Part 1 in the series, “Believing in Your Manuscript When No One Else Does”
Editors at book publishing houses are always saying, “Show me something new, something different, something special, something unique,” yet when I did, none of them liked it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d had plenty of success as a writer. More than fifty of my books had been published, as well as some three thousand newspaper and magazine articles. Nevertheless, after spending three years creating a new genre I called the fact-vella, I found myself running into stone walls. No one I showed it to “got it,” so no one wanted to publish it. The ordeal was depressing.
Here was my original idea: Everyone seemed to like motivational books that had lots of good content on how to succeed in life, but they also enjoyed stories. That’s why a book such as The One Minute Manager had succeeded as a modern teaching parable (a story), yet The Tipping Point had succeeded as a statistical research book (content heavy material). So, I thought that if I wrote a factual book with a novella embedded within it, I’d have the best of both formats. And, thus, I created the factual-book/novella, or fact-vella, as I began calling it. I thought it was entertaining, insightful, witty, and educational. The editors I showed it to thought differently.
“This is a hodge-podge,” one editor told me after reading the first three chapters and the three inserted vignettes of the novella. “If you want to write a novel, do so. If you want to write a nonfiction motivational book, then keep your focus on that.” This was especially painful for me to hear because I’d had five books published with the company this editor worked for, so I thought that surely my brilliant new idea would be welcomed with open arms. Uh…not so.
Another editor kept the manuscript for a week, then called me and said, “Hey, these fictional inserts are clever. They teach by example without being heavy handed. Why don’t you pull them out, spend the next year expanding all of them, and then send this thing back to me as a completed novel. I’d be glad to consider it again.” I groaned audibly and hung up.
Another editor went the opposite direction. She suggested, “Take out all of these silly little fictional diversions and, instead, add in a whole series of study questions, reading lists, quizzes, and sidebars with statistics, and turn this into a standard textbook. We might be able to market something like that.” I wanted to pull out my hair.
Time and again I would reread my manuscript, and time and again I would tell myself, “This works! It’s a fun way to learn. It’s fast-paced, contemporary, and original. Why doesn’t anyone like it?” Within four months I had racked up rejections from ten publishing houses, both large and small. The editors kept telling me that I had something “in there somewhere,” but they thought that my mishmash-conglomeration of fiction and nonfiction was confusing instead of enlightening.
Next week: “It’s All About the Readers, Folks”
Dennis E. Hensley, PhD, is director of the professional writing department at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, and an annual judge for the Evangelical Press Association Awards and the Christy Fiction Awards. His five dozen books include:
- Jesus in All Four Seasons: Having Christ as Your Life Coach
- Jesus in the 9 to 5: Facing the Challenges of Today’s Business World
- How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It
- Man to Man: Becoming the Believer God Called You to Be
- More Than Meets the Eye: Finding an Extraordinary God in Ordinary Life
- Alpha Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours
- Surprises and Miracles of the Season: Devotions for Christmas and New Year’s
- The Power of Positive Productivity
© 2015 by Dennis E. Hensley. All rights reserved.