Category Archives: Books on Writing

Alas, Why? – The Problem With Big Publishing Rejection Letters

One would think well-educated, literate people, such as those who are attracted to and working in book publishing, would be able to write a rejection letter without using the dreaded “alas” word.

But it’s always there, in letters written by veterans and rookies alike. I’d like to suggest we break the pattern and either use form rejection letters that say nothing or try and write a meaningful response to those writers slaving over every word on their pages.

I mean, where else do you encounter this quaint word in modern usage to the extent we find it in Big Publishing rejection letters? Despite its common usage by publishers as “woe is me, if only I could, but now I must stab you in the heart, oh little one,” it actually means weary, stemming from the Latin word lassus.  As in lassitude. Is that how you want to present yourself to potential customers, even though it may well be true? Do you really want agents and writers to picture you asleep under your desk like George Costanza? Alas, methinks not (therefore I am).

Why does it matter, you ask? Think about it. Every writer wants to work with an intelligent, open-minded editor, who can appreciate and form unique expressions, same as they ask of them. Seriously, as a writer you can’t get away with using hackneyed words like  plethora, impactful, and no-brainer — unless you’re a sports announcer, which you ARE NOT.

It’s like—literally—unbelievably basically so absolutely not totally AWESOME.

Or compelling (ugh).

One of my favorite rejection letters goes something like this: “Thank you for submitting Honking Donkeys, which we loved! Someday we plan to read it.” I like it because it’s both funny and true.

I receive and write rejection letters at Publerati  (which Word wants so badly to re-spell as Puberty). Writing them isn’t easy and evaluating subjective works of fiction is especially difficult. But I know most editors understand there are common problems facing writers, and pointing these out via a standardized rejection letter might serve everyone better.

For instance, most submissions I read are reminiscent of some popular book already done better than anyone else is ever going to do again. Why bother? So try and write something unique to you. Do you have a voice of your own? Can you develop one with work and time?

Only the best writers are able to come up with metaphors that stand out from the crowd. As seen by the recovering alcoholic gazing at the ocean: “The sea looked like a giant Tom Collins.”

There are many common areas for improvement for writers, so at least offer some meaningful help.

Instead of pelting writers with a million hopeless alases, put together a helpful form rejection letter for each category you publish and send that instead. And whatever you do, don’t let your occasional personalized rejection letter make you sound like an antiquated stiff perched upon a high horse snoozing beneath a mahogany desk.

As you were. (Nap time yet?)

#ebookschangelives

The more I read and hear from near and far, the more I realize that ebooks are changing many lives in positive ways.

Many writers no longer have to endure years of agent rejections before publishing their work. Many readers are discovering new authors because they like ebooks and like paying less than what the popular authors ask.

At last, there is a great new place for the less popular people to hang out, a place so big, it feels like infinity.  It’s the world of digital.

Publishing consolidation continues to make publishers more cautious about trying something new. They are surviving on the Donald Trump books and blockbuster novels from well-known established writers. There’s that word again: established. As in establishment. Increasingly becoming the common enemy that might possibly be the only way to reunite our country. But that’s what they do best and whom they serve best. “You get the customers you deserve.”

Worldreader is demonstrating daily how ebooks are changing lives in remote regions of the world. Not just ebooks, but digital reading. On phones. On network-connected screens that overcome the heartless barriers of geography.

Civilizations no longer need that one great river or port to flourish.

The new Nile of our times is the Internet. And this is great news for a better future. Which is why we are launching our new hashtag:  #ebookschange lives. Please come visit us in this new world, on Twitter, Facebook, and unknown worlds to come.

#ebookschangelives

What do we mean by the label “literary fiction”?

Some people have been asking what we mean by “literary fiction,” as the term carries many positive as well as some negative connotations. Publerati purports on our Web Site to be “Publishers of Fine Fiction for eBooks,” and we say in our submissions area that we are looking to specialize in literary fiction at the exclusion of other forms of writing. What do we mean by “fine fiction” and “literary fiction”?

When we use the term “literary fiction” we mean the following as it pertains to novels, novellas, and story collections:

  • Works that grab you with a distinctive voice and perspective. There are many examples of these but one we like to cite is Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. We love this classic for its distinctive voice and mood, and how the stories all hang together in a coherent collection. This American classic has dropped out of favor in modern times, which is a shame and our collective cultural loss. It is a great example of unique human expression via the written word. It stood out in its day and it stands out today.
  • Works that focus more on characters and less on plot. Ideally there is a balance and that is when modern publishers will say a “literary novel can cross over into the mainstream.” Just as some indie movies can. In general terms these are strong character-driven works of fiction. They can be funny, tragic, or both.
  • Works with psychological depth that reveal the interior moral struggles of the protagonist in engaging our interest. Works where there is subtext. Works where what the main character says they want does not always align with their actions.
  • Works that can be read many times during our lifetime and where we discover something new with each reading. Ideally, works that will endure over several lifetimes because of the universality of the themes and story.

The sort of books described above oftentimes will not earn their way from a commercial standpoint, as they were not created with the pressure to “make money.”  Yes, we all would love to make money and many great works of literary fiction have from the earliest times. Oftentimes these are first novels by writers who have spent years or decades perfecting what they want to say, without the pressure of publishing every two years to make money for themselves and the publisher while under contract. Many are cathartic works of art, whether in painting, music or literature, that share some profound emotional truths that move us deeply.

The purpose of Publerati is to utilize ebooks as a way to reopen access for literary works. Period. That is our mission. All great literary writers were unknown when they first began their careers, so let’s make it easier for writers of literary fiction today by using the new technology now at our disposal.

Many publishers and excellent imprints used to gamble much more than they do now on literary works, because as the industry consolidated into a handful of media conglomerates, the pressures to have every title earn its way as a commercially successful work became a prerequisite when deciding what to publish. If the chances of “earning out” its small advance were low, then the proposal to publish was never even presented internally. Just too much work for too little gain.

“Literary acclaim” became too difficult a case to make to the Editorial Board. Many excellent editors in the industry know this to be true and struggle with the modern reality.
We are of the opinion there will be plenty of room for ebooks and print books to coexist, so let’s use ebooks as a way to reopen access for deserving literary works while also supporting literacy charities around the world. It’s a win-win.

We envision ebook-only futures for some very talented fiction writers who otherwise would never be read. Some will also get print contracts down the road or be released in print-on-demand editions as this technology becomes widespread. That thought should give us all hope.

-Caleb

What do we mean by the label “literary fiction”?

Some people have been asking what we mean by “literary fiction,” as the term carries many positive as well as some negative connotations. Publerati purports on our Web Site to be “Publishers of Fine Fiction for eBooks,” and we say in our submissions area that we are looking to specialize in literary fiction at the exclusion of other forms of writing. What do we mean by “fine fiction” and “literary fiction”?

When we use the term “literary fiction” we mean the following as it pertains to novels, novellas, and story collections:

  • Works that grab you with a distinctive voice and perspective. There are many examples of these but one we like to cite is Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. We love this classic for its distinctive voice and mood, and how the stories all hang together in a coherent collection. This American classic has dropped out of favor in modern times, which is a shame and our collective cultural loss. It is a great example of unique human expression via the written word. It stood out in its day and it stands out today.
  • Works that focus more on characters and less on plot. Ideally there is a balance and that is when modern publishers will say a “literary novel can cross over into the mainstream.” Just as some indie movies can. In general terms these are strong character-driven works of fiction. They can be funny, tragic, or both.
  • Works with psychological depth that reveal the interior moral struggles of the protagonist in engaging our interest. Works where there is subtext. Works where what the main character says they want does not always align with their actions.
  • Works that can be read many times during our lifetime and where we discover something new with each reading.  Ideally, works that will endure over several lifetimes because of the universality of the themes and story.

The sort of books described above oftentimes will not earn their way from a commercial standpoint, as they were not created with the pressure to “make money.” Yes, we all would love to make money and many great works of literary fiction have from the earliest times. Oftentimes these are first novels by writers who have spent years or decades perfecting what they want to say, without the pressure of publishing every two years to make money for themselves and the publisher while under contract. Many are cathartic works of art, whether in painting, music or literature, that share some profound emotional truths that move us deeply.

The purpose of Publerati is to utilize ebooks as a way to reopen access for literary works. Period. That is our mission. All great literary writers were unknown when they first began their careers, so let’s make it easier for writers of literary fiction today by using the new technology now at our disposal.

Many publishers and excellent imprints used to gamble much more than they do now on literary works, because as the industry consolidated into a handful of media conglomerates, the pressures to have every title earn its way as a commercially successful work became a prerequisite when deciding what to publish. If the chances of  “earning out” its small advance were low, then the proposal to publish was never even presented internally. Just too much work for too little gain. “Literary acclaim” became too difficult a case to make to the Editorial Board. Many excellent editors in the industry know this to be true and struggle with the modern reality.

We are of the opinion there will be plenty of room for ebooks and print books to coexist, so let’s use ebooks as a way to reopen access for deserving literary works while also supporting literacy charities around the world. It’s a win-win.

We envision ebook-only futures for some very talented fiction writers who otherwise would never be read. Some will also get print contracts down the road. That thought should give us all hope. 

-Caleb