TNH is the Cat's Pajamas

Everytime I think I've written something pithy and fun I find that Teresa Nielsen Hayden has written about the same topic with more style elegance and wit than I could ever hope for. If I didn't like her so much, I'd be putting magic marker mustaches on her photo ID.

The latest example: the slush pile and rejection letters. I think I'll start including this URL in every rejection letter I send. Every writer should read it. Yes, even you.

(Thanks to Jarsto for the link from the comments column)


Mark Pettus said...

She is a genius.

I followed Stephen King's lead and hung a spike on the wall. Even if the tone of a rejection letter gets to me, I get the satisfaction of impaling the agent in effigy.

I can't imagine a writer who has ever their work seriously critiqued being insulted by a rejection letter that included a "Happy Holidays" wish.

But, a rejection on a half page of paper? I received one of those. Thank goodness they rejected me. I can't imagine being represented by an agent too cheap to put a full page into the stamped envelope I provided. Made me wonder what they were sending out to publishers? Postcards?

Tina said...

I may just be grouchy this morning, but I find the whole "we liked somebody else's plums better than yours" a bit much. I get the reference and all, but it still smacks of a certain . . . smug preciousness. Like if the doctor wrote a quippy little haiku on your lab work, riffing on white chickens, red wheelbarrows and the heartbreak of gonorrhea.

Which reminds me -- Happy Valentine's Day!

claudia said...

It may just be the natural state of things but I as an author enjoyed rejection collection much more than TNH's terse commentary.

I sympathised with some, cringed at others and learned alot. There is certainly truth in alot of what TNH says but she is just piling on the antagonistic quality between agents and writers. We make the product, yet we're lowest on the totem pole and we need a place to vent and make fools of ourselves.

To include the URL in a rejection goes beyond snark to rude. And really it isn't all that clever.

Besides, it's so February 2nd 2004.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

The Nielsen Hayden web site, Making Light, is one of my favorite stops when I walk the streets of the Internet.

It is interesting to see rejection from the other side. However, I don't think editors and agents fully appreciate the degree to which authors scrutinize their rejections.

Two rejections stand out for me. One was brutally honest. It hurt. It also made me go back to rewrite. I took all the advice.

The other was an email that made me feel as if the agent thought me some sort of growth on the face of the literary world. I've reread it more than once. It still makes me feel that way. Perhaps she had a bad day? Maybe. But she ridicules submissions on her web log. True, she doesn't reveal the submitter's identities. But, that she does it leads me to think she meant it the way I took it.

Even so, it sent me back to my manuscript. And, the nasty typo (I'm prone to those) in the middle of my submission letter didn't help.

Oh, TOR has rejected me twice. Form letters from TOR are well done, neutral, and left me with a good feeling toward their house. They also sent me back to rewrites. Lots of rewrites.

After this last one, I'm starting to feel happy about Pixie Warrior. I'm working through a "lets read it aloud and see how this sounds" edit. But, finally, I'm beginning to feel like I've written something worth while. So, Agents, Editors, Friends, Relatives, and strangers ... Beware!

txmlshnm is a bit much as a word verification code, isn't it?

Muttman said...

I feel kind of ashamed now, because I've been the Writer Behaving Badly After the Rejection many times. And I know it's wrong, but knowing doesn't make it easier.

Bernita said...

Tereas Nielsen Hayden is abominably and elegantly clever.
Terrifying, really.

Liz Jones said...

I have never read this website before-- thanks for linking. This makes me feel a whole lot better about my own rejection response-- I usually think of them as tiny little tax deductions in the form of cancelled stamps. Perhaps I *do* err on the correct side.

Now, back to the important issues--do you have any good recommendations about blotting coffee up from between laptop keys?

I *knew* I should have bought that accidental damage insurance.

crabkitty said...

I don't know. I can't help but wonder at the responses to the rejection letters. I know as writers that we are naturally paranoid but the "only worth half a sheet of paper" and the "implication that very strong writing was not of interest" goes a bit off the deep end of interpretation. If it's a form letter, it means nothing. If it isn't a form letter then they really think your writing is good (yay!) but they don't like this story (gives you hope for next time).

What's interesting is that while the rejection letters focus on the work, the reaction is personal. That's an understandable initial reaction, but I would expect reason to prevail and people to use any good information given to make their work better and shrug off the rest. I would at least expect them to not post their reaction for the world to see. Wierd.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I like reading rejection collection web site. When I was a newbie, I read those rejections posted there, getting solace from the fact I wasn't alone. Now I read them occasionally. For sport. ; )

Mark said...

I got a form letter from Yale Press yesterday. "Not right for the list." The personal ones from agents have come in the form of small handwritten notes.

Jarsto said...

You're right, this should be require reading for every writer. I'm not sure including it in rejections is the best way to communicate with them though. It might make some poor writer who sent a romance novel to Miss Snark wonder why TNH is also rejecting it. If anything TNH's examples demonstrate that writers are easily confused by rejections.

I would love to say something really profound about seeing this up on the main blog; I can't think of anything though. The Slushkiller has been in my own bookmarks since I saw a post about it on a forum somewhere. I'm happy to make a small contribution to spreading the word. On the other hand this makes me wish I'd included the spin-off post (on the getting of agents) for extra snarkling brownie-points.

Anonymous said...

I'm overjoyed (perhaps that's a bit of an overstatement) at non-form letter rejections, especially those that offer comment on the piece. It either helps me find things I need to work on, or helps me refine which pieces to send to which market. If an editor/agent is willing to take the trouble to make specific comments, I'm neither so proud nor so insecure that I can't learn something from them. I treasure my rejection slips, as they mirror my growth as a writer - from the early form rejections by slush pile readers to the more recent ones from the principal editor with commentary about what didn't work for them.

You want to see people who believe that every word of their first draft is sacred? Try working with some wannabe songwriters (in my non-writing life I'm a producer/engineer/guitar player. I took up writing because I needed a second career path with no security and iffy monetary reward). I used to produce a lot of song demos for such folks and the behavior shown on the rejection collection is mild by comparison with a singer/songwriter who's been told that they need to add a bridge and tighten up the lyrics.

Anonymous said...

She is awesome. I'm glad you mentioned her, cause more people need to know of her existence.

prettylady said...

I can't imagine why these writers are getting so upset! Compared with the sort of thing that goes on in the art world, these letters are overflowing with generosity, kindness and goodwill. What writers do not seem to understand is that publishers are taking a financial risk on behalf of the authors they publish, just as an art dealer has to pay rent and promotion for the artwork exhibited. It would behoove them to exhibit a commitment to achieving basic competence in their medium, before asking another person to foot the bill.

The one which shocked me the most was the 'poetry parodist' who seemed incapable of considering the notion that his rejection card might be a piece of poetic parody.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read anything there that would have upset me to the point of complaining to a web site. Compare these to rejection letters from short story magazines and you'll see the difference. They might wish you Happy Holidays, but more likely they'll try to sell you a subscription to their magazine after telling you your submission wasn't 'right' for the magazine.

jeanjeanie said...

Thank you for posting that. I read that post last year but I've since lost the bookmark.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...

You know, speaking of half-slips of paper, Realms of Fantasy uses the Dreaded Blue Slip Of Death for its form rejection letter. It never actually occurred to me to be annoyed at "not being worth a full letter-sized piece of paper." I just assumed this was what a form rejection from RoF looked like. And so it is.