It’s not you — it’s me…

Stuff on why rejection isn’t personal over on Making Light….

“What I find weirdest about their take on rejection is that it’s all completely personal. I don’t just mean the rejection itself, which they’re bound to take personally, being writers and all. They take things personally which have nothing whatsoever to do with them…”

This has always been something that’s struck me as well. I’ve been posting the count of letters I receive each week on this site (since the start of the year) — mostly because I’m curious about it myself. I’ve never really kept a count of it before; I just knew that it tended to add up to a lot. I hope it’s not being perceived as a lack of sensitivity on my part. A number of the people who comment on Theresa’s post mentioned that it helps them to know the reality of it, and I hope that holds true for most writers. I know rejection hurts. I know it’s not fair. Goodness — when I get a manuscript by one of my clients returned (and sometimes with equally unhelpful letters as some of those mentioned on the rejection site) — there’s generally some gnashing of teeth and occasionally cursing. And those are only surrogate children for me; children that I’ve adopted and feel strongly about, but still. Do I have a moment of self-doubt? Do I wonder if I’m the only one (besides the author) who’s going to see the merit of this work? You betcha. And that’s after I sold over 50 books last year which I hope would tend to indicate that I occasionally have a clue.

Somebody else mentioned in Theresa’s comments that this site wasn’t hurting editors (or by extension, agents — who do a fair amount of the rejecting these days since many of the major publishers indicate they no longer take unagented submissions). I’m not sure I agree entirely. No one has shown up at my house with torches and pitchforks as yet, that’s true. However, when I see these postings it makes me feel suddenly like less of an individual myself. And I feel deeply misunderstood. I don’t think of myself as the one who prevents the dreams. I think of myself as the one that can assist in making them happen; by making that connection between writer and editor. By seeking out the next uncut gem and getting it to the jeweler, so to speak. And it’s hard work. I spend hours and hours on it every week.These people, though — they view me as the enemy, not as an ally to be engaged. And worse yet, they see me as a part of a conspiracy against their talent. And it hurts somehow. It makes me feel utterly wretched to show up at a writers’ conference, for instance, and run into an attendee who gives me such a look of utter loathing — because of this. And I’ve never met them. I’ve probably never even rejected them.

Speaking for myself….I don’t keep looking through the submissions that come in because I want to hurt the writers’ feelings with a thoughtless rejection. I’m looking because I want to find the next project that rejuvenates me as an agent; the one that makes me think — “Oh, yeah — they’re still out there.” And I want to find the next book that makes me feel like a reader again — enjoying story for its own sake — not a drone in the great vast conspiracy of the publishing industry.

23 responses to “It’s not you — it’s me…

  1. These people, though — they view me as the enemy, not as an ally to be engaged. And worse yet, they see me as a part of a conspiracy against their talent
    Somehow, though, I suspect people who engage in this kind of thinking also think the butcher hates them because there was a bit of gristle in their steak. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but you know what I mean. “I can’t get published because it’s They Don’t Recognize My Talent” makes me want to (and occasionally I do) to hand ’round the verbal bitch-slaps.
    Lesson #1 for Writers: Watch American Idol. They all think they’ve got a shot, too. Only one of them wins per available slot. Life sucks. Here’s a mantra: Get over it; get the next project rolling.
    /bitch-slapping
    For what it’s worth, I repeat the above mantra to myself a lot, too.

  2. I appreciate that you don’t want to hurt them, but you’re going to. You can’t let that stop you any more than a doctor can weep over microbes, but I don’t understand how anyone can expect the microbes to take it without even grumbling to each other.
    Being rejected sucks. It might be necessary, but it still sucks.

    • “You can’t let that stop you any more than a doctor can weep over microbes, but I don’t understand how anyone can expect the microbes to take it without even grumbling to each other.”
      Seconded. I don’t hate editors who reject my work–that’s both foolish and paranoid–but I reserve the right for the inner six-year-old to come out for a few minutes, stamp her foot and shout, “Well, I bet I’m still just as good as those guys you did pick! Way better, even! Yeah!” Understanding that a rejection isn’t a personal attack and that it happens to every writer alive doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes, in your heart of hearts, take it more personally than you “should.”

    • Being rejected sucks.
      Amen. If what I said above somehow implied that I didn’t think it was so, then I should have gone on frothing about longer. *wry smile* By all means — scream at the sky and jump up and down on the damned piece of paper.
      For my part, I still feel there’s a big difference between grumbling (as in, going to your writing partner and saying “well, crap – I got another rejection today and they just don’t understand”) and taking it to a vitriolic personal level where you hate all editors and agents because you’ve been rejected, whether it was once or a hundred times. At least microbes don’t tend to send you hate mail…

  3. These people, though — they view me as the enemy, not as an ally to be engaged. And worse yet, they see me as a part of a conspiracy against their talent.
    I don’t understand writers who think this way. It just doesn’t make any sense. All else aside, why on earth would an agent or editor think it’s in her best interests to squash some promising some writer?
    I hear this stuff mostly from the same people who believe that the folks buying the stories are interested only in what will sell a zillion copies, with no regard to the quality of the work. I’m sure marketability plays a role (more or less, I assume, depending on exactly what market we’re talking about?), but… It always sounds to me like writers trying to blame someone else for their lack of success.
    And that, I think, is their main problem. Yes, there are brilliant stories that get rejected for whatever reason and it’s all very sad…but most of us mortals aren’t writing that well, and if they’re not willing to consider the possibility that the story isn’t yet good enough, how can they expect to get better?

  4. At this point I feel it is probably safe to tell you that you rejected URBAN SHAMAN on a query letter last, um, May or so. I not only wouldn’t glare daggers at you at a conference for that, but I clearly saw no reason to let a little thing like rejection stop me from approaching you a second time about the very same book! I also think of agents as being the people who *help* books to happen. I guess it sort of surprises me that there are people who consider agents (or editors, for that matter) to be The Enemy.
    Then again, I honestly think the anger people feel at rejection is a little bewildering. It’s *incredibly* hard, in my opinion, to write a query letter that’s going to catch an agent (or editor’s) attention. Despite my “The fools! the fools!” file folder for rejection letters, if I’m submitting on a query and get rejected, I figure I probably didn’t write a good enough query. The competition is pretty stiff, after all.
    Of course, I’ve also been told that I have an annoyingly healthy perspective on life. 🙂

    • I rejected that book originally, hmm…. You don’t say. *wry smile* And, I have to admit, you’re not the first case where this has happened (you know at least one of the others). And I can’t even tell you the reason (especially if it was all the way last May) — though I could likely hazard some guesses.

      • *helpless laughter* I can’t decide if that makes me want to email my original query letter to you for feedback or if it just makes me feel neurotic. Though, really, if you’re pulling in 40-60 queries a week, an individual query has to be pretty outstanding in order to get anything other than a pass. I figure mine didn’t have quite the right sparkle.
        On the other hand, the rejection letter came *really fast*, so at least I wasn’t sitting around agonizing over it, which I appreciate to no end. 🙂

        • Okay — I admit, I’m curious. Email it. Heh.
          And 40-60 is actually a rather low number. Last year it was easily closer to about 100 a week. I guess the year is just starting off a little slowly. *wry smile*

          • Emailed. I await your reply with cringing interest. 🙂
            A *hundred* a week. Along with all the *other* work you do. Well. Okay. See, I rest my case. That’s a lot of slush to stand out from!

  5. heh, heh…my ‘rejections’ file folder says ‘Check out who wrote to me!’
    Most of my queries result in a request, but the manuscripts are not good enough. I’m not angry at anyone, but I do feel a little frustrated that we’re not supposed to use agents who charge a reading fee and I can’t always afford to go to the Expensive Writer’s Conference where I can somehow magically get that ‘secret handshake’. I suspect it’s nothing more than immersion in reading, writing and critiquing, anyhow.
    It really helps to have someone make suggestions, sometimes. I am not one who ‘gets it’ by sucking it up. You basically have to spell it out for me. Why keep on writing without a clue, when I’m repeating the same mistakes?
    I’m not trying to be a Stephen King, here. I’d be happy to write something that gets a nod from a recogized authority, which, for me, does not include epubs or PODs. Right now, I’ve got a revision letter from an editor and I’m deathly afraid I’ve achieved the level of my incompetence.
    Part of my Celtic heart says we don’t have to be born an ovate or bard, we can work for it. I beg time from anyone willing to share their expertise until my own voice becomes clear.
    I hate to admit it, knowing how frantic an agent’s schedule is, but I have used agent feedback as a learning tool. I rejoice when the rejection letter has more than a photocopied ‘Sorry, not for us’. I read the longer letters over and over, for some magic clue. I do what they suggest, work on my characters or my plot. I see these rejections as earning my stripes. As an editor from Big Name Publisher told me, “It means you’re getting close.”
    I never snarl at editors or agents. You never know where they’ll be working next.

    • I hate to admit it, knowing how frantic an agent’s schedule is, but I have used agent feedback as a learning tool.
      Why do you hate to admit this? I think it’s great to hear. While it’s true that most of the queries I get are subjected to the inscrutable form rejection, sometimes – for whatever reason – a letter stands out. I know a lot of agents and editors (including me) will pause and take the time when that happens to send a response. For the most part, I find those seem to be lobbed into the ether. I never know whether it makes any difference. On some few occasions, I’ve gotten letters responding to those and thanking me for the time and effort. And I have a file of those (maybe I should take a page from and give it some sort of uplifting title).

  6. It’s a strange disconnect to read those writers’ complaints and then think of writers’ conferences where people mob you like you’re a celebrity and are sometimes so afraid to speak to you that they’re visibly shaking.
    I think the best cure for these folks would be to have to actually work at a publishing house for a week. Once they saw how little time editors have to actually, you know read or edit, I think a lot of the misunderstanding and miscommunication would be cleared up.

    • It’s a strange disconnect to read those writers’ complaints and then think of writers’ conferences where people mob you like you’re a celebrity and are sometimes so afraid to speak to you that they’re visibly shaking.
      Ah, yes — I forgot the other side of that coin. I’ve had that one happen too. In fact, I very vividly recall the first writers’ conference that I went to which had one-on-one interviews between writers/agents. And I was sitting there alone in the room waiting for the first one. I’d never done one before. I was *so* terrified. I thought I was going to throw up. My stomach was all butterflies. And then the writer came in and looked *much* worse than I felt. I was stunned. If I said “boo” I’m sure they would have bolted, and this was not a quality I then associated with myself. *g*

  7. Snarling at editorial rejections (and at copyedits) is why you have best friends. The best friends nod their heads and agree how brainless the critics can be and pat your back… and then say “But, you know, the first chapter doesn’t grab as hard as it might.”
    Every time somebody says that a piece is not the exquisite gem I thought it was, I rage and grieve. What bothers me is the idea that the rage and grief is anything other than ego-protection, and that it’s the editor/agent’s responsibility to protect my tender ego. The anger may be natural, but is no more to be exhibited in public than any number of other natural functions.
    I shall go off into my closet of rejection now and bleed, quietly, taking care not to let the puddle of blood slip under the door and give offense.

    • Good heavens! I just realized that you’re my friend Deborah Grabien’s editor, the one who’s the Buffy fan! Deb speaks of you with great affection and respect.

      • Well, hello — isn’t the world a small, small place sometimes. I really enjoy working with Deb – she’s very talented and her new series is great!
        And – yeah – I’m the one with the Buffy “problem” (all five seasons on DVD…why, why, why are they only releasing them every six months or so – curse them).

        • You do know that they’re selling the scripts bound, right? The stage directions are priceless. Only through season 3, alas. Season 3, book 2 has Lovers Walk. (I always want to stick an apostrophe in there, just as I always want to sprinkle Doppelgangland with apostrophes. Geek.)

  8. Amen to that.
    I’ve BEEN rejected by some of the best (or worst?) (Case in point was the highlight of my teen years, a rejection from MZB saying, essentially, ‘I couldn’t care less if your characters lived happily ever after, or died in a convenient earthquake on the last page.’)
    I’ve DONE the rejecting for a SF magazine. (Where we tended to alternate between checklist rejections or the simple blanket rejection (y’know… “Doesn’t suit our needs”).
    99.9% of the time, the rejection isn’t personal. It’s us trying to get through the slushpile and still be home before midnight. It’s the editors or first readers doing their job, and by God, wouldn’t it be nice if they had the time to give every manuscript the hour it undoubtedly deserves, but sometimes five minutes is pushing it…
    So yeah. I’ve seen things from both sides of the fence; I’d rather be the writer than the slush reader, even if it means courting rejections. I know it’s not personal. Except when it actually is. 🙂
    That’s my useless two cents.

  9. My agent has a a livejournal. Does she *tell* me? I feel…..rejected. waving at best agent ever)
    On a more cogent and topic-worthy note:
    I hate to admit it, knowing how frantic an agent’s schedule is, but I have used agent feedback as a learning tool. I rejoice when the rejection letter has more than a photocopied ‘Sorry, not for us’.
    I do that with all criticism, good or bad, rejection or otherwise. Does the commentary I’ve been given on a piece of work contain something, anything, that I can hold up side by side with the work itself, and say huh, I need to look at this – s/he may well be right, the story falls apart there, or the character isn’t engaging, or whatever?
    Yes, dealing with any flavour of “this work isn’t good enough” hurts, but it comes with the companion effect of “this can be useful to me.”

    • Re: wasting agent’s time
      I’ve been writing with an eye to category romance, so it’s been hard to tell if my writing is bad or the publisher isn’t ready for BDSM clubs and multi-ethnic characters, for example. There’s only one place in town that publishes the kind of stuff I’m trying to learn to write – and not all agents care for it. Part of my process is learning which agents like what kinds of reading material. I’m thinking ahead to when I’m able to write longer, more mainstream material.
      My ego isn’t too involved, except I don’t like to be embarrassed. Frequently, when I am once again explaining to a new acquaintance that I am not Amy Tan, I experience a tiny flash of shame. Maybe when I feel I’ve got a strong grasp on the epic fantasy and I’ve nailed it, only Big Name Agent disagrees, then I’ll be bothered. For now, I’m learning iambic pentameter before I try Haiku. Small before large.
      My letters sound, to me, like ‘Are we there yet?’

    • You didn’t tell me you had one either…. *g*

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