Ask Me Anything: Interpreting Rejections

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So it's really hard to interpret rejections. This is partly because you might be getting form rejections (even on full manuscripts) and that could mean anything from "I just don't love it" to "Your ms fell apart and I stopped reading at page 65."

Here's the question I got recently:

I've had a few agents read partials and say the writing was strong but they didn't fall in love with it. What does this really mean? And should I revise the pages or keep submitting to other agents?

The first step to answering this question is to ask one of my own--Was this a form rejection or was it personalized feedback?

Truthfully there is nothing from a form rejection that means anything. It's a canned response that's essentially pasted into the email. How do you know if it is a form?

It will look something like this:

Dear AUTHOR, 
I finished reading YOUR MANUSCRIPT. Thank you for being so patient while I considered it for representation. I really love your premise. Unfortunately I don't feel it's quite right for my list. I'm regretfully going to pass. 
Please don't take this rejection as a comment on your writing, because it isn't intended to be one. While your novel has merit, I am forced to give serious consideration to the realities of the marketplace when deciding which writers to represent. And I really have to be absolutely in love with every project I choose to take on.

Best of luck with this project and all your endeavors. Due to the volume of queries and submissions I receive, I'm unable to provide a personal evaluation and/or further explanation of my decision. 
Good luck with your submissions. 
Best,
Suzie
There is nothing in this email that is personal to you--other than your name and title which is how you know it's actually me responding and not a robot. If the rejection you have looks like this, it's not going to tell you much. You should keep revising, keep querying, and keep working on something new. Don't let this kind of form get you down.

Now, in terms of personal feedback:

If I do give personal feedback it's usually in between the first and second paragraph and I might comment on characters or the plot or maybe even the writing. I might include more notes at the bottom and I might even invite the author to revise and resubmit--or I might ask them to send me their next project if this one doesn't snag them an agent.

Or occasionally I might say "I just don't love it"--so that writers know this is actually how I feel I usually add a "I know that's not helpful" line. Because feedback that's fixable is always easier to receive, right?

So what should you do if you get a "I just don't love it" type of personal feedback from me or from another agent?

If you've only heard it from one person, WAIT. I know waiting is tough. It is my least favorite thing. But wait it out. If you manuscript is with other agents, wait to hear back from them. See what they say about your book. This business is subjective. There are books out there that I just "haven't loved" and they're published. So someone did love them. It just wasn't me. In the mean time, work on something else.

What should you do if you're getting similar feedback of "I just don't love it" from multiple agents?

Since you're getting requests, that suggests that you have a good concept. This is when you want to think about revising. If more than one person is saying this, that means there's something about your manuscript that isn't doing its job--grabbing its readers. The truth is there are a lot of decent books out there. A lot of books that come across my desk are good. I request them and I read them and I might have some notes here and there, but they writing is good, the development works, the characters and world are all okay. But good or decent or okay doesn't cut it. I can only take on so many clients and so many books.

Think about the stories that you love. What makes you love them? For me, it's usually the characters. I will follow a character that I love anywhere. Truly. I read Josh Bazell's Beat the Reaper a few years ago and it is not the typical kind of novel that I read (or it wasn't then, now I'd be happy to read the next Beat the Reaper, keep that in mind!). I loved that book. The writing is fabulous, the voice is amazing, and Dr. Peter Brown, I love that guy! (Past and Present versions).

So if I were you I would start with your characters and see what you can do to make them more alive. Then look at your world--how can you make that more alive. Then look at your pacing--does every scene move the plot forward.  Keep trying to make the book even stronger.


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1 comment:

tawney13 said...

As a new writer just thinking about query I find this information very helpful! I'm really going to look at my MC and plot and think what could improve it. And if I get a rejection then I know it needs more improvement. Thank you Suzie!