rejecting rejection

Miss Snark has a rant about people who don’t follow directions. I concur. I also find myself deeply puzzled by people who write back to argue with rejection. Not persuade. Or request to submit revised work. Argue.

This week I was told I lacked discernment (for not agreeing to read a manuscript). Further I was told I wasn’t taking that same work seriously after all the research and time spent crafting. I don’t like the first bit. (Did this person just say that I was stupid? How very flattering. Let me immediately call them and offer to work for them. Er…) What my reply to the query said was that I wasn’t enthusiastic about the premise of the book. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how much research went into it. Or even if I’m incorrect about its saleability. I feel I’d have a very difficult (nigh impossible) time representing books that I’m simply not interested in reading. I also get quite confused by the idea that an author would want you to represent a book that you aren’t into. Ideally, shouldn’t you also be a fan of their work? It was also suggested that it would only take me 10 minutes to actually read the first five pages. I don’t read that slow, but supposing I did, if I spent that amount of time per query, since I average over 100 per week, that would be (er, math) over 16 hours, or two regular business days of work. Not that I don’t read each submission carefully. I really do. I want new and exciting projects. But this seems an overzealous percentage of available review time even to a hunter like me. How much time does it take a reader to pick up a book in the bookstore and decide whether they want to buy it or not?

Furthermore, I have no idea what this person was trying to accomplish. Would I change my mind? And, if so, would you want an agent who was so easily swayed in their opinion of the book when they must remain steadfast in their belief in it and the writer though potential rejections by publishers? I suspect they simply wanted to make themselves feel better and blame me for not connecting with the book. I hope they do feel better, but I think it probably didn’t help them all that much. And it’s entirely likely that when I don’t connect with a book, it’s because it doesn’t resonate with me as a reader. Or it could just not be that good an idea. That’s why “they” keep going on about how difficult it is to mix art and commercial business. You have to like it and be able to sell it.

In other news, someone responded to a rejection by asking whether I had received the pages they sent. I have no idea how to parse this one. I said I didn’t want to read it. If there were pages, I don’t want to read them either. (And, no, I’m not sure. I get a lot of queries and, though I have a phenomenal ability to remember titles from my bookstore days, they don’t all stick.)

Most people don’t reply to rejections. They internalize whatever they need to learn and move on and hopefully find the match they’re looking for, or get enough out of the experience for the next project to succeed. That seems the healthiest and most pratical approach to me. I have, on occasion, ended up representing someone I originally rejected. But it often isn’t the same book, and it generally isn’t even in the same year of the original submission. Writing is hard. Getting published is harder.

My instincts say that replying to the above correspondence, and opening up a dialogue with these people (which is clearly what at least one of them is going for) isn’t a good investment of my time when I could be doing any of my other myriad agently-tasks. Or posting to LJ. Heh. In other areas of life doing such a thing rarely seems to result in the two parties reaching an accord. Yet, some also deem it rude not to reply. What a quagmire.

20 responses to “rejecting rejection

  1. Oh dear. Inability to take rejection does not bode well for a long term career in the writing game.

    • There’s that factor too. It’s not all that difficult to project the person’s reaction into the future and wonder what you would get if you had to tell them a publisher passed on their book.

      • Someone once sent the Bantam office what they thought was a rather flattened boquet of roses. It wasn’t. It was a wreath. I repeat: oh dear!

  2. I’m sorry! I’d be discouraged as a writer if I thought agents tarred us all with the same brush, so to speak, but I know you don’t. So I’ll just repeat — I’m sorry!

    • Thanks — I most certainly treat each writer on their own merits insofar as I am humanly, er goddessly, able to do so. I guess it’s just that people like these stand out and make you feel a little kicked in the teeth every once in a while.

  3. Early in my internet career, I felt it was my duty to respond to such obviously misguided people and try to help them see reality. As a veteran of several fandoms, flame wars, and now-defunked message boards, I have to say that silence is now my preferred response to most gestures of idiocy.
    There are all kinds of resources all over the internet and avaialable at your local library that tell people this is the wrong way to handle rejection. If they continue to act this way, it requires a sort of willful ignorance that I don’t believe can or will be corrected by any attempt at kindness on your part. As an HR person in my day job, I have a similar experience with applicants as you do with writers, and a similar batch of people who don’t understand that calling the HR office stupid is not the way to make us want to hire them.

  4. As much as I hate to say it, I really can’t see any benefit in opening a dialogue with these authors. They both seem utterly convinced that if you read their partials you’d be so smitten with their work that you’d realize the error of your ways and offer to represent them in spite of your previous reservations. Given that position, no amount of sweet reason is going to convince them otherwise. You’ve considered their proposal and given them your opinion, and that’s the extent of your professional obligation to them.
    I really don’t understand writers who are incapable of following directions, or worse, feeling like they can ignore the rules by sheer virtue of their ability. Back in my editor/developer days I was working on an anthology and spent four hours talking with an author about the short story he was submitting to us. We went through the piece from start to finish and I pointed out each and every change he needed to make in order for us to buy it. What did he do? Ignore everything I told him and submitted the story in its original form – and then was incensed when we rejected it!

  5. At our event last month, I made an announcement that anyone with an incomplete manuscript should cancel their pitch appointments. Two irate writers actually threatened me, one of them went so far as to grab me (thankfully, someone broke it up) to make his point.
    I used to be a CPS after hours crisis intervention caseworker. I had to take people’s kids away, often with police protection. In some cases, I had to drop and roll to avoid injury. After last month, I began to think that the whole ‘my book is my baby’ thing has some actual basis…at least in the emotional landscape of a few nutcases.
    People so totally underestimate me, though. Little do they know I’ve added their names to the Great Publishing Blacklist…

  6. I keep running across people in online forums who think an agent needs the same degree of enthusiasm about the books they represent as they need for the dishwashers or radio ad time they sell in their day job.

  7. I suspect they simply wanted to make themselves feel better and blame me for not connecting with the book. I hope they do feel better, but I think it probably didn’t help them all that much.
    This is probably the most likely explanation – and it’s very discouraging that, especially after you’ve replied with a reason (ie: you weren’t enthusiastic about the premise) the query-writer didn’t sit down and re-read his query, re-examine his premise, and possibly revise the novel to be a better and stronger piece of work! And you’re likely right about it not making them feel better.
    At this point, any sort of advice/reason for rejection of my query would be a day for celebration, if only because it gives some of idea of how to make it stronger!

  8. “I’ll show those bastards who’s loveable!”

  9. How much time does it take a reader to pick up a book in the bookstore and decide whether they want to buy it or not?
    Ohmygosh. For me? Ten, twenty minutes. Sometimes longer. The process involves being attracted to the title, the cover art (though I try not to judge Twue Wuv by looks), reading tbe back, reading the first couple pages, petting the book, holding onto it in case it decides to escape or anther customer comes and attempts to rip it away… And then there’s the looking at other books around it and making eyes at the hubs, who doubles as my bank account. This part involves making promises to read the book before I turn 40 and saying how nice it will look with all the other books I haven’t read yet but swear I will.
    Eventually, I get a new book. Unless it was written by a friend, and then I get it no matter what, without the holding and petting.
    Was that a rhetorical question? Oops. *grin*
    Anyway, yes, rejection is hard. It’s discouraging. And sometimes agents can be pretty rude (not YOU! Never YOU! But I have seen things…horrible things…), which is even more discouraging. Maybe the writer was having a bad day, or had been rejected by one of these rude agents recently. Which doesn’t excuse them from being awful to you, of course, but…

  10. I recently had someone respond to a rejection by demanding to know why I turned down his story when his story was “an order of magnitude better” than anything I’ve published. He also made comments that made it clear he’d only skimmed the most recent issue or two. I didn’t respond — I don’t want to get tangled in an dialogue with someone clueless enough to insult an editor they want to publish them — but I had a really good laugh over it.

    • A magazine editor friend of mine had an almost identical discussion, from the sound of it, about a decade ago. The submitter couldn’t understand why she’d turned him down when, I quote, ‘he was a published poet!!!’ Be still my beating heart.

  11. Professionalism
    So many writers don’t understand that publishing is a business. Rejections aren’t any more personal than not buying a vacuum cleaner from a door-to-door salesman is personal.
    Don’t let the unrealistic expectations of a few unprofessional, uninformed people ruin your day. Your time is worth more than that.
    Cheers, Julie Rowe

  12. replies to rejection
    Rejections are hard to take, but I would never reply to one unless I got an encouraging “No” with feedback, and only then to say two words: “Thank You.”
    You don’t owe such people a reply (IMO) it would only encourage them to do the same thing to other busy agents.

  13. rejection
    Perhaps writers need to get private punching bags into their backyards?! Or get a park to run around in? Or go yell at a football game? Instead of verbally punching editors…..or kicking the cat…
    Rinda M. Byers

  14. rejections
    I’ve always felt fortunate that I got my BFA in studio arts, where every week we put our work on the wall and the whole class critqued it. Though I ended up not going into studio arts, this part of the process invaluable. Rejection is part of every creative person’s life, and not everyone is going to like what you do. Still, because you believe that this is what you should be doing, you keep going. It’s that or take the job at WalMart and come up with very creative greetings at the door.
    Perhaps the writer has not cut his or her teeth by submitting to journals or magazines and getting rejected there first. A writer may vent his or her spleen, but not at you or any professional in the business. That’s what gyms, wild sex and donuts are for. Rejection isn’t easy, but this kind of turn down is so much easier than being picked last in P.E. class when you are 13.

  15. rejecting rejection
    As a writer, I cannot understand questioning an agent or an editor rejecting me. Much less arguing with them. It seems like such a futile gesture. Chalk it up as one less rejection to have to go through and get on with life. As we all know rejection is a part of writing. Or acting. Or art. Or life for that matter. Get used to it.
    And to whoever made the comment about punching bags? I do have one! LOL
    Karen Magill

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