Monday, November 8, 2010

Thoughts on Rejection, Part One

Self-portrait in a bus window
Over the weekend I received a rejection on a three-chapter partial from one of my top wishlist agents.  When Agent-in-Question requested the partial, less than an hour after I sent him my query (on Halloween, no less), I was cautiously happy.  Okay, excited.  I mean, AiQ reps one of my favorite MG authors and my ego took a momentary detour into the world of casually asking said agent for said author's email address as a reference.  "I have been approached by your agent with an offer of representation and was wondering what your experiences have been?" I would casually ask.  Perhaps there would be celebratory drinks involved.

The rejection email was (a) personalized, (b) encouraging  ("I like a lot of things about this -- the writing and descriptions are strong and I like the idea.") and (c) didn't completely slam the door in my face.  ("I'd be interested in reading more work from you in the future.")

And, yet, it was still a rejection.

For the agents who pass on my query, it's not much of a big deal.  That means the story, as presented in the query, didn't grab them.  That's fine.  Despite how long it took to craft and pare and beat my head against a wall for those measly 200 words, a query is just an overly brief sales pitch.  It isn't the "open up a vien and bleed your prose" manuscript that has taken up so much of my life over the past year.

A request for a partial means the sales pitch was intriguing enough for the agent to see if I can write well, introduce and maintain characters that are interesting and present conflicts that draw us into the story.  They also give the reader an idea of tone and how that interweaves with the plot.  It's just enough to let the agent know if the book is something they'd like to pursue further or if it's too close to something they already represent or too close to something already out there.

AiQ rejected me on the strength/weakness of my first three chapters which, again, is fine.  What I didn't get was the comparison AiQ chose as one of the reasons to turn down my manuscript.  In AiQ's eyes, my story was "a bit too close to things like Lemony Snicket..."

I have read posts and tweets by agents who get frustrated by the responses they have received to their rejection letters, especially the ones they've taken the time to personalize.  For the record, I am extremely grateful for the time and attention AiQ gave me and my story.  I appreciated the praise AiQ gave my query and my three chapters.  None of which should suggest I am in any way ungrateful when I say I don't get the Lemony Snicket comparison.  I've read the first six or seven Series of  Unfortunate Events books (before growing tired of reading, essentially, the same story over and over again) and other than my main character being quirky, I don't get the correlation.

Was this shorthand for... something?  Was he saying my writing to was derivative? Or he wasn't looking for a manuscript in that genre?

I know rejection letters may not be easy to write*, especially when the AiQ has liked part of what they have read.  Still, I would hope that a rejection letter would answer more questions than it asks.

(For the record, I am not dwelling on this.  I thought about it for a short while, then turned around and sent out another two queries in its place.  Still, it seems kind of odd to me...)

What about you?  Have you received a rejection from an agent that sparked more questions than it answered?  What did your AiQ say that confused you?

-- Tom


* However, as long as we're the ones with the big time/effort/energy/ego invested in the situation, I can't help but feel that we writers suffer more than the agents.  Sorry, Rachelle.

1 comment:

  1. I think it is impossible to not try to read between the lines of a rejection letter. I'm glad that you thought about it, and then came out the other side. It always feels too bad that we can't ask the follow-up questions on a rejection. I know that is above and beyond an agent's time, and that a lot of writers just get defensive and huffy. But in a case like this, when you are thinking of sending a future project to this agent, it would be wonderful to be able to ask what made your work comparable to LS. Another thing that you'll probably just have to let go...
    But, congrats on getting an awesome rejection!!