Thursday, August 7, 2008

Saying "No" Nicely

Rejection hurts. There's just no way around it. There's also no way around the fact that if you're a writer – and you're brave enough to send your writing out for publication – you're going to get rejections. So following that logic to its obvious conclusion: if you write, you're going to get hurt.

I thought I was ready for this. I knew I was going to get rejection letters. I'd steeled myself. I'd psyched myself up. I was indestructible.

Then I got my very first rejection, and it was… MEAN!

No, I'm not just whining. And it's not just my opinion. I've asked friends, family, fellow writers and uninvolved strangers, and the consensus is that the unnamed agent who wrote this rejection was having a really bad day and wanted to share it.

What did he say? To protect the guilty, I've decided not to share the entire text of the e-mail, but I will give you the key phrases:

"…the writing quality and character development are decent…"

"…the plot line and supernatural aspects of the work come off as sloppy and at times, silly…"


Decent? Sloppy? Silly? Could he possibly have chosen more demeaning, inflammatory words?

Needless to say, I was wishing heartily for one of those impersonal form rejections. If this was what you got when agents took the time to get personal, I'd just pass, thank you very much.

Then, within a couple of weeks, my respect for agents was restored when I received the world's nicest rejection. This time I will share names, because Andrea Somberg deserves praise and recognition for this one. Ms. Somberg managed to say "no, thank you" to my manuscript in a way that was kind, helpful and left me with an uninjured ego. Here is an excerpt from her e-mail:

"…there's some good, smooth prose in these pages, as well as a good narrative pace. Great tension throughout! It's with regret, then, that I must admit that I didn't fall in love with these chapters as much as I had hoped. Perhaps part of the problem is that Anne and Philip felt overly familiar to me. I couldn't help but feel they lacked that extra spark, that extra development that would mark them as particularly compelling, unique protagonists - which is so important in order to convince editors that this book would stand out from the crowd. Kelli, in spite of these chapters' strengths, I'd better pass. I suspect that, based on my above reservations, I just wouldn't be the best advocate for the project…"

Wow. Now *that's* the kind of rejection you don't mind receiving. Not only was she as complimentary as someone turning you down can be, she also gave me some solid critique information to work with. Ms. Somberg, if you ever happen to read this, thank you.

As for that other agent, and any others who may be tempted to relieve their stress at the expense of a hopeful writer, I have a quote for you. In the immortal words of Thumper in Bambi:

"If you can't say something nice… don't say nothing at all."