Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rejection Feedback

A few friends and I are in the middle of revisions (who isn't!), but in discussing our revision strategy, I've realized how much our views on rejection feedback has changed. We've gotten feedback in agent and editor rejections, but we are not jumping to implement it. This is quite a change from my previous views. My reaction to rejection feedback has actually gone through five different stages.

Stage One - Agonizing over rejection feedback without realizing it's a form

When I got my first few rejections, I parsed every word and I thought they revealed the truth about my manuscript. I tore my hair out because Agent A was intrigued by my premise, but not drawn into the opening chapters as much a she hoped. Agent B thought I had much to be proud of, but couldn't connect with the main narrative.

Argh!. I could make it to the next step if only I revise my opening chapters somehow, or make my main character more relatable.

Then I learned those were forms. The "feedback," positive and negative, meant nothing but no.

Stage Two - Wishing for feedback with rejection

Once I realized that general comments were forms, and I agonized because I WANTED feedback. If only the agents would tell me what was wrong, I could fix it. Why won't they tell me what is wrong? Don't I even deserve a REASON?

Stage Three - Revising to every comment

Finally! My rejections came with feedback. After every rejection, I would revise. But then the next revision had DIFFERENT feedback. How could I know what to do if everyone told me something different?

Stage Four - Wishing I didn't get feedback with rejection

And then I'd get a particularly stinging comment. Maybe it hit on a nagging problem I always suspected but didn't want to face, or is was way too blunt about something I never considered. Feedback like that got me thinking the opposite of Stage Two. Must rejections include feedback? Why isn't a simple no enough without sticking the knife in too?

Stage Five  - Just another opinion, and I appreciate all opinions.

This is where I am now. When I get feedback on a rejection, I'm grateful. I appreciate the thought and time that went into reading and commenting, and I consider the comments carefully.

That doesn't mean I revise based on them. The agent or editor did not want my work. The comment is not the real reason why -- they just didn't love it, or just didn't think they could sell it. Feedback is just extra, a little parting gift in an attempt to be helpful. Unless they say they'd like to see the manuscript again if I revise according to the comment, it's useless revising to please them. The horse has already left  the barn. I won't get another chance with that editor for this book.

So when I consider the comments carefully, I find that sometimes the reasons given by several editors contradict each other Sometimes it's clear that the book is not for them and no amount of revision is going to change that. I file those comments away.

But sometimes they are right. Some problems are fixable. But the final decision to revise or not comes from my own judgment. I'm looking for an editor who loves my work, and whatever makes that more likely is a good thing. I can't always see my own work clearly so I appreciate wise guidance wherever I get it, even if it has a big old NO attached in capital letters.

How do you use rejection feedback? Have your views on rejections changed and how?

And be sure to come back tomorrow for some big news and a contest from Operation Awesome!


  1. Sadly, I have not received any detailed rejections. I've been stuck in form/no response purgatory for months now (which may well say something I should be listening to). I hope I'll be able to look at non-form rejections and determine if it makes sense. If the response triggers an "Oh, my God, how did I not see that?" reaction in me, then a revision may be a pretty good idea.

  2. I got caught by an encouraging form letter before--but it was back in the printed query and response days. It looked like the editor had penned an encouraging note and I cherished it for days--until I saw it in the right light and realized it had been photocopied along with the form rejection! D'oh!

  3. Sometimes positive or negative comments mean something, but I've come to believe that they do not mean much. Sometimes the flaws mentioned are so easily fixed that there's no way the agent or editor wouldn't acquire if they really liked it. So the flaws mentioned aren't the real problem -- it's just "not the right reader."

    Right now I'm reading a much-admired published book that I think is a hot mess. If I were rejecting it, I'd say they need to put serious work into plotting and characterization. But I don't think there's anything the writer could do to make this the book for me.

    Luckily for her, many other readers have loved it.

    I think it's best to revise for people who love the book, not those who don't. I'll change a lot if the comments come from a trusted reader, or if they're attached to an R&R or contract. But those attached to a rejection? No.

  4. Ah, query hell! And I always hated the waiting, too.

    You're right about all that different feedback, it can be frustrating. Best of luck to you!

  5. I've experienced some very similar stages, but I love that you said (in your comment) "I think it's best to revise for people who love the book, not those who don't." So true. Together you make the book stronger for those who will end up caring about it.

    Boy am I curious to know which hot mess you are reading (wink).

  6. Thank you so much for this post! I feel so much better. Your line "Agent A was intrigued by my premise, but not drawn into the opening chapters as much a she hoped" is one that has traveled my way word-for-word (I snorted out a laugh when I read that in your post!) I'm so happy to see that it's a "form" rejection and not necessarily something wrong with my MS. I'm in Stage 3, getting all sorts of different feedback with nothing in common. It's been stressful because I don't know what to change.

    Now I can see that maybe I'm still in the form rejection stage and I haven't yet gotten to the one who wants me to revise out of love for the MS.

    Really great post and really helpful to this struggling writer!

  7. Roomthirty, I hope it helps! Keep in mind that forms can strike as any time in a writer's career, but they are better than the dread non-response. And neither a form or a non-response reflects on the work itself. You can't know what the agent or editor is thinking except no.

    Kai, I'm going to keep the hot mess to myself. Some others have loved it.

    And just to be contrarian, I was just revising based on a comment I'm not sure I agreed with. I still don't know if they comment was right, but it did open me up to make OTHER changes that I think improved the manuscript. So looking at things in a different way helped.

  8. This is a great post...well-structured. I have been through all those stages. It's nice to see them broken down in such a way. As I revise, all of that feedback is playing through my mind. After reading your post, I realize I need to be more discerning. Thanks.

  9. What a great post! Sadly (or happily?) I've gone through all these stages and I've reached number 5. It's hard getting to that point but once you're there things are a lot less stressful.

  10. I'm in stage 2, hoping for anything but a form rejection!


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