A Thought on Rejections…

I believe I’ve finally settled on the proposal that works best for The Edge of Memory.  But Holly Root’s post on the new Waxman Agency blog today reminded me of how the query process started for me and for several writing buddies.  If there’s one thing that comes up over and over again when discussing proposals seeking representation, it’s how difficult it is to know what works and what doesn’t.

I mean, sure… Janet Reid is doing what she can to help over at Query Shark, and the gang at QueryTracker is very helpful with query revisions.

But it still comes down to a fundamental problem:

Many authors are willing to make changes to their proposals and manuscripts, but don’t know what needs to be changed.  Many agents would be willing to make suggestions, but do not have the time and fear hostile responses to even the most constructive criticism.

So it occurred to me a while back that it might be possible to bring these two together so that everybody wins (Hey! You got chocolate in my peanut butter!).

In a subjective business like publishing, we have to rely on trends.  To define a trend, we need data points.  But to obtain data points from simple “yes” and “no” responses is difficult and slow.  Let’s take a hypothetical example:

Author submits a proposal for “The Spoon That Moved” to Agent consisting of a query letter, a brief synopsis, and the first 5 pages.  Agent sends rejection.  Author only knows that the proposal didn’t work on Agent.  Was it because Agent can’t stand stories about spoons?  Was the query yawn-worthy?  Did Agent read the query with excitement but the sample pages didn’t hold up?  Did Agent actually love the proposal and seriously consider it before passing?

Author has no way of knowing.  So she has two choices… submit the same proposal to someone else, or change the proposal.  And she can’t be sure what to change.  The process becomes a twisted game of Mastermind, where you never find out how you’re doing unless you happen to win.

Do we have the right query letter and synopsis, but the sample pages need work?  Do we have all the right components but just on the wrong agent’s desk?

So… what if we embraced the Mastermind element?

Here’s my proposition… a standard rejection card WITH data points.  Then, with only a handful of submissions, an author could identify a potential weak spot and fix it.  The rejection card would take seconds to complete, and hopefully its standardness would ward off overly-emotional responses.

Here’s what I had in mind…

So what do we think? Helpful idea, or big pain in the butt?

Give your opinion in the comments!

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8 Responses

  1. I think you should print those cards and send them to every agency in the world! That is awe-some! It’s true that the rejections we get cause us some major thinkage time. What didn’t they like? The pages? The query? What? When did they stop? What the *&#&$* should I do now?!

    Great post, Heather! 😀

  2. I’m with Elana…with one little revision. I would make the last data point say “continue submitting to other agents” and get rid of “without any changes.”

    Obviously if someone is passing, there might be small nitpicky things they’d change, but what you’re looking for is the overall “Keep going with this!” So this way you’re giving them a data point that’s easier to check off even if THEY might change some nitpicky things they know are just their own quirks or whatever.

  3. Oh, I have one more thought. If you’re going to snail your query, I don’t think anyone would mind you including a card like this. At the top you could put something like “I hope you’ll be interested in reading a partial or full, but in the event that you’re not, I’d like to collect data on what’s not working in my query. I’ve included this postcard to help.”

    Or does including it seem like you’re just begging for a rejection?

    Maybe you’d need a top half of the card that said “Yes, please send me more!” with a line next to it where they can write what they want.

    Seriously, if a few agents saw this kind of thing, maybe they’d start using them.

    I would totally send something like this with a snail query if I’d gotten some agreement from friends that it didn’t look like I was begging for a rejection in some way. 🙂

  4. Hey, Carolyn!

    I didn’t leave it just “keep submitting to other agents,” cuz that’s basically the typical form rejection now, isn’t it?

    “No thanks, but someone else may feel differently…”

    Maybe I should make it “without major changes”?

    I do think that independently sending a card like this would probably look like asking for rejection. I was picturing these as sent by agents. If I was going to include something like this with a snail-mail query, I would change it to give positive responses, too.

    Like, “OMG– Awesome! Send the full manuscript STAT!” and “I’m hooked. Send me a proposal of ____ pages.” 😉

  5. Sigh. If only…

  6. Oh, if only things could be that clear cut – what a wonderful world it would be!

  7. Not an entirely bad thought, but probably wouldn’t work as well.

    Here’s one way to understand the agent’s task: Go to your nearest big-box bookstore, find the new releases table and pick up one copy of every title on it. Of course, you’re not going to buy all of them–your budget for books is limited, the time you have to read them is limited, your desire to read them is limited. You might choose not to buy any of them.

    So for all of those you choose NOT to buy, write a short note to the author explaining why you rejected them. Maybe even just a form like this one: Are you not buying The Lucky One because you think it will be bad bad, or because you think it will be very good except it’s the kind of thing you don’t like? After working through a couple dozen books, you’ll probably reach the point where a rejection is just a rejection: “I’m not buying The Lucky One. It’s just not right for me.”

  8. I like it! Sign me up!

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