Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Musing on Rejections

Yes, rejections suck. They're hard to take. They hurt.

Every time a writer puts their work out into the world they risk rejection—in fact, just about any statistics you'd want to gather, and the experience of just about any successful author out there—would indicate that when we send work out, rejection is a much higher probability than positive feedback.

But we must submit to get anywhere. It's a fact of this business—any entertainment business—and I maintain that writing fiction falls squarely into the entertainment business.

In my experience, agent rejections fall into a few different camps:


  1. Form letters that are short, sweet, polite and to the point.


  2. Terse, kinda ugly form letters that convey a FOAD attitude. (ends with, off and die)


  3. Form letters that make the uninitiated think they are personalized--reading either positive or negative meaning into words not directly aimed at the writer.


  4. Personalized rejection letters with tid-bits of encouragement clearly aimed at the specific writer.

I've received plenty of rejections and at least one of each type. Type #1 are frankly, probably the easiest to deal with. The "Thanks for submitting, this work isn't for us. Don't give up, 'cause the business is subjective." That kind of letter.
While these type are certainly what beginner writers get most, writers at all levels of the submission process get them. (But if all your responses are of the #1-3 variety combined with no requests, then it probably is an indication that your work isn't ready for submission... )

I didn't get that many type #2's, I found most agents who rejected me were quite polite, but someone on one of my loops recently posted a rejection she'd received, and while I'm not sure I received that exact letter, I did receive some like it. Ones that make you feel like you're an idiot, like you've wasted their time, like you submitted something they don't represent, like you can't string two sentences together, like you should just give up on being a writer.

Those suck.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I got some that were hybrids of #2 and #3. Letters that insulted me, stabbed me in the gut... until I read them again later—or a critique partner or friend got virtually the same letter—and I realized the list of insults, "wooden characters, clichéd devices, no plot development" were just a laundry list of reasons why they reject manuscripts, not a personalized list of what was wrong with my submission.

And yes, I got a few badly photocopied form letters that have to make you think the agent went out of his/her way to make it look that bad—that he/she was REALLY trying to send me a message.

In fact, I got one of those badly copied form letters when I snail-mail queried one of my dream agents. A few months later, I found out she doesn't read snail-mail queries—wasn't even sure who in her office looked at them—and read only her e-mail ones... I had a chance to pitch to her at a conference and ended up with a request for a full. If that doesn't prove you shouldn't take badly photocopied rejections personally, I don't know what does.

I think the biggest hurdle that aspiring writers have to jump is learning to not take criticism personally. Even if we are one of the rare few who hit the pinnacles of success, we are going to get bad reviews, or letters from fans who didn't enjoy a particular book, or claim to hate them all in spite of buying and reading them. As long as none of those fans go all Kathy Bates on us... we just need to suck it up and take it. Just like we have to take rejection from agents and editors in stride when we're at the submission stage.

Sometime during my agent search, I became fairly zen about rejections. Maybe it was a volume thing? (How does she do it? Volume! Just realized I sounded like a late night ad for stereo equipment.) Maybe it was because the bad rejections were mixed in with requests and really encouraging rejections from agents who loved my writing, but weren't sure which editors to market the manuscript to and invited me to send my next project.

But to get published you need to submit and if you submit, you're going to get rejected many times before you get a yes. So we need to get to that happy place re: rejections. Somehow.

Everyone. ..
Chant with me...
Ohm...

    4 comments:

    Shanna Swendson said...

    During my long publishing dry spell, I got one of those really bad form letters from the publisher I'd been writing for before. At first I got all huffy because I KNEW I hadn't made some of the mistakes listed in the letter, and who was this editorial assistant to tell me I had, when I had actually published books with that publisher?

    Then I looked at the letter again and realized that it was supposed to be one of those easy-to-customize forms, where you selected the relevant stuff and deleted the non-relevant stuff -- kind of a "pick two from each column" thing -- but the editorial assistant had just printed and sent the whole thing without the customization, including the instructions on how to customize it.

    Somehow, it didn't hurt so much to be rejected by someone who wasn't smart enough to figure out how to work a simple form letter. If she could make that kind of mistake, then surely her editorial judgment couldn't have been that great. I tried not to be too happy when I learned a few months later that she had been let go (alas, not for having the bad judgment to reject me).

    Maureen McGowan said...

    Shanna, thanks for sharing that!

    The one I was talking about was from an editorial assistant, too... And I hadn't read it closely enough to see the "some of the reasons we reject" lead-in to the list of deficiencies, until my third or fourth read. By that time, I'd spent way too much time thinking the editorial assistant was an idiot--and fantasizing about her dying in horrible ways--because almost nothing on that list applied to my work.

    Joanne said...

    Perhaps it was because I was getting so many rejections, but I stopped reading after the "No" or the "Publishing is a subjective business..."
    I have kept a file of all the old snail mail rejections and although each one hurt, I never took them personally.
    The only one that actually made me mad was a photocopied form letter which had a pitch for the agent's 'How to get published' book photocopied on the back. THAT was insulting.

    Diana Peterfreund said...

    Joanne, I've heard of that letter! I think it's tacky.

    The only one that got me mad was similar to the one the girl was talking about on the email loop. One that said, "We aren't interested. We only publish..." and then proceeded to list exactly what I'd sent them. Looking back, I can see what I did was insert a mental "because" where they'd put a period. It's a badly written rejection.

    It was easy to get indignant, though, becaue I'd spent so much time crafting my query and I felt like they should spend at least ten minutes writing a simple form letter to be photocopied a thousand times!

    Also, how hard is it to just say, "Not interested, better luck elsewhere?" those didn't bother me at all.

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