Ask the Book Doctor
By Bobbie Christmas
Good Rejections, Story Classifications and Release Forms
Q: I tried writing novels, but I found I was better at writing shorter things. I wrote some short stories, but they all come out as if they are a view into a certain event or something. They don’t really have a beginning, middle, and end. Are they still considered short stories?
A: You probably are writing what is called "slice of life" stories, and some markets that accept short stories also accept slice of life stories. Check the guidelines carefully; some specify that they do not accept slice of life stories.
Q: I am writing a nonfiction book and interviewing several people for the book. I have interviewees subject sign a release that states the following:
- They are aware that excerpts from the interview will be used in a book.
- They will not be compensated for the interview.
- They will receive no proceeds from the book.
Additionally, I have interviewees record how they would like to be identified in the book on the release form (e.g. pseudonym, initials, etc.).
Is there anything else I should include on the release form?
A: This is a legal issue, so I cannot answer in absolutes. Short of having an attorney approve the form, you might check a Web site or store to find standard release forms to see if you missed anything. I have two layperson suggestions, though.
You sent a summary, not the release, so the actual form may already include what I’m about to say. Because the purpose of the form is to protect you and give you latitude to use the information, I would not use the word "will" under number one, but "may," because you may not use all interviews, and you do not want to imply a promise. I also would add other options, to cover more bases, too. The wording might go more like this: "Excerpts may be used in a book, article, and promotional literature or in other printed or electronic matter."
Q: I've been submitting my manuscript to several publishers and agents. Although I've had only rejections so far, some of them are very much "near misses." One publisher gave lots of praise for the submission but said it did not accept unagented manuscripts. One agent said he "saw the talent," but he had experienced problems placing similar proposals recently. Do these niceties mean anything, or are they just letting me down gently?
A: Most agents and publishers have little time to let people down gently. Most rejections are sent by preprinted letters, or in the worst case, rubber-stamped rejection notices. Some do not bother to respond at all.
Agents and publishers have nothing to gain by taking extra time to write a nice note. When you get a personal comment of any kind, it is rare, and when that comment is complimentary, frame it! You have the rarest form of rejection letter, and it means you are getting close. Keep revising and submitting your work. Keep creating more. Ponder the point that similar proposals have been difficult to place. Think how you might revise your proposal or your book to make it more marketable. Look at bestseller lists to see what’s selling. Keep going, and take pride in the "good" rejections.
—Send your questions to the book doctor at Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. If you liked these questions and answers, order Bobbie’s e-book, "Ask the Book Doctor: How to Beat the Competition and Sell Your Writing." It addresses hundreds of questions from writers like you, for only $8.95 at http://www.booklocker.com/books/1906.html. Bobbie Christmas is a book editor, freelance writer and author of the double-award-winning "Write In Style: Using Your Word Processor and Other Techniques to Improve Your Writing" (Union Square Publishing).