It Can Happen: Rejection and Other Good News

July 2, 2021 § 3 Comments

By Jenny Klion

Another day, another essay rejection. I rarely respond to rejection e-mails, unless they read clever or uplifting, and this one was same-old, dry but polite. “Thanks but no thanks, send us more work if you think it’s a match. Good luck placing that essay we don’t want.”

Here is how I’d like to respond:

“Oh hi Lit Mag, 7 months later. A lot has transpired since we last communicated, when you moved my submission status to ‘in progress.’ Thanks for that and also your note but I recently got a 6-figure book deal via a high-end lit agent, so reject away! I’m only bothered a little bit.”

Dare I press send? What terrible thing would happen if I did? Told the truth with a capital T, which I thought CNF was all about? Do I really have to keep being so proper and well-behaved all of the time? 

It’s this book deal! I’m feeling since like nothing can touch me, like it’s my birthday, every day, except I’m getting younger, or have more future ahead of me, though of course that’s not true. And also that I want to use this good news as a weapon, to point at certain specific someones. Yes, I’m that shallow, and in fact nothing has changed day to day, really. Except that a window is open, at least for a short while, and there’s a wonderful view, which is very satisfying after having had so many doors closed in my face. Also that high price per word, if I’m telling truth with an upper-case T, as in possibly TMI, even after the skim off the top and the split down the middle and the step payments, plus the taxes and what not, that is my best yet!

Over the years I’ve written thousands of words, hundreds of thousands, millions of words. Essays, and more essays, pieces of essays, ideas only, flash, memoir, all of those drafts, and more drafts, some that have seen the light but most have not. Plus cover letters and artist statements, residency and grant applications. The readings and prompts, and classes, endless classes, assignments, and newsletters, tips, how-tos, freebies, and the failures to boot. I once wrote in Brevity Blog about padding one’s word count, as if I needed more words! And then there’s the stuff I barely remember writing. 

Now I see, decades later, that my moment of Zen turned out to be the most petite of flashes—a kids picture book I wrote with someone else—for those in the buying position to sit up and take notice. Also, my writing partner here, my lifelong BFF, happens to be a successful film producer, with enviable representation. Also, I am aware of how gestalt can happen, and I’m just proud enough to take it however I can get it! It was a two-and-a-half-week whirlwind of agent and pub meetings, a book auction OMFG, offer/love letters my shrink suggested I turn into wallpaper, and the realization that I need zoom makeup, badly, which I got for Mother’s Day, along with a tutorial from my proud daughter #amcrying, and a month later I’m still floating back down to earth….

Ah look, here’s another essay rejection rolling in. I won’t say a word, like a good writer shouldn’t. Instead, let me pop it like a balloon and pin up the remains on my new wallpaper, because one couldn’t exist without the other. And get back to work on the next book, for which my partner and I have a ‘first look’ deal. 

It can happen.

Jenny Klion’s work has appeared in Ploughshares, Longreads, The Rumpus, The Hairpin, The Nosher, the Woodhall Press Anthologies Flash Nonfiction Funny2018, Flash Nonfiction Food, 2020, and more.

When The Publisher Calls You

May 29, 2018 § 12 Comments

Hold on a sec, I got some thoughts about your memoir

You open your email, and O frabjous day! A publisher has come calling! They’ve seen your work in a literary magazine and wonder if you have a chapbook, or would like to be in their anthology.  Or you didn’t win a contest, but your work “shows merit” and “deserves to be published.” Maybe you wanted a faster process than querying agents, or figured your work better suited a small press, so you cast out to a few publishers, and one has bitten.

You read a little further. This publishing house “considers work for both traditional and hybrid publishing.” If your book is seen as better suited to a hybrid deal—perhaps due to “the difficulty in placing the books of new or untried authors, as well as the general increased competition in publishing today”—the publisher feels “that it may be necessary to ask for a contribution from you.”

Maybe it’s even right up front: We’re a hybrid press. Our package costs $XXXX, and you can add on additional services at $XXX, $XXXX or $XXXXX.

The email is reassuring. Someone has recognized the quality of your work. After all the hype about “platform,” someone wants your book based on your writing. You don’t have to hit 10,000 followers or make mailing-list spreadsheets. It’s a relief.

But most of the time, it’s not true.

Not (technically) a scam or a fraud. But a well-designed system to separate hopeful authors from hard-earned dollars, waste their time and leave them with unsold, often un-edited and poorly-designed books.

Remember the old saw about things that seem too good to be true? That maxim goes hand-in-hand with another cliche: You can’t cheat an honest man. You can only sell a five-dollar diamond ring to someone who thinks he’s ripping you off.

Writers who seek hybrid publishing “deals” aren’t grifters. But they are to some extent sidestepping the work of getting published. Submitting and pitching to small magazines, medium journals and mass media. Blogging/newsletter-ing to build their core audience. Going to readings and events, collecting names and emails. Being a literary citizen. We’re all looking for a lucky break, and lightning may well strike, but it usually strikes while we’re in the middle of the process. The process that sets us up to be able to sell books once we do get that publishing deal.

Most authors who pay to publish end up doing the real work anyway. Pounding the pavement to get their book in a few stores. Emailing the target audience (key demographic: “everyone I know who has ever read a book”). They’ll do that work with a larger cash investment than traditional publishing and far less potential monetary reward than self-publishing. Their copyright may end up in the publisher’s hands—the publisher who may also now own all their subsidiary rights.

Remember that part about “the process that sets us up to be able to sell books”? Memoir, creative nonfiction and self-help are hard to sell without “platform.”  Basically, the number of people who will buy your book or spread the word about it. Platform can be:

  • social media followers (10,000+ real followers who engage with your posts)
  • a speaking career (at major events where books can be sold)
  • group membership (i.e., a nationwide service club or large religious organization; a class of people like “patients suffering this disorder”)
  • writing articles or essays about the book’s subject matter, and publishing them in medium-to-major mass media or significant literary journals
  • a public career like radio show host or TV presenter

Without platform, a traditional publisher doesn’t want to buy the book because they can’t sell the book. It’s also hard to self-publish without enough people to sell the book to. Unfortunately, so many books come out each year that, without a built-in audience, it’s rare for readers to discover and purchase any single book. Novelists still market hard, but for some there’s an existing base of blogs, reviewers, and genre fans to help the book get momentum and word-of-mouth. Nonfiction books by non-famous people are usually not newsworthy, so the writer needs an existing audience who will spread the word and buy the book themselves.

One of the things you can do to start momentum for your work is to revise sections of the book as possible magazine or newspaper articles, and seek publication in mass media. You can also turn chapters into self-contained essays to submit to journals. Whether you end up with a traditional publisher or a self-supported plan, getting your work out there will help future sales, and help you gauge your audience. Memoirists who publish a “hot essay” (the legendary venue is Modern Love, but there are plenty more places) often get offers from traditional publishers, or have agents seek them out.

Legitimate publishers have writers beating down their doors. Unless a writer recently did something very newsworthy, made a big splash with an essay, or regularly speaks at large events, publishers don’t come to us. We go to them. Self-publishing is totally legit, but you can coordinate it yourself, and publish with Createspace, Lulu, Smashwords and/or Ingram. That’s more work, but usually costs less, and you make all the money and keep all the rights.

Sometimes a true hybrid publishing deal can be the right choice for some authors. On Thursday, we’ll talk about what a good hybrid deal looks like, why you might want one, and questions to ask the publisher.


Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor. She’s building her platform with this charming mostly-monthly newsletter—rack up some literary karma by subscribing. 






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