I've been wanting to post about this for a while, and I'm not just doing it. Not by any specific event, but really I have been chomping at the bit to update with a Junior Editor Spotlight and am awaiting answers from my first guest (there've been some delays due to vacations and pretty much an insane amount of work at the office right now).
Anyway, I wanted to write about "the one that got away." That is to say, those manuscripts, and every editor has them, that they loved but just couldn't buy for some reason. I wanted to talk about it, both because it is a part of the business that is really sad for us, but also to show those aspiring authors out there that sometimes you're not the only ones who are sad when an editor can't buy your book. And that is something to remember - not all rejections mean the editor didn't like your book. Sometimes we loved it but there are other factors.
Editors of all levels do A LOT of reading and it is a constant struggle to keep up with the seemingly neverending piles of potential published books. Most of them we just won't connect with for some reason - either they need way too much work, or they aren't right for our list or they aren't really a children's novel. So when we find those projects that really call out to us, it is a really exciting (and scary) time for us. I say scary because there are a lot of steps (I won't bore you with the details, since I've described them in previous posts) and at any one of those steps, we could be given a reason why we can't take this book any further.
There have been several times when I've really loved a project and couldn't buy it. Once I brought a project to my weekly editorial meeting to get extra readers. They agreed it was a great story but that it needed a lot of work. So I offered to do a revision. When I got the revision back, we discussed it and decided it still needed too much work to take on as-is, so I offered to do another revision. Unfortunately, at that stage, another editor had made an offer on it and it went somewhere else. Another time, I brought this great project to editorial meeting and my readers had positive feedback but thought it needed work. I did the revision with the author and thought it turned out great, but when I brought it back to edit meeting, my team just didn't think it was working and I had to pass. I've also seen books go all the way up to the Publications Committee meeting, with multiple editors really excited about a book and the Editorial Director's support...and they just don't like it, or get it, or think we can publish it well...and you can't argue with the Pub Comm team. They know they're shit.
It's quite sad when you lose a project, either having to reject it or seeing it go to another house. But those are also the projects that can become your "I toldja so" books. Those books that go somewhere else, do well, and you can forever say, "I toldja so" to your team. I have a few of those, none that have hit the bestseller lists or won major awards yet, but we'll see. And when you lose those books, no matter how they do, it's always great to see how that other publisher handles that book and watch it come to life from an outside perspective.
So for aspiring authors who think every rejection means we don't like your book---just remember, sometimes it hurts us as much as it hurts you and sometimes we really don't want to reject it either. But publishing is a team effort and if the team can't get behind a book, it's better off somewhere that will know how best to support it or that believes in it more. And that editor who had to reject you will be out there, rooting you on as an industry cheerleader, and probably bugging your agent or editor for an ARC when they come in.