Monday, March 23, 2009

Deciphering Rejection Letters

This is always a tough one for writers but it is crucial. When those rejection letters come in, it is necessary to take the time and determine if the information you received from the editor or agent is something that can be fixed.

First of all, remember what I have said all along. Writing is a purely subjective business. This means that there are times when it doesn't matter about the quality of the writing, if the editor or agent doesn't like the story enough then they won't want to push for it. As an agent, I have to really love the writing and story enough to want to keep pushing editors to buy it. If the story is just mediocre, then I won't push. Editors work the same way. It is for that reason you might simply get the comment, "I just didn't find myself drawn enough to the story to want to pursue it." This doesn't mean the writing is good or bad, it simply means the reader wasn't excited about it. In this case, there is really nothing more that can be done.

Now, let's talk about the other comments that you might see:

"The story was not as strong as the other writing I have been reviewing." Now this one can mean a couple of differen things. Most of the time, it simply means that when the editors sat down at the table to discuss the stories, or when the editor was looking at the manuscripts on his or her desk at the time, your story simply fell in the middle of the pack. There was nothing amazing about the story, it was just a C level story in terms of excitement. Solution? Not a whole heck of a lot. I would recommend going back and researching other stories the publisher and more specifically the editor has put out and see if you can find trends. I think what you will see is that there were specific "quirks" that line was looking for and your story lacked those.

"The story seemed to lack the depth that I was looking for." This one comes down to a showing vs. telling argument. The premise of the story might be great and the editor or agent might have been really excited, but the execution would be rushed. I see this one a lot. The writer simply rushes through the story, shoving dialogue at me really quickly, or the scene building is limited to simply a visual description. In this case, what we really want to see are more three-dimensional characters and situations. The solution is to go back and A) dissect single title authors and see how they incorporate scene building and character description; and B) add that style to your own writing.

"The characters in the story seemed to be reactionary." Too often I see writers that have stories that are plot driven. In other words. they have shoved together characters they really don't understand and throw them in situations to see how they react. The key to this one is to review your GMC of the characters. If any of the situations seem manufactured or superficial, fix those situations.

"I struggled with understanding why the hero/heroine did what he/she did" Again, this is a GMC situation. I have seen a lot of stories that the conflict between the hero and heroine is easily fixed. This means that the situation could have been fixed in chapter 1. For example - the hero and heroine are in grad school, they are in love with each other and the conflict is to marry or not (O.K. I know this is a weak story but you get the idea). The writer then spends the entire book with the characters whining about the situation. The solution? Finish grad school. In other words, all of their actions were pointless and we keep asking, "Why are they obsessing over this?"

Here's another one. The heroine, who has been a successful lawyer, had everything and there was nothing wrong with her life, suddenly wakes up one morning, says she is tired, and moves to some Hickville, USA town to open a catering business. Of course she has never been able to cook in the past and has no experience. WHY???????

Obviously there are many other rejection comments but the key is to see if you can fix what they ask for. If so, please do so before submitting to that same person a second time.

Now, here is the one twist you weren't expecting. In many cases, you will receive a rejection letter that is a form letter or contains these comments simply because they were being nice. Sometimes the editors and agents know the truth hurts, so they keep it to themself. Sorry, nothing I can do there.


1 comment:

  1. What a downer. Ginger Clark's message on the Curtis-Brown agency site says she no longer answers queries unless she is interested, because "saying "no" leads to angry, hostile email replies."
    I wish this would stop. The agents who wrote back to me made thoughtful comments that led to a much stronger piece of work. I appreciated their efforts to help me, in the face of an avalanche of queries.
    As with making vile comments in public about other writers and their books, how does this help anyone? It can only lead to agents refusing to accept unsolicited queries at all.
    I'm very happy with the revised ms., and it is directly because of agent observations that it is a better book now.