Personalized rejections. Why not?

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A few weeks back, someone in the comments asked about our rejection letters and whether they were form letters, personalized letters or both. The answer is that we do mainly form letters, but there are times when personal feedback specific to the author’s manuscript or writing is included. I know what the next question usually is–why doesn’t everyone get personal feedback? Here’s why.

Earlier in the week I spent an entire day sorting through the editor’s submissions reports. These are the reports they send me with their recommendations for each manuscript they read. Generally, unless the report needs immediate action–a revise/resubmit letter that needs reviewing or an acquisition that needs to move forward to the acquisitions team–I set the reports aside in a folder and set aside a day every two weeks to look at them and take the necessary action, if it hasn’t already been taken. Usually that’s either sending a rejection letter or moving the manuscript to another editor for another look.

So as I said, earlier this week I spent a day sorting through these reports. I kind of enjoy this because it gives me a sense of both the editors’ thought processes and a sense of the manuscripts that are coming in. If a book is recommended for rejection, the editors may write anywhere from one to two sentences to a long paragraph with the reasons why. There’s no requirement as to the feedback, simply that they give me some insight into why they recommend rejection. The feedback is informal, meant for me, and in this way is much quicker for the editors to write.

I can anticipate the next question–if they’re already doing this, why not just provide feedback that can be shared with the author? The answer is simple: were they writing it to the author, it would take much longer to write, because the editor would choose their words and their feedback with a mind to not hurt anyone’s feelings, being constructive, and being polite. To offer a comparison, it’s the difference between writing an email to your best friend about your frustrations at work versus writing an email to your boss about your frustrations at work. The tone, language and information you share are very different and the letter to your boss is one you craft carefully, with a time investment, and think over several times before sending, versus the one to your best friend where you let your fingers fly over the keyboard, pour out your heart and hit send without a second thought.

As an example of the time comparison of the difference between sending personal rejection letters and the form letter, I sent somewhere over 80 rejection letters on Monday. Approximately 15 of those were letters that contained personal feedback, and those letters took approximately 3 hours to send. Not because I was writing the feedback, but because I was reading through the feedback provided by the editor, taking it, editing and rewriting it and shaping it into something meant for the author of the manuscript. That didn’t even include coming up with the feedback myself! Doing the math, that means each personalized rejection took at least 12 minutes, on average. Looking back at the statistics I provided Tuesday, I’ve sent 355 rejections to date. That means, if I’d provided personalized feedback for each of those rejections I’d have spent somewhere around 70 hours sending rejections–or almost 2 work weeks.

Besides the time investment, the rather hard truth is that sometimes there’s not much we can say about a manuscript that would be constructive for the author. I know that’s a difficult thing for any author to hear, but most editors and agents will tell you the same; sometimes, it would take more time and energy to craft constructive feedback than it did to realize that the manuscript was not ready for publication or not suitable for our press.

All that said, I do understand it’s frustrating not to get feedback and not know why your manuscript didn’t get acquired. But please–please–don’t email the editor or agent and ask for feedback, and I’m going to tell you, as kindly as possible, why not. Consider how many submissions any one editor or agent might get at any given time. Just looking at our specific statistics, we’ve had over 500 submissions in a few months’ time. That’s actually a small number in comparison to any agent or an editor at a traditional house (some agents reported upwards of 20,000 queries in 2009!) Is it likely they’ll remember your specific manuscript? If it was offered a form rejection, chances are they will not remember. So in order to give you feedback, they’d have to find your manuscript/submission (assuming they still have it), look at it again, and then craft feedback in the most constructive manner. So we’re talking about a time investment, from you emailing and asking for feedback, of anywhere from 15 minutes on up. Now, imagine if, just based on Carina’s statistics, every one of the 355 people I’d sent rejections to had emailed asking for personal feedback. Again–70 hours of my time would be spent responding to those requests. 2 weeks of work days. I can say with all honesty that I have not had 70 extra hours in my schedule. I haven’t had 7 extra hours. No editor or agent does. We’re working long days, evenings, weekends and reading submissions at night in bed!

If an editor or agent does give you personal feedback, you may find that your fellow authors are envious because, as I’ve discussed above, it’s not something that can happen frequently! Good for you! But if you don’t get personal feedback, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Keep writing, find workshops, forums and groups that offer help polishing your craft, connect with critique partners who will not just boost you up but who will also offer you constructive feedback. The critique partner who thinks every word you write is a special snowflake may not be the one for you, as they’re not helping you learn. Seek out places and people that will help you learn. There’s always something new to learn about your writing, your story, and your characters. A form rejection–any rejection– shouldn’t be viewed as a sign to give up, but maybe instead as a challenge to keep going. The publisher or agent might not take your first submission, or even your third or fifth. But they might take your sixth. It’s happened that way for others, why not for you? Just keep writing! And don’t take it personally when the rejection letters aren’t, well, personal.

A call for historical submissions

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A few weeks back, we had a fun call for historical submissions circulating on some of the historical blogs and writing chapters. I don’t want anyone to think that this means we’re only looking for historical submissions, only that we decided to do something fun with them. In the future, we may do something like this for erotic romance, fantasy, m/m romance, etc., but even if we don’t, we still are actively seeking those genres, and all other genres. Essentially, we’re looking for a compelling story, so don’t wait for us to single out a particular genre, before you feel you can send your submission in! So, with that prefaced, here’s our call for historical submissions!

Hoop skirts, brocade, feathered headdresses, kid gloves, kid slippers, horses, carriages, talk of locomotion (not Kylie Minogue’s!), Queen Victoria, cowboys, discussion of women’s suffrage, ratafia, corsets, chemises, calling cards, pelisses, peers of the realm, cutthroats, Mary Wollstonecraft, six-shooters, hothouse flowers, wallflowers, parties lit by candles, cowboy hats, bluestockings, hunts, hounds, masquerades, horses, operas and operettas, tours of Italy, grand tours, wars (Napoleonic, Crimean), revolutions (French, Russian)…

Do you love these things? We do, and we want to read more about them—and share them with our readers! Carina Press’s acquisitions team and editors have begged me to find more historical fiction and romance, so I’m putting out the call. If you have a completed historical manuscript, 15,000 words and up, Carina Press would love to see it. We’re looking for both historical romance and historical fiction (with or without the romance subplot) of any steam level (including none, none at all). Historical Victorian, Regency, Western, turn of the century or whatever other time period you’ve chosen to write in, we’re interested in publishing some amazing historical work. Our submissions guidelines can be found at www.carinapress.com/submission-guidelines and we’re working through submissions very quickly, due to the large number of us reading them, so you won’t be waiting until summer (or next year) for an answer!

We hope you’ll take this post and pass it on, post it on your blog, direct your friends to it and let them know: Carina Press is looking for historical fiction and romance!

Want to know more about the people behind the Carina Press acquisitions and their love of all things historical? I asked them to share thoughts about favorite authors, books and just what they love about historical romance and historical fiction in general.

I’ll start (Angela James, Executive Editor): I love historicals for the things I learn. When I was in sixth grade, I visited the junior high, as a kind of orientation for the next school year. We were all assigned a seventh grade buddy, who we attended classes with for the day. In her history class, the teacher asked, “What was Queen Mary’s nickname?” I was the only one who knew the answer was “Bloody Mary” and that was because of the historical romances I’d been reading (yes, in sixth grade). I got mad props from the seventh graders (upperclassmen!) for knowing that answer!

I adore Julie Garwood’s old historicals and have for many years. They’re some of my very favorite re-reads, and books I will never give up because, even after all these years, they still make me laugh out loud, smile, and fall in love with both the hero and the heroine. Despite historical inaccuracies and what some might call a wallpaper-historical effect, I love them and I continue to recommend them to friends for the fun storylines and relatable characters.

Amy Wilkins, Acquisitions Team:
I love The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig for its incredible blend of adventure, comedy and romance.

(plus it amused me that the hero and heroine are named Amy and Richard — my boyfriend’s name is Richard!)

Melissa Johnson, Editor: I love Kresley Cole’s MacCarrick Brothers Trilogy because one of the heroines is actually not from France or the British Isles, and Cole’s heroes are all crazy-hot for the women they love. I don’t even mind that the brothers are each crazy-hot in basically the same way.

Deborah Nemeth, Editor: I love the sparkling prose and witty dialogue of Eloisa James. In the Desperate Duchess series she went beyond the typical Regency to the Georgian period, one that I love.

I’d also love to get some historical manuscripts set in the Italian Renaissance and the Tudor/Elizabethan courts that feature political intrigue. The Roman empire between Augustus-Claudius (the setting of the I, Claudius series) would also be good for this type of political story.
I’d also love an adventure story set during the Crusades–perhaps from the Saracen point of view. A romance featuring a troubadour during the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine. I also enjoy the roaring twenties, Paris during the Belle Époque, and England during both WWI and WW2.

Andrea Kerr, Acquisitions Team: You can quote me: “I admit it: I love historicals for the gowns!”

More seriously, one thing I really like about historical romance is that there is built-in conflict. Relationships between men and women were governed by very different and intricate social rules that simply could not be crossed. So it’s believable to me that the hero and heroine in a historical can’t be together because they are on different social levels, for example, or because they are unable to come out and say how they feel. In a contemporary romance, it takes a LOT more to convince me that two available people who are obviously attracted to each other can’t just sit down and work through their differences and be together.

Gina Bernal, Editor: I love the emotional depth of Mary Balogh’s historicals, because she takes characters to the lowest of low points and yet makes me believe time and again that love does conquer all. Lately, I’ve been hankering for a good harem romance and love all sorts of unusual settings and underexplored time periods–from Vikings, Romans and Celts to Caribbean pirates and WWII resistance fighters.

Emily Matheson, Acquisitions Team: I love Eloisa James. Everything she’s written. Not only do I love her characters (they’re always smart), but I always learn something– be it about politics in Georgian England or how migraines were treated in the regency period. It’s the best way to be educated.

Elizabeth Bass, Editor: I`d love to find an author who could single-handedly bring western historicals back into popularity!

Jenny Bullough, Acquisitions Team: Like most of us here at Harlequin, I’m a huge fan of Deanna Raybourn’s MIRA historicals, because as much as I love Regencies it’s a treat to read historical novels set in the Victorian era for a change! With Carina Press open to any and all eras and settings, I’m always excited to read submissions that are set in unusual or different eras or places — from ancient Rome or Egypt to turn-of-the-century America or WWII Japan, from the Salem witch trials to Renaissance Italy!!

Kymberly Hinton, Editor: I love Judith McNaught’s rich, evocative language because it makes me feel like I’m right there with the characters, and she’s the first author who helped me to realize that “reformed rakes make the best husbands.” I also adore Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series because she has a rare ability to make me laugh, cry, and jump for joy all in the same book.

2/9/2010 Submissions update

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This blog is probably going to be mostly about submissions this week, just be warned! I’m going to blog about personalized rejections later this week, as well as post a call for submissions that’s been circulating, and then also a post with clips from the editors’ notes to me, highlighting some of the most common reasons we’re rejecting. But for today, an update.

Yesterday, I spent the entire day (and when I say day, I mean well over 8 hours) in the submissions inbox, going through all of the editor reports, updating our spreadsheet and emailing authors. If you didn’t get a response, it’s because your submission is still under consideration (or your response got lost in cyberspace). We’re nearly done with all November submissions, with the exception of the reissues, which are still being looked at by the editors. Other than that, there are probably less than five November submissions still under consideration by the editors.

We’ve also made good inroads into the December and January submissions. We have…maybe ten December submissions still under consideration, and those are all from the second half of December. It looks like all submissions from December 1-15th have gotten responses (again, except for reissues). Many submissions from January have already gotten responses.

What does this mean for you? The response time is now well within 10 weeks, and if you’re thinking of submitting, now is a good time because much of the editors’ focus is still on submissions and acquisitions. I expect, in the next few weeks, that will change to more of a focus on editorial.

What publication dates are we acquiring for? We’re still acquiring for Summer 2010 publication, so you’re potentially looking at six months to publication if your manuscript is accepted.

Some statistics for those of you who like that type of thing:
To date we’ve had over 560 submissions of full manuscripts.
Rejected: 355
Accepted: 33
Revisions requested: 25 (this is a high number, I don’t anticipate this will continue, but you never know)
Revisions Resubmitted: 6
Active submissions currently with editors: 70
Acquisition percentage: 8.5% (keeping in mind that over 1/3–around 14–of the acquisitions were not slush, but from authors we had worked with before or had a previous relationship with, so the slush acquisition percentage is lower than 8%, probably closer to 5% but still a pretty good number and one that I see might be higher in the coming weeks)

For those who don’t want to do math, that means we’ve responded to over 400 manuscripts since opening in November, which is, I think, pretty impressive since every manuscript gets looked at and sometimes by more than one editor. Plus, that’s a lot of emails (I know, I sent most of them). I only wish I were sending a few more of the positive kind of emails (or phone calls!) but we continue to see some very promising some submissions and I hope we’ll see even more in the months ahead.

Week 13…editors and submissions

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I made some inroads into working through the copy editor tests and developmental editor emails. I’ll be sending out some emails today, but I’m still working on copy editors. Copy editors are actually much more difficult to hire than developmental editors, for some reason. Part of it is that, over the years, I’ve found that some people think they have the chops for copy editing, because they pick out typos or missing punctuation in the books they read, but the truth is that copy editing is an incredibly multi-layered position and to be a copy editor, you have to be highly skilled, very detail-oriented, know the ins and outs of the Chicago Manual of Style and grammar rules quite well, and be able to remember details, timelines and other things in order to compare and spot inconsistencies. In short, it takes amazing focus and not many of us have that.

I know some of you have been waiting for a submissions update. There are still November books under consideration. This could generally be considered a good thing, because taking longer means they’re getting a closer look. Any reprints submitted are still under consideration while we worked out our plan for them. We’ve got that in place and editors are looking through them as we speak. Because of the number of editors we have, at any given time, anywhere from 70 to 130 submissons are being actively reviewed. Now that we’re up and running, response times will be well within the 8 to 12 weeks for anyone submitting. I’ll do a more thorough submissions update this week, but we’re moving very quickly through submissions and now is a good time to get your submission in, as we’re still looking to acquire for Summer 2010 release. We’re especially targeting erotic romance, contemporary and paranormal romance, m/m romance, fantasy, science fiction and historical. But we’ve acquired across the board in all fiction genres, so if you have a good story, get it polished and send it in!

Something new we’ve started and just announced the first date for to our authors: we’ll be doing live meeting chats (using phone and computer) with our authors on a regular basis. These are going to include chats about general items, what’s happening at Carina, marketing tips and training, and more.

On that note, you know what I’ll be working on this week (submissions! copy editors!) and I’ll do a submission update later this week. In the meantime, I’ll be doing all that huddled here inside and trying to avoid looking out my window. Here in my part of Maryland, we got about 16 inches of snow. In addition to the ten we already had. More than we normally get in 3 or 4 years of winter. I’m going to sit inside and pretend it’s summer. Who’s with me?

Carrie Lofty title poll results

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Two weeks ago we held a poll for Carrie Lofty’s upcoming historical romance and I promised to announce the results. I apologize for the delay, but Carrie and I were also talking behind the scenes about the final title result and an idea she had and we needed a little extra time to get the details of that in place so we could share them at the same time.

On that note (ha ha, play on words purely unintentional), I’m thrilled to announce that Song of Seduction was the winning title in the poll, with 42% of well over two hundred votes. And I’m also thrilled to announce that the new title inspired Carrie to brainstorm an idea for a follow-up book, Portrait of Seduction, which she has also contracted with Carina Press!

Portrait of Seduction

Gifted painter Gretchen Zweig earns her keep by forging masterpieces, whereby wealthy families can hide the priceless originals from Napoleon’s advancing armies. She yearns to be known for her own work, but her uncle, a destitute marquis, exploits her desire for an advantageous marriage. Oliver Doerger, a German duke’s bastard and former soldier, poses as a valet in order to further his aristocratic half-brother’s political career. He, too, longs to emerge from the shadows—to be regarded not as a spy but as a respected member of society.

When someone begins marketing Gretchen’s forgeries as originals, Oliver is drawn into her world of art and subterfuge. She will do anything to shield her family from scandal, even if that means resisting her improper attraction to the intense, surprising valet. But the appearance of a charismatic grifter threatens to reveal a shameful debt from Oliver’s past. Caught between love and duty, he must choose between honoring his loyalties and indulging in a passionate affair with Gretchen that could expose them both.

Thank you to everyone who voted! The runner-up title was Heart Strings, with 26% of the votes. An interesting tidbit for you: no matter how many votes the poll had, from the beginning, Song of Seduction always held around 40% of the votes and Heart Strings around 25%. The percentages never varied more than two points in either direction.

Song of Seduction will be available for purchase in June 2010 and we’ll be revealing the (beautiful) cover soon!

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