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Unhelpful Rejection Letters: A Rant

As I put Replaneted to bed and put into the bin of other failures, I gotta rant about the rejection process.

In “On Writing”, King says you keep writing, keep submitting to agents, and expect to get form letters. The signal you’re getting good will be when you start getting personalized rejection letters. Something that says “we didn’t like this, but try again”. Of course, King was doing this back in the 1970s and 1980s. Those were the days, weren’t they? Back when you sent in physical copies of your manuscript and had to pay for stamps.

Nowadays you’re lucky to get a response at all, let alone a form letter, let alone a personal rejection, let alone ANYTHING AT ALL.

It sucks because the agents have all the power. They’re the gatekeepers, they’re the ones who control who gets the coveted gold medal that allows you to participate in the Sugar Rush Gold Cup (Wreck-It Ralph reference). And I can’t imagine the tons of crazies they must get day in and day out. People who say they were deemed by God, people who just spam mailing lists of agents, people who won’t take no for an answer, people who have no idea what it takes to actually create and concoct a work of commercial fiction. Just look at the breakdown (I forget where this came from, but I think it was one of the Nielsen Haydens)

  1. Author is functionally illiterate.
  2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
  3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
  4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
  5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
  6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
  7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless. (At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)
  8. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
  9. Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
  10. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic. (You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)
  11. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
  12. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
  13. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
  14. Buy this book.

There’s also a note that says you shouldn’t worry about rejection until you get to the double digits. But how am I supposed to know where I am unless I get some frickin’ feedback? What is the problem? What is missing? What is preventing this story from publication? Give me something!

Peer reviews are meaningless because they’re not agents and not publishers. They’re not professionals. So feedback from them is useless. They won’t be able to tell me why an agent rejected me when the answer could be anything from “I just don’t see this commercially working” to “my client list is simply full.” Fellow writers are amateurs like myself. And the range of amateurs online is vast. At one end, you’ve got people who can’t string a functional sentence together to “this person should already be famous, why are they wasting their time with me?”

But that’s how it is these days. I don’t know how you’re supposed to get a fair evaluation on the publishability of your manuscript or your query letter. Is there just something inherent in the story that makes it unappealing? Does it contain a problematic element? Is just no one picking up any new clients anymore?

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

One Comment

  • hramrach

    “Is just no one picking up any new clients anymore?”

    That’s to be it.

    The publishers want a sure hit.

    They want money for their shareholders.

    Somebody who is already a well-established name is miles ahead of a new writer in their view.

    Sometimes if you are really lucky they pick you to put a lot of advertising money behind the launch of your book because they think they need a new name right now. It has no relation to the quality of your work so long as it’s at least passable.

    Sometimes if you are lucky they publish your work because they think it’s good and it’s their job. I think the book publishing industry has not deteriorated to the depths where the music publishing industry dwells but it’s slowly getting there.

    Find a way to self-publish. If you cannot afford a corrector the experience for the reader will be worse. On the other hand, the readers that care will get to read your stuff at all. Maybe if some are really enthusiastic and you provide the option they will send some money your way.

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