Keep Hope Alive!

I began querying agents, convinced my novel would be rejected at once. Imagine my surprise and delight when several asked to see chapters. Since then I've received some feedback. Yippee, I thought, I'm actually getting advice from publishing professionals!

I fell upon the first comments with enthusiasm hoping to use them to improve my story, but as more came in I noticed something odd. They contradict each other. Somebody loved the protagonist and setting but wasn't too thrilled with the plot, another thought the concept was great but didn't fall in love with the heroine. One told me they loved the way the setting was described, another mentioned too much description bogs the story down.

Miss. Snark, please put me out of my gin soaked misery - does this mean the whole thing is rubbish and they just can't bring themselves to tell me, or is there still hope?

First, if one is gin soaked, one is not miserable. It's a contradiction in terms. One might be flammable; one might be unconscious in the gutter, but miserable? Never.

Second, not only is there hope, you've probably got something pretty good. I know this cause you're getting feedback. If you're getting "sorry not right for us; do query my unlucky colleagues with this drivel" then I'd think it was you.

In this case it's us. The short clever answer is we think we know it all but sadly, only Miss Snark knows it all. No more than you and your friends are going to agree on what makes Guido Pompadour the leading practitioner of Elvis on velvet paintings (available at your nearest roadside attraction) will agents agree on what they like or don't about a novel in progress.

Here's my advice: save the letters. Let them sit for a bit, like a month. Get over the giddiness of discovering correspondence that doesn't say "your work sux". Then reread the letters. Some will make sense. Some will sound stupid. Pay really close attention to the ones that sound stupid.

In my experience authors get so close to their work that they sometimes miss some major faults. Then, when those faults are listed, they disregard the list as idiotic. It's the stuff out of left field that can give you breakthrough ideas.

On the other hand it could be crap too. But, you can't even begin to look at this with a degree of objectivity till some time has passed. Have a great Holiday season and look at this after the New Year. And lay off the gin, Miss Snark needs to replenish her pail soon.


Dave Kuzminski said...

What Miss Snark didn't mention was to pay attention to comments that are repeated among the feedback letters. That's when you know you either have something bad or good since several might comment on the same problem or same virtue. If several state that the same thing is a problem, then it very well could be. If several state that something in particular is good, then strive to keep that and improve on the things around it that will make it shine even more.

Jena said...

Don't even *look* at your manuscript in the meantime either. No opening the file, no casual flipping through the pages. When you do go back to it after the holidays, print it out and force yourself to read the whole thing through in one sitting. No red pen, no running to the computer to make changes. It will be a lot easier to see which comments fit your vision of the book.

Unknown said...

Tried and true wisdom, Miss Snark. This is the advice that I need to keep hearing over and over again until I take it to heart. I also have gotten the encouraging rejection letters, but always despaired because it was still a rejection, thinking much like the Snarkling who posed this question.

David Isaak said...

I am in agreement that one should look for any common thread. Sometimes, however, one can be hard to detect. Here are excerpts from rejection letters from eight different agents in response to partials I sent out a couple of years back--enjoy!
This has got a good narrative pace, smooth, fluid prose, and outstanding dialogue. The plot is original and unusual. I’m afraid, though, that I felt I needed more characterization—more about your protagonist’s inner conflicts…

I think you have an excellent ear for dialogue and I love your characters. Unfortunately, I found the plot just a touch familiar…

Your plotting and prose are excellent and your characters are well-rounded, but your dialogue has serious problems...

I’m afraid I don’t represent science fiction.

As you are probably aware, 90% of what I sell is science fiction, so political satire is outside my list.

Not my cup of tea; it’s a bit too much of a techno-thriller for me.

I have no idea how to move comedy in today’s market.

I see this as a hip summer movie rather than a novel.

Molly the Magnificent said...

Miss Snark, I'm far from published but I've won awards for writing in the past, and I like to believe I'm good at it -- maybe not incredible, maybe not great, but a solid performer anyway. I've finished a novel and I've done my homework in querying agents, but all I've gotten is "sorry, not right for us," time and time again. Verily, I suck?

ssas said...

Jena hit on it:
"which comments fit your vision of the book"

It's YOUR book. After recieving many accolades on my work, imagine my surprise to recieve SCATHING reviews in a contest. I sat down with a friend after the initial shock word down (oh, two months later or so--sniffsniff--it's ok, I'm over it) to take an objective look. Some of the suggestions were sound, but finally my friend put her hand on mine and said, "Honey. This guy just doesn't like your book. And not only that, he doesn't GET it. He does not understand what you're trying to accomplish here."

When the judge wrote, "Come on, your guy would be looking around for escape and weapons," it fit with the story. When he said, "Where's their fear? Where's their emotion?" (a nice translation of what he actually wrote) it took that reminder of my own vision to realize that actually was a question I wanted the reader to be asking at that point, so it was an inadvertant compliment.

It's your book, always remember that.

mysterygirl said...

David Isaak,

Thanks for sharing. I don't know whether to laugh or soak my head in a pail of gin.

Guess I'll do both.

David Isaak said...

Thanks, Mystery Girl.

They weren't funny at all when the letters were coming in, but when you stack them up in a group I think they are kind of hilarious.

Not that hilarity precludes gin.

If you enjoy this sort of grim humor, have you ever seen "Pushcart's Rotten Review and Rejections?" Excerpts from rejection letters--many of them rejections of masterpieces.

(My fave is the one where an editor at the New Yorker tells Salinger about 'Catcher in the Rye' "We dont feel we know the main character well enough...")

Smile, smile, smile.

domynoe said...

3 separate rejections for the same story: good story, you just need a better hook; I think this would be a great story if you changed the main character and reworked the middle; and great story until the ending.

And none of those comments have ever been repeated. Just goes to show that a lot of this writing biz is just a matter of taste. ;)

Anonymous said...

Anent the agents' wildly differing opinions, I proffer this, from "Little Women" (which was, you may recall, based in part on Louisa May Alcott's life):

"You said, Mother, that criticism would help me. But how can it, when it's so contradictory that I don't know whether I've written a promising book or broken all the ten commandments?" cried poor Jo, turning over a heap of notices, the perusal of which filled her with pride and joy one minute, wrath and dismay the next.


Anyone curious about the full excerpt can find it at