On writing

More on writer’s egos

I said in a recent post that ego is important in writing. It is, and if you believe your story is good, then don’t believe others who say it isn’t.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to their feedback. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t things you can improve. For example, it came across fairly clearly that Potion starts slowly. If we can fix this, we will.

Just because you think your story is good also does not mean that you should expect personal feedback from every agent and/or publisher you submit it to.

I really enjoy Read ’em and weep, over at the Rejection Collection.

There are some interesting rejections in there. Some, such as this one, are fairly obviously from scam agents. As a writer you need to be aware of these, and ensure that you don’t fall into their clutches. Writer Beware is an excellent place to start to weed these out. In a few, the agent or editor is genuinely insulting.

In many of the replies, however, the agent or editor simply submitted a form rejection, and the author felt insulted. Take this standard form rejection to a query that didn’t click with the agent, for example. The author feels the agent couldn’t tell what the book was like from the query letter, and should not therefore have rejected it for not being his type of book. (I am simply choosing examples here, not picking on anyone in particular, and the ‘submitted by’ indicates that it’s not as black and white as I make it appear. Many of these posts are also tongue in cheek, and not as serious as I make them sound.)

Or what about this rejection, where the author got handwritten notes on the form rejection letter. This agent had taken the time to explain why they had rejected his novel, and the reasons were not because of the writing, but because they did not believe there was a market for his novel. I would be so happy if we got form rejection letters like this. All he needs to do is find another agent with a different view.

The number of people who got upset by scribbled comments on the form letter surprised me. In an ideal world we would all have personalised replies to every query we send out, but we all know how the slush pile works. Agents and editors are busy people, a form letter is what we expect (we don’t want it, but most of us can build a nice fire out of our pile of form rejection slips). Here’s another encouraging reply.

At first, seriously scared. Was I writing historical novels that were so badly plotted they couldn’t keep the reader’s attention? Was I so bad at research there were anachronisms in a book I was sure (through hundreds of hours of research) was historically correct?

Later, I became indignant. Chiefly because a) the book came fourth in a national award. Did this mean the six readers who had read it for the award were wrong? No, I don’t think so.

And I was fortunate enough to bump into a Doctor of historical studies, specializing in the era my novel was set in. She read it, and said the only anachronism she could find was the hero’s name, but most non-historians wouldn’t know that anyway!

Read ’em and weep Rejection Collection: submitted by Writer Wrong

Again, I’d be pretty happy with a reply like this. Well, not happy, exactly, but this is good feedback I can use. Feedback from someone who gave an honest assessment of what they thought was wrong with the book. Not only that, what they thought was right with it (great series idea). In this case I found the author’s initial reaction reasonable, but then they seemed to lose sight of the main response (plot was weak and no major line of suspense) and concentrate on what I felt were the two lesser issues, to the author’s detriment. (It won a prize, so what does this agent know, and there’s only one anachronism.)

There’s a very fine line between where the writer’s ego stops (my book is great, and the agent/editor therefore has no idea), and accepting real feedback to fix your story (maybe I do have to fix this). Nothing is black and white and everything is subjective. What one person likes another may hate.

It’s also easier to view other people’s reactions and see whether they are being reasonable or not. We still don’t really know if Potion is a saleable novel. We will never know unless we sell it.

Meantime, if an agent takes the time to write something personal on a form rejection letter, we’re going to be pretty happy about that.

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