Monday, February 7, 2011

Brutal honesty, the best policy

Last week I got a rejection notice which practically burned up the internet, it zipped back to my computer so quickly. I read it, appreciated it, but found it slightly puzzling. The agent, the first of his kind to actually respond with a personal note to one of my queries, said that he didn't connect with my writing, but that the idea was adorable. He made some interesting suggestions and thanked me for my submission. I've had a few comments from editors, but as I said, this was the first from an agent. It's extremely rare to get any kind of personal response when submitting manuscripts, so I was pleased to have that, but I wasn't entirely sure what he meant by "not connecting" with my writing. Was it awful? Was I telling and not showing? Were my characters flat? What?

Most of the writers in my two writing groups agreed that it was a positive response. Overall, I believed they were right. It seemed to me that the agent was saying that my writing needed work, but that he thought the idea of the book was worthy of the extra effort to develop it further. I still spent the evening wondering if I was reading between the lines correctly.

I read once that no writer really wants to hear the truth about his writing, even though he claims that he does. Thinking it's a bit arrogant to lump every writer on the face of the earth into one tidy category, I don't entirely agree. Of course, no one loves the feeling of finding out that a story she's written and liked isn't the masterpiece she'd hoped for, but personally, I'd rather know the truth than walk around in a deluded bubble.

I gave it some thought. It appeared that this agent was trying to let me down in a gentle and encouraging manner. I really appreciated his thoughtfulness but decided the following:

1. Personally, I prefer brutal honesty shot straight from the hip than a soft letdown to spare my feelings. (My feelings have already been trampled on by multiple rejections from other agents and editors. There isn't much left to trample, so there's no point in watching where you step.)

2. I'd almost prefer receiving a form letter to decoding a vague rejection. I got the no part. I just wasn't sure what the not connecting part meant, other than more rewriting. Certainly the first editor who had wanted to publish it must have connected with it on some level, so it wasn't all bad. The simple advantage of a form rejection is that you don't have to figure it out. It hurts my feelings about as much as a traffic ticket. No is no. I can understand that.

3. Brutal honesty is good, because at some point, a writer will either embrace that if he can learn from an agent or an editor's comments, he'll be a better writer for it in the future, or he'll quit writing. When an editor or an agent is blunt, he is just trying to help you on your journey. Don't take it personally.

4. Editors and agents are people. Sometimes they're right. Sometimes they're wrong. Learn what is good writing and know when you've achieved it, but don't expect everyone to love what you write. Most of the time, it's probably you and your writing that need work, but sometimes you just haven't connected with the right person for a book to move into the published realm. Be resilient until you have arrived at the place where you can tell the difference.

So, don't let the rejections knock you down. Get up again. Keep writing. Keep submitting. Experiment when you get suggestions. Don't take it personally. Stay thankful. Remember that if you weren't at least on the right track, editors and agents wouldn't be saying anything at all.

: ) Beth

1 comment:

  1. Honesty doesn't have to be brutal to be effective, Beth. It Does have to be clear and forthright and TRUE and informed.