Monday, June 29, 2009

Close Call, But No Luck


A friend in the publishing industry told me yesterday that very good books by established writers are being rejected for being "too quiet." This applies to books about floods, rape, and radical undergrounds and war. My friend also told me that generally no editor is buying books unless the book is guaranteed to make $100,000.00 over the advance. This is depressing. And it also perhaps explains the following rejection , which I received very recently concerning my finally completed novel: "I so apologize for taking this long with the manuscript. I’ve been waiting for some kind of extreme intervention to swoop down and change my response, but, alas, it has failed to come. I loved the novel, and I did have a tremendous amount of deja-vu when reading and remembering the things that attracted me the first time. The wonderful family dynamic, the sense of place, the individual characters within the family. But, I couldn’t help thinking, visa-vi the “business” of publishing (I HATE when that creeps into my reading experience), I bet I COULD have sold this years ago, but now I think the only response I would receive from editors is “this is too quiet.” It sucks that this is the current attitude in mainstream publishing. And, I have very recently received this annoying response consistently in response to novels I submitted that, like yours, are beautifully written and well drawn..." It is ironic to have worked for so many years writing and rewriting, only to unveil (ta-da) at a time when we are at the absolute nadir of book-buying. Well, alas, indeed. I got close, folks. That interested editor from the wonderful publishing house, who loved the novel, passed it on to her colleague and I've been waiting for weeks on end to see if it was going to happen for me. However, the second editor wasn't as convinced, even though she wrote: "I am very impressed with your writing and found myself needing to read to the end to see what happened to [the two main characters], and to the rest of the family. You've done a great job embedding a spooky sense of mystery in these pages." She still rejected it, because the story wasn't for her and she felt that the balance at the end was slightly off; so I guess she wasn't impressed enough.


BTW, she is Lauren Wein at Grove.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry--that totally sucks because you know you've written a good book. But the market is likely to come back with the economy or with e publishing, so hang in there!

Johanna said...

Sorry, W, R. But you've got to throw it back out there. You've invested too much.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, the praise you received from this rejecting editor is so effusive it could be a blurb on the cover of your book!

Don't give up - it sounds like your novel is amazing, you just need to find a more courageous editor. S/he must be out there somewhere.

Patrick said...

Perhaps you should resubmit the book in all caps. Editors will have a hard time calling it "too quiet." You could also add a car chase or a gun fight every thirty pages, oh, and pictures of kittens, don't forget the kittens.

Da Hoff! said...

Knock back a beer and keep pluggin! Somebody will love it! Also: very curious to see what you think of this.....http://tinyurl.com/alicehoffman

Fellow Writer said...

Sorry to hear that. Disappointment is the currency of the writer. Keep on trucking. We have to.

Anonymous said...

visa-vi

Really? "visa-vi"?

Good Lord, what's editing come to?

Leigh said...

W,R - these rejections are a complete bummer but I believe it's a timing issue. A friend of mine who writes YA (as do I) has been getting the same "too quiet" rejections from agents and editors lately. And a recent conversation with my agent was about the same issue. But the climate will eventually change. You've got a great book and it will sell - just not right now.

Anonymous said...

LOL at visa-vi. First time I've ever seen it spelled that way.

Anonymous said...

WR,
Maybe you could write back to this editor and ask what she means by 'quiet?' I can think of few descriptors collocated to 'writing' that are more meaningless.

Patrick said...

Quiet usually means that there is not much in the way of action, but still a lot of character development. Tension is usually subtle, sometimes quite overt, but never explosive. The novel Housekeeping is rather quiet as well as Amy Hempel's story "In A Tub" I might also qualify Hemingway's "Big Two Hearted River" and "A Clean Well Lighted Place." Just about all of Carver's stories are quiet. Quiet books gives the reader room to take in imagery and the language. They're meant to be read slowly and carefully with much reflection, which unfortunately often keeps them from becoming blockbusters. Even though they can be quite enjoyable, they won't hold the ever shrinking attention span of the average reader (hence my sarcastic list of suggestions earlier).

rmellis said...

Yeah, it's a matter of timing. I think it IS the nadir of book-buying. And of risk taking.

However, people haven't totally stopped reading, and editors need a constant supply of books to keep their asses employed, so keep sending that baby out!

Someone will love it.

gimme said...

I'm getting a lot of those same comments right now: "I was tremendously moved by this brilliant book, etc. etc... but I fear there is simply no way to sell it in this climate," blah blah blah.

I even had one agent say "The fact that I can no longer sell this kind of novel is one of the reasons I'm considering getting out of the business."

The most frustrating one was from a major publishing house, where one of the editors really wanted my book, but couldn't convince the others. Of course, 30 years ago, this same house didn't require unanimous approval among all the editors, so... I can console myself by reminding myself that if I had only been born sooner, I would now be published by one of the "biggies."

Great.

Anonymous said...

Our current entertainment culture is too damn loud.

I like quiet. Quiet is good. Some readers still like thoughtful, character-driven narratives. When I pick up a book, I look for interesting characters and thoughtful writing. I am not looking for a reality show in print.

We don't all need to have explosions, knife fights, car chases, and kittens in order to enjoy a book. (Well, maybe a few kittens.)

Hymen Vagistein said...

Too quiet sounds like code for too literary. Sigh. With the legal thriller craze gone and the religious thriller on its way out I guess we can all look forward to the rise of the financial thriller. Those of us with quiet books can sit on the sidelines and watch as The Madoff Code ascends the bestseller list.

Anonymous said...

Yes: What exactly does she mean by "quiet"?
What do you think she means, w/r?
What would "loud" fiction be like?
I have an idea of what the two words mean.
We are living in a loud world. It's noisy out there - books, movies, music, art. Our culture is noisy.
Regarding Patrick's comment about "quiet" fiction being concerned with character development. I think he's right. And I don't think the reading (or movie-going) public has any interest in it.
In the past there was much more willingness in readers to delve into quiet fiction. To think that John P. Marquand's The Late George Apley - the ultimate in quiet novels - could have been a big commercial success and win the Pulitzer Prize and be made into a movie.
That book wouldn't have a Chinaman's chance today. I'd go so far to say that you, w/r, would have no patience with it, nor any other readers of this blog.