RARA-AVIS: Re: My Unfair Lady

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 18 May 2007

On May 17, 2007, at 8:19 AM, Sandra Ruttan wrote:

> Respectfully, it doesn't matter if you were responding to a
> discussion about
> 'is it fair'. You went on at length to say that what's not
> published isn't
> published because it's crap and that the examples to the contrary
> are few
> and far between.

If you were being respectful, you'd have responded to what I actually said.

I never said -- and certainly not at length -- that ALL rejected work was crap. In fact, "crap" seems to be your pet word, not mine.

What I said was simply that MOST books are rejected because they're
"not very good.'

Notice I said MOST. Not ALL. And I said "not very good." Not "CRAP."

Granted, good is subjective as hell. And yes, commercial considerations certainly do come into play. Publishing is a business, after all. And that doesn't mean something "not very good" can't be revised or improved, or be accepted by some other publisher with different (lower?) standards. Or that "not good" automatically means

But does anyone seriously think MOST work is rejected for any other reason than quality?

Does anyone honestly think MOST of the work rejected day in and day out by the publishing industry is actually really great stuff, worthy of and ready for publication, and just doesn't quite fit in to the publisher's current plans?

Take a wade through a real slush pile sometime. Or talk to an acquisitions editor at a major publisher and ask about what most of the unsolicited stuff they reject is like. Look at the stuff that gets sent back with a form rejection letter (and ask yourself why form rejection letters exist). For every woulda, coulda, shoulda they have to regretfully send back with a nice little note of apology there are hundreds of probably never ever gonnabes that come back rubber-stamped "Thanks, but no thanks...".

And more every day.

> I submit that if you want to prove what's passed on by publishers is
> overwhelmingly crap based on the self published titles you have
> read, then
> you need to support that the overwhelming majority of those who have
> rejected work opt for self publishing.

You're right -- I should have been a little clearer there. What I should have said was:

> One final point: the rise of relatively cheap POD vanity presses has,
> for the first time in history, given us a clearer idea of SOME of
> the stuff
> traditional publishers may have rejected.

But my opinion on the "merits" of the majority of rejected works was not based solely on the self-published books I've read, but also on discussions, both public and private, with editors, agents and other writers. Plus reading tons of trade journals and industry web sites, and my own experiences in publishing and reviewing and editing.

Still, I'm pretty sure most self-published authors aren't turning down big Random House bucks simply for the glorious freedom of self- publishing.

And unless they're merely spinning tall tales (writers are so good at bullshit, after all), a lot of self-publishers do claim they chose to go the vanity way after being rejected by mainstream presses.

> ...to say that what's
> rejected is rejected solely because it isn't any good is a sweeping
> judgment, unsupported by any facts.

Which is why a slush pile reader or acquisitions editor is probably a more valid source on the quality (of lack of quality) of rejected work, rather than a few self-serving stories from disgruntled writers
-- or an "agent" hustling for a fee.

I didn't say all work was SOLELY rejected because it's crap. It's not. And certainly not "overwhelmingly crap," as you put it.

But the weaker the story the MORE likely it will be rejected.

That seems like a reasonable conclusion. So why is it so hard for some writers to accept?

Are their egos that fragile?

Yes, good books do get rejected. But that doesn't mean all -- or even most -- rejected books are good.

> I mean, I had a short story rejected by The Thrilling Detective.
> Does that
> mean it was crap?

I'd love to say "Yes" but truthfully, I don't even remember your story.

  I do remember another story, though, My fiction editor, Gerald So, and I worked very closely with its author. the story very definitely wasn't crap, and we went through several revisions, but ultimately we did reject it.

The author promptly sent it off to another place, which he certainly had every right to do, and they jumped on it. They even published the original version. Complete with the original typos and misspellings and plot holes we had worked so hard to eliminate.

Boy, did they show us! Gee, were our faces red!

Meanwhile, as for your story:

> Someone else published it. It remains the short story
> I've received the most fan mail over of all the ones I've had
> published.

Congratulations. But, to respectfully paraphrase somebody close and dear to your heart, "Which of us hasn't seen a (published story) that falls under the crap category?"

The writers who sent me nasty or whiny little letters privately on this issue will never admit, ever, that any work of theirs has ever been rejected for any other reason than the colossal unfairness and/ or the titanic stupidity of evil publishers.

They honestly think no writer -- and certainly not them -- ever wrote a bad story. Tim's summed up the whole mindset rather nicely, I thought:

> If someone else's work is rejected, it's a quality issue. But if
> MY work is
> rejected, it's a fairness thing. That's my story, and I'm sticking
> to it.

He's joking (I think) but some of them actually seem to believe it.

Poor babies....

Now could we get back to regular programming?

That "recent reads" thread seems good.


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