Take Two: What To Do When Your Editor Tells You Your Manuscript is Total Crap

July 22, 2015

Yes, sometimes this happens.  We write things that we hope no one will ever see.  But these efforts should never be thought of as a total waste or a waste at all.  And never EVER should a manuscript be deleted because of negative feedback.

Here’s something to remember:

Writing is like sex.  You need to keep your hands moving.  Any type of writing is exercise to improve your craft and can never been deemed total crap because something positive is always established in the creating of it.

The only thing that can be deemed a waste is if you take that negative feedback and flush it down the toilet without doing anything with it.

photo 1(2)Negative feedback is still feedback and should be used constructively.  Your knee-jerk reaction may be to call the person giving the feedback all kinds of names, but then a writer must step back and look at the feedback for what it is: something to help you make the story better.

Here’s an example:

Once upon a time, I submitted to Harlequin Mills & Boon (the part of Harlequin that publishes historical romances).  I was a young, naive twenty-something with dreams of selling my first book.  I submitted without an agent, which means the manuscript went into the slush pile.  I don’t know the odds now of being pulled out of the slush pile, but back then, it was like one in a kamilliongillion or something.

My manuscript got pulled out of the slush pile.  I got a request for a full manuscript.

For those that don’t know this, this is a big deal.  Like huge.  And the fact that my very first manuscript got pulled out of the pile and earned a request for a full is even huger.  I was ecstatic.

And then my manuscript got rejected.


Yeah, that lovely little word, right?

The nice editor at Harlequin sent me a lovely little letter that I read hastily and tossed aside.

Now, can you point out my mistakes to me?

Allow me.

1.) Harlequin Mills & Boon requested a full off of a query I submitted to the slush pile based on the first complete manuscript I had ever written.

Translate this: I should have slapped myself on the back and treated myself to a shopping spree at the bookstore.  This alone was indication enough that I could write.  Yeah, maybe I had some things to work on, but that request showed me that I had what it took to compete in the publishing world.

2.) The nice editor at Harlequin sent me a lovely little letter outlining areas that could be improved in the manuscript.

Translate this: When your manuscript gets rejected because it’s not even worth the time of the editor to skim it, you get a form rejection letter.  It likely won’t even have your name on it nor will it be signed.  When my manuscript was rejected, an editor took time to outline everything that I could work on.  Everything.  If I had a time machine, I would go back and kick my twenty-something-year-old ass and sit down and take that letter seriously.  My publishing career might look a lot different if I had.

The rejection letter wasn’t the failure.  My not taking it seriously was.

3.) I never did anything with that manuscript.  This is the biggest mistake.  I had a hugely qualified editor look at my manuscript, and I went on to tuck that manuscript away so no one would see it.  Big.  Mistake.

What I Should Have Done

Made the corrections.  Worked the manuscript.  Read through, analyzed, and thought about the editor’s suggestions.  A manuscript is never lost because one person told you he/she didn’t like certain parts of it.  If you apply that feedback to make it better, you can always turn a crappy manuscript into something cleaner, tighter, and more compelling.

It’s only a failure if you do nothing.

What about my own failure?

I’m happy to say I finally brought it back out into the light, christened it with a new name, and am currently planning its release for Fall 2015.

One thought on “Take Two: What To Do When Your Editor Tells You Your Manuscript is Total Crap”

  1. Judith Seward

    I really enjoyed reading this. I thought there was only one form-letter rejection. Looking forward to reading this.

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