The frustrations one feels from rejection... I have not been defeated by it, but it down right pisses me off when I send a full 90,000 word mss to someone and they send me a nice but impersonal letter, two weeks later -- saying that it doesn't fit.
The primary job of an editor is not to find new authors in the slush; it's to edit and publish the books they already have under contract. When you're the author with a book under contract, you'll be glad of that.
I feel like writing them back asking "Well, what the hell does fit? Tell me and I'll write it! Ask me, and I'll change it, I'll bend over backwards to please you..."
Suppose they did. Are you sure that would be enough to make you a selling author? You might bend over backward, as you put it, feverishly recasting your book into whatever shape you think they've asked for -- only to be rejected yet again, because it still isn't quite what they had in mind.
Believe it or not, editors are acutely aware of the average aspiring writer's willingness to contort themselves and their books into whatever they imagine the editor might be asking for, and to imagine a consequent promise of publication where none has been offered. Most editors have a strong sense of responsibility about not doing that to you. As I once heard one of them say, "If I haven't put money down on the table, I haven't bought the right to ask for changes." This is the same thing magazine writers are talking about when they say "never rewrite on spec." It's a respectable position.
Incidentally, it's possible that the reason that one publishing employee you mention could write back to give you suggestions was precisely because
his house didn't publish that genre. He could give you advice without giving you the impression that if you took it, he'd buy your rewritten book.
The real problem is that you're asking the wrong question. If all it took were specific changes to the book you've already written, the editor would have sent you a contract offer, then had you make those changes during the editing process. If that isn't what happened, then what they want from you isn't this same book, only with this thing or that thing changed. They want the better book that'll someday be written by the author you're in the process of becoming.
I am sure that I am not the only writer who feels, or has felt this way. They are the ones who push Authors to self publishing and places like PA -- who will help put your book in print.
Oh, no you don't. Not so fast. You're not going to pin that rap on the legitimate publishing industry. It's the writers who do the pushing there. They so desperately want to be published that they lose their judgement and common sense, and throw themselves into the arms of crooked agents, quack book doctors, and all sorts of dubious or dishonest publishing schemes.
Meanwhile, who are the people trying to rescue them from their lemming-like rush into the arms of scammers? Industry pros, for the most part: published writers, most numerously, along with real editors, real agents, and the occasional fellow-travelling academic or lawyer or Dave Kuzminski (all honor to him).
Once, and only once, did I get back a rejection letter that was helpful. He highlighted various sections that needed to be changed and gave me pointers -- he did not publish that genre -- but still he took the time to be personal.
It's nice that he had the time to spare. I'm sure more editors would do the same if they could.
Writing is personal! Maybe not to the publishers. but it is to the writers. I will never lose sight of that. Like most other things in this world it's all about the $$$$. Well not to the writers ( I would hope that there is more to it than that) and not to the readers. I believe we are about the same thing. A story! Our souls are poured into what we write (for the most part) seemingly appreciated only by those who are also looking for an escape. With that said... my final words... "wake up publishers- actually read the books that you are turning down. You might find something you like."
You know, crap like that is the other
reason publishing houses don't write back.
Of course writing is personal. Everyone in the industry knows that. They knew your writing was personal at the very moment that they stuck a "rejected" label on your submission. So what? They weren't rejecting you as a person. They were telling you that they didn't want to buy your book. You can talk trash about them as much as you like, but the fact remains: Your book was indeed read by the people who rejected it. They didn't love it. They didn't want to publish it. They sent it straight back to you with a generic rejection letter.
Deal with it or not, but that's what happened.
Does the fact that you were rejected mean that publishing is "all about the $$$$"? Don't kid yourself. Most schoolteachers are better paid, get better benefits, and have a lot more job security than most editorial employees. Only a fool would go into publishing for the money. (An infallible laugh-getter in the industry: "I'm in publishing for the money, the power, and the glamour.")
Publishing is about money to this extent: That if no one buys the books a house publishes, the house doesn't get to keep publishing books. If a lot of people buy their books, they get to publish lots more of them, and pay more for them, too. That's how it works. It's not about you. It's about the readers, bless their utterly selfish little hearts. We are all, publishers and editors and authors alike, the readers' slaves.
For about half a century now, schools have been teaching "writing as self-expression." I'm inclined to think that may have been a mistake. Self-expression is what you can't help doing when you write, but students got the idea that self-expression was the whole point of the exercise. This model becomes dysfunctional the minute you start trying to get other people to read what you've written.
Many aspiring writers have a persistent belief that there's some secret to getting published -- some signal they have to display, or hoop they have to jump through. This secret does in fact exist. I'm going to give it to you now. I can do this because what keeps it a secret is that writers don't believe it when they see it. Here goes:
THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR WRITING A BOOK THAT PEOPLE WANT TO BUY AND READ. IF YOU CAN DO THAT, YOU CAN GET PUBLISHED. IF YOU CAN'T, NO HALF-BAKED SELF-PUBLISHING SCHEME IS GOING TO DO YOU ONE BIT OF GOOD.
A frequent response one hears from writers who are preparing to miss the point of The True Secret of Publishing is, "Yes, but how can people buy and read my book unless you publish it?" The answer, of course, is that the first reader you have to please is the editor. That's one of the things they're there for.
There are a lot of tasks and skills required of an editor, but the central one is that the editor is a professional reader. Editors simultaneously cultivate a willingness to be engaged and entertained by a new book, and a curtailed attention span for books that fail to connect.
Is this fair? It is. The readers will do exactly the same thing when they're browsing the bookstore shelves. The difference is, the readers will be less patient and merciful about it.