Wednesday, 18 July 2012

DEAR CRABBIT: rejections again :((

Another question about rejections for Dear Crabbit. Oh dear, it's a stressful life being a writer! (Not meaning to sound glib - remember, I had years and flipping years of this.)
Dear Crabbit,
I read your post last week, (DEAR CRABBIT: encouragement from this rejection?) with interest. I am also in the process of submitting my first book, targeted to 7-9 year olds, to agents. So far, I've sent it to 4 agents and for a writing competition. All have been rejections. Two were standard 'form' rejections, but 3 of the rejections (two of which were from agents who had asked to look at the full manuscript) contained some feedback on the work.

I've had some really positive feedback; Agent 1 said: 'Your tone is very sparky and enjoyable, and it's very fun'. Agent 2 said: 'It’s fun and charming'. The Competition Judges said: 'this was a very enjoyable piece... funny, with great warmth'. So there seems to be general agreement about what is good about my book...

...but there's absolutely no consensus about what's wrong with it. The reasons why my work was rejected were all different. The problems cited are:
  • Theme: Agent 1 said that they already had a picturebook on a similar theme and they 'would struggle to give the book the 'push' it needs'. 
  • Plot: Agent 2 said: 'I couldn’t get to grips with the story here. It feels like it pulls in quite a few directions and I found myself not really knowing where it was going'. 
  • Language/Style: The Competition Judges said they thought that the vocabulary and sentence structure used was too advanced for the target age group. 
As there's no consistency in the feedback, I'm struggling to work out what I need to do to make my manuscript better. If the Competition Judges are right and it's pitched too high, why didn't the agents mention it? Agent 1 liked the plot, but Agent 2 couldn't get to grips with it. The 'subjectivity' of these readings of my work means I'm unclear as to what my next steps should be.

Is your advice to me the same as the previous writer? Should I submit to a few more agents and see if the same concerns crop up? Or should I try and address the criticisms before I submit the manuscript to others?
I'm really sorry but my answer is going to be short and not what you want to hear. The most likely reason for the differing reasons for rejection is simple: there are probably many or several reasons for rejection and each agent has picked one to mention. If they mention any more than one, a) it will take them too long, b) you are more likely to come back to them with a response (which they don't want) and c) if they are the only ones who give you detailed feedback the risk is that you then go and re-write to their specifications but other agents still don't take it.

So, if you get any feedback at all, it is likely to be one or two comments only. And they are pretty much a courtesy by the agent. Not meaningless, but hard to derive meaning from.

What about the competition judges' comments about age-range and vocab? Well, there are a few possibilities:
  1. They are right but the agents chose not to mention it, because it wasn't the one crit they happened to pick as the easiest one to offer or the one that first came to mind.
  2. They are right but the agents chose not to mention it because if it's only the language (rather than content) then you would simply need to say it was pitched at 8-10 instead of 7-9. Problem solved.
  3. They are wrong. Competition judges a) often know less about the markets and possibilities than agents and b) are usually appallingly over-worked and underpaid for the task. (I will never do comp judging again - recently I did this, spent a vast number of hours giving detailed written feedback on every entry, was paid a tiny fee, had to travel and stay overnight to deliver the adjudication and got not one single word of thanks from any of the writers.)
So, I'm afraid that there's very little concrete that you can take from these rejections. My strong advice is that, if you can, you get a professional to read the first three chapters or so and see in detail what may be going wrong. I think that could be incredibly helpful to you, rather than floundering trying to make sense of contradictory comments. (I realise that getting a professional critique is outside the budget of many. There are other ways of getting good feedback. I thought I'd blogged about it but I can't actually find where; I do talk about it in Write to be Published, though. Could be the subject of another question to Dear Crabbit? In your hands...) 

I'm sorry I couldn't be more positive. There's no doubt that deciphering rejections is tough.


JO said...

Just to say how interesting these question-letters and answers are.

Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks, Jo. I'm enjoying them, too!

Derek said...

I think what you've said here raises some really interesting points, Nicola. Writers seek validation and, if we're honest, most of us are seeking a 'quick win'. Professional feedback, if we can afford it, is an investment in ourselves. For those on a budget, we can get invaluable feedback from a well-run writers' group. Ultimately, however, we have to make a value judgement on our own work and search for that perfect fit with an agent or editor!

mmshaunakelley said...

I think this is one of the toughest parts of being a writer. I continually get conflicting feedback. One says "Great tone, but the storyline needs some work." and then I get "The writing needs help, but fantastic story!" Eventually, though, I have faith that we all find the right fit.

Nicola Morgan said...

mmshaunskelley - yup, it's hard. I talk about my own experiences of that in Write to be Published. We need to keep trying to improve all the time. Tough life!

Cameron Writes said...

And never give up trying! I know it's hard when the rejections are conflicting but be really honest with yourself - what points do you agree with? Change accordingly. It can happen in the end, really it can.

Rachel said...

I'd really like to hear more about alternatives to a professional critique/the pros and cons of professional critiques v. writers groups v. friends and family, Nicola. I'd be interested to know what kind of feedback you can expect from each group and at what stage you need to consider trying to find a writers group or paying for a professional critique. Would it be better to send a question through to you for a future post?

Nicola Morgan said...

Rachel - yes, please do. I'm travelling just now and it's hard to respond in comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

Cameron - v true. ;)