Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Which I Defend the Form Rejection

Today, I'm thankful for indoor plumbing. And water heaters.

When it comes to rejection, there’s definitely a hierarchy. At the tip-tip-top of the list is the “Well, I think I’m gonna pass, but I loved your characters, and that climax had me going, and your voice is really witty, and while we’re on the subject, I think you’re a great writer, and…wait, why am I passing? I’m offering you representation!” rejection. (Okay, so I kind of made that one up.) Below that is the request for revisions, and below that is the invitation to submit future work. And just below that is the form rejection.

Which isn’t the bottom of the list, I might add. I think we’d all agree that the no-response-means-no rejection is something we could live without, but I submit that, more often than not, we could probably do without those personalized rejections as well.

Let me say that again, just so we’re clear: We could probably do without those personalized rejections as well.

Personalized rejections aren’t always bad. It’s nice to get a “While your plot sounds intriguing, I’m afraid I didn’t quite connect with the pages” rejection, and I don’t even complain when I get one of those “Dear [Insert Writer’s Name Here], thank you for submitting [INSERT BOOK TITLE HERE], but it’s not what I’m looking for right now” (which is really more of a gussied-up form rejection, anyway). But most of the time, when agents send personalized rejections, they sound more like “I’m rejecting this because your concept isn't commercial enough,” or “I’m rejecting this because I don’t like your voice.”

They’re trying to be helpful. They don’t have time to tell you all the things you did right, so they focus instead on the stuff you did wrong. But when all you’re hearing is one-and-a-half lines of “You’re not good,” “You can’t hack it,” “Your idea is utter dreck,” it’s easy to get discouraged.

Most agents figured this out a while ago. They’re not out to hurt everyone’s feelings, so they use form rejections (which happen to cut down on response times, too). An agent is only one person, after all, and his or her opinion is no more or less valid than any other one person’s opinion. (Okay, so maybe an agent’s opinion is a little more valid than, say, my aunt Mabel’s (if I even had an aunt Mabel, that is), but you get the idea.)

So huzzah for form rejections! (Although, agents, if you’re reading this, feel free to just request more material. We’re okay with that, too.)


A.L. Sonnichsen said...

LOL! Very cute. I agree. I don't mind the form rejections. I understand why they're necessary. It's nice to get them a little personalized from time to time -- which can act like a pin-point of light in the dark of what's-wrong-with-my-manuscript -- but overall, they do the job. And basically the answer always is, regardless of underlying reasons, "it's not right for me."


Karen Jones Gowen said...

Like you I'm all for the form rejection. If they try to personalize, it will be negative, unless they also say what's good about it, and then they're doing a critique however brief, and can you imagine doing that for the zillions of submissions received each year? Form rejections work best all around. And if a writer gets something personalized and encouraging, it's all the more meaningful.

Esther Vanderlaan said...

Yep, I can see that. Good point for authors all around. Sure encourages people-down-in-the-dumps-because-their-manuscript-was-rejected.

lotusgirl said...

I think form rejections are fine. I wish the no-response-means-no agents would rethink that, because the querier never even know for sure if they got it. I can understand why agents are going more for that method though. Some writers can be rabid when they get a rejection.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Amy, good points.

KarenG, couldn't have said it better myself:)

Thanks for dropping by, Esther!

Lotusgirl, I hate wondering if an agent actually got the query. If agents are going to do the no-response-means-no thing, I think they have to have an auto-responder that lets everyone know their queries were received. I've noticed a lot more are doing that auto-responder, which is nice.

Anne R. Allen said...

You make a very good point. Those perfectly crafted, insult-nobody form rejections are often easier to take than the "Love the characters, but hate the voice/plot/setting" ones. Or worse--"Great voice, compelling characters, marvelous plot, nothing whatever wrong here, but books like this can't be sold in today's market." (80% of my rejections read like this.) I mean, where do you go from there? Try to rewrite your upmarket contemp romance as YA steampunk? Then get the same rejection two years from now when "today's market" doesn't like YA steampunk?

And you know, those silent rejections may not be as bad as we think. Yes, they seem disrespectful, but when I get a rejection of any kind, I my heart gives a little thunk and I go into a few hours of mourning. But with the silent ones, it's just about going over your list, seeing who hasn't responded in 6 weeks and crossing them off. No thunk. At least for me.

Thanks for this post.

Liesl Shurtliff said...

I have no personal experience with the form rejection at this point, (at least not on the novel level) but I remember one agent saying that getting some personal response, even if they tell you why they are passing, means that at least you're in the ballpark and don't give up. Just because they didn't care for it doesn't mean someone else won't.

So even though a form rejection might feel less harsh, I have to say I think it will might make me feel like I'm inconsequential and boring. I can't think of anything worse than being boring.

Lorena said...

I'm not completely cheering for the form rejection. I think they are okay for queries. But when an agent is reading a partial or a full (especially a full), I expect a little more feedback. If nobody would ever give feedback (even if it's subjective or discouraging) writers wouldn't have any idea of what is not working in their ms. True, the opinion of one agent is subjective. But if you start getting the same opinion from a few of them, doesn't that give you a direction of where to go with your writing? I have received some very encouraging rejections with specific suggestions on how to strengthen the text, and I took them. It made for a better manuscript (at least I want to believe that ;))

Where I completely agree is that a form rejection is MUCH better than silence. BTW, I would love to receive the R letter that turns into an offer!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Yeah, Anne, when you're heartbreakingly close, it's, well, heartbreaking.

Good point, Liesl. I don't mind the personalized rejections that point out the good with the bad. A long line of rejections that spell out everything you're doing wrong can be hard to take, though.

Lorena, another good point. Feedback is always nice once you've gotten past the initial query, in whatever form. You just can't start to make wild generalizations about your novel based on the feedback of one agent. (If everyone's saying the same thing, though, you can pretty much take that as a sign:) )

Unknown said...

A form rejection is definitely better than the no-response rejection. I like it when there's some indication of what I need to fix (ie. the voice is off, or I didn't connect with the mc, etc), but I don't need a list of specifics, especially when the reasons are subjective.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks for the comment, Stina. And I don't think negative feedback is bad in and of itself - so long as we don't blow it out of proportion. Like you said, a lot of things are subjective, so we don't necessarily have to jump in there and completely rework the manuscript if an agent says something like "I didn't connect with the MC." Because the next agent might LOVE the MC just as he/she is!

Carol Riggs said...

Good point, Lorena--if an agent has a partial or full, I agree that I'd like more of a response than a form rejection. But I don't mind form rejections (yes, I've gotten quite a few) and I prefer them over no response. I long does it take to hit Reply and plug in a form rejection and hit Send? I know some agents receive a staggering amount of queries, but for one thing, it's nice to know the query actually got there.

smallsnail said...

I agree that "no response" is way worse than the form, and I will admit that I don't mind the form reject for a query. But when I get a pre - printed postcard from a requested full (once, in hard copy, no less which I SASE'd back to myself) that does burn. A bit.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Yeah, Carol, it is nice to get a little something on a requested partial or full, and as far as the no-response-means-no rejection, I just wish that every agent who used that strategy would employ the handy dandy auto-responder so you're not left to wonder.

Bigblackcat97, I think I know the requests-hard-copies, replies-with-postcards agent:) (Although, admittedly, mine was only a partial...)