Monday, June 24, 2013

The Nice Rejection Vs. The Honest Rejection

Hooray! A rejection!

OK, so that might not be realistic. I used to get rejections that had the inevitable initial sting, but after that I would get past my despair and actually read the rejection. It would say something like:

After careful consideration I decided that while your concept is fresh and interesting, I just wasn't as pulled into those first few critical pages as I would've liked to be. Understand that this is a subjective business, and another agent may feel differently.

Ouch - my first few pages aren't that great. Hooray - I've got a fresh and interesting concept! That's a seriously big hurdle cleared! So I get my e-self over to QueryTracker to record my latest failure and see that another user has posted their rejection in full and it reads:

After careful consideration I decided that while your concept is fresh and interesting, I just wasn't as pulled into those first few critical pages as I would've liked to be. Understand that this is a subjective business, and another agent may feel differently.

Oh... so my concept isn't fresh and interesting. And maybe this means my first few pages aren't that bad... So what do I do?

If you're me (and I know you're not, but let's play) you obsess about it for a bit. So, somebody that sent a query about a girl torn between her love for a vampire and her buddy a werewolf would've had the same "fresh concept" form rejection I did. It also means that someone who sent a badly written query for a 500 page biography of a field mouse named TukkaBobba did too.

What do I deduce from this? The very real possibility that I suck, and no one has bothered to tell me yet.

I'm not saying that agents need to tell every single author exactly why they are rejecting them - that's an impossibility. From the other side of the fence as an agented author, I don't want my agent spending her time responding personally to stranger's emails. I want her focusing on me, and my latest neurotic missive.

But the query trenches aren't that far behind me, and I remember the pain - I have ten years worth of scars because of them. When I was in them I wished that agents used a "You really need to do more work on your sentence structure and grammar use before considering being a writer," and a, "Hey nice try, keep working at it - you might have something here," form rejection.

Do you obsess over every word in the query, like I do? Or do you just notch the bedpost and keep going?
Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 24, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.


Stephsco said...

That's tough. I get what you mean since a rejection letter, if offering feedback, might trigger a writer to go back to their novel and change things, although that feedback might have been so generic, who knows if it's really accurate? However, maybe that agent has more than one form letter. I use customized email templates at work, I have at least 15 for various scenarios.

I suppose this is the inevitable dance a writer must do. Consider the feedback, and then have some beta readers and critique partners weigh in. Send out again, weight feedback, repeat. I do think that writers have so much available now online. I have only scratched the surface with the Absolute Write forums, but they have a wonderful community. The readers who helped me out I "met" through blogs and twitter. I've done several free chats on twitter and on various websites where agents have talked trends and characters and types of stories that are selling. There is a lot we can prepare ourselves with, but in the end, sometimes it really is a mystery what an agent likes or dislikes. It's so subjective.

JeffO said...

It's pretty easy to tell a form from a non-form. I figure even a form reject is better than a non-response. It's tougher when you've sent a full or partial in and get, essentially, a form. I always hope for something a little more meaty than that.

Jennifer Malone said...

I definitely see both sides of this scenario. I've been in the query trenches and had identical thoughts and now that I have an agent and see how many things she is juggling (things I never even realized an agent also handled), I wonder how she even has time to look at queries, much less reply to any. I recently had lunch with an agent (not my own) and this exact subject came up. She began by taking the time to comment on what specific aspects of a query or opening needed attention and in most instances, writers saw that as her opening the lines of dialogue. They would come back with a "Hey thanks. Now, would you like it better if I did this? Or how about this?" She said she got so overwhelmed she couldn't continue to offer that type of constructive feedback. Of course, that's a shame for the writers who would take the feedback and go off on their own to improve but I could see her point. I also feel that so many agents do make themselves available for honest critiques via online pitch contests, via auction donations for good causes, and especially through query or first pages critiques at writer's conferences. So there IS access to agents, though it might mean having to pay $20-$50 for the privilege.

Jennifer Malone said...
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brighton said...
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Michelle 4 Laughs said...

If I had to pick something to change, I'd rather have a personal response to partials and full requests. If they take the time to request, a little more effort in the reply would be appreciated. Where did they stop reading and why?

Rejections to queries I can handle.We all know how busy agents are. But form rejections on requests are hard to swallow.

Liza said...

While I wish, wish, wish for more personalized response, I get why there isn't. I spent many years in a hiring function for a national retail chain, and equate all the resumes I received with queries going out to agents. So many resumes were poorly written, or were for jobs we didn't offer, or had the wrong experience for the jobs we did offer that after a point it was overwhelming. While we tried to respond to everyone, the numbers were against us...and that was before we began with an online application process which makes it easier for people to submit. I imagine agents are inundated. Their job is to wade through ever increasing piles to find the gem amongst the rubble...and it takes so much reading and weeding. I don't like that responses never come, or if the ones that come are generic. But gosh, I sure understand it.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

Like others have said, I prefer a form rejection to no response at all. On the other hand, the form response you cite in your post would irritate me. Don't give me platitudes (or made-up stuff). If it isn't for you, that's fine, just say so.

So I guess I'm saying I'm all about honest rejection vs nice - but you know, it's possible to be both, of course (which usually those form rejections are - at least polite, anyway).

Mindy McGinnis said...

Agreed entirely with everyone. Those form rejections may hurt with the impersonality, but at the same time, it IS a response. Non-responses leave you wondering if the agent got your query at all.

And from the other side of the fence, I see how hard my agent works and, I too, am amazed that they even have time to send form rejections.

Lastly, the subjectivity is always key. I had form rejections on the exact same query that received eight full requests for DRINK, so that's clearly a matter of taste and not a reflection on the query.

It's good to know that so many of you understand that at the other end of the query game is an agent that is a limited human being, just like us!

Debra McKellan said...

I'm working on my query again after a long break up with it. QueryTracker will only see me again about I see Agent Query Connect and some query critters.

Sarah Allen said...

Gah....I'm so in the middle of this. The personalized rejections I've gotten are very nice, but they do give me some serious doubts about myself. I think brutal honesty might be easier. But maybe not. Gah its such a dramatic phase to be in!

Sarah Allen
(From Sarah, With Joy)

Pearl said...

I actually do NOT obsess.

But then again, I've never pulled together the nerve to send a query letter, either. :-)

Greetings from Minneapolis,


DMS said...

I am probably an obsessor- but I love feedback so I know what to work on. I know that agents and editors must have some format responses that they use, but any feedback that can make my writing better would help. If someone told me I didn't connect to the MC because you used too many adjectives, then I have something to work with. If they say they didn't connect with them, that I spend time trying to figure how to solve that problem, but I don't have as much guidance.

Great post!

Cindy Dwyer said...

I just read a different blog about the importance of encouragement. For me, I try to focus on anything at all encouraging in the rejection letter and use it as motivation that I'm "getting closer."

In the end it doesn't really matter what was wrong with a manuscript because as long as you keep improving eventually you'll figure it out. But if you let one agent's opinion stop you form writing, you will never publish.