Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Q & A 45 Rejection Slips

Having just received my first automated rejection email. I can't help but wonder why agents can't just write "This is is a piece of shit, please stop what you're doing and go flip hamburgers for a living." Are rejection letters formulated along the same lines as obituaries? Things that at first appear innocuous and pleasant but on closer inspection are actually thinly disguised insults for those in the know. Perhaps Evil Editor could shed some light on matter?

My first rejection letter of the week follows. Incidentally, they were pretty quick in sending me this email. I only sent them the query yesterday. This means that even though they appear to have no clients whatsoever they still felt the need to tell me to fuck off!

Thank you for letting us see your material, which we have now read and considered. Unfortunately, it is not something we feel that we could successfully represent. However, this is a personal reaction and we wish you luck elsewhere.

PS. I decided to start a blog - one of your minions gave me the idea. www.pleasefeedtheartist.blogspot.com

First of all, there's no need to stop what you're doing to flip hamburgers for a living. You can write during your lunch hour and your break. If you write and flip burgers, you'll have some income.

There was a time when Evil Editor went above and beyond, telling a writer that the main reason I'd rejected his work was because the main character had no redeeming qualities. And the author would write back, arguing my point and assuring me that if I would read the entire book, I would find, in chapter 29, that the main character fails to murder the grocery clerk who saved his life once. I would write back that there were no fewer than 11 additional reasons I'd passed on the book, reasons I'd failed to mention because rejection slips, like query letters, shouldn't be longer than a page. And he would write back to ask what these reasons were, ostensibly for his own edification, but in reality, no doubt, so that he could argue each of them. Fearing that I would find him at my doorstep one day, I confessed to him that I actually believed his book was so great it would likely be Oprah's book of the month, and that my tiny company was not equipped to handle a sudden influx of more than a million orders. He seemed to accept this.

Ever since, I've gone with the innocuous rejection slip. Of course it's annoying to not know whether you were rejected because your material was littered with errors, or because the agent is going through a divorce and taking it out on you, or because the agency has just filed for bankruptcy, or because they don't handle your genre anymore, or because your writing stinks. But all writers have huge collections of rejection slips, including these. (One of numerous amusing and/or encouraging sites to visit if you Google "rejection slips.")

Finally, a one-day turnaround is nothing to complain about. Perhaps your query arrived on the one day a month that the agent answers queries. If so, you got lucky. If you've set a goal to keep five queries out at all times, you can now dispatch the next one.


Julia said...

I think that Rotten Rejections site along with all the others is why agents/editors use the form rejection letter.

No one wants to be known as the guy who rejected a best seller with a smarmy response.

BJ Fraser said...

I hate rejection letters too and I was going to chronicle my journey of rejection on a blog, but I decided there was no point to it. Just toss the things and move on.

Anonymous said...

Is there a "form" form letter that goes out? I've got several from agents that were worded almost identically:

Please excuse this impersonal response, but due to the (sheer) volume of mail we receive, we (cannot gaurantee a personal response/find a personal response impossible.)

I've gotten to the point where I just role my eyes, sigh, cross them off my list and chalk up some more change to postage.

Anonymous said...

I do believe I've created a monster. Bwahahahahaha!

I've always gone with the policy that as long as I didn't get my original letter back with the word CRAP stamped on it in red ink twenty times, I probably don't suck that bad.

Form rejections vary from agent to agent. I just got one in my email that was so polite and encouraging I wanted to hug the agent. I got one a coupla weeks ago printed on a full sheet of goldenrod in 18-point font, the same say as I got a microscopic (4-point) missive on 1/11th of a sheet that began "Dear author, please excuse this format, but..."

That last one kinda burns my ass, cause my SASEs cost $0.63 apiece, and the agent's response likely cost her 1/1000th of a cent.

But the reality is, you're gonna get rejected. Rare is even the genius who gets picked up by the first agent queried. Agents probably agonize while composing even their form rejections as much as we obsessed rejects do trying to interpret them.

The form rejection is just that. It is an impersonal, non-specific no thanks. Take it as such.

And when you get a personalized response (as I did once on my full) appreciate that the agent took the time to write it, even if you don't agree with them. Send them a (non-sardonic) thank you note, and get back to work.

And flipping burgers is but one step removed from what I do for money--slinging chow mein at the local chinese place. Best thing about a restaurant job is that they feed you. ;)

Anonymous said...

I stopped trying to analyze rejections a long time ago. Even the ones with a little hand-written comment aren't always terribly edifying. A critique group is a far better source of feedback that you can actually use.

A rejection letter is just a way to say "no thanks, we'll pass on this one." That's it. It's not an editor's job to give you free feedback. It's an editor's job to weed out the unusuable material from the stack of stuff towering over the desk.

Once in a while, though, you run into an editor who didn't take his Metamucil that morning and takes his discomfort out on hapless writers who remind him just how annoying a place the world can be. The Rejection Collection (http://www.rejectioncollection.com/) has amassed a fair number of these.

Hepzibah The Watchman said...

The rejections were returned so quickly - do you wonder whether they read the piece at all?

Anonymous said...

Geez. We complain about responses taking too long, and then when somebody does respond quickly, we complain it was too fast???? Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

Annie said "do you wonder whether they read the piece at all?"

An author told me once he spent an hour with his agent while she was going through her slush pile, and was horrified to see her glancing at each one for 5-10 seconds and then putting them in the no pile. She then said, "Here, you try some." He found he could do it too. I think that some agents stop after the first sentence or two of your letter if it hits them wrong. So there's no reason to agonize over what they didn't like about your pages.

Brenda said...

Weird. Miss Snark's covering rejections too. Must be in the air.

kaolin fire said...

Just a crass commercial plug for a free site to help you track your queries --

http://writersplanner.com/ :)

none said...

Oh dear dog, and I came over here to get away from the form rejection whining on Miss Snark's blog...

There is nothing wrong with or sinister about that rejection letter. No hidden agenda, no secret code, no put down, nothing more significant than THANKS BUT NO THANKS.

If you're mad cos you got rejected, then I sympathise, but my sympathy rapidly dissipates once we start in attacking the content of form letters. When I read slush for NFG, I learnt pretty quickly that whatever form of words you use, someone somewhere will find a reason why it's a personal attack. IT ISN'T.

michael gavaghen said...

People come back at Evil Editor when they don't like what he writes about their face-lift submissions, and they come knowing this is a humorous site. We've seen bruised feelings and sniping in the comments section -- hell, I've started a few of those exchanges myself.

Can you imagine what the correspondence load would be like if editors and agents tried being specific in their rejections? Not that I worry about their workload, but they'd never get to my query.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm quite proud of my growing stack of form rejections. They're like Purple Hearts. One day, I'll get a Medal of Honor...hmmm, those are mostly posthumous, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

Yes, kiss a lot of frogs before you get a prince by continuing to send your work out to editors/agents. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and consider that if you keep getting rejection slips, chances are your work isn't grabbing editors (really, their assistants most of the time). In other words, the problem could lie with your opus, not the desk jockey or the chilly form slip. A writer's ego can be his worst enemy. Humility goes a LOOOONG way in this biz. Take it from an insider.