Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Bright Side of Rejection

by Giselle Renarde

It always bugs me when I rant to a friend and they tell me to "look on the bright side." I don't want to think about silver linings when I'm ranting. I just want to rant.

But after a few weeks or months or years go by, I can usually look back on whatever I found rant-worthy and realize I learned something from the experience. That's especially true of business affairs.

Like most writers, I've been on the receiving end of quite a few rejection letters. I've never been one to rant about rejection. When you're a creative, rejection's part of the profession. But it used to make me sad. Of course it did. Doesn't anymore, by the way. If you're just starting out in the writing business and you're wondering if the sting of rejection ever lessens, well, yeah, it does.  At least, it has for me.

That said, I don't send manuscripts out to publishers as much as I used to.  I was browsing through a calendar from a few years ago, and I found there was a period when I was sending out one manuscript per day. These weren't all novels, obviously. There were lots of websites that published erotica back then. And I submitted short stories to erotic anthologies, when I tend not to do much anymore.

Now I self-publish most of my work. Why, you ask? Not because I can't get published. My work has appeared in nearly 200 short story anthologies. I've been published by 2 of the Big 5, plus Oxford University Press. I'm nothing special, but I have accomplished that much.  Did it pay the bills?

Not so much.

Does self-publishing pay the bills?  Well, actually, it does. It isn't easy. In fact it's a lot of work. I've had to acquire a multitude of new skills. So the money aspect is a big one, but you know which other factor is up there with money?


I just don't trust most publishers anymore. I've been shafted too many times, by presses large and small.

When I started writing, I submitted work to every call for submissions I saw. I've had poetry published, and an academic paper, and a touching anecdote in Chicken Soup for the Soul. If they were offering money, I could whip up a story. (Although I never was paid for that academic paper, come to think of it.)

Over the past decade I've been published by... you know, I've lost track. Probably a dozen websites, more than 20 small presses, the aforementioned big wigs, Hustler Fantasies. One of the biggest reasons I publish my work myself instead of taking my writing to publishers is that... well, first of all, most of the small presses I used to work with went out of business. Almost ALL the websites closed down.

Of the few publishers who do still hold rights to some of my books, three no longer pay me. And not because my books don't sell! Deadbeat publishers come up with all sorts of reasons for falling behind on author payments. "Oh, I'm so disorganized! I don't have time to keep track of these things! I'm terrible with spreadsheets!"

Alternately, there's: "What are you talking about? I don't owe you money."

Or my personal favourite: simply failing to respond to any email I send over the course of YEARS.

I won't name names because the funny thing about deadbeat publishers is they can always seem to find money for lawyers. And there's one publisher in particular that has been incredibly litigious and very much a deadbeat press, and I can't help remembering being so disappointed, many years ago, when I submitted a book to them... and it was rejected.

A close call indeed.

Giselle Renarde is an award-winning queer Canadian writer. Nominated Toronto’s Best Author in NOW Magazine’s 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards, her fiction has appeared in well over 100 short story anthologies. Giselle's juicy novels include Anonymous, Cherry, In Shadow, and The Other Side of Ruth.

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  1. Though concerns about finances were not unknown to me (though in most cases I was worried about accuracy and transparency rather than deliberate cheating), my biggest, broadest cumulative trust issues regarding publishers had to do with learning I couldn't trust them not to make bad edits to my work—and not to then (a) treat me like a PITA when I questioned them (even though I was always willing to rewrite until both parties were happy), and/or (b) go to press without even sending the edits for author review. This was so much the rule rather than the exception that, by the end, it was one more reason that writing didn't seem worth the trouble. It's bad enough knocking yourself out for virtually no readers and virtually no money without having the aggravation and humiliation of trying to chase down bad edits all the time. (And I do mean bad edits, not subjective judgment-call edits. I'm talking about objectively faulty grammar being inserted into the work, or revisions being made that altered the intended meaning or threw something else off in a subsequent sentence or paragraph.)

    1. Oh! I just had a memory: an anthology editor who inserted multiple comma splices into EVERY PARAGRAPH of my story and went to press without ever asking me to okay those changes. I was so embarrassed knowing readers would look at that piece of shit and think I'd produced it.

  2. I suspect we all know te litigious, deadbeat press that rejected your submission. Definitely a close call. I dreamed of sending them something, but I didn't have a novel that fit their guidelines. I'm glad now.

    1. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I worked with them, if we're talking about the same people. Definitely congrats to everyone who dodged that bullet.

  3. It wasn't exactly a close call, but after the sale of my main publisher I was regretting that I'd not only signed contracts but turned in completed manuscripts for two anthologies. It looked for quite a while as though they'd never see print, but I was still committed by my contract. Meanwhile I had tentative offers from other, smaller publishers. I offered to let the new publisher out of the contracts (they'd already disregarded other contracts and dropped some other editors' anthologies) but it was hard to get any definitive response. Now one book has come out, though, three years later than it should have, and the other comes out next May, also three years late by then. I still have to fight to get the terms of the original contracts fulfilled, though--contributors' copies are the main hassle. They don't offer them in any new contracts. I don't know whether I'd have been better off not to have contracted when I did, but it's true that my writers (I polled them several times) really wanted their work to come out from that publisher, even though the ownership had changed.

  4. I hardly ever submit to publishers anymore either. It's not so much a lack of trust (I've been fairly lucky in that regard), but more the question of freedom to write what inspires me, even if it does not fit into neat little genre boxes. My last major novel with a erotic romance publisher went through so many painful content edits that I got frustrated. It ended up being a different book from the way I'd imagined it.

    There's also the fact that although this publisher seems quite together, their books do not sell well. I keep thinking about trying to get out of my contracts with them and republishing the books myself. But honestly, I don't have the time or energy.

  5. There's also the fact that although this publisher seems quite together, their books do not sell well.

    I gather that's also more the rule than the exception (the not selling well, that is—not necessarily the having it together (:v>).

  6. Giselle, I like your take on the topic. And I like what you say about trust. I think for a long time, I wanted validation, but I've since learned that trust is much more important.


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