Friday, September 9, 2011

Rejection I Can Appreciate

So far I'd been trying to use this blog to be helpful to other aspiring writers. Right now, I just want to be real with you. (Fear not--I have no intention of emotionally upchucking all over your house slippers.)

I just wanted to confess that I've just received my fifth rejection from an agent, and I've got some mixed feelings about it. (Yes, I know that five rejections is nothing, and I can easily expect a dozen more before the planets align and/or Snooki's book finally runs its course.) I'm not reflecting so much on the rejection as I am on the -type- of rejection it happens to be. You see, this is the first non-form rejection I've received.

Aha! My angsty dark cloud has a silver lining.

That's right, while it still stung like being the last kid picked for Dodgeball, this letter was -personalized-! No generic 'Dear Author'... my actual name was at the top of that tiny paragraph. No cut-and-paste standard reply about how the agent gets so many queries every day they can't possibly give me a hint as to why my project (regrettably, of course) doesn't interest them... this one gave me an explanation. And here it is, short and sweet:


'Unfortunately I'm going to pass on this idea. The manuscript is quite long, and it's quite hard to sell memoirs from authors with small platforms.

Sorry about all this. The idea itself seemed interesting and interestingly enough mirrors a fiction project that I'm planning on taking on.'



Now that I've gotten some potentially useful feedback on my attempt, I have to decide what to do with it--if anything. (This was only the query, by the way. This particular agent didn't want writing samples included.)

*Can I cut down the manuscript notably?

Maybe a few thousand words could still be trimmed without the book losing its essence, but I'm not sure what count to shoot for (as there is no average word count for this genre.)

*Can I magically pull a 'platform' out of subspace by becoming famous overnight?

Unlikely. (Call me, Snooki! I'd like to audition to become your arch nemesis. >.>)

*Can I completely rework the book into a fiction piece and still live with myself?

Ask me again after another two-dozen dismissals.

Okay, so I suppose I don't have much by way of conclusive information just yet. At least it's a start. Seeing any of this echoed by a different agent will certainly make me sit up and reassess my approach to the query gauntlet.

In the mean time, the name of the game is 'persistence.' If Kathryn Stockett (author of 'The Help') had to face down 60 rejection letters before finding an advocate for her story, then I figure I've got 55 more to go before I'm entitled to mourn my lack of marketability. (I may do a bit of whining at every interval of 10 or so, but I'll try to keep it to myself as much as humanly possible.)

So, has anyone learned things from rejection letters? And if you happen to have some experience with them, tell me what you make of mine. :) I'm wide open to interpretations/suggestions.


  1. Interesting idea is good! And of course the fact he or she was moved enough to write a personal rejection. I don't know diddly about the non-fiction market, but my first manuscript eons ago was also rejected for being too long. (Among other things, of course!)

    If your story is significantly longer than the norm in that genre, you may have a very hard sell on your hands. OTOH, there has probably never been a better time to be a writer than now. If you believe strongly in your book and can't find a publisher, you can take advantage of the self-publishing opportunities that now exist to get your book before an audience.

    I know you say there's no average for the genre, but one way to think of it is that the more words on the page, the more of an investment in printing costs. It might be good to look at it in terms of fiction numbers. 90-100K is about the max in terms of single title, and new authors get picked up at those lengths regularly. 150K, not so much.

    Also, I wouldn't turn the book into fiction if it's important to you as it is. You can always write something else and keep this one simmering on the back burner until the time is right for it.

    As always, just tossing out some thoughts -- feel free to ignore if they make no sense to you. :)

  2. Makes perfect sense, Lynn! Thanks for taking the time to comment. :)

    The Memoir market is an odd beast. It queries like fiction, and they like it to read as much like fiction as possible (while, of course, remaining credible). The word count range I've found spans 80-180k. (I'm sitting at 146k and can probably only reduce it to 139k without having the truth suffer.) The biggest question seems to be platform, which has proven to be a challenging thing to build.

    So yeah, as a first time author, I may eventually have to look into the wonderful world of ebook distribution. But there's still a chance I could hit someone in the right place at the right time, so I've got a few avenues to exhaust first. Then again, maybe someone will be willing to take me a little more seriously after I get some fiction out there.

  3. re: Length (a tough beast)--print publishers, especially now,are really watching word counts. Do you have a couple of impartial readers or an independent editor who could read your manuscript and suggest places to cut? It's often easier for someone not so close to the manuscript to see spots that could be deleted or condensed.

    Platform is a bear. Blog, tweet, update on Facebook, participate in online lists--all of it takes time, but publishers are really looking at it these days.

    Good luck with this project! (And no, five agent rejections isn't that many, although it feels like it--and one of the five got a personal response, which is awesome!)

  4. Hello Suzanne! :) Thanks so much for stopping by.

    And thank you for the suggestions. I have had the manuscript go through 5 Betas and an independent editor (who was efficiently brutal, resulting in a 15k word cut along with a great boost to the overall quality). It was an oddly cleansing process, and I can't imagine trying to coax the attention of an agent without that confidence of knowing the piece is in good shape.

    I'm still working on the platform, though I've been blogging and tweeting for over a year now with lesser results than I would have liked. :/ I think I need a good gimmick to draw in the masses--one that give me the appearance of being more amusing than I actually am. the literary equivalent of a Fun House mirror. Er...something. >.>

    *grin* I suppose it would help if I blogged a bit more, but I like to wait until I'm sure I have a cohesive, well-formed thought to express. And between the ADD and two children under 3, I'm feeling lucky to accomplish that once a month! >.<

  5. It is hard though I am glad you've stuck with it, you have put a lot of hard work into this piece and it deserves to be published. I don't know if this is a secret or not and I hope I am not blowing it by asking if you've started the other stories you've wanted to write I know it's hard with the children and the ADD I've got that problem so far my story exists in my head and a stack of post it notes that I write while I am at work and a small file on my computer, that being said, I think you have done an amazing job, but like Lynn said maybe this book will publish later? Keep up the submitting of it for publishing and I know it's hard not to feel badly when you do get rejected, but there is hope that you have other ideas and want to write those so this story will get out eventually :D

  6. Thanks for the encouragement, Misha!

    I've started worldbuilding for the sci-fi series, but I've only written a few paragraphs. It's just not 'ready' to come out of me yet. (I know that sounds vague, but that's the best way I can explain it.)

    Postit notes are good! I have little things jotted on them all over the place. When I don't have a stack on hand, I use receipt paper. >.< Technically I should be using the tiny notebook I bought just for such occasions of inspirational fly-by, but old habits are hard to break. >.<