I’m Not That Picky

I’m allergic.

 What am I talking about? I’m talking about feathers. I’m allergic as can be. If I sleep on a feather pillow, I will cough and choke and wake up because I’ve stopped breathing in my sleep. I’m not exaggerating. It’s scary to wake up like that, fighting to breathe. Same thing if there’s a down comforter on the bed.

 I like breathing. As Martha Stewart might say, it’s a Good Thing.

 Yet it seems like every mid range or higher priced hotel I’ve stayed at has thought it the epitome of elegance and luxury to include feather pillows and down comforters. When I’m traveling and I don’t get there until late evening, I then have to say something to whatever staff is on duty, and then wait up until someone can retrieve and change the sheets and bedding for me.

 You might ask why I don’t say something when I make the reservation. I’ve done that. They end up transferring me to the Americans with Disabilities office for the corporation, I explain it a second time to them, they duly note it down, and then I will check in to the hotel where I’ve made the reservations and made the specific request to find that no one has done anything about the sheets on the bed. Since I end up having to wait for someone to come fix it anyway, I end up not specifying in the reservation…it doesn’t really do much good.

 Just last year, I made reservations at a nice hotel that was hosting a writer’s conference that I was attending. I made the reservation by phone so that I would be able to fully explain the situation. I was, as usual, transferred to the ADA office, where I explained again in detail. I was assured that it would be taken care of. I drove seven hours or so to the conference, checked in, and inquired again about the feathers, to be told it had been taken care of, and went off to dinner and a meeting before going back to the room to collapse.

 I should have checked. I didn’t. I was about to fall asleep standing up, and it was one o’clock in the morning. I didn’t do much more than change my clothes and fall into bed. I had trouble sleeping all night. When I woke up in the morning, my eyes were puffy and red, I was having trouble catching my breath, and kept coughing, on a day I was pitching my work to agents and editors! I walked down to the front desk, and begged them to do something about it. Their reaction…we’ll change it today. Here’s a free coffee for your trouble. I don’t know what made me madder; the fact that I had to go to such lengths to have it backfire anyway, or the thought that free coffee makes up for breathing difficulties that shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place!

 Why is it that everyone thinks feather pillows and bedding is so cool? If you own, manage, or work in a hotel that thinks this, please, for the love of all that is holy, tell your managers, owners, or corporate sponsors to be prepared to deal with this issue. Feather and down comforters might be luxurious to some, but it is nightmarish torture for others. So why does it have to be that I’d sleep better at, say, Bob’s Super Duper Local Dump Motel with their Goodwill clearance rack sheets, than at a Marriott, Hilton, or Hyatt-level hotel (using just for example, not name pointing) with the feathers, when I’m a customer willing to pay the higher rate and stay in a nicer hotel?

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Cracking the Code

You know, it’s really frustrating when you, the neophyte writer, gets the personalized rejection, or the invitation to resubmit, or the full request and while you’re having your squee moment, your friends and family don’t get it. Oh, they mean well, but they really don’t understand what’s going on. Consider this post a public service announcement, and a place where you can direct them to understand why you’re so excited, even when it’s technically a rejection.

When submitting fiction (I don’t have a lot of experience with non-fiction, so I’m not really covering that here), here are the responses you can get…

1) Form rejection.

This one’s rough. It’s the equivalent of the fourth grade participation ribbon in the science fair. It’s basically a letter saying that you showed up, and didn’t win the blue ribbon. It generally gives you little to no idea what you’ve done wrong, what you’ve done right, or how you might improve. A form rejection does not necessarily mean you suck, however. It may mean that you’re so close that you almost sold, but there’s something the agent or editor doesn’t like. They may not be able to put words as to their reason, and may not understand how to help you through it, so you get a form rejection. There’s a lot of websites out there about deciphering the form rejections. Let me save you the time.

A form rejection merely means; not for us. Most submissions get form rejections. And when I say most, I’m talking somewhere probably between 90 and 99%. There’s really no reason to take them personally, and no reason to believe that you’re just misunderstood. One, or even ten, or twenty form rejections really don’t mean anything about your story. When you get many, and nothing else, it’s time to realize that there’s something wrong with the story and seek out constructive critique (which you should already be seeking before submission). Your story just isn’t ready, or maybe you’re submitting the wrong story, or it’s the wrong story for that agent or that market. It’s time to do more research, and work more on your project and/or your submission package.

Also, it’s worth saying here that agents and editors are not required by ANYTHING or ANYONE to give more than a no, thanks. They get deluged with more submissions than you could imagine. They simply don’t have the time for personalized rejections on everything that they get. Which is another reason why an agent or an editor taking the time to say more than “no, thanks,” is such a huge deal, even if it’s not a yes.

2) The encouraging positive (and personalized) rejection letter.

This is a “not for us”, but generally saying nice things about your writing. They may be encouraging about your specific work, even though they’re saying no. It’s nice to get these letters, but they also don’t always have much content that help you improve the story. Even so, it’s a shot in the arm in an otherwise discouraging business. These letters are really rare.

3) The constructive personalized rejection letter.

This one is gold. It tells you either generally or specifically where you’ve gone wrong, and offers constructive feedback despite the fact that they are not buying your work. They’ve seen good in your work and are seeking to help you. For the most part, this is genuine, and something to pay attention to. You don’t have to agree. You don’t have to make the changes they suggest. This also does not mean that you get to resubmit to them; merely that they are reaching out to a writer with potential. This is even more rare.

4) The negative, rude, insulting rejection letter.

Thankfully this is the rarest of them all. Over four years of writing and submitting, I’ve only ever gotten one of them. I was very upset. In truth, I don’t believe that the person was trying to be insulting; I think they made some very poor choices in how to communicate what they were saying. Once I got over it, I came to the realization that this person had been very excited about my project and felt very let down by it, and let that disappointment color what they probably thought was a constructive personalization letter. We’re all human. It does happen. I had a few very bad days, and I moved on.

5) The personalized constructive rejection letter with an invitation to resubmit.

If you get this letter, take my advice; don’t ignore what they’ve told you. You may decide that the changes would fundamentally change your story and that it would no longer be the story you were trying to tell. Even if that’s the case, you have to also consider that it may become a stronger story. This is the best kind of rejection letter you could get, and it’s not a final rejection letter. Instead, it’s a wait and see if you can make the changes letter. Only you can decide if the changes are appropriate, but take them seriously before you discard the advice. This is the foot in the door we all hope for, and it’s the rarest of the rejection letters, except for the one discussed in #4, above.

6) The request for more letter.

This is also known as either a partial request or a full request. Both generally involve submissions of novel projects. When you send a novel, you don’t start out sending the whole thing. Instead, you start out with a query letter, the first few (generally five, although some may want more or less) and a page or two plot synopsis. The agent or editor then decides if they want more, and can request more pages (can be the first 50, the first 100, or whatever they require) or the full manuscript. They’re not gonna buy until they see more. If you get the request for more, you still could end up with any of the form rejections listed above, but you will likely not get to the acceptance stage of a novel without getting this letter.

and last, but certainly not least,

7) Acceptance.

Go celebrate. They want to buy your story, or the agent wants to sign you as a client. This is the goal. The odds of getting here are astronomically bad. That doesn’t mean that your job is over. You’ll have contracts to deal with. You’ll have author copies to negotiate (if possible). If you’re unagented, it might be time to learn about rights and royalties and other compensation matters. It’s now time to bone up on the next step, but for now, you’ve reached the Holy Grail of selling your work. Congratulations.

(And if you were trying to get rich, it isn’t this way. The odds of winning the lottery are better than the odds of becoming a gazillionaire by your writing. If that’s the goal, go buy a lottery ticket instead. But that’s another topic for another day.)

Another Fun Release!

So I completely spaced.

My friend, Stephen Saus, has a new story in an anthology that came out March 2. He let me know about it, and in the midst of work insanity and grand jury craziness, I just haven’t been on much to let people know about it.

Sorry, Stephen! I didn’t mean to forget…

I have not read this story, but I’ve seen some of his other stuff, and it’s really good. I’m looking forward to seeing it myself! Check it out!

You can catch up with Stephen and all his doings here.

And you can go order a copy of the book here. Just like I’m going to go do right now.