Thursday, March 22, 2007

I'm Not Fooling Anyone....

I just wrote a rather long post on my LiveJournal, listing in extreme detail the contrasting timelines between my most recent submission to a publisher and my extremely recent submission to a literary agent. I won't repeat it all here; go take a look if you're curious. Here's the gist of it. On Friday it will have been 13 months since my three chapters, synopsis and cover letter for Heirs of Mâvarin arrived at Tor Books. I'm not blaming or complaining, just reporting. Meanwhile, less than 23 hours after sending a one-page query by email to a literary agent who specifically says to send queries by email, I received her form rejection tonight by return email. Drat.

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 sound original enough catch the agent's imagination. Result: form rejection.

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.



Wil said...

Time to pick yourself up, dust your backside off, send another query to a different agent and get on with it. "It" in this case should be an entirely new endeavor, NOT IN YOUR CURRENT WORLD. Say a short story, with Christmas as the central theme, targeted to Asimov's Nov-Dec issue next year. Get it done and send it off by Memorial Day. :)

Paul said...

It is important to note that the advice not to take it personally appears so often. Virtually every writier who has published anything - book, magazine article, blog post - on the topic of writing offers the same advice: don't take it personally. As far as I am concerned, this is whistling past the graveyard. It's easy for them to say, they're published. They've run that gauntlet. They've been through the fire. And, more importantly, while they were going through it, they felt exactly the same way you do right now. They felt just a low, after each and every painful rejection letter they received. So don't beat yourself up. You're supposed to feel this way. If you didn't, it would show that you didn't have enough invested in your manuscript. It's OK to feel bad.

But, as Wil says, don't let it slow you down. Go boldly! And, as Miss Snark says, "query widely." Query three agents this time. Yes, simultaneously.

Georganna Hancock said...

Poor Baby! Poor Baby!

I don't say not to take rejection personally, I advise beginners to get over it as quickly as possible. Get used to it. Get through it, fast, so that you can continue with your work. When Scalzi says, ". . . every writer gets rejected. A lot," he is talking about successful writers, those who have been published. A lot.

Anyway, an agent query rejection is hardly the same as having a piece of writing rejected.

Now, Tor keeping your MS more than a year is problematic. Have you told them your life expectancy?