Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A form letter rejection sent to an agent?!?

For a while now I have been increasingly annoyed by an aspect of our industry that few people on the outside ever see but those of us inside the business come up against on a daily basis. I am not writing about poor acquisitions (hello, book version of Awkward Family Photos), no I am finally fed up with the form letter rejection. Look, I'm an adult. I know that we are all overworked in publishing and the never ending river of submissions lend themselves to form letters as a way to alleviate the pressure but truly, they are a scourge in publishing.

I am sympathetic to overburdened editor. I was one once and I used to save up all my slush submissions for a slow day usually every 8-12 weeks when I would write all my rejection letters. I hated that day. I called rejection day "Black Friday" because I knew I was smashing dreams all across the country and sometimes the world. Brian can confirm this because I was usually grumpy on Black Fridays and he often got the blowback. However, I never wrote a form letter. I felt that I owed it to the writer to say something to them about their manuscript that they could accept and not immediately call me up to tell me I got it wrong. So, when I write that I understand why editors write form letters, believe me, I get it. I'm not all ginned up thinking I was some special editorial visionary.

Which brings me to today's mail. I went to the post office this morning and I received this rejection:

Thank you so much for submitting the proposal for [book title] to Chronicle Books for consideration for future publication, but I'm afraid that it does not suit our present publishing program. We appreciate having had the opportunity to consider this project. We wish you the best in finding the right publisher for it.

Now, I assure you I couldn't care less about receiving a rejection. I have drawers of editorial rejection letters which I have saved to keep me focused on how fragile and tenuous a career in publishing can be. However, what is the point of the letter above? I don't need an editor to go into detail about why they don't want a book but compare the lazy letter above to this rejection:

Before I leave for vacation, I wanted to get back to you regarding [book title]. [The author] is a fine, fine writer, and I liked especially the descriptive passages about the architecture of the town’s buildings. I’m afraid, though, that the whole love story just didn’t come alive for me, and that ultimately there just wasn’t enough tension in the novel as a whole to make it work the way I would want, so it has to be a pass for us.

Thanks, as always, for a chance to consider something from you, and I wish you and the author all the best with this book. Please do keep trying me.

Much more intelligent right? They both accomplish the same thing and the latter lets the agent know that they are still receptive to future material from the agent as well as providing something intelligent to tell the author in the agent's role as bad news breaker (not that I need that little perk it's just nice).

What gives? We are supposed to be the guardians of the culture of a nation. When did our gatekeepers decide that anything goes in the interest of saving time and energy? This may make me an old school throwback but doesn't our business require a certain amount of decorum as well as formality? How about a little caring? Creativity? It doesn't require to much time or brain power. Indeed, it might just teach you a little something about presentation, attention to craft, the ability of manage time, and plain old letter writing skills.

I don't need a two page rejection but does the young editor who wrote this letter have any idea who is on the receiving end? I'm not the most powerful agent in the world but I do have significant connections in the business as well as enough success that my inclination is not to submit anything to this editor again. Why? Because being satisfied with a rejection such as the first one points to an attenuated ability to think critically or create an argument. If such a mindless letter can be sent off as the one above was, what does this say about this editor's attention to detail in a manuscript they accept or, for that matter, all the other various and sundry elements which entail the publication process from receiving the manuscript for the first time to the inevitable pulping of the remaindered hard cover copies?

I am not asking for a revolution but a little pride in our craft. After all, we are already peddling what is, essentially, an obsolete object in our digitized American culture. If we don't care about the details and formalities who the hell will? Ultimately, a rejection letter such as the one I received from Chronicle Books says more about the failings of the business than it does the quality of the manuscript.

Too bad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kudos on the great post, which is about so much more than rejection letters. Inspiring.