Monday, 26 March 2012

On rejection

I've just come across a useful and wise post on why agents so rarely give a reason beyond "It's not for us." It is written by Steve Laube, and agent AND author, so he knows of what he speaks.


I would draw your attention to this hugely important point which so many people fail to understand: "... even a morsel of advice can take considerable time to compose so that it is genuinely helpful." Oh boy, is this true! As you know, I have a writers' consultancy, Pen2Publication, and most of that work involves giving very full, detailed, honest appraisals of manuscripts. Clients pay a decent amount of money for this work but even that probably doesn't properly account for the huge amount of time I take over the report. Giving any kind of feedback is a great responsibility. I regard myself as enough of an expert (otherwise I wouldn't feel able to do this at all) but I know that, despite any expertise and knowledge of the market, I am still inevitably reading with personal response. The effort to ensure that personal response has not played too great a part, the effort to make sure that I don't make any suggestions that I can't explain and justify, the effort to make sure I don't send the writer off on a false path, the effort to ensure that I don't trap the writer into thinking there's only one way of improving the text - all those efforts are colossal. And that's one of the main reasons why agents - and other writers - can be so reluctant to play the feedback game. We want to help you but we know what it may cost us. And you.


In Write to be Published, on the topic of feedback, I suggest that if any expert friend of yours reads your MS, you give them a bottle of champagne, and that if the feedback is negative, you give them two...


When you've read that post, come back and tell us about any rejection letters you'd care to share. You do know my own best one, don't you? My letter, returned with a line scrawled across it and the word, in pencil, NO! 


Next week, I'll be blogging about that small but delicate aspect of rejections: resubmitting to the same agent, whether after encouragement or not. Can you? Should you? How should you?


It's partly my 21 years of rejections that mean I'm spending so much time giving you lovely lot my crabbit advice. And how beautifully you are taking it.


PS - I'm away a lot on business at the moment, so can't respond to your comments. Normal service will resume soon! Louise Kelly is blog-minding for me.




15 comments:

Jacqueline Pye said...

Once sent a few sketches to Benny Hill (which dates me). After some time they were returned with standard rejection slip - but very scuffed, marked with coffee mug rings and generally grubby. Later a couple of rather similar sketches appeared on the show ...

catdownunder said...

I hope I am right in assuming that, if an agent says "not right for me but this is subjective and try elsewhere" they really do mean that. It seems to me that, if they do not, then they are encouraging the writer to waste the time of other agents.
I know it is a terribly subjective process and I really appreciated the fact that one publisher actually offered to read (and then read) three chapters and offered me some very positive feedback. It would not have been right for her and we both knew that but she took the time anyway. It is that sort of thing which gives me a crumb of hope for the future.

JeffO said...

Not a rejection story, just a comment. As writers, we should all be aware of how costly it is in terms of thought, time and effort to create anything with words, and thus be more understanding of 'unhelpful' rejections. And your query is just one of possibly hundreds that is being read at any given time.

M Louise Kelly said...

I once sent off a submission by email at 5pm one evening and got the reject back by the time I logged on again the next morning around 9am! At the time I thought it was the worst rejection ever - but it told me an awful lot about how far I was from that piece of writing being ready (and the fact that those people who tell us that they really won't read past page one if it isn't good enough, are telling the truth!)

Erin Latimer said...

I have been rejected a LOT. But I never took offense to the form rejections, I know that agents are ridiculously busy. To the writers that complain: Wait till you are disgusting famous and can't answer your hundreds of fan letters a day, and you have to send form "thanks" letters. Then you'll understand. The hat will be on the other foot THEN, won't it? Hah! Serves you right!
On another note, keep trucking away. I recently emerged from query hell (and relatively unscathed, might I add).

Elizabeth Dunn said...

I was at a SCBWI conference and the guy next to me started railing out an NYC agent on the panel. She had sent him a rejection in under sixty seconds - so you're doing okay M Louise. Anyway, s'nuff to put the fear of God into me.

Katalin Havasi said...

I read an encouraging story in the latest issue of Writers' Forum (UK magazine).

A young man sent his first novel to a few agents and received two rejection slips. Three months later one of those two agents came back to him after seeing that the rejected novel 'Locked In' hit No 1on Amazon in the UK, as a self-published ebook.

The author has sold over 150,000 copies and in the meantime has attracted two dozen agents and six publishers, all wanting to work with him.

This and other similar stories tell me that agents are sometimes just guessing...

Katalin Havasi said...

I read an encouraging story in the latest issue of Writers' Forum (UK magazine).

A young man sent his first novel to a few agents and received two rejection slips. Three months later one of those two agents came back to him after seeing that the rejected novel 'Locked In' hit No 1on Amazon in the UK, as a self-published ebook.

The author has sold over 150,000 copies and in the meantime has attracted two dozen agents and six publishers, all wanting to work with him.

This and other similar stories tell me that agents are sometimes just guessing...

Stroppy Author said...

Not guessing, Katalin - agents will only represent things they feel strongly about (in a positive way), and that's how it should be. They are not just looking out for something that can be a success. If I were an agent, I'd have turned down many books that have gone on to bestsellers because I don't like them and wouldn't have felt able to push them.

Now I'm just setting out, tentatively, as a publisher, I know I'm going to turn down books I can see are well written, that might well sell, but that do nothing for me. They're not right for my list and I couldn't produce genuine enthusiasm to promote them, so it wouldn't work for either of us.

Rejection doesn't always mean your book is bad - it just means it's not right for that publisher/agent. Of course, sometimes it means your book is bad...

Nicola Morgan said...

Anne, many thanks for replying and for making exactly the point is have made! It's so much more complex that guessing or than right or wrong. Even the publishers who turned JKR down were not necessarily wrong. I've tried to explain this but it's not a simple message.

womagwriter said...

My favourite rejection was for a women's magazine short story I'd written on the theme of Fermat's Last Theorem. I got a rejection with the rejection reason given that it was a 'well-worn theme'.

Yeah right. Don't those endless stories about Fermat's Last Theorem in Woman's Weekly just bore you to tears after a while? :-D

Annalisa Crawford said...

@ Womagwriter - that explains a couple of rejections I've had in the past too, where I've wondered how 'well-worn' my story was!

Katalin Havasi said...

Stroppy Author - thanks for your comment.

I have only one question: Then why did the agent come back to this author later, having rejected the novel in the first place? First she didn't feel strongly about it, but after three months she did?

Nicola Morgan said...

Katalin - of course we don't know exactly what the circumstances were but it's possible that the agent didn't have room at first but then did. Agents, particularly working on their own, have a duty to spend their time on existing clients. The writer might have pitched just before Frankfurt or Bologna. We have also no idea what sort of agent this was and how experienced or whatever. As they say, "Stuff happens!"

Katalin Havasi said...

Thanks for answering, Nicola. Those are all possible explanations.