It’s a small word, no, but it can cause a surprising amount of chaos in a writer’s life. Of course, in our present publishing landscape, a writer is lucky if they even hear a no. Usually it’s more like crickets, which (in my opinion) is not only incredibly unhelpful, it’s also rude.
Sometimes, you’ll hear a no, but. No, this isn’t quite for us, but we like your writing; please send more. This is not something publishers say to everyone, so if they say it to you, take them up on their offer.
What’s most helpful is to hear a no, because. No, this isn’t working, and here’s why.
One of my editing clients recently asked me how I approach the process of revision. Given that I’ve received a few no, because’s in the last little while, my feelings on the matter happen to be fresh (or should I say, raw?).
When I get a response like that to my manuscript, I usually spend the first few days railing about how stupid my editors are and how they didn’t get it and don’t know anything, etc. etc.
Then I calm down.
When I’m calm, I realize that my editors are not stupid. In fact, they know a lot, and if they didn’t get it, the fault might lie elsewhere…namely with me.
I read the feedback over many times. I print it out. I sit with it. I walk away from it and then come back, and then walk away again, take some notes, come back. I spend a lot of time thinking. Sometimes it’s necessary to throw the whole manuscript out and start over—but usually not.
That said, I wait until there is a willingness inside me to consider new directions, new ideas. A willingness to throw out certain scenes and completely revise others. A willingness, in short, to listen.
Before I start the actual rewriting, I work out a synopsis in which I tell myself the whole (new) story from start to finish, making sure it hangs together and that I’ve addressed all of my editors’ concerns. If I have questions, I contact the editors and ask them.
I also do not work in a vacuum. I have several other writers whom I rely on to tell me if I’ve put my pants on backwards in a manuscript—and I do the same for them. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a small team of people who tell you the truth and save you from embarrassment. I wouldn’t dream of sending out anything without their eyes on it first.
Hearing the word no is not fun, but it’s a necessary part of the process. As Ernest Hemingway said, the first draft of anything is shit. The second or third draft might still be a little smelly. That’s not the one you want out in the world with your name on it.
Listen to your editors. Be willing to consider revision in its truest form as a way of re-seeing your story through new eyes. It’s hard, yes. But this is where real writing begins.