Tag: rejection

Various Iterations of No

I’ve been sending around my YA novel to agents in the hopes of representation. While no one has yet expressed interest, I have received a handful of rejections. They all express the same sentiments: they are regretful, the book world is so subjective, I deserve an agent who is as passionate about my work as I am, I should continue.

I am delighted to know about this world of polite “no’s.” I’m not unperceptive and I know these are more or less form letters, but I enjoy their courteous encouragement. And for people as busy as agents—in this world of instant electronic submissions—just receiving a reply can be interpreted as a form of success. But having run the gamut of iterations of “no” for a while, I now want to know why. To that end I have an idea: How about a form rejection letter that would have suggestions or comments built in that the agent would underscore or make bold or put an X next to. It could look something like this.

Dear Deb,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to review your work. However, I am not going to offer you representation based on this manuscript because:

X Your writing needs to be tightened up

   Your characters are flat/tropey

    Your plot lacks sufficient development

X This subject is not selling right now

Best regards, Agent

Does that seem too harsh? I think it would be helpful and I don’t think it would take up any more of the agent’s time than cutting and pasting a form letter. I know brusque is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I prefer it to bland vagaries. (Well, I like to think I do.) I belong to a writing group that gets straight to the point. I review books professionally and I’m a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Yes, I sometimes get that “ouch” feeling when I get critiqued, but I always, eventually, appreciate it because it always makes my work better.

Stephen King wrote that it was a game changer for him when an editor scrawled a note on his rejected manuscript that it was too puffy and that the second draft equals the first draft minus ten percent. He took that advice to heart, pared down his stories and started getting acceptances.

Agents want to get good books out to the marketplace, and what better way to help that process than to give serious writers a teeny signpost, included in a form letter, that reflects the agent’s perspective?

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Everybody’s Better Than Me

I’ve just read through several book reviews and I think they are all better written than the reviews I write. No wonder my editor doesn’t give me so much work, I think. Although my brain then immediately reminds me that she gives me the amount of work I have asked for. No matter, I am determined to feel inadequate. This determination leads me to decide that the hundreds of books that are published each month are all expertly written and professionally put together (even though, in my capacity as a reviewer I have occasionally experienced the opposite) and to come to the conclusion that I am wrong to I think I can get a book of my own published, much less get a good review on it. This leads to the coda that I am wasting my time writing my two thousand words each day on my current project, a middle grade mystery.

And yet, six days a week I write my two thousand words, letting the story find its own way, and at the end of the day’s two thousand words, I feel—what is the word—happy, that’s it. I feel contented and fulfilled. I have set myself a goal, I have filled it, and sitting down to write each morning with nothing in mind but the trust that the words will come is like jumping off a cliff and discovering I can fly.

Writing is not the acclaim of a good review or even the validation of getting published, is it? It’s the sense of purpose fulfilled. If a publishing house thinks they can make money off it or a reviewer likes it, yay. But the really valuable part of all this is the doing of it, and the pleasure it gives.

I know, I know, everybody has said/written/acted/sung those words before and so they have the impactful strength of anemia. But believe me, until you put yourself in the position of the continual rejection of the writing life, you don’t realize the sterling honesty of those words. When you do, they are that bit of oar you cling to in the icy sea of the publishing world.

So maybe everybody is better than me. Who cares? I can still try and delight in the trying. That is something no one can take away: the decision to try.


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