Jennifer’s Believe It or Not (take two)

Today’s Episode: The Island of Misfit Manuscripts

It all started while I was out the last couple days on personal business… I came back to a huge pile of email and queries. I’m unsurprised by this and have been endeavoring to get back up to speed. Among other things I got an email which offered the following:

…we’ve come up with an idea that we think can make your life easier, and at the same time increase our sales. We are offering a rejection letter service that will alleviate the burden of having to write and send countless rejection letters for unwanted manuscripts – at no charge to you.

It purports to be from a “self publishing house” (p.o.d.) and I’m not going to post any specifics because some people find it to be a perfectly viable avenue for certain types of projects. In any case, what happens is that they offer to send a constructive letter to everyone I’m rejecting and provide them with an alternative publishing venue. They will also keep me updated on which of these projects do well if/when published so I can reconsider representation at a later date. My other favorite bit of the pitch was this:

In addition to not having to send a “canned” rejection letter, you will be providing the author with the opportunity to realize their dream of publishing – a valuable alternative to tossing it in the waste basket.

I admit it – I, out of necessity, have to use a form rejection. It sucks. I’ve always hated it. But it’s a reality of the business that I cannot escape. I’m sure every author would love to get an individual reply. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t. I can’t see how this alternative would actually be helpful to them, though (especially after I succumbed to curiousity and went to the company’s website and reviewed the costs of their “basic” publishing package). And I know that getting published is hard, damned hard. Since I both emotionally and financially invest in every manuscript I send out for one of my clients, rejection hurts me too, so I can sympathize. Even empathize. They can be discouraging, confounding, exasperating… I sure hope no one gives up after just a few of those, though – whether form or otherwise – and throws things in the trash. I know I sure don’t. I tend to suspect if that is the case the person never really had the passion to be a writer (or an agent) in the first place.

I’m glad these people pointed out to me that this service wouldn’t cost me anything (well, perhaps, except some self-respect), but they seem to have overlooked a few logistics such as who might pay to have these submissions shipped to them so they could do all the rejections for me. It’s very, um, charming that they want to save me all this time so I can concentrate on developing new projects – but I’m not sure how exactly I’m supposed to do that if I’m not actually looking at them because someone else is rejecting them on my behalf. Or how much time it will take to get them all the information so they can send the authors the letters. And I’ll bet they wouldn’t be able to do anything to keep abreast of my personal interests or what areas of my list I feel need more substance either. I think it takes personal attention to recognize those unexpected surprises that occasionally appear, too. I’m often asked at conferences “what are you looking for?” and it’s a hard question to answer because a portion of it is instinct at this point. Plus, there always seems to be something I don’t realize I’m looking for until I start reading it. Altogether I think I’m much better off as an agent combing through materials and judging for myself. It suits me better anyway.

14 responses to “Jennifer’s Believe It or Not (take two)

  1. It’s very, um, charming that they want to save me all this time so I can concentrate on developing new projects – but I’m not sure how exactly I’m supposed to do that if I’m not actually looking at them because someone else is rejecting them on my behalf.
    *blink*
    Okay, up until this point, I was assuming they were at least talking about handling rejected subs after you had already decided no go. Which is weird enough.
    I think you’re right: Some “idea person” came up with an angle for fishing, and didn’t think it through very well.

  2. All this at no cost to you? How lucky.
    I wonder what they would say if you asked to be cut in on their profits. (Not that you would of course, but I have an evil desire to see how much they would pay to let them provide this “valuable service”)

    • I wonder what they would say if you asked to be cut in on their profits.
      I’ve gotten those sorts of letters too. Though it’s usually a flat fee per book published. *rolls eyes* And I’m guesing – based on their pricing structure for production – that they make their profit in that fashion and consider their share of any royalties gravy.

  3. I think it’s far worse than this. These people want to use your good name to sell vanity publishing services.

    • It’s not a new concept. I’ve heard it before. What I hadn’t had before was an offer to write my rejections for me. Previously, all a company like this seemed to want was what amounted to assistance in building a mailing list. Or wanted me to put a flier in with my form rejection. Many of these would come with some sort of kick-back offer.
      The ethical (or lack thereof) aspects are boundless. And uncomfortable. Sour taste in my mouth, for sure.

      • I agree. Not only does it feel “Wrong” to contract out your replies and rejections, but I doubt you really want to let these people have the info of people who submitted to you in good faith. :> Blech.

  4. So…what areas of your list *do* you feel need more substance?
    I now have more sympathy for the editor/agent, after holding a writing contest for the past two years. Over half our entries didn’t include return postage. We discovered this after 42 entries were judged by three judges each, many of the judges had written extensive notes on the manuscripts. We are trying to make the contest a proving ground for writers – if we can give them enough feedback and if they pay attention to it, maybe they’ll get fewer form rejections. Or at least that’s the goal. Yes, we have to charge money to pay for getting the manuscripts to the judges and back, but it’s a fraction of what a book doctor or pod publisher would charge.
    We’re like the pre-agent screeners. We’re not their friends or family, so we can be honest. But it’s all subjective, anyhow. We tell them that in the letter they get with their scores. We try to get judges who have worked in publishing or have advanced English degrees. But sometimes an otherwise great story just doesn’t grab you…
    I mean, I totally would have rejected Ulysses.

    • So…what areas of your list *do* you feel need more substance?
      Er…. it’s about the time of year where I sit down and try to figure that out. I haven’t gotten that far yet. I’m always looking for “really good books” in any genre, but sometimes I discover that I need some more than others. For instance, when I was at Worldcon in Toronto and bumped into an editor and realized I had only one sf/f manuscript to pitch. I fixed that. (Oh, and sold that one manuscript, too.) Right now – mystery and suspense areas are looking a little sparse, but I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking for in that category. *wry look* Helpful, aren’t I?
      As for contests… I’ve judged more than a few. And listened for too many years to the bickering over the Golden Heart requiremments (far *too* easy to get disqualified from that one, imo). I think there is a way they help authors – by getting them those subjective opinions (but, after all, mine are that way too) and by exposing them to a level of criticism friends and family may not be willing to provide. Even writers groups tend to be a little nicer to their own members – they form relationships. (Okay, well there’s this one where people have known each other for *years* and are super-blunt, but I digress). As for the minimal charge to cover the administrative costs of running such a thing – I think the more major point is that you’re not trying to sell them something and/or making false promises, which appears to be the case with some of these self-publishing ventures.

  5. I’m sure every author would love to get an individual reply. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t.
    I’m guessing, then, you haven’t read any of RejectionCollection.com or Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Slushkiller in response to it. Not that most of the people on the former make much sense…

    • Actually I read both ages ago, probably when TNH first posted that entry. I still imagine that every author would prefer an individual reply — it’s just that some of them don’t agree with the content of said replies to varying degrees.

  6. The polymorphous and subtle evil of this thing is amazing.
    Authors don’t want individualized rejection letters. They want this form of individualized letter: “This is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever read! I sold it over the phone ten seconds after I got it! It will be on the NY Time bestseller list this weekend! Here’s a check for 10 million Euros [the dollar’s tanking, doncha know]!”

    • Here’s a check for 10 million Euros
      *laughs out loud* And it’d be nice to be paid in Euros when we all move to Ireland. No, wait, you’d move to Spain, but still! 🙂

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