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Zen in the art of rejection…or not so much

Every once in a while someone gets really mad at us when we reject him/her and delivers a screed against the publishing world in general and agents’ ignorance, stupidity and lack of humanity in particular.  Usually, these rants come via e-mail or US post; sometimes, via an overlong voice mail message.  They invariably end with “When I’m selling more books than James Patterson, you’ll be sorry!”

Recently, Jim McCarthy received a response to one of his rejections in Latin.  The gist of it was “Pearls before swine.”  We guessed that the swine in question was the agent who threw this pearl away “richer than all his tribe.”

When those of us who work on this side of the business start out, we’re genuinely hurt and angered by these attacks (after all, these people placed their work before us and asked us for our opinion).  As we become more experienced, however, we tend to (sometimes a bit callously) be more amused by the name calling and invective than outraged.

But, you know what?  We are not above some name calling ourselves when something we think is exceptional, that we’ve helped the author develop and have lovingly shepherded to the point where we think it’s ready to be unleashed on the world, is unceremoniously rejected by an editor.   Perhaps it’s because we’ve all been there and all felt the impulse to take our marbles elsewhere, but not before spewing some venom in the general direction of the power brokers, that I found this Swiftian piece by Anis Shivani so entertaining.  Really, though, how practical is it to break all the rules?

Have you ever sent an irate “you done me wrong” e-mail or letter?

11 Responses to Zen in the art of rejection…or not so much

  1. stephen matlock says:

    No, I’ve never done so, and will likely not do so. I’ve been writing too long and editing too long myself to think that everything that passes from my fingertips is pure gold.

    Plus I want people to like me – and they won’t like me if I call them on their obtuseness and bad manners and lack of education.

    I think of writing and publishing like Thomas Edison thought of his journey to create the electric light: “Well, now I know of yet another way *not* to do it.”

    I might never get published, but I’m not going to stop trying. And I am going to always remember that just because I wrote something doesn’t mean someone wants to actually, you know, *pay* for it.

  2. Rowenna says:

    I always laugh a little when I see agent blogs post a “…and when I’m famous/rich/bestselling,you’ll be sorry!” letter. I can’t imagine that I, personally, would be sorry–I don’t care how successful someone is, if they’re an absolute terror to work with (as such a letter would imply they would be) I’d thank my lucky stars that I scraped by without getting stuck dealing with them any more than that one interaction!

    I do wonder…do these folks send everyone a reply, or did you just luck out at the tipping point? Hmmmm…

    No, I haven’t ever sent a reply to a rejection. Except one–it was a couple pages long an chock-a-block full of personalized advice, so I thanked the agent for taking the additional time. I can’t imagine channeling my disappointed/angry/sad feelings into a vitriolic email–feels totally unprofessional, and lowering my own standards would make me feel worse in the end than any rejection.

  3. Monica says:

    Querying writers need to learn the glory of writing a nasty response and then pressing delete. If that’s not enough print it and set it on fire. Under no circumstances should you actually send it! If you do you will only regret it.

    I know an alarming number of writers cannot take rejection without lashing out. They need to toughen up. If they are lucky enough to get their book published the whole world will take that as an invitation to criticize their work.

    Rejection hurts your feelings, but calling a fantastic agent names hurts your career.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “lowering my own standards would make me feel worse in the end than any rejection”

    I really like that, Rowena–it’s very true.

    I couldn’t even imagine thinking about sending one of those “you’ll regret it” emails. Perhaps I’ve managed to find that elusive Zen-like ability (although some rejections sting a lot more than others). These days I do tend to shrug off the rejection, tell myself “that agent wasn’t for me” and keep going. If I wasted time and energy on getting angry then I wouldn’t get any writing on my manuscripts done and really, that’s the only way to get over rejections–keep writing!

  5. Alli says:

    “lowering my own standards would make me feel worse in the end than any rejection”

    I really like that, Rowena–it’s very true.

    I couldn’t even imagine thinking about sending one of those “you’ll regret it” emails. Perhaps I’ve managed to find that elusive Zen-like ability (although some rejections sting a lot more than others). These days I do tend to shrug off the rejection, tell myself “that agent wasn’t for me” and keep going. If I wasted time and energy on getting angry then I wouldn’t get any writing on my manuscripts done and really, that’s the only way to get over rejections–keep writing!

  6. Nah, I know one of those emails would only come back to hurt me worse. I’ll just call up a friend or relative, rant it all out, and then feel relieved. It’s worked so far in my life.

  7. EEV says:

    I’m my dreams I did, and it felt good. But I’m much of a good girl to let it happen in the real life, lol.

  8. I think it’s terribly ignorant for someone to think they are so good that the agent who rejects their work will be sorry. It’s a long drawn-out process finding an agent/publisher who you feel comfortable working with, and vice versa. I guess these people forget that agents and publishers have voices and are quite capable of pointing out at the next literary conference who the trouble makers appear to be.

    I’m sure I wouldn’t want to work with someone so obnoxious if I were an agent. And those letters are just confirmation that you made the right choice in sending out the rejection in the first place!

    Crystal Jigsaw

  9. Dara says:

    No I’ve never sent an email or letter like that. I don’t think it would be wise. It just looks unprofessional and childish.

    Sure, I might be upset about something–heavens knows I’ve wanted to send an irate email more than a few times to some co-workers–but I know it’s unwise. I rant about it to my hubby for a few minutes and then I’m over it. Generally :)

    But I don’t think I could ever consider sending a mean or snarky email back to an agent or editor. Why shoot myself in the foot?

  10. Miriam says:

    Exactly, guys. The thing people forget is that just because we turn something down once it doesn’t mean that we won’t consider another project by that author. In some cases, we’ve gone on to successfully represent people whose previous manuscripts/ideas we’d rejected (they never let us live that down). The only thing that will guarantee that we won’t consider a new project by someone we’ve turned down is when they go all crazycakes on us.

  11. Yahzi says:

    The only time I’ve sent a “done-wrong” email was when I wasn’t rejected.

    The agent asked for the full, a few months later assured me he was working on it, and then simply disappeared. No more responses or messages forthcoming (though he was still alive and Twittering).

    Eventually I realized that I didn’t want an agent that couldn’t even be bothered to say “No.” That’s when I sent the email retracting my submission. I realize that meant I couldn’t submit to that agent again, but the point was I realized I didn’t want to submit to that agent again.

    I mean, seriously, how hard is it to send out an email that says, “Whoops, I’m buried – give me 6 more months.” And you only have to send it twice a year! I know agents are busy people but when I send you 100K words I think 16 words a year isn’t asking too much.

    Even a form-letter rejection would have been sufficient (although I think an agent that requests a full really should provide a one-sentence explanation on why it was rejected. The best feedback I ever got was contained in 4 words. But they were all true, so it was great feedback.)

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