Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rejuvenating Rejections

I don't understand California. Perhaps it's the weather or perhaps it's the people, but for whatever reason I simply can't seem to get my footing in this place. The fiance (formerly the boyfriend), the polar bears and I have officially settled into our new home in Marina del Rey. It's nothing like our 20th floor corner unit in Seattle. Apparently those don't exist in this area because of the danger and frequency of earthquakes. Aside from the city being vertically challenged, it's also full of smokers and people who drive like complete assholes. Not a fan.

Forgive my negativity. I'm just homesick.

In other news, I received the kindest and most encouraging rejection letter today. My agent, Kimberley Cameron, forwards me the feedback she receives from publishing houses reviewing my manuscript. It's startling how similar their response formats are to the sort I myself received when querying agents. I thought there might be some sort of secret publishing world code between agents and editors, but no, it's almost identical!

Now I know that nobody likes rejection letters, but in my experience there's something to be gained out of each one. For example, the one I received today was actually delightful. I've pasted a segment below.
I want to thank you so much for sending me ZHUKOV’S DOGS. I definitely agree that Amanda is a talented writer, and I was impressed with the ease of her world-building in this novel. I may just be a doomsday survivalist at heart, but her decimated cityscapes and underground communities read a little too believably. In any case, if I start hoarding canned food, you can tell her it’s her doing.
It went on like that for a while and I was spinning in my chair long after I finished reading. Sadly it was a pass in the end due to genre classification, but I wasn't discouraged by that at all. This is the kind of rejection I enjoy getting. It pointed out exactly where my strengths were and highlighted the editor's favorite moments.

While we all want to send publishing houses into bidding wars, it's more important to find people who get your vision. People who don't just love the book as much as you do, but people who are willing to put as much effort into the book as you have. Rejections like the one above assure me that there are people who migrate towards what my manuscript embodies and that it's only a matter of time until Kimberley and I find the perfect home for it.

That being said, not all rejections are as fun to get. In my experience there are three distinctly different types of rejection letters and it's important to distinguish the weight each one carries with it. I've listed them below with my own take on said rejections written in italics.
  1. The Form.

    You know it the second you open it.

    Thank you for your recent submission. We receive hundreds of submissions every month and consider each one of them carefully. Unfortunately we do not feel that your manuscript is a good fit for our agency. We wish you luck in finding a home for your manuscript elsewhere.

    That's about the jist of the one permanently engraved in my memory. They vary slightly from house to house, but I'm sure you get the idea. A bland, two-line rejection which leaves most writers feeling dismissed and belittled.

    It is soooo very important that writers don't take form rejections personally. Yes, they sting quite a bit, but writers need to understand that houses aren't exaggerating when they say they receive hundreds of submissions a month. During the PNWA Conference last year I recall a panel in which agents were asked how many clients they take on every year. Their response varied from two to ten. If they go through hundreds of submissions a month and take on less than a dozen clients a year, it's understandable why they can't personalize each and every rejection they send. Agents and editors are human, after all, just like us.
  2. The False Hope.

    It feels so good at first and then...BAM. And, just because I experienced this one so often while I was querying back in the day, I'm going to include the inner dialogue all writers experience when encountering The False Hope (in parenthesis like this).

    Dear (omg they actually included my name!),

    Thank you for sharing your TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT (omg they included the title too!) with me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and your writing style is very impressive. My favorite part was how you did THIS and THAT (omg that was my favorite part too!). At the end, when X did SOMETHING to Y in the Z after THAT ONE THING, I was in tears (omg I cried when I wrote it! this person understands!). MORE AND MORE PRAISE WITH PLENTY OF WONDERFUL SPECIFICS WHICH MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE A BOSS. THEN... Unfortunately (wait...), while I loved the concept, I do not (no! don't say it!) feel confident enough in it's execution (execute me instead) to take it on. I wish you the best of luck and am sure that you will find a home for your manuscript elsewhere.

    Wow. Just reliving it hurts. Praise, praise, praise, plop. It's so very heartbreaking when you first read it that you don't even see the pounds of constructive criticism piled on before the drop of the axe. These rejections are invaluable to a writer because it tells them what worked and what didn't. If an agent or editor ever takes the time to point out specific sections it's because those sections really stood out in their mind. As mentioned before, houses get hundreds of submissions a month. If they took the time to hammer out a personalized reply like The False Hope, it wasn't because they wanted to make you cry. It's because your writing impressed them and they wanted you to know that they saw your potential. So, once you blink the tears from your eyes, go back and take another look.
  3. The Once More With Feeling.

    The most elusive rejection out there. If you ever see it, rejoice. Rejoice and then prepare. It goes in the same fashion as The False Hope with a slightly different conclusion.

    While I loved the concept, I feel as though the story's overall execution needs work. Would you consider a revision and resubmit of your manuscript?
    You were close, but not close enough. Fortunately, they saw a spark in your work and are willing to give you a second chance. Revisions and resubmits are long, excruciating processes in my experience. During my year of querying I garnered two different Once More With Feelings. One took less than a month while the other took four months. The most important thing to remember when doing revisions is to not lose your vision in the process. It's okay to consider any suggestions an agent or editor makes, but remember: it's your story. Tell it the way you think it should be told.
There's also the classic "no reply" rejection. That one is pretty self-explanatory, though, and I've been on my soapbox long enough tonight. The cardboard's starting to cave under my weight, so I'll step down and leave you with this...

How many science fiction writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Two, but it's actually the same person doing it. He went back in time and met himself in the doorway and then the first one sat on the other one's shoulder so that they were able to reach it. Then a major time paradox occurred and the entire room, light bulb, changer and all was blown out of existence. They co-existed in a parallel universe, though.

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