Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Question of Pacing?

An Anonymous reader (and a rejected writer in his/her own right) sent this email in for LROD comments:

This is what I got. I was wondering if you might have insight on what an agents means when they say pacing and depth or is this just another "standard rejection" of thanks for playing.

p.s. I love your blog!

THE REJECTION IN QUESTION:***Thank you for sending me the full of TITLE for further consideration. I want to apologize for not getting a response to you sooner regarding this project. I had a chance to read through the story and I am unfortunately going to pass on this project. I have to say, I loved the premise of the story and the beginning certainly was fantastic. I felt, however, that the story slowed in terms of the pacing and I just felt like I wasn’t seeing the depth in the project that I was looking for.

I'd say this is a bonafide rejection, not a standard form letter.  It seems like someone definitely read a chunk of your manuscript and had a strong reaction to it.  This agent seems to be saying that you lost your mojo after a really strong beginning. You slowed up, lost direction, stayed on the surface too much, didn't get to the heart of the story, or any number of things that can go wrong during the complicated, delicate balance needed for writing a successful novel.  Maybe if you put the manuscript away for a little while to get some perspective and then come back and read it with fresh eyes, you'll be able to see if there's any truth to this opinion.  I've had to do just that on several occasions when I'm not sure if the criticism is valid. Or else you can send it out to a few more agents and see if there's any agreement on this.  If so, you can always go back and revise.  I've done it many times, myself.

What says the peanut gallery?


Anonymous said...

this letter looks like one of their form letters that they send out to authors who start with a bang and then peter out to quickly. they probably have a different form letter for different types of commom reasons to reject. it's a helpful critique, see if you get the same reaction from others. don't spend time analyzing whether the letter was crafted just for you or whether the agent read the entire manuscript. likely he only read a few pages past the point where he got bored. you know how the business works :(

rmellis said...

I don't think this is a form letter. It would be easier to write something up quickly than to spend time developing the perfect form letter for every occasion.

This is a good rejection and I would take it very seriously when rewriting my novel.

Anonymous said...

RMEllis: As a sender-outer of tiered form letters, I find it's actually easier to have them ready made for different occasions than to write a distinct one each time I have to reject something that comes close. The one in the post sounds very formal to me, and there's nothing personal in it other than the title. But what do I know, I'm just a rejector.

gimme said...

I would suggest that if you're sending a manuscript out, you should already be absolutely certain it's good, in which case there is no such thing as "valid" criticism.

It doesn't matter WHY or HOW someone rejects you. All it means is that it isn't for them. Move on.

I know it kinda goes against the whole premise of this site to imply that there's nothing to be learned from rejections, but if you're really hanging on every word these idiots write, you clearly don't have enough confidence in your work, and therefore probably shouldn't be submitting it yet. Just a thought.

Most of my favorite books were rejected by nearly everyone before someone took a chance on them. Thank god the authors didn't "go back and revise" in response to rejection by the gaggle of trust-fund babies who run the publishing industry. Remember Goldman, folks: NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

eponymous said...

gimme, are you saying that no criticism is valid? agents and editors are knowledgeable (more so than writers) about what can be sold in a tough marketplace. if all you want to do is sell your chapbook to a small closed set of friends, then yeah, preserve what you consider to be your artistic integrity. but if your goal is to reach a wide audience and gain a popular following outside your group of friends, then you need to listen to the critism of professional agents and editors once in a while. I'm not saying ignore your intuition, just don't automatically exclude the opinion of someone who read your work for free.

rmellis said...

If a person has any intuition at all as a writer, she will know when a piece of criticism has validity. If you read a rejection like this and it means nothing to you, sounds totally off-base, then: Feh. Chuck it aside and move on.

But if the critic is a good one and has considered your work carefully -- and yes, sometimes agents and editors ARE smart and care about getting good work -- their comments might ring a little bell of truth inside you. It would be dumb and self-defeating to ignore it.

Joe said...

For me, it all comes down to whether the specific criticism inspires me, if it feels like the reader is pointing out an exciting opportunity I missed. I don't often get that feeling from people who don't like the book. Usually inspiring criticism comes along with the sentiments "I want to work with you and want this book to be as good as it can be" or "I love this book and feel excited by even more things you could do with it".

This comes down to what I refer to as the "knowing and caring" issue. The most helpful critic is someone who genuinely cares. Brenda Ueland (my hero) says that the only critics of interest to her are people that love her and are excited to see her expressing herself on paper. This is certainly not the conventional culture of writing criticism (which is more brutality and mockery than love). So, agents and editors aren't usually artistically helpful because they don't usually care. However, they do KNOW some things about the technical aspects of writing. Your friend who cares might say, "I got bored halfway through, but I don't know why." An editor might say, "Too much of the conflict was resolved half-way through when ____ happened". But you're unlikely to get this kind of help from someone who doesn't care. And caring is more important than knowing.

So, an agent or editor who cares is a great asset. But till you find one, I'd suggest going to friends and loved ones for criticism. Or if you really want strangers who won't be afraid to criticize, send it to friends of friends who are enthusiastic readers.

noplatform said...

Sorry to say, this seems pretty generic to me. In my experience, agents and editors who have read work closely give very specific comments. People feel the need to give a reason (such as "pacing" or some other amorphous problem) why they don't want to publish your work, rather than just state the facts: the market is incredibly tight, and unless you have a name in some other field or are previously published, your chances for breaking in are near nil.

Writer, Rejected said...

Dudes: It would be incredibly irresponsible to offer criticism about a "fantastic beginning" with "slow pacing" and "lack of depth" as a standard comment sent out to any old writer. No agent in his or her right mind in this business would do such a thing. (Of that, at the very least, I'm certain.)

I'm not saying that all the generic stuff in the letter (missing only a well-placed "alas") isn't totally standard. Why would they write that stuff from scratch every time. But clearly this agent read this writer's manuscript and a made a specific observation, which he/she delivered in a general, cursory way.

Am I right, here? Or what?

gimme said...

Yeah, I guess I am saying that no criticism is valid. For me, it's not really even an issue of "artistic integrity" - it's much more practical than that.

I truly believe that the notion that agents and publishers possess some sort of deep knowledge concerning what will sell and what won't is utter hogwash - though they certainly want you to believe that. As evidence, I offer you... (what else?) the current state of publishing! Where year after year, the same 5 houses disgorge book after book that no one reads.

As further evidence I could offer you a mile-long list of classic (and successful) novels that were initially roundly rejected by nearly everyone in the biz.

The idea of revising based on some random comments from a person you've never met, who most likely only skimmed the first 5 pages of your manuscript (assuming they didn't have their unpaid 20-year-old private school-grad, living-on-daddy's-money-until-they-get-started intern read it for them)... well, it strikes me as a complete waste of time.

Anonymous said...

to gimme
please do give us the "mile long list" of critically and commercially successful novels that were rejected by "nearly everyone" in the publishing business. keep in mind that a mile is 5280 feet, or 63360 inches. i'll allow you to write big.

it doesn't matter what you think of agents and editors, they are the gate keepers, and as a practical matter you will have to accept it and work with them. life isn't fair!!

Writer, Rejected said...

Gimme is totally right, dude. And Gimme doesn't have to give you a list...all you have to do is read through the "famous" label postings on this blog and you'll get your list of insane rejections of classic books that were roundly rejected. I have to go with Gimme on this one: many people (professionals included) wouldn't know a great piece of new literature if it bit them in the ass.

Anonymous said...

As The One rejected, I did ask for clarification and this was the agent’s response;

I frequently see stories that have great starts because writers take a lot of time on those. I would just suggest looking at the storyline and examining how the story progresses. Does the story seem to just do the same thing over and over again and the character just don’t progress any further. Many times this is due to getting the characters together too soon!

Which still did not help but I will look at it and see where it might need re-work.

Anonymous said...

I'll stick to the original topic of this post...I think only the One Rejected can decide if the agent's criticism is valid. If it were me, I'd ignore it if it was the only response that said my story lost steam in the middle. If I got more letters that said the same thing, then I would take it more seriously.

Has this agent sold books that you enjoy? If not, then maybe you two just have different literary taste. Move on. Send it out to more agents and small presses, stop dwelling!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'm gald I sent queries out to more agents. But this agent was the first to bite and ask for a full.

noplatform said...

I just have to weigh in one more time with two recent rejections that I received. Both are rejecting the same novel.

1. generic "pacing-themed" rejection:

"Thank you for sending [NOVEL]--and I appreciate your patience while I read. I'm sorry to say, however, that I don't feel [NOVEL] is the right fit for [AGENCY]--while I did really enjoy your writing, there's a lack of narrative tension and a slowness in pacing here that didn't work for me. This piece has great potential, but I found I did not have enough enthusiasm to consider representing this ms in today's tight market for fiction."

2. specific, more thoughtful rejection:

"So I read most of the novel yesterday and today and it's truly impressive: [CHARACTER]'s voice, which you nail; the way he walks the line between seeming sympathetic and seeming like a sociopath, such that it's impossible to make up one's mind about him, leaving our only choice to keep reading; your naturalistic presentation of what, on the face of it, is an outrageous conceit; your effective interweaving of [CHARACTER]'s past and present from chapter to chapter...And there's some really hot sex too."

The second agent gave the novel a more serious read. I have a lot more examples of both kinds of rejection, and really, there's a big difference.

That said, they are both rejections. No is still no.