NOTE: I actually wrote this post a few months ago, but I was hesitant to publish it because I didn't want to burn bridges or offend anyone, but the subject of rejection came up on a couple of industry blogs last week, so it feels like it's time to throw this out there.
Publishing--and the romance genre in particular--is big on contests. Those who win the contests get a shot at the brass ring, sometimes even a cross-your-heart promise. Don't think for one second that everyone isn't dying to jump to the head of the line by beating out every other contestant. It's Jaws meets the Bachelor. (How's that for high concept.) And just like with those reality shows, I get a strong whiff of desperation from the contestants. A notice me! notice me! neediness that I find repellent. Which is why after a mere year submitting to contest, just when I figured out that I should be pimping my entry because that's what the winners do, and missing finaling by 2 points and then by 1/2 a point, I couldn't stand it any longer. The smell of desperation on me was making me feel like a loser, so I quit without ever finalling in a contest.
And agents love running little contests on their blogs, too. Send your 50 word pitch for a chance to win. I quit those really fast because I could feel that neediness crawling on my skin. I still shudder at the memory.
I've seen excuses for encouraging this feeding frenzy mentality, primarily on agents' blogs. They bend over backwards trying to reassure us that we're not supplicants. That we should approach them as though we're a hot commodity. After all, who wants a wimpy suitor? Because that's the reality. We're all trying to get the head cheerleader to say she'll be our date to the prom. Yet the agents keep saying, "Power imbalance? What power imbalance?"
Like that snobby head cheerleader who finds it amusing to watch everyone fighting over her, they tell us to keep trying, but they won't tell us where we're lacking.
I had a real revelation not long ago. I submitted a manuscript and, as usual, I got a rejection, except this rejection said, "We really like your voice but we had a problem with X because we think it will bother readers. If you'll change X...."
My response was, "I disagree, so nope, not changing X."
You have no idea what a difference knowing why they weren't jumping up and down and offering to crown me Prom Queen made. Yes, they rejected my story.
Let me say that again.
They rejected my story.
They DID NOT reject me.
They rejected my story.
I can cope with that. I can turn around and send that story out into the world again without spending a week (or 6 months) feeling as though I'm unworthy. I can query again without wondering if I'm wasting my life in pursuit of a dream that will always elude me.
You have no idea how liberating this rejection was.
So yes, sending rejections can take a lot of time and energy, but you know what? I don't need personalized rejections. I just need to know why. If agents had rejection letters A, B, C, D, E, etc for the various standard reasons, it might take an extra second, an extra click of the mouse, to let us know that they just bought their 80th vampire chick lit novel and that's their limit this year. Or that our prose need further polishing to meet their standards. Or, well, you get the idea. I think that's worth it to keep your future partners' mental health in tact, maybe keep us off the anti-depressants, don't you?
Instead, they're weenies. Because someone once got an abusive letter/email from a rejected writer, form letter rejections that say nothing (if they bother to answer at all) is what you'll get. (Does that no response strike anyone else as arrogant?) I say if their egos are that tender, hire someone to screen your mail or go find another industry to work in. (Given the changes that are a'comin' in publishing, the latter may be their best option.)
So this week, my very next query has netted me another personalized response. This time they're saying, "we really like your voice and we think the story is strong. If you're willing to beef up Y and Z, we'd like to work with you."
You know what? I can beef up Y and Z because it makes sense to the story.
Does anyone else feel this way about the industry?
UPDATE: I'm delighted to tell you that my first novel, A Knight in Cowboy Boots, is coming out in August from Pink Petal Books. Yes, in the end, I decided to go the epub route sans agent because my mental health is worth more than what going the traditional route costs.