what are you owed for submitting something

Thanks to truepenny for the link to a post by buymeaclue on what a rejection is and isn’t. It’s an interesting post. And much of it is relevant to how agents approach novels and representing or rejecting them too. And also read truepenny’s thoughts on same about remembering you’ve got company.

I was taking the time to clean out some files over the holidays and sorted out a few old gems of my own. They were just lovely. Insults written on my own rejections and then sent back to me. My personal favorite which carries on at some length (with swearing) about how I at least owe (yes, owe) them a referral and trying to persuade me that it’s in my own best interests to provide one to, not just them, but in response to each and every query I receive. I do give referrals. Rarely. When I think the work is just really that good but I know I’m just not the right person to be that project’s advocate. But, as buymeaclue says, I don’t owe anything beyond an answer – yes or no, will I or won’t I. (And, as an aside, does anyone think those people actually got any satisfaction out of it… I know they didn’t get replies…)

Over and over we (editors and agents) say that rejection isn’t personal. But it seems like so many responses from writers indicate they don’t believe us. How could it be personal? In 99% of the submissions I get, I don’t know the person and it isn’t a referral. It has to be about the idea and/or the execution. And, yes, in that other 1%, I’ve had to turn down representing stories written by people that I like; even by people I’m friends with outside of work. It’s not about that. It would be a hugely dishonest disservice to those people I like and respect to take those books on under false pretenses. Ideally, agent-author relationships are long-term. I need to think of the future. I need to know I can sustain it through the rocky parts of the road if, or when, they come along.

I’m not saying rejection doesn’t hurt. I know it does. I don’t even write the books that I send out and it can really be a kick in the teeth to get them back. And they come back from editors that I have a long personal history with – people who invite me to their weddings, send me holiday cards, show me pictures of their kids, and so on and so forth. When they send a book back to me, they aren’t rejecting me and/or the author. They’re saying that’s not the home for that book. That I need to look elsewhere. And that’s it. They’ll look at another project that I think might match when it comes along. The author and I commiserate, learn anything that needs to be learned, and pick our next target(s). Or regroup for revisions or a new project. We can’t afford to be so busy looking backwards (that rejection is history) that we don’t keep our gaze on the goal and move forwards.

13 responses to “what are you owed for submitting something

  1. I think an awful lot of this comes down to many new writers having no idea how many submissions agents and publishers receive every day. If you have a mental picture of agents dealing with two or three queries a week, or even a day, it seems entirely reasonable to expect a personal reply.
    I, on the other hand, had been hanging around sf writing venues long enough to have heard the horror stories about attack of the fifty foot slushpile before I ever contributed my own synopsis-and-three-chapters. It did help me not to take it personally when the rejection letters started coming back.

  2. Being out here on the pro fringes, (I keep calling myself a ‘baby pro’ because I have a few sales, but I’m not selling consistently – I think I’ll start saying ‘micro-pro’ – it sounds cooler 🙂 I run into a lot of the folks who are still trying to get that first sale. I’m appalled at the random spates of paranoia I witness. I can’t help but think it’s one of the reasons they’re still farther out on the fringes than I am. Possibly it was approaching pro-ness for the first time in my 40s, but it never occurred to me that there was a secret handshake and a password required for publication.
    I’m not sure I could do your job (even if I had the knack for that sort of work). I have a feeling I’d risk a coronary every time I got one of those bozos in my sights.

  3. It is also awkward when one comes across an editor who is convinced that writers all take rejections personally. I do recall (nearly five years ago, now–I don’t often submit my stuff) receiving a note of personal apology from an editor (on-line market) who had, the previous week, rejected one of my essays as not being appropriate for the publication.
    In the meantime, I had done some minor revisions based on her objections and shot off the piece to another (print) market, where it was accepted for publication–which she seemed quite pleased about, but she remarked that she evidently was not temperamentally suited to be an editor. Rejecting a piece written by someone she knew was too tough on *her*!

  4. When they send a book back to me, they aren’t rejecting me and/or the author. They’re saying that’s not the home for that book.
    Yes. Exactly!
    Perhaps it has to do with the envisioned grandiose lifestyle of the homo sapiens sapiens vulgo (the published human): MUST HAVE AGENT! MUST BE PUBLISHED BY BIG NY HOUSE! What more writers should be saying is: must create a marketable end product. Some authors may find that a smaller, reputable indie press might be what they need to create a track record in sales so they can get get their BIG PUBLISHING CONTRACT ™.
    Yet I think—know, that most writers aren’t using their available resources to find out who is buying what material. Buy a Herman guide, buy a copy of Locus, google it…do your homework! Just because what you’ve written today meets or exceeds what’s on the shelves right now doesn’t mean that’s what’s being bought to be published in a year/year and a half from now.
    Not for me=just that: not for me. So keep submitting it. Set a limit on the number of rejection letters as your threshold of pain then decide what to do with your ms. Pitch it and write something fresh or revise and resubmit. I don’t see where the need to get emotional is in this process. Do you want to get published? Then you know what you need to do: write, revise, submit…wash, rinse, repeat.
    I don’t think most people have a firm understanding of what agents do or the market dynamic of the publishing industry as a whole. Agents provide a specialized service. Customer service is certainly involved—hell, it’s sales based and I doubt an agent who lacks in professionalism and strong customer service skills makes it very long as an agent. It’s also a double-end service; on one side to the writer, on the other to editors and publishing houses. Come to grips with the fact that there are only a small number of slots available for books in a FY…and only 1-2 are available to new authors for each acquisitions editor in each house (if.even.that.)…and for those 1-2 slots there are a thousand unsolicited mss and a dozen or so agented submissions. I know who I’d bank on for a phat (yes, I used the word phat) P&L calc.
    New authors are a gamble for an agent. You put your name and reputation on the line with a new author. And for what? 3-5k advance? That’s 750 to the agent at 15% and we haven’t taken into account for taxes, agent’s time, and agent’s out of pocket expenses for babysitting that novel. Sorry, that doesn’t even begin to cover rent in NYC. So yeah, if I were an agent I’d take my job personally too.
    Ms Jackson you should feel more inclined to give a referral to a jackass like that… refer them over to Publish America— I hear they’re always taking new authors.
    Oh dear…I’ve over-posted again ;).
    -=Jeff=-

  5. Having never submitted anything, I will nevertheless indulge in idle speculation.
    Ignoring the percentage of mentally unstable folks trying to break into the business [insert your favorite joke here about how high that percentage is], the problem is simple. While you certainly don’t mean anything personal when you reject something, most starting writers have a lot of love invested in their work. Heck, I sometimes get far too invested in my LJ comments! So, while you are writing something like, “I’m not the right agent for you,” what they are reading is, “your baby is stupid and ugly.” It’s unavoidable until a writer internalizes that publishing is a business.
    As for the rejectees who respond, I recommend adapting Jubal & Co.’s approach from Stranger in a Strange Land and sort their feedback into “recycle”, “share with others for amusement” (my vote is to post them to LJ), and “forward to police”.

  6. rejection
    I think rejection is the topic of the week because so many of us are receiving the end-of-year desk-clearing rejections. Not only to the queries that we sent out in November, but the ones that we sent out so long ago that we’ve filed them away in the back of our brains as no responses.
    Today I got a rejection for a piece I’ve already sold to someone else because the editor never responded to my follow-up. I got another rejection the other day on a manuscript that has been through TWO, yes TWO huge revisions since I queried that editor (another editor had me do them). That rejection on five pages took eight months.
    Generally I take rejection very well and I NEVER take it personally. Occasionally a project I’m sure will sell and doesn’t hurts, but for the most part, I mail it off and then get on with my life. I learned that as an actor. You’d think standing up in front of a casting director and getting rejected would be personal, but it isn’t either. The casting director has a vision and ninety-five percent of the time you are it or you’re not. Sometimes you can wow them with your acting, just like sometimes your writing can wow an agent or editor into taking on a project they didn’t think they wanted, but most of the time it’s really just not a good fit and nothing personal. I’m not sure why writers have so much trouble accepting that it’s not personal, but it seems to be prevalent. Maybe it’s because an audition takes me two minutes to do and a book takes me a year or more to write…I don’t know, but it seems like no matter how many time agents and editors say it, writers refuse to believe it. It will bring you peace if you can accept that simple truth.

  7. Speaking as an oft-rejected author (but as one who’s learned to take it more or less in stride, even though it still and always will hurt like a mutha), I think it’s because that writing is so personal. If the work is personal, how can rejection of it NOT feel personal? At least a little. Especially when it’s in the form of a form letter. I know full well that there are many good and valid reasons for rejections and form letters and all that. My head knows that. My poor trembling writer’s heart just wants to be loved and feel special.
    Basically, I’m agreeing with you here. Just trying to shed some light on why we tend to still take it personal even when we should know better. And extending a blanket apology on behalf of my people. We’re an emotional and needy lot 🙂
    — C.

    • form letters
      It’s funny, but I think form letters hurt much less. When I get one, my brain says, “Ahh..sent this to the wrong place”. When I get a personalized letter it usually means I’ve gotten their attention and yet didn’t make the sale or snag the agent or whatever. That’s a lot worse! Even though I know it’s not really worse, it’s actually much, much better!

  8. I usually don’t take it personally…I was a little miffed when I got a ‘Dear Author’ form for a requested full (I guess I thought they could have at least used my name), but then when the same agent rejected it again through an e-mail form, I just laughed! I’ve been fortunate enough to get a detailed and complimentary no from an editor at Dial…and as she has another of my mss right now, I may get another one (or maybe even a yes ;).
    I do have to add that the few personal rejections that I’ve received I treasure…knowing that an agent will once in a while take the time to offer a few words of encouragement to me — well, sappy though it be, it means a lot 😀

  9. About two years after I started writing with serious intent (in other words, finishin stuff I started) I bumped Paul Witcover at the Philadelphia Worldcon. He was the system administrator for the Online Writing Workshop, and had liked my writing when I was active in the workshop. He introduced me to Ellen Datlow when we stopped at the mezzanine bar. Coincidentally, I had sent Ellen a story for SciFiction, which she’d rejected a month or two earlier.
    At first, she just recognized my name, and I answered her puzzled look by explaining why. She cringed, expecting the worst.
    Luckily, I’d already learned that, while rejections do wear on the spirit, they aren’t personal. The workshop and interactions with fellow writers helped prepare me.
    Writing isn’t done in a vacuum. Experience, interactions with friends and with fellow writers, even rejections, shape our work, shape us. Interaction is as necessary as air.
    I met Don once at an HWA weekend in ’98. After he rejected my first novel. The rejection was professional, respectful, and I let him know I appreciated that. He asked me to send him the manuscript again, probably on the chance he’d missed something. He correctly rejected it again (it was my first novel). That exchange, probably more than any other in my apprenticeship, taught me rejection wasn’t personal. The golden rule applies here as much as it does (or should) in life.

  10. Well I don’t like rejection either but…
    I don’t take it out on the person who do it. I understand that its a business and literary agents have their jobs to do. They evaluate as best they can and only relationship is going to be done only after the author has proven himself.
    I’d love to have a literary agent who cares about my work but that’s not going to be until they have a book in their hands they’re interested in representing. So, I know what you mean and am sorry so many people lash out at you.
    A happy holidays to you.

  11. I don’t take it personally on the short stories, but I don’t know how I’ll feel when I start submitting novels. Personal comments are pleasant, but a form letter doesn’t bother me.

  12. Rejection
    I’ve been a wrestling referee for twenty years and I think those writers who become so irate and take rejection personally are analogous to the fans I see from time to time. There is no interest in knowing why they were rejected and I would bet that if you gave them a lengthy explanation they would become worse.
    These same folks would believe that Tolkien is merely a hack and something must be wrong with you since you haven’t seem their obvious talent.
    Having said that I wouldn’t say the rejection doesn’t sting but you must learn from rejection and understand that it is a business decision.
    Being very naïve when I started the process of sending query letters and now at this point I must say my letter because of rejections has become something very professional and after joining a critique group the revisions to my novel have made it a much better product.
    The sad fact is that because of writers who are irate it may discourage you from writing the personal comment on the occasional query rejection. I hope not, the few comments I’ve received have helped me greatly. Just know that for each person who sends their letter laced with profanity there are those who appreciate the note even through rejection.

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