Most of us don’t want the unvarnished truth about publishing—especially if it comes to our own writing. We can’t find it with family members. They will often gush over anything that you give them.
Critique groups are another possibility. It’s a great place to get some feedback from fellow writers about your latest work in progress or magazine article or children’s book. The quality of the feedback will depend on the skill of the other members of your critique group. You will have to learn how much to take and not take from that feedback process.
Some times you get some glimmers of unvarnished truth at a writer’s conference. I’m thinking about those one on one meetings with an editor. Yet again you have to use caution about the feedback. I’ve been in those meetings repeatedly—and I know if I’m too honest I could hear about it from the evaluation forms and the conference director. Besides people invested a lot of their financial resources to come to these conferences—mostly for encouragement—not to be discouraged.
You can’t give the unvarnished truth in rejection letters. It’s why editors and agents have carefully crafted rejection letters that say something about “it’s not right for their needs” (whatever that means in terms of the real truth). I was interested when one of my agent friends said she learned the hard way not to give too much personal information in a rejection letter. If you give too much, it encourages the writer to try again. Or it encourages the writer to get into a dialogue and almost argument with you about your insight. And what agent or editor has time for such dialogue—especially with unpublished writers? They don’t.
So the gentle rejection continues and the flood of material coming our direction as editors and agents for consideration. I attempted to do a bit of the unvarnished truth in Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Particularly in the introductory chapters, I clue writers about the busy life of the editor and help them understand why editors don’t immediately return emails or phone calls (in general). I want to give the writer the best possible chance for consideration and help them be professional in the process.
Despite what people think about editors, we are not God nor do we have the final word on your writing. One editor’s pleasure is another editor’s poison to reject. You are looking for an editor to champion your cause internally in the magazine or publishing house and bring your writing into print for the general public. It’s a difficult relationship to locate—for anyone.
If you can’t find the unvarnished truth about your work, what do you do? You continue to hone your craft. Learn more about the publishing business and how it works and continue writing. As another step in my learning process (yes, editors and writers have lots to learn), I’ve started reading a book from Pat Walsh (not a Christian writing book) called 78 Reasons Why Your book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might (Penguin Original, June 2005). Here’s what intrigues me about the promise of this book—unvarnished truth for writers. Yes, the truth hurts but often we need to hear it. Walsh is the founding editor of MacAdam/ Cage, an independent publisher of nonfiction and fiction.
As Betsy Lerner, author of The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers (another excellent writing book) says, “Three reasons to buy Pat Walsh’s book on getting published. It’s a punch in the gut, a slap in the face, and a poke in the eye. In other words, a much-needed wake-up call about the delusions of the literary life. Buy one for every struggling writer you know.”
Not all of us can handle the unvarnished truth about this publishing business. For the little I’ve read, I’m going to learn a lot from this book. I’m always eager to find the unvarnish truth because it’s the only way I can take steps toward improvement.