January 5th, 2007


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.
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