Requested Material Update: Form Rejections

I give form rejections. Not just on queries but on requested material.

Form rejections for writers suck. I know that. After all feedback is how all writers improve and get better.

My form rejections are (hopefully) a polite way of saying, I just didn't fall in love with this for whatever reason. And I know that's not helpful. Because it doesn't provide feedback.

But here's the thing, writers need to get feedback from other writers via critique groups or beta readers.

Here's why:

Giving feedback is a time commitment. I know this. But I figured I'd also lay it out for everyone.

It doesn't take me long to read a manuscript. Recently I read a client manuscript, a contemporary YA with a speculative angle, (it's amazing). Since I knew I was going to be writing up notes, I read it twice. The first time, I read it straight through without making any notes. It took me just over two and a half hours.

Then, after thinking about the manuscript for a few days, I read it again, took notes, and put them together in the form of an email. I started at 11 am on a Saturday and I finished at 9:15 pm with one half hour break for dinner. So the reading for feedback took significantly longer.

Which means, I only have the time to give feedback to client manuscripts, or to requested manuscripts that have been particularly close calls for me--ones that I'd be happy to read again after revision, or ones where I'd like to see what else the writer does. Even then, there isn't always time to go into a lot of detail on manuscripts that are requested. My clients have to come first.

I've been asked why I don't just give one line of feedback with each form rejection. And that answer is a little more complicated. The truth is, a lot of the times, that one line isn't going to help much. Saying "I just didn't love the voice" or "the characters just didn't grab me" are pretty vague. And sometimes, by offering a line, I open up a dialogue.

Recently I tacked on a line at the end of a form rejection. The writer and I then had four different email exchanges over the next few weeks. The writer, encouraged by my response, asked a follow up question about what I said. I clarified. The writer asked another question, which I answered. And then another. I don't begrudge this exchange. In fact it was a pleasant exchange, but each email still took time, and time is unfortunately something I don't have a lot of.

So what does this mean for writers:

If your query is getting form rejections, there's something wrong with your query. (And possibly your first pages). Revise what you're sending out to agents and send again.

If your full manuscript has gotten a round of form rejections, it means you're writing a good query but that something in the manuscript isn't quite working. So revisit it.

This happens to agents, by the way. Sometimes we submit a manuscript to editors and it gets a round of rejections. And when this happens, I have my client and I both read the manuscript again and we revise. Then we submit again.

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Writer on a train said...

I really wish you'd do a Chum Bucket like Janet Reid (who doesn't rep my genre, darn it).

I have no idea why I keep getting form rejections on my query (or queries--just as you suggest I have rewritten it). Multiple people have critiqued it and the first pages, from beta readers to strangers to published authors. Don't know what the agents are seeing thst they haven't.

Jay Bendt said...

I second the chum bucket idea from the poster above. It would be nice to see something similar from somebody who reps the genre we're interested in.

Thanks for posting this!

Unknown said...

As I understand from the Chum Bucket that it's not a form rejection, but it's also necessarily a reason WHY Janet is passing or a critique on the query.

I actually want to do another "Can you handle the truth contest" but the last one I did took a lot of time (I got about 700 queries) and I have to wait until I have enough time to go around.

Unknown said...

You say that it doesn't take you long to read a manuscript and I understand that you have a lot of them to read. I'm interested in how you choose to sequence what you read. Do you read manuscripts in the order you have requested them or do you read them based on how excited you were based on the query?
If you have requested material and the 60 day waiting period is nearing, does no news generally mean good news? Or does it simply mean that you have either not gotten to the material?

Unknown said...

MaCa--It doesn't take long to read a manuscript compared to reading and taking notes. I don't necessarily read manuscripts in order. I do try to, but sometimes an author will send me an update to say they have an offer and then they go to the top of the pile. And sometimes there is something that's just so exciting I want to read it sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately I'd say no news is just no news. When the 60 waiting period nears, if you haven't heard back, just follow up with a polite email.

Scribble Orca said...

You say the nicest things about your email exchanges, Suzie. You have the patience of a saint!

I second the Offerings to a Dear Heart query idea - with the proviso that we don't expect a line-by-line break down (that's query shark) from you, but rather something which lets us know the query is the issue or the writing is the issue, and it is still meant to be an opportunity for you to request material right there and then.

It shouldn't take up more time unless there is a pay-off for your - Chum Bucket is the short cut for those who particularly want to query Janet in her specified genre, and if you do the same thing we need to respect your focus if we want to query you.

PattiBuff said...

Receiving rejections is hard, form letter or not. But thank you for at least sending one.

You mention that if a writer is receiving form rejections, then something is wrong with the query and a revision is necessary. My question is, after a significant revision are agents, and you in particular, willing to reread a query or is a once rejected book always rejected?

I would love a "Can you handle the truth" contest. A query and the first few pages that are often good enough for the average reader and even professional writers, can still be not captivating enough for an agent who needs to both love it and see the sales potential of the work. So any insight into this process would be appreciated. Thanks!