the manuscript had come in with the author’s real name on it, I’m quite sure the response would’ve been of a different tone. Dare I say even passionate?

    • Melissa, you had me with you until you said, Agents and publishers are human beings who pick projects they are passionate about.

      Honestly, I don’t think this is true, though it’s what they say they do. What they actually try to do is pick books that will sell and make them a lot of money.

      It’s like saying barristers only defend clients they passionately believe are innocent.

    • Why turn them down? Because they don’t fit in their line, because they have already signed all they can handle this year, because they just signed something very similar, because they know they are not the best representative for it.

      Agree. And yet — they would just say that in the rejection. I’ve had rejection letters that said just that, some even said nice things about the story. It’s the professional way to go. I think her target audience is writers who received the snotty, unprofessional rejections.

      It’s true editors don’t have crystal balls, but if they had a sense of their markets — and the Harry Potter rejection story indicates they don’t — their instincts should make it more likely they will pick bestsellers.

      If anything, the fact that they reject winners and pick losers should make them humble. They should know their tastes aren’t everyone’s, and they shouldn’t be in a hurry to slap down the writers who query them. Boilerplate rejection letters were tailor made for stories they can’t say nice things about.

    • Okay, re-reading your post — perhaps you’re right about what she sent the editors.

      I’m reminded of a woman who did an experiment to see how she’d be treated as a pretty woman and a plain woman.

      When she was “pretty” she stood tall, smiled, and acted confident and charming. I think she was able to score ice cream when she didn’t have enough cash for it.

      But she altered her personality when she was “plain”: floppy body language, hesitant, uncertain speech. No free ice cream. She put down the different treatment to her looks, but I think her conclusion was flawed because she didn’t use the same persona for each look.

      Perhaps Rowling did the literary equivalent of the “Pretty Plain Jane” experiment. Maybe Rowling didn’t use a good query letter or polish up her first chapters. In that case, I’m prepared to believe the suggestion to learn to write pitches may have been meant kindly. It’s hard to tell since we can’t read the full letter.

      • I recently read that Marlyn Monroe was having a minor dispute with publicity people and took them for a walk. She told them she was going to be just another commuter. She walked down the street, waited at the bus stop, and did what every other commuter did. Nobody paid any attention to her.

        Then she said, “Now watch this.”

        She changed her entire demeanor and the way she presented herself. She was wearing exactly the same clothes, same hair style, same shoes, and she took the same route. But her presentation was totally different. This time, she turned every head on the street.

        She won the argument.

        • That’s a great example. I’d forgotten about Monroe doing that.

        • The story is from Waugh, who told it in his autobio long ago. He was her witness in this event. The exhortation I believe was ‘Ok, do Marilyn.’ And she did.

    • I actually didn’t have a huge problem with the letter since it appears well meant even if somewhat condescending. Advice isn’t the worst response.

      I do think just politely adding that the book doesn’t fit their lineup is a nice white lie to not break relationships, since it is a business.

      But one point is that her book was a success. It was selling in okay numbers for a first time author in a small niche. I remember reading an article a while back on the subject that pointed out her numbers were comparable to other authors in the same situation.

      It was other articles that deemed it a failure since it wasn’t a breakaway hit. The fact that the publisher didn’t print that many copies shows it wasn’t expected or marketed as one.

    • “Not my thing” is often code for “I don’t think it will make enough money” which is often disproved when people self-publish. That aside, telling an author to take a writing class is absolutely rude–particularly when, whether or not you like JK Rowling’s work, she is far from illiterate (which is what that letter implies). The portion I read was condescending and would discourage many from even trying again.

      • There are good rejections, usually polite and encouraging to try later with a different story.
        There are neutral rejections, as in “it doesn’t fit our needs/schedule/etc”.
        And there are the bad rejections that, intentional or not, crush souls. Go take writing lessons is one of those.

        Given that Rowling released the thing and effectively called out the people on the other end, they must’ve done something that got to her.

        That story I’d like to hear.

        (Officially it might be to “hearten others” but… I’m not quite buying it. She didn’t have to reveal the name of the publisher…)

        • I think I’d quibble there, Felix, but only in choice of word choice of “good” and “bad.” I think I might use “polite” and “impolite.”

          Me, I’d argue that the best rejection is the one that doesn’t exist. Hopefully, as more and more authors eschew agents and submissions entirely in favor of KDP, we’ll see a lot more of those (i.e., a lot fewer rejections in general).

          As I always say, I don’t care who you are or what you write — you and it are most likely better than Snooki and 50 Shades — which corporate publishers didn’t just accept but pursued. Their validation of those entities effectively reduced their credibility for choosing either what is good or what is popular to basically zero.

          Publishing is a button. Press it!

          • I was thinking in terms of effect.

            Nobody enjoys rejection so why go out of your way to be hurtful? I believe there really is a distinction between good and bad things and that even in the murky gray areas it is possible to distinguish between harm that is necessary and that which isn’t.

            And my working definition of outright evil is inflicting unnecessary harm.

            Which brings me back to my original point: Rowling does not appear to be an evil person (usually the contrary) yet releasing that letter, obscuring the editor but not the publisher…? I wonder why she thought it necessary to single out the *specific* publisher. Especially now.

            There is more going on.

    • You are repeating the well publicized lie. The mysteries under the name Galbraith did as well as any other unknown first-time author in the mystery genre when they were released (before that idiot lawyer who should have known better and could have been disbarred for it let slip who the author was). Did it do as well as the Harry Potter books? No. Was it a break-out hit? No. Did it perform as well as most? Yes. Whether it was a commercial success depends on your definition. If you are only looking for block-busters, then no. If you are looking to build an audience over time, then she did fine.

    • Anon is right. I believe the books did as well as any other unknown author in that genre. As for publishers turning down books all the time that they believe will sell: I don’t think so. They sometimes turn down books they like very much (the ‘rave rejection’) because their marketing departments are predicting poor sales. Which makes sense. Except that nobody really knows because – as Goldman said about film – nobody knows anything. That’s why hardly anyone predicted that a good school story with added magic was going to take the world by storm, except – eventually – the kids who spread the word far and wide. I’ve no problem with books being rejected, as such, and nor had JKR. It was the tone of the rejection that was irksome. It was patronising in the extreme – but it sounded as though it was coming from somebody too inexperienced to realise how inexperienced he or she really was. My own harshest and unintentionally funniest rejection came from an agent who was certainly old enough to know better and who told me that the novel I had sent him was ‘a library novel fit only for housewives’ thus managing to insult a whole heap of readers in one short phrase! Fortunately, it’s still selling quite well …

      • She sold 419 print, and 822 e-book copies as Galbraith alone. Plus oversees and audio (the latter of which sold 3,800 copies).

        With the exception of the audio (which had a celebrity narrator) those are dismal numbers for a trade crime novel, especially when you consider how much publicity Galbraith got via blurb quotes, media reviews and the like (which would not be available to most unknowns).

        Any author with that sort of debut performance would have been dropped long before a sequel came out.

        With perfect hindsight, it’s obvious that declining on commercial grounds is perfectly reasonable for a Galbraith novel. For a JK Rowling it’s-going-to-sell-gangbusters-no-matter-what novel, you’d be mad to say no.

    • Reality Observer

      Just what I was about to comment.

      Yes, the publisher would have been an absolute idiot to turn down a J. K. Rowling book – even if it simply said “Mary had a little lamb.” on each and every page.

      Whether they were smart to turn down a book by an “unknown” – is a different question. (Which, as noted, the sales before her name was put on it, seems to say that they were smart to do so.)

      And, no, telling this unknown what she might want to do to improve the chances of being published – also quite right. I can’t speak to the quality of the book, it not being a genre that I can honestly judge. Even in the same genre, though, a “top” author can produce an absolute dog. Examples are all around us for that. Crossing to another genre – well, that is even more likely. (I would suggest that someone take a look at Arthur Conan Doyle’s works that are not about Sherlock Holmes. Expect pain…)

  6. In all fairness to Constable and Robinson, they probably didn’t consider the manuscript seriously since it came from and unknown writer.

    However, the puerile and condescending advice reflects very poorly on their professionalism.

    In the end, the incident does say quite a bit about the publishing industry.

    • Absolutely! I can’t believe people are defending a letter like this. It’s so rude.

      • If you allow for British understatement, it’s quite astonishingly patronising and condescending.

        Worse, this looks like a standard form letter, so it will have been sent out with all rejections.

        And like all direct submissions, it was probably read by an intern/junior and not by an acquisitions editor – if it was read properly at all.

  7. The bit about the grandmother sucking eggs is a bit off, never mind how “respectfully” it’s offered. This does not belong in a business letter.

    Not classy.

    • That part intrigued me, because I was under the impression that the expression is used when a clueless, arrogant noob is trying to instruct an expert on her business: “Doctor, this is how you do heart surgery. Oh me? No, I didn’t study medicine; but I stayed at a Holiday Inn so prepare to get schooled.”

      I was wondering if the expression meant something else in Britain.

      • I read it differently when it’s from that angle. I read it as the person felt they weren’t qualified to instruct an author in writing but still felt the author needed to work on their writing.

        It’s like a sports commentator going up to a pitcher and saying ‘I know you are an expert, and I’m just a commentator, but your slider seems to need work’. The pitcher can then agree, disagree, or punch the commentator and then decide if the slider can be improved.

    • No matter what “reasons” or “rationales” are offered, it strikes me as pejorative. It demeans women and particularly older women and it has submissive sexual connotations, too.

      Not good on any level.

      • Wow! So it really does mean something different in Britain. It’s like Americans saying “knocked up” to mean getting pregnant and in Britain it just means “wake up.” I’ll remember that.

        • Yeah, to me the ‘don’t be trying to teach your grandmother how to suck eggs’ means you’re too far out of their league to be giving them advice.

          And I’ve heard old men saying it too — just before adding — And get off my yard! 😉

          • I’m a Brit and I’ve lived in the US a very long time, but I find this phrase insulting and demeaning and it definitely does not belong in a business letter.

            Yes, there are many differences in language on both sides of the pond (getting knocked up is just one) but this particular phrase and the way it was written is beyond offensive, childish, and rude.

            • In this case you’re completely correct, though more often it’s the old cantankerous fart (male or female) telling off the youngster. In this case it’s the youngster who not only has no small amount of egg on their face — but I think the one they used was the one we didn’t find ‘last’ Easter …

        • Maggie Dana: I think that seeing a sexual connotation to the “teach grandmother to suck eggs” line is reading into it something that isn’t there.

          Jamie: on behalf of the Brits, “knocked up” to mean “get pregnant” is a very common idiom for us too, certainly it’s the meaning most people would respond with if asked. I’ve very rarely heard it used to mean “wake up” (in the sense of “I’ll go knock on his door to wake him up” becoming “I’ll go knock him up” – maybe once, on TV), but it is occasionally used as a synonym for “damaged” (as in “Your car’s looking a bit knocked up, what happened?”).

          Here ends today’s class in British Soap Opera Dialogue 101.

          • Heh. Thanks for the lesson 🙂

          • Ah but it depends where in Britain. In Yorkshire, I heard ‘I’ll knock you up in the morning’ pretty often – meaning wake you up. Maybe it’s a class thing! In fact ‘knocker upper’ was once a job in mill towns – he was the man who went along the street tapping on windows, waking people up to go to work and the phrase ‘knock you up’ was presumably left over from that, even after his function was long gone. It was commonplace in the North of England till fairly recently. I probably wouldn’t use it now, but then I’ve been living in Scotland for a long time! The other phrase that still gives us pause for thought when used in American movies is ‘wash up’. Over here, it’s only used for doing the dishes, not yourself. So it causes the odd snigger.

  8. I have a file folder full of ’em that I refuse to throw away. Now, I’m no Rowling, but I once got a rejection slip on a request for fiction guidelines. They’d never read Word One of my work or even a query letter. Included in the big envelope was a half-dozen brochures for vanity publishers.

    I also loved the one that came after I’d met an editor at a conference. After hearing my pitch, we agreed my work was not a good fit for that house; thereafter we had a great ten-minute convo about the state of the market, etc.

    Six weeks later I received a rejection letter from that same house, written by someone I’d never met or talked with, rejecting “your books” and suggesting they might find a home elsewhere. Mind you, I’d never subbed anything…

    This may have represented the state of the industry at that time. To me, they just provided a good laugh.

  9. Hey, at least she got a letter! I’ve never received more than a torn 1/3-page typed unsigned rejection slip. (More typical was no response whatsoever.)
    “Your work does not meet our needs at this time.”
    Didn’t even know which pub. No signature, no stamp, no header, no return addy. Nothing more than my SESA and maybe a P.O. cancellation on the stamp.
    Me so happy I stopped subbing years ago!

  10. FWIW, I enjoyed the first and second installments in the series. For reason I won’t spoil, I think many regular visitors here would particularly enjoy the second book, and it can be read without reading the first.

    I read the first page of the third book, closed it and returned it to the library. Lots of crime fiction contains violence against women, probably for defensible reasons of plot and character, but it made me sick, and there’s plenty of other things I can read.

  11. Mystery writer Robert Crais collected something like 135 rejections on his first novel, THE MONKEY’S RAINCOAT, even after years of being a successful screenwriter for Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, Cagney & Lacey, and others. When finally published as a paperback original in 1988, it won an Anthony, a Macavity, and got an Edgar nomination.

    • 135 rejections? Given the time period that would take about 15 years of constant attempts, assuming quick turnarounds. That’s alot of lifespan. And postage.

  12. WATER FOR ELEPHANTS was rejected by the editor who published the author’s first two mass market paperbacks. One has to wonder if that editor still has a job.

  13. I can see why the publisher rejected her book. Yes, Harry Potter sold millions yadda yadda but Rowling is not a top-shelf writer skills wise.

    • “The biggest problem with American fiction is that its two greatest storytellers are Neil Gaiman and JK Rowling — and they’re both British.” – The Prodigal Hour

      • Gaiman and Rowling are not better than Mark Twain, Henry James, Fitzgerald, or Hemingway among any of the other greats of American lit. They’re middling at best, and one wrote children’s novels.

        • Sorry, I should have noted contemporary. Note the present-tense “are.”

          And yes, Neil’s written a couple of children’s books, but I wouldn’t ding him for them. Coraline was excellent.

          (Also, tongue firmly in cheek, if always truth in jest.)

  14. “PG thinks that successful authors, indie and traditional, releasing rejection letters would provide a clearer view of the competence of publishers.”

    Assuming this has not been mentioned already, there are two little books, Rotten Reviews and Rotten Reviews II, which every writer ought to look at and which seem to have fallen into oblivion. See the reviews of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Puzo, and others calling their work drivel, crap without commercial appeal, etc. Wonderful stuff. Virginia Woolf panned James Joyce’s Ulysses. So many people so totally wrong about the value of so many books.

  15. I’m totally on board with criticism of trad-pub (particularly as I find it filtered through TPV), but this piece struck me as ill-judged. The content of the first letter is hardly cringe-worthy in itself, most unknown writers should be so lucky to be offered more than a form “no thank you”, but it’s easy to sneer at their ignorance when you have all the facts. The second one is a notification that someone isn’t taking subs, hardly an act worthy of criticism – would it be preferable to have an author forever uniformed and holding out hope when they could be subbing it elsewhere?

    This reads much more like a JKR puff piece than anything especially insightful about the publishing industry. I note it claims “The Cuckoo’s Calling was eventually published by Little, Brown Book Group, receiving criticial (sic) acclaim before Rowling was unexpectedly unmasked as the real author” – my recollection is that it went largely unnoticed prior to the big reveal, and all that lovely acclaim then followed.

    Perhaps the true error to be mocked here is that Constable & Robinson failed to notice that they had been offered a book that would sell bucket loads, if only it had a famous name attached to it. But then, they probably get a dozen or so of those every day…

  16. The notion that book publishers are particularly stupid in picking winners doesn’t hold up. People in general are stupid at picking winners.

    Venture capitalists routinely reject ideas that go on to make millions. Xerox gave the rights to their mouse to Apple because they thought it was just a toy. Bill Gates said the internet was just a minor diversion and delayed MicroSoft’s entry into the market. Kodak had a jump on digital photography, and stayed with film. A Harvard professor gave a low mark to a paper describing the idea of Fedex, a paper submitted by the founder of Fedex

    And in days long past, nearly forgotten, and before multiple splits, even I sold thousands of shares of Microsoft.

    • I thought their IPO at $200 was priced too high.
      (Le sigh.)

      In my defense, and probably yours, who knew IBM would be stupid enough to turn their PC business over to the mainframers? The plane crash that killed Don Estridge changed everything. In going to war with Windows, IBM *made* Windows king.

  17. As a business model, having writers write on spec, submit books for consideration, and editors judge them up or down, is highly inefficient, most often dysfunctional and frequently corrupt. It’s simply not a way to run a profitable company based on IP.

    It is, however, a good way to make editors and executives feel powerful and important because everyone is coming to them for validation. It also shields them from being exposed as creatively bankrupt. And it gives them excuses to go to writing conferences, speak at universities, and lecture as gatekeepers of culture.

    The proper way to develop intellectual property is to find talented writers and pay them on a work-for-hire basis to deliver material the publisher knows it can sell. There are plenty of examples of this. The other way, would be to form mutually beneficial alliances with talented writers, and simply let them write whatever they want (and be in charge of finding other writers). There are examples of that. Encouraging submissions and culture of rejection and exploitation is the worse way to go.

    The only reason that the current system kind of works for big publishers is they make all their money from a back catalogue created by others (either their predecessors, or smaller publishers they bought up) which hides the gross inefficiency of the system. It also allows big media companies ways to bury book deals that are basically payoffs toward nepotism, influence peddling and corporate social climbing.

    If traditional publishers are serious about trying to be profitable enterprises, they should embrace self-publishing as a wonderful minor leagues, and shift their focus to identifying writers to align with to either hire for projects or to help monetize their content. But the incentives from the dysfunctional old system are probably to great to allow change unless writers simply stop wasting their time by submitting.

    • “If traditional publishers are serious about trying to be profitable enterprises, they should embrace self-publishing as a wonderful minor leagues, and shift their focus to identifying writers to align with to either hire for projects or to help monetize their content. But the incentives from the dysfunctional old system are probably to great to allow change unless writers simply stop wasting their time by submitting.”

      And there you pointed out the one thing they can’t do.

      If they go fishing the self/indie-pub pools, they will find fish that will demand better contracts than trad-pub would want to give out. We’ve had a couple people on these pages admit trad-pub had tried to woo them — by offering them advances of less than what they were making as a self/indie on the same e/books every month.

    • If traditional publishers are serious about trying to be profitable enterprises, they should embrace self-publishing as a wonderful minor leagues, and shift their focus to identifying writers to align with to either hire for projects or to help monetize their content.

      Isn’t that basically what we’ve seen with Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, et al.? Even EL James (though not self-published). Corporate publishers are demonstrating time and again that they either pay a lot for celebrities or they ride on the coattails of authors who’ve already attained some success on their own.

      • How many successful Indies did they sign in 2014? 2015? How many laughed them off?

        Signing the successful isn’t anywhere near as profitable as signing them before they’re successful. (In pro sports in general and baseball in particular the best deals for the teams are those where they catch the stars as they are emerging and the worst the free agent deals signed when the player has the most leverage.)

        Tradpub is so far out of touch with today’s rapidly changing world that the typical terms they offer dreamers are practically offensive to anybody with knowledge of the new normal. By the time they notice the successful Indies they can’t really afford them.

        The gaming world is facing a similar challenge and the big publishing houses have responded by buying up the develooers and buying up IP and developing new IP inhouse.

        You see it in video, too, with Disney buying Marvel and Lucasfilm and WarnerBros belatedly committing to their DC product lines.

        The value of IP is going through the roof and buying it on the open market is in fact the most expensive way to get good IP. It is also an expensive way to get so-so IP but sometimes they get lucky and they reel in a dreamer that doesn’t kniw what they have created.

        The BPHs have noticed it, which is why reversion is well-nigh impossible and they are buying up all the companies and catalogs they can get. And why CBS refuses to let go of S&S.

        And it is yet another reason why offensive rejections are bad for business. The pool of *good* manuscripts is shrinking and driving away dreamers only makes it smaller.

        It just isn’t small enough yet to get them to change.

  18. Although this looks tantalizing, it just shows what happens when subjectivity is used for assessing the publishing merits of a new book. Not that objectivity could be used. And since subjectivity is an art not a science you get these kind of results. The issue can be debated that the editors know diddlysquat or Rowling is not such a good writer, if we ignore her commercial fame. Who’s right or wrong? In today’s Indie Publishing I don’t give a rat’s derriere, pardon my French, anymore. Judging how good of a writer you are is subjective, judging how commercial successful an author you are is objective, and most of the time those two don’t correlate at all. Ignore the shifting winds and keep writing if you enjoy it.

    • I think Rowling is both good and popular. The opening sentence of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone does so much to not just set up that initial novel but set the tone of the entire series.

      I think we can learn a lot from writers who both write and sell well. Stephen King. Neil Gaiman. JK Rowling. The well-written books that sold a ton of copies (The Time-Traveler’s Wife. The Lovely Bones. Myriad others).

      I think the subjectivity/objectivity | quality/sales debate is tired. Just because quality isn’t necessarily quantifiable doesn’t mean it exists only in each person’s head. And I don’t care how many people bought a book — that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s actually any good.

      • It is a tired argument. But people continue to insist their standards are better than anyone else’s standards. Yet they can’t demonstarte it other then by appealing to people with the same stabdards.

      • It is a tired argument. But people continue to insist their standards are better than anyone else’s standards. Yet they can’t demonstarte it other then by appealing to people with the same stabdards.

      • Well, Will, I like Rowling too. As a matter of fact I read Harry Potter to my grandson. However, let me say this again: “Judging how good of a writer you are is subjective, judging how commercially successful an author you are is objective, and most of the time those two don’t correlate at all.”

  19. Not trying to justify rejection letter bile and BS here, but I wonder how many editors have, in their careers, have had to deal with utterly horrible, cringe-worthy submissions and persistent psycho writers who simply won’t take “NO” for an answer.

    It must get quite old after awhile. And all humans snap their tempers at times.

    And I’ll bet that sometimes, rejection letters might just be slyly scabrous, slightly snickering, quietly goosing, and worthy of publication in The Onion. 🙂

    • “I wonder how many editors have, in their careers, have had to deal with utterly horrible, cringe-worthy submissions and persistent psycho writers who simply won’t take “NO” for an answer.”

      All of them. Also, death threats.

      • This, Teri. I judge in a modestly-sized contest for Christian fiction. On ranking a particular book 3 out of 3 finalists, I received an outraged e-mail from the author who saw our ranking of her book as a personal attack, because “it’s won awards!” It went on from there, but I trashed it and moved on.

        Yes, it’s all subjective. But faced with people like the author above? I give the BPH acquisitions people a pass for avoiding feedback on a “not for us” letter.

  20. You can make all of the excuses that you like. A great author was told to take a writing class! And what is by all accounts a good book (I haven’t personally read it) was rejected. That is the big problem with the old traditional publishing system as gatekeeper. It was of course necessary at the time. Fortunately this is no longer the case.

    • Yup.
      The harm they inflict is no longer necessary.
      There need to submit grows smaller everyday.

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