Writer's Life

Recommended for Acquisition: A Lesson in how not to conduct yourself.


There’s so much great advice about how to write your query, but what happens when you actually get recommended for acquisition? How should you respond? What are the pitfalls? For it is a truth universally acknowledged that all new writers make mistakes but it isn’t necessarily true that we learn from them.

Learn from me. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Allow me to tell you a story.

The Literary Equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade

There’s a particular publisher I won’t name. They’re wonderful and have published some of my absolute favourite romances in recent years. I sent a query to an editor there. She requested the full, read it, and then loved it. She recommended it to the acquisitions board for publication, at which point they sent me an email asking me to send anything else I’d written with a synopsis.

This is where things start to go a bit wrong. Usually, when engaging with industry professionals, I research things. I make sure each communication is as well written and well thought out as possible. But I’d just been recommended for acquisition for the first time. I was excited.

How many mistakes did I then make? Let me count the ways.

Julia’s mistake 1: I immediately responded to the email. Let me repeat that: I immediately responded. I did not take a breath. I did not stop to consider. I just answered.

What Julia Learned: At the beginning of the post, I mentioned how much information there is online to help you craft a query. I spend ages reading this advice. I wrote countless drafts. I sent my first attempt to a critique partner and then I rewrote the whole thing again. Aspiring writers spend so much time on that initial contact. It doesn’t make sense to do any less when responding to the chief editor of a major publisher. Everything you write is a chance to show your ability.

I think I was worried that if I didn’t immediately respond, I might be perceived as rude or amateurish. The opposite is true. Editors are busy people. This one was probably relieved to have dealt with me for the day. I doubt she was hopping up and down with excitement to see my name pop up in her inbox ten seconds later.

Julia’s mistake 2: About ten minutes later, I remembered something I’d forgotten to include. So, I sent a second email.

What Julia Learned: If you rush to respond, you will forget something. Make yourself wait. Even if you write your response immediately, read it over, and decide that it’s perfect, make yourself wait at least 24 hours. There were now two emails from me waiting in that editor’s inbox neither of which I’d spent enough time crafting.

Julia’s mistake 3: I then read the publishing company’s requirements for a synopsis. Turned out they like a long synopsis. I’d sent one that was two pages. So, I wrote a new synopsis which I thought was rather good, and send it to them in yet another email.

What Julia Learned: Oh my god, read the publisher’s guidelines for things like your synopsis and manuscript formatting before you send your first response. Before. I hadn’t and there were now three rushed, overly-excited emails waiting in the editor’s inbox.

Then Comes Rejection

The editor got back to me after she’d met with the acquisitions board and delivered a kind, very encouraging rejection. She said they’d all loved the manuscript and that I was a wonderful writer. She then cited market forces as the reason they were passing. I was devastated. I’m good with constructive criticism. Tell me you think chapter six needs to be rewritten from a different point of view or you think my characters aren’t behaving consistently and I’m good to go. Tell me that you love my novel but that you don’t want to publish it and I’m not sure what to do with myself. There was nothing for me to fix. Or so I thought. I trunked the manuscript while I tried to figure out what went wrong. I was uneasily aware that the barrage of emails probably hadn’t helped but I told myself they couldn’t be a major factor.

What Julia Learned: Of course it’s a major factor. If you’re writing in a genre that isn’t currently flying off the shelves (and I’m told historicals are tricky these days), everything else matters much more than it ordinarily would. That editor is trying to find well-written books that her company can make money from. An author who’s ill-prepared and unprofessional (even in my rather cutesy, enthusiastic way) is a liability. Was I going to be like that all the time? Would I always fill her inbox with a gazillion responses, obliging her to sift through them for the one that I actually wanted her to take as my final answer? Would I always be disorganised? Did that mean I’d be unreliable?

So don’t be like old Julia. Be like new Julia. Consider long and hard before you click send. Also, be like Mr. T and follow your dreams, fool.

Writer's Life

Critique Partners (six reasons why you need one)


(Image found on pinterest. Is this image yours? If so, let me know and I’ll credit you.)

Disclaimer: Yes, now and again you meet a soul-sucking shredder who bleeds away your confidence and leaves you a huddled shell, unable to write a word. But mostly CPs are awesome, and here’s why.

1. A critique partnership is reciprocal.

Or at least it should be. It may sound like you’re onto a good thing if your partner is happy to look at your stuff, but strangely reluctant to send their own. I mean, you’re getting something for nothing, right? But actually, you get at least as much out of providing crits as you do from receiving them. Or at least I do.

Critiquing someone else’s stuff forces me to look at why I think something isn’t working, and then forces me to articulate the reason to the other person. Without that, I think it would have taken me a lot longer to understand what makes passive voice passive, or to nail down deep POV.

2. A critique partnership is company.

Being a writer is lonely, especially if, like me, your other job is stay at home parent. I can go entire days without speaking to another adult if I’m not careful. But having a critique partner means you have someone else in the same or a similar situation, someone to talk to about craft, and about all those “Will I ever be good enough?” anxieties.

3. A critique partner is free.

Okay, so they’re going to be fallible. But a good crit partner is part beta reader, part editor, part agony aunt, and you don’t have to pay a penny.

4. A critique partner is supportive.

Once you’ve been working on a project together for a while, your partner will be almost as invested in your success as you are. They won’t roll their eyes when you talk shop and they’ll celebrate with you when you win your first contest.

5. A critique partner is not your mamma.

My first beta reader was my husband. I’m not sure if that’s a step up or a step down from getting your mum to do it. To be fair, he was actually pretty good. He gave good critique and, without him, my progress would have been much slower. He was so far from worried about my delicate feelings that we even got into fights when my skin proved too thin for his criticism.

But I needed another writer to look at it. A writer can tell you when your writing’s crappy and not have to worry about you giving them the silent treatment for the rest of the night. And although my husband was great from a story perspective (he could tell me if something needed more humor or if my characters were being inconsistent), he couldn’t point out POV slips.

6. A regular critique partner will help thicken your skin.

When I look at the most successful romance writers, they’re all class acts. You don’t catch them having a public hissy fit when someone doesn’t like their story. We should all aim for such unflinching stoicism. Readers and reviewers, unlike critique partners, aren’t there to nurture our talent. If they buy your book, they have every right to voice their opinion about it publicly, and they aren’t obligated to cushion the blow. Of course, you have the right to respond with anger if you want, but that’s a bit like storming into your boss’s office and shouting him down; It’s a risky choice career wise.

A good critique partner will offer absolute honesty by way of constructive criticism. If you can’t withstand that, how will you withstand less thoughtful criticism offered by angry readers?

(That’s not to say that you should put up with a rude crit partner. Even a well-meaning critique from an incompatible partner can leave you dispondant. If you find yourself lying on the sofa, eating pizza and feeling sorry for yourself after every critique, it may be time to part ways.)

The Upshot

I love my critique partners. Once you find someone you can work with, look after them because a good CP is worth their weight in Chocolate.