Friday, July 27, 2007

Glutton for Punishment?

On July 27, 2007, at 9:23 PM, Editor, Advising said as a comment on this blog...

"....I got mad this week, and I knew exactly where to come to vent. I am posting this for you, WR, both because I think you need to hear it and because I trust that you will repost it so that everyone can partake in some intelligent discussion based on what I say.

Do you want to know why I got mad this week? Because the submission piles on my desk have become so completely out of control that I am being buried alive. I'm not sure if you understand exactly how much editors and agents actually have to read on a day to day basis. You know how much I took home to read this weekend? Almost 900 pages. And my desk looks like a small bomb went off. Last weekend, a large part of the English-speaking world (and probably other countries too) locked themselves away to read 700-something pages of Harry Potter. I lock myself away MOST weekends to read the same amount (or more) of material. Some of it is good, most of it is sheer CRAP!I barely read real books anymore. I don't have time. Most of my free time is spent reading submissions, or the books that is publishing. When I do make time to read an already-published book, I am usually reading a comparison title for a book I am editing or hope to edit. I pray for the moments when I have time to read something that has nothing to do with work.And yet, I love my job. I really do. And I do what I do because I wouldn't have it any other way. But before you post your next rejection letter, I want you to think long and hard about the other side of things. Rejections aren't personal. They are business. They don't always mean you're not good enough (although sometimes they do) and if you always take your rejections that way, it is going to turn you into a very bitter writer (if it hasn't already).

The next time you post a rejection letter, remember what we editors and agents go through. Because it's not always pleasant for us either, and we're sorry we can't always send the most perfect rejection letter, but we have neither the time nor the energy to stroke everyone's ego equally. I've begun a process where I am going to go through everything on my desk and if it is good or has merit in some way, put it aside for more reading but if it is not good or won't work for us, I am rejecting very quickly. No more pleasant letters, no more worrying about encouraging things to say to the authors. Because apparently you and your ilk don't appreciate them anyway and I am inundated.

You make me angry, WR. Not because I don't understand what you are trying to do, but because I don't agree with it. You have a severely limited view of what goes on in the publishing industry and you are taking your bitterness and anger out on the people who are actually nice enough to get back to you in some way. You're lucky -- some days I just want to take half of my pile and throw it in the garbage. But I wouldn't do that. I'd rather send a quickly written rejection letter with some reasons why it didn't work for me than leave the person hanging for a response that will never come.

Be glad you receive rejection letters -- it's the sign that you are a true writer in this businessand the feedback you are receiving is like free advice from the professionals at the heart of the industry. Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to start reading a pile that feels like the Bible and Merriam-Webster combined. But I'll be eagerly checking back to see when and if a heated discussion begins."

Yowzer. Where to start? Have at it, bloggers.

5 comments:

Mary Witzl said...

This is really interesting: I agree with both of you.

I've never been an agent, but I have been in the position of having to turn down job applicants based on the quality of their writing. And I know how unpleasant that is, and how there really doesn't seem to be a perfect, painless way to do it. I truly feel for anyone who gets stuck with a Harry Pottersworth of material to slog through every weekend, especially given that some of it is crap; it must be particularly awful for someone who loves books to have to wade through oceans of pulp instead of reading what she'd like to read.

I've certainly had my fair share of rejections; indeed, I feel that I've had an unfair share of them, but then perhaps all rejectees feel that way. It is hard to put your heart and soul into something, having planned it down to the last detail, then, after tweaking and polishing it endlessly, sent it off to be rejected. I keep wondering whether the short, sometimes less-than-grammatically perfect rejections aren't better than the sensitive, thoughtful, beautifully crafted ones. The former may hurt, but at least you can console yourself that it is better to be scorned by such careless types; the latter may be kinder and gentler, but almost more painful: you long to be represented by people who have gone to such trouble to spare your feelings.

One thing I can do, which doesn't piss anyone off (and makes me feel infinitely better): I use all the first names of my rejecting agents for characters I am less than fond of. Petty, but satisfying.

the individual voice said...

Mary: Superficially petty is often emotionally brilliant.

peterc said...

Is Editor, Advising's perspective that "the submission piles on my desk have become so completely out of control that I am being buried alive" a common complaint by editors?

If so, then perhaps the agent-filter submission process to publishing houses is falling apart at the seams.

Which begs the question - where to next?

Cattle Call said...

I don't expect a carefully worded, exquisitely written rejection letter that strokes my ego. I simply expect a rejection as professional as the original query. Period.

Writers know that a query is really the literary equivalent of the cattle call audition for actors. If you can't put up with rejection, you shouldn't be auditioning.

But what some agents don't seem to realize is that their rejection skills - or lack thereof - speak volumes about the way they conduct their business.

If I do my job by sending a professional query, I'm entitled to a professional response. In other words, a clean piece of paper. A date. A simple "thank you, does not meet our needs, good luck elsewhere". A signature (a squiggle is fine, you can do it while you talk to important people on the phone; that's what my boss used to do).

And please: Spare me the compliments unless they're followed by an invitation to submit. If I didn't think my work was good, I wouldn't be sending it in the first place.

As for the vast swampland on your desk...if you'll clean my house while I write, maybe I'll read through the queries for you. Sound fair?

Anonymous said...

What stood out to me in this letter was the "you and your ilk" bit. I didn't know writers had an ilk.
Anyway, I like the responses here. peterc has a good point. I thought agents were supposed to be filtering out all the crap. So, are agents sending you crap? If so, are you saying that you believe agents don't help the problem?
Editors and agents no doubt spend a lot of time staring at words, but so do writers. You spend the weekend reading piles of manuscripts; writers spend it meticulously revising manuscipts. The difference is this: agents and editors always have that next chance in the pile. There's no harm in rejecting. But writers can spend years working on a single piece, and that's why it hurts so much to have someone look at it (well really, not look at it-- just look at its one-paragraph summary) in an hour and email a "no."
I know the publishing business is about money and not touchy-feely emotions, but when an editor starts to talk about writers as an "ilk," I think the editor has lost sight of the individual writer in all those stacks.
It's refreshing to see an editor's perspective (and to see that editors are human after all), but I can only guess that any hard feelings about this website are due to editors' fears that there might actually be real people (with feelings and opinions) on the other end of the transaction.
And what are those agents for again?