“What do you mean?” – Finding hidden treasures in a rejection letter

Rejection letters:  No one likes to get them, and no one likes to write them. I’ve had my heritage questioned, along with invitations to make merry with various types of waterfowl or African wildebeests, so I stick with the least offensive…the template rejection letter:

Thank you for your query. Your story sounds interesting, but I’m afraid it doesn’t quite fit our current lineup. Best of luck to you in your literary endeavors.”

For a new author, it’s not apparent this is a template, and they pick it apart in order to discern some hidden meaning or crumb of hope. So they write back:

If you say my story is interesting, then why doesn’t it fit with your house? I read your guidelines and my story is a personal journey about my addictions. How can you like something yet not want to even read a few chapters?

*facepalm* They want decisive clarification for my rejecting them. I find it somewhat ironic that even a form rejection letter is questioned because I try to make it bullet-proof by keeping it one-size-fits-all. It’s not my intent to pound someone’s feelings (I feel receiving a rejection letter is enough), yet I need to get the point across that the work doesn’t scratch my itch.

Of course writers want to know why they were rejected and, rather moving on, some nuance every word in every line in order to derive some hidden clue…even from a form rejection letter.

However, there are certain cues that do incite the imagination to kick into high gear.

“Please feel free to resubmit.”

No guessing with this statement. And I mean it. These are times when I read the entire manuscript and feel the story has real promise. It’s very good and the characters are exciting. However, there are some big problems with the execution. It could be the pacing is uneven, or it’s top-heavy with backstory…big ticket items that would require huge amounts of our time.

So I offer some critique (because it would be crummy to spend that kind of time reading a ms only to leave the poor author hanging, wondering, “What do you mean?”) and off the author a chance to resubmit.

It doesn’t matter who says this, there is nothing vague about it, so don’t question it…just make your edits (where you feel the crits have some validity) and resubmit it.

“You might want to consider hiring an editor.”

So you resubmit, and you get this sentence back in your rejection letter. It’s rare when I offer that advice, but I do it in a few cases where I’ve seen your initial work and now I’ve seen your edited efforts. So let’s say you had serious pacing issues in the first go around; if I see that same problem in your edited piece, then I conclude that you’re not quite sure how to fix the problem. At that point, it makes sense to suggest working with an editor who can help you understand pacing which, admittedly, can be a tough concept to grasp without some hand-holding, and all they need is a bit of a nudge.

Now, I’ll cop to thinking some writers shouldn’t consider giving up their day jobs, but I would never suggest working with an editor because I suspect they don’t know enough to understand what an editor is trying say. If someone can barely put a sentient sentence together, then pacing and POV switches are beyond their capabilities. They need to take some writing classes in order to learn the basics.

Is this a red flag?

You might think it’s a red flag for someone to suggest working with an editor after only reading a few pages or chapter. And it may be. There are scams out there that offers kickbacks to agents or editors if they recommend a certain indie editor. But if this suggestion is made in general, without naming names, then I don’t really think there’s anything insidious about going on.

Personally, I would never make this suggestion after only reading a partial because I don’t know enough about the story to make that determination. But not everyone vibrates at the same frequency, and others may recommend working with an editor after reading only a few pages. And sure, the natural reaction would be to ask, “What do you mean by that?”

My suggestion:  don’t let it put your Victoria Secrets in a bind. You can’t possibly know what’s in someone else’s head, so don’t try. And whatever you do, resist the urge to ask them. Just move on.

Now, if you keep getting rejections and/or the same suggestion to get some outside help, then perhaps it’s time to consider whether your story has sea legs. Editors don’t come cheaply, so you want to get the most bang for your buck.

Be Professional

The biggest gift any writer can give himself is adopting a professional attitude because writing is a business. Anticipate that rejection letters won’t offer you any insight as to why you’re being rejection. It isn’t because editors or agents are soulless creatures (well, they are, but let’s not quibble the point) and love nothing more than squashing writers’ dreams. In fact, we adore writers and are always on the prowl for the right story to make our blackened hearts sing.

But we’re also hideously busy and we’ve learned that personalized rejection letters take time and open the door to some nasty replies. Don’t worry so much about the “What do you mean?” because you’ll drive yourself nuts. A no is a no, and the reasons often vary. One editor may think the character development is insufficient, while another may find it perfect.

Instead, get some feedback from your writer’s group, or the Share Your Work forum on the Water Cooler. There are many tools at your fingertips that are geared to help writers become more successful. And that is where your time is better spent…not trying to read between the lines.

4 Responses to “What do you mean?” – Finding hidden treasures in a rejection letter

  1. Bill Webb says:

    You forgot one thing, the time factor, if an email query rejection comes back within ten seconds, don’t even read it.

  2. I don’t agree. There have been times when something dumped into my Inbox and I opened it and immediately saw the warts in the query letter.

    Say, for instance, the query was about cancer. There are a million cancer books out there, and this query runs along the same lines of “I had cancer, and this is how I dealt with it.”

    It’s been done a thousand times already, and there’s nothing unique about this query. Are you saying that my opinion have more validity if I waited a day or two, rather than rejecting it immediately?

  3. […] “What do you mean?” — Finding hidden treasures in a rejection letter (behlerblog.com) […]

  4. Kim Kircher says:

    We writer-types can certainly over-analyze rejections. Thanks for putting this out there.

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