It's hard not to be depressed about this, even though the agent's standard form rejection is as nice as an unpersonalized form rejection can possibly be. I know what my emotional response is supposed to be, too. I should be an adult about this, a professional. As Tom Hanks says in You've Got Mail, probably quoting from The Godfather, "It's not personal, it's business." As John Scalzi (who also quotes this) points out in his recent book, You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing, "If you take rejection personally as a writer, you will go mad, because every writer gets rejected. A lot." (The link is to the Whatever posting that sentence originally came from.)
Scalzi also says that a lot of the time, a writer will never even know why the work was rejected. That's just how it is. There are generally far more submissions than any given agent, editor or publisher can possibly accept, even if every one of them were great. Therefore a lot of rejections must be sent out. Time is at a premium for these folks, so they're not likely to waste it on personalized rejections for all, not when the stuff that's actually being published or pitched requires their attention. Thus: the standard form rejection. Jill's novel is brilliant, but the publisher just bought a similar one from Stephen King. Result: form rejection. Fred can't even write in complete sentences, but he wants the publisher to fly out and read Fred's manifesto while Fred watches (so that the publisher doesn't steal it). Result: form rejection. Karen's query matches the guidelines perfectly, but... the one-paragraph description just doesn't
I know all this. I also know that writers, especially the ones who haven't sold their novels yet, are notoriously oversensitive about rejection letters. They often perceive condescension or hostility in the mildest of wordings, and take insult from the manuscript coming back too quickly or too slowly, with a response either too personalized or not personalized enough. I've been there, and I'm determined not to behave that way at this stage in my life.
Besides, it's clear from the tone of this particular agent's form rejection letter, which she posted on her blog a few days ago with annotations, that she's a genuinely nice person. She clearly wants writers to succeed, even the ones who don't make it past her initial email screening. Aside from the fact that she doesn't want to represent my book, I haven't the slightest basis for a complaint against her. I wish her well.
Similarly, I know enough about Tor and its editors to have a lot of respect for what they do and the way they do it. It is inconvenient for me, but not at all surprising, that the Nielsen Haydens didn't snatch my submission from the slush pile back in February or March, 2006, clutch it to their respective chests (they could take turns, maybe), and proclaim, rapturously, that this is the book they've been waiting for all their lives. I know it will take as long as it takes, and that there's no guarantee, even thirteen months out or longer, of my receiving anything more than a form rejection. It it happens that way, I promise to do nearly all my wailing and gnashing of teeth offline, and not lay a word of blame on anyone but (possibly) myself.
These are my good intentions, and the principles are sound. I know that there are other agents in the world, and even other publishers. I even know that the book is good, even if I seem to have trouble convincing the right people of this.
But you know that it's all a front, right? My intellectual good sense can't squelch the hurt child inside, the one saying, "Why didn't she like it? What did I do wrong?" That so-nice standard rejection hasn't drawn a single tear from me, but my throat is sore and tight, as if I have been crying. I am not angry with anyone, because everyone has done what they were supposed to do, even if it hasn't gotten me the result I want. Nevertheless, I'm depressed as heck.
Tomorrow I pull myself together and start again.