So. Reading through the colorful replies to Jim’s post “Hate on me, Haters” post has been humbling, eye opening and sometimes funny; it’s clear that this is a maddening business for all concerned. In fact, my unscientific guess is that if some intrepid positive psychologists were to study the relative happiness of those involved in the writing world, they would find high levels of frustration, envy, disappointment, and anger. Plenty of it justified. There are lots of flaws in the way publishing operates. Is the discontent more pervasive than in other lines of work? Hard to say. Fortunately, it’s rare that anyone’s life hangs in balance. When my closest friend and I trade tales of job-related angst, her noncompliant patient suffering from chronic disease (she’s a doctor) usually trumps my short-sighted publisher. Usually.
Perspective aside, if we could somehow ameliorate one of the worst bits of a rough process, namely the rejection, what would you want to see in a rejection letter? (Aside from a detailed critique, which is just not practical.) More candor? Folks are right that agents and houses lean heavily on certain empty-seeming phrases: “did not fall in love,” “could not get excited,” “don’t know how to sell.” My revised one-size-fits-most form letter would read something like this.
Thanks for your query. This is pretty good. But some combination of your writing skills, my interest in the subject matter, and my assessment of the commercial potential of this project means that I’m just not that interested in pursuing it any further. Another agent may disagree, land you a significant deal and make this a best-seller, but as bad as I will feel about having passed, you will feel infinitely better for having been right all along. Good luck. Try not to let form letters get you down.
Anyone want to write the rejection that they’d want to receive?