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Rejection and the Perfect Editor

3 March, 2015

Writer and former editor, Ruth Harris, recently provided an entertaining post about the many reasons why a publisher may reject a manuscript. One example was intriguing—writers who submit an unpolished draft. They’re convinced that someone in the publishing house will fall in love with their story idea and commandeer the in-house editors to work their magic.

Yes, it can happen, once in a blue moon. We’ve all heard tales of under-developed manuscripts that became bestsellers because someone in a publishing house took a chance. But most of those stories are old.

As Harris remarks,  ‘The days of Maxwell Perkins are long gone.’ Perkins, a legendary U.S. editor at Scribners during the first half of the 20th century, created a stable of now famous writers, e.g. Erskine Caldwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Ring Lardner. He was notable for his detailed work to improve his writers’ material.  He convinced Thomas Wolfe to remove 90,000 words from Look Homeward, Angel, which became Wolfe’s best-selling novel.  Wolfe described Perkins as  ‘the greatest editor [of] this generation.’

We’d all love to have a Mr Perkins, assiduous in improving and promoting our material. But Harris points out that few publishing companies still provide such support.

So as a writer, it’s up to you to present your best work. One way to do so is to get your manuscript professionally edited before sending it out. If you can find a great independent editor to provide the help you need, you will be taking an important step towards achieving your writing goals.

My ideal editor would—

  • have a good professional record
  • understand my chosen genre/area, its conventions and trends
  • be business-like and supportive
  • provide useful feedback that encourages rather than annihilates
  • be on my wavelength in terms of values, personality, and sense of humor.


 A. Scott Berg. Max Perkins: Editor of genius.
3 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 March, 2015 8:22 pm

    Started off reading Anne Allen’s Blog then went on to the ‘Literary Rejections’ website and into ‘Rejection Letters’. Can’t think why some publishers used up their time and energy putting so much into writing sarcastic rejection letters! Publishers and editors are supposed to be so short of time and overworked, aren’t they…..? Yet, some publishers suddenly found the time for all this pointless venomous drivel. Which, above all, seems just thoroughly unprofessional, and also puerile, as if they’ve got a personal vendetta against that one individual – whose only ‘crime’ was to send them their manuscript. Which surely is what a publisher is for, isn’t it….? To have manuscripts sent to them.


    • 4 March, 2015 4:02 pm

      Thanks for the site–hadn’t seen it before. For some of the writers, the heartbreak had to do with the growing number of rejections they received. It’s pretty disheartening when you hope to find sympathetic readers, and you can’t even reach them because your MS gets knocked back again and again.
      Even if one’s work is eventually published, a couple if savage reviews can erode one’s sense of achievement. But it was heartening to read some of the experiences, like the writer who rated some rejections as positives, showing what she needed to improve. But cruel rejections–I agree with you.


      • 4 March, 2015 6:24 pm

        A rejection that had some constructive feedback (I hate the word ‘criticism’) could be a good thing, and something of use. And would be a sign of a publisher with a professional attitude – and, even while rejecting one’s MS, is caring enough to go that extra mile in giving the constructive feedback in the first place.

        Immature, ‘clever-dick’ sarcasm is just something to be thoroughly despised.


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