Mark Terry

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Interpreting Rejection Letters

July 18, 2007

My agent sent me a rejection we received for my children's fantasy novel yesterday. It read:
"Laura and I very much enjoyed the story, but in the end have decided that it's not quite right for our list at this time."
A few years ago I might have really obsessed over the meaning of this. They said, after all, they "very much enjoyed the story" so was there a problem, why didn't they accept it? Was it the character? The length? Were there too many typos? Can I change the plot, the setting... the font? How about my name? Maybe if I change my name to something like Joseph Kramer Railing, we can use the name JK Railing. Would that help?
Interestingly (or not), the BookEnds Literary Agency has a blog post today about whether they as agents are obligated to write comments on a rejected manuscript.
Truthfully, though, if there were only one or two things that were the problem, then I’d probably offer representation or ask you to make revisions and resubmit. Usually it’s bigger and broader than that. Usually it’s the characterization. Something that can’t be fixed easily. Or a plot issue. Again, usually something that can’t easily be fixed. And often it’s a little of both. Sometimes I just took on something similar or I don’t see a big enough market for it.
So what I’m trying to say here is that the trouble with giving feedback is that it always makes the problem look simple.
Or, in the case of my little rejection note, it's not quite right for their list. (The publisher is Holt, by the way). My son asked me what that meant. My first answer (you'd have to know my son or perhaps have a 13-year-old of your own to completely understand why there's more than one answer) was, "Nothing. It doesn't mean anything."
I think that's probably true enough.
"We enjoyed it very much" I take to mean that yes, as a matter of fact, they did enjoy reading it. They actually probably did read it to the end and enjoyed it. So they said so. Or, perhaps, they hated it and didn't want to insult me (a published author) or my agent (who represents or has represented some of their authors) by saying it sucked dead bears and she should never have sent it to them.
As for fitting into their list, there can be a 101 reasons for that to be true (or not) ranging from "we've published 8 books just like it in the last year" to "we don't publish those kinds of books" to "we're booked up (no pun intended) for the next two years and the book we try to squeeze in is going to be better than just enjoyable."
Frankly, you'll drive yourself crazy trying to parse this sort of thing. I now pretty much take rejections to mean this (and if you're a regular reader of this blog you already know what I'm going to say):
On this given day this given editor declined to acquire this given manuscript. Period.
For any of a million and one or more reasons, it didn't grab them as much as they wanted to be grabbed by a manuscript by me. If I had a track record in children's books, if my last 5 YA fantasy novels (which I haven't written, let alone published) sold 150,000 copies each, then they may very well have been pushed over the edge (by greed and market forces, often the same thing) into "loving it."
Rejection's part of the game, an unpleasant one, although once you start getting published regularly enough the rejections become significantly easier to deal with.
Oh, and that Hebrew writing up there in the top corner? It supposedly means: This too shall pass. (If you speak Hebrew and it says something different, please let me know. It would be quite embarrassing if it actually said something like, "The writer of this blog is a talentless schmuck.")
Mark Terry


Blogger Writer, Rejected said...

Mark: I think you are perfectly right. It doesn't end up meaning anything, which is why unless the editor has something pressing to say, a simple "no thank you" would be just fine. Don't you think? As you can see, I've spent a lot of time and energy on this topic. check it out at

12:34 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Well, oddly enough, I prefer comments, no matter how odd, to just a "not for me," but that's primarily so I know there's another human being on the other end. Besides, given my obsessive-compulsive nature, rejection letters give me a lot to obsessive over.

I'm really waiting for one that means something besides "no thanks." Generally speaking, they don't.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Yes indeed. I agree with you 101%. Writers can spend too much time agonizing over the wording of rejections that usually mean nothing and are, in any event, just one opinion.

Mind you, I am very thin-skinned and take rejections too much to heart but intellectually I know not to try to take any kind of guidance from the things. I've always made a policy of sending rejections to the circular file immediately. Never saw the attraction of collecting them.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was nice to read and helped put a smile on my face. After 25 rejections in the couple of weeks, all in the say form letter, different from yours, stating"with all the inqueries right now, we can not accept your submission at this time", it makes you wonder if they do read them and if they have the time to even do their job. I find it comical to get the same email from so many agents, but does make you ponder, how do you get signed and when do they make time if they have so many submissions? You have your fame and experience, so lead us in the right direction here, not just to look past the rejections but how and when do you remain persistant. Thanks.

9:52 AM  

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