fuck off and die

Some time back I had a chance to read 87 rejection letters sent by a zoo of agents; one of my clients kept every letter he received saying no to a book I now represent.

The rejection letters ranged from the formulaic "not right for me" to "fuck off and die".

There was a comment to the blog recently about this topic also. It reads:

Anonymous said...
As for rejection, I much prefer NO to all the snarky comments agents feel so compelled to make. You guys should hire David Spade as a rejection consultant. No more creativity than Nyet or Nein, please. Or maybe a rubber stamp "Rejected." I don't need to hear you write how well I write but there's no market--especially when Agent no. 2 calls me out of the blue and says he can walk into any house and sell it. If you don't want to rep me, keep your opinions to yourself.

Back when Miss Snark wasn't wearing stiletto heels and was trying to get in touch with her inner Miss Congeniality, she tried to write helpful things on query letters.

Didn't take but a month or two to stop THAT. Some of Miss Snark's favorite swear words were learned from the responses to those "helpful rejection letters".

Unasked for advice is hardly ever welcomed.
Criticism is welcomed less than that.

And yet...at writing conferences, at parties, in the subway, on this blog, people are looking for information about why their work isn't making the cut.

So, what's a Snark to do? Stamp "fuck off and die" on 37 queries a day?
(Ok...that's damn appealing).

Or just keep sending "not right for our list but query other agents cause ya never know when
you'll hit the 1:87 who says yes".

Which is better: comments or rubber stamps?


Tribe said...

Oh, what the fuck...give us comments. If I'm gonna include an SASE, might as well stick something snarky in there at least.

But you arent snarky in the initial rejections, are you? Or does the snark hit the fan only when the rejectee writes back begging to differ with the rejection?

Anonymous said...

One thing you should never write is "I love your writing, I just don't have the confidence to [basically, represent it]." There's nothing more transparent or useless to a writer than hearing the people who are supposed to be getting manuscripts in front of the right people are a bunch of timid, beaten-down sissies. Agents who write that and expect it to be taken sincerely rarely get sympathy from writers.

Anonymous said...

I prefer comments, but anything's fine so long as it isn't an ad for the agent's very expensive e-book on how to write a query letter. I received one of those the other day, CC'd to a long list of rejected submitters. A few minutes later the agent wrote again, blaming the obvious mass email on his new assistant, but it sounded like he did protest too much. Nor did he apologize for the ad.

At least the unprofessionalism of the rejection made me glad this particular agent didn't make me an offer, so that's something.

Chris Stephens said...

It would be better to include some comment with a rejection. That is, if you actually have something to say. There is always the chance--remote, I grant you--that authors can actually get beyond their egotism enough to learn something useful from what you have to say. As a learning exercise I believe all authors should learn to accept all negative opionions towards their work as absolutely true. They should undertake this painful exercise for perhaps thirty minutes. At the end of the thirty minutes they can go back to the more comfortable ontological position of rejcting all criticism as the work of warped minds.

Maria said...

I prefer comments, but I understand why agents/editors don't offer them. They don't want the boomerang. The best comments are precise ones; the overall reason for rejection doesn't really matter (ie, canned phrases such as "it isn't right for me," don't bother me.) I have found even the smallest of comments useful, including, "I hate the title. More romance earlier. Loved the characters, want deeper plot." Those are helpful--but I realize that other writers before me may have soiled the attitude of agents that were willing to give them. I take what I can get, evaluate and move on.

kitty said...

A hand written comment carries the most post punch, even if it is "fuck off and die." (Memo to self: Scratch name off Christmas card list.)

MY rejection pecking order:
1) No response is the worst. Christ, at least let me know that someone actually saw the envelope!
2) A form letter is one step up from no response.
3) Rubber stamp response is humiliating but at least the stamper saw the submission and had to expend some energy (while pounding out his/her agression).
4) Hand-written response -- just the word "Sorry" -- on form letter is much better than rubber stamp. In fact any kindly response, either typed or hand-written, is treated with the respect only afforded the Gutenberg Bible.
5) A non-form letter that's bitchy.
6) A non-form letter that actually gives me some idea, in a non-bitchy manner, why my hard work is being rejected.
7) #6 with an added bit of hope, i.e., "Keep writing," or the ultimate, "Try us again."

Paul Jessup said...

If I ever received a rejection letter that said "Fuck off and die", I would so frame it. Sometimes, I wonder if that's the real response I want when I send out a MS/Query/Whatever.

Anonymous said...

I've always suspected that many rejected manuscripts meet their fate not because of some specific problem within them, but because the agent reading just doesn't fall in love with the book. Think about the last ten books you read: how many of them did you love enough to give them an emphatic, no-holds-barred recommendation? That made you harrass your friends until they read it? You're not going to love most books THAT much.

My guess is that agents want to love the books they represent THAT much. And much of the time, there's not any specific, quantifiable criticism they can give to "fix" the fact that they just didn't fall in love. But what the hell do I know?

David J. Montgomery said...

I think I'd rather just hear no, unless you have a constructive suggestion (something other than "stick this up your ass").

On a side note, relating to anonymous' comment above...Half the books that come across my desk (books that, presumably, impressed an agent, an editor, a marketing department, and God knows who else) seem so hard to love that it boggles the mind to think of what gets rejected.

Bill Peschel said...

I don't know that I would want comments unless I respected your judgement already. When Michael Seidman was at Walker, for example, I knew of him through his postings on DorothyL, his books on editing and a few letters. Considering he signed people whose works I love (Lev Raphael, Keith Snyder and Harold Adams), I would take any advice he gave with both hands, and be grateful for it.

Since half of all editors are below the mean for intelligence, I wonder which half your advice would fall on.

OTOH, I've been around long enough (that is, rejected) that it doesn't bother me what you do (posting on blogs have already inured me to the FOAD response). Just get back to me in a reasonable time. I'll take it from there.

JJ said...

How about this: Nothing. Let's get rid of the SASE all together. Everyone knows that only bad news comes through the mail. If you love us, you're going to call or email. Rejection letters come through the mail.

You recycle my manuscript or partial and I'll wait 4 to 6 weeks before scratching you off the list and moving on.

Anonymous said...

It's like if you don't want someone to be your boyfried--or even go on a date--do you say? "Well if you changed x or y, the I could love you." Agents can't even say, "Let's be friends."

mapletree7 said...

a) If you're asking an agent to represent you, presumably you respect their opinion already.

b) Writing comments on rejection letters would require me to read the submissions. Most submissions don't require me to read more than the first paragraph. At which point I can safely say 'this sucks' and send a form letter. This happens to 90% of queries.

c) Seriously? Fuck off and die?

ScaramoucheX said...

Snark, you really are too good...just reading the title of today's entry gave me a better laugh than I am likely to have all day...you're the best, and all the best people know it

Travis said...

My least favorite rejection letter is a really small one. I received one last week that was only a hair larger than a business card. I seriously considered scanning it and posting it on my website.

Looking at it from an agent's perspective, however, I admit it's a great concept. Print rejection letters on cardstock (more expensive), but make them small enough to fit eight on a sheet. Break even or maybe save a little money on the deal. Most importantly, your pre-printed rejection letters are a piece of cake to drop into an envelope. No folding, no flimsy, recycled copier paper. Genius.

Miss Snark, what's your opinion on #9 envelopes as SASEs? I thought I was being clever by using them, but now I wonder if I'm actually just pissing people off. (Of course, I'm pissing them off while they are mailing me a form rejection letter, which will piss me off three days later, so maybe it all evens out.)

Mark said...

I've had a couple of long responses. They were helpful and provided insight into the thought process on the other end.

JD Rhoades said...

I had quite a few rejections with comments and suggestions. Some of them were quite helpful, some only served to let me know that this really would not be a good agent for me because this person, while quite nice, has no earthly idea what I'm trying to do.

So, put me down on the "comments are good" side.

chryscat said...

Comments are good. I suppose we've all been commented and rubberstamped. And some days are assuredly better than others.
I think it's a shame that submitters in your slush pile feel the need to show their ass at every turn. That would definitely call for a rubber stamp. Or maybe just a polite "fuck off and die."

Ellen Fisher said...

I don't think it really matters. When you get right down to it, a form letter is not much different from a letter that says, "I'm only rejecting this with much handwringing because your writing is so good, but I'm just not sure I can sell it." Neither of these responses provides any useful information, and both are fairly formulaic... most "personalized" rejections I've received have sounded more or less alike. (The old "it's just not right for our list" line, you know.)

OTOH, a rejection that lists lots of specific problems with the manuscript is very helpful-- but it's also an invitation to the writer to rewrite and submit, which may not be what the agent wants.

But regardless of whether the author gets a form letter or a slightly more personalized rejection, there is no call for the author to be rude to an agent or editor. It's just not smart to tick someone off when you may have occasion to submit to them again in the future.

Rachel said...

On the subject of keeping rejections... I keep all of mine in a lovely leather presentation book. Reminds me I'm a writer and reminds me how many times I've tried and failed... all in a good way. The more I fail, the closer I get to success. Sounds corny, but it will also be nice someday to look back on them and laugh at the agents who missed out on my future best seller.

I don't particularly care for rejections with snarky comments, but I'll keep 'em all.

But please, MS, don't shrink your rejection letters to less than a full page. That's just plain insulting... I take the time to personalize each of my queries with at least a unique sentence or two, specific to the agency. The agents I mail to are, yes, from one list or another, however, I take the time to research each one before sending them anything... At the very least, I should rate a full sheet of paper! Oh, and an original (not stamped or copied) signature would be nice too, but I won't push it.

Pam Calvert said...
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