Tuesday, February 03, 2004


Tor editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden deconstructs some whining responses to rejection letters:
I've been contemplating a site, RejectionCollection.com, which is a sort of shrine to the rejection letter. A major portion of it is devoted to writers anonymously posting rejections they've received, and commenting on how it made them feel. I do understand their need to vent, and some of their lamentations made me feel genuinely sympathetic. Others didn't have that effect.

What would I know about it? Simple. I'm one of those evil SOBs who rejects their manuscripts.

Her "rejection primer" is long, funny, enlightening and well worth reading.

I have an embarrassingly extensive rejection collection. The worst was from the agent who used my return envelope to send five pages of fifth-generation photocopied flyers about her own book, teaching writers how to write. Nothing like sending an SASE to a junk mailer.

At the other end of the spectrum is the letter I have framed on my office wall from an editor with a major house who had recently turned agent. I think I caught her before the slush pile did. She read my manuscript and went into extra paragraphs about how it should be published, but she didn't have the market connections for science fiction (I might argue that it's futuristic mainstream, but I take her meaning).

The form letters were wearying, and I used to take the letters to the light and turn the paper upside down to find out if the signature was real or a graphic element. The fact that some kid in the mailroom could have had permission to sign "Ms. Big Agent" on the rejection letter didn't change the fact of the personal touch.

I liked the simple responses of "no thanks" or "not for us" on my query letter. It was human contact, at some level, and I knew who was rejecting the query.

I really appreciated those who took time to give feedback. One agent had a little form with check boxes of common problems, and mine fit into a couple of those categories. It was helpful. And of course the ones who took the time to think about it and tell me in some detail why it didn't work for them were doing me a big favor, even though it wasn't pleasant to hear and sometimes perplexing--as when one tells you that it's commercial and she does literary, and another tells you that it's literary and he does commercial. Still, putting together the whole range of comments, it's possible get an overview of what I need to fix, although not, alas, how to fix it.

That's my least favorite rejection word, "alas." It's surprising how many of the form letters it shows up in. I wonder if the New York publishing community talks like that. "Can you do lunch next Tuesday?" "Alas, but no. Forsooth, I have another appointment. How about Wednesday?" Actually, I didn't get any "forsooth"s.

The prize for Most Mysterious Rejection goes to an envelope that came back empty and unsealed with a New York postmark about a year and a half after I'd stopped submitting and after I thought everything was back. At least I assume it was a rejection. Alas, I'll never know.

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