Too Fat! Too Thin! Too Tall! Too Small!

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm pulling my hair out. I've received several personal rejections with specific feedback on my partial. The problem is, they contradict one another. One agent felt that the pace of the opening was too slow and focused too much on character at the expense of the story. Another said that it was too fast paced and didn't give her a chance to delve into the characters! Aargh! What's a writer to do? (I swear they received the *same* chapters.)

We do this on purpose. We're alerted by your post office (all agents pay an annual fee to the post office for this service) that you've sent chapters to two or more agents. Once alerted we put your chapters aside for our weekly meetings on "Make the Authors Crazy" night. We draw random comments from the hat and put them in our rejection letters. Then we mail them back to you. This is also the night we burn SASEs to light cigars and cherries jubilee. It's really a lot of fun, and pretty much the reason I became an agent.

Well, ok, that's not exactly 100% true. When have you known any three people to agree on what makes a book suck, or makes a book great? You only have to delve through the comments section of this blog to see a HUGE divergence of opinion on books that are mentioned.

Another blogger and I periodically exchange emails with "you liked THAT???" as the subject line. She's a pretty fair reader and astute judge of books...mostly. Every time I disagree with her of course, she's wrong.

As for what to do with these varying comments: ignore them unless you can see they all point to an underlying problem. Or, think all of them are right and consider what the book would be like if you made the changes.

One of the things that most writers have a very very hard time learning is how to distance themselves from their writing. You can use rejection letters to help you learn that. Assume the criticism is spot on and read the novel to see why the editor thought that. Learn from it.
Or, just continue sending out chapters for our weekly meetings...once I post this, I fear our slush pile will drop dramatically.


domynoe said...

I haven't done the novel thing yet (my novel refuses to revise, arg!), but with shorts I tend to look for the same comments or comments on the same issue. When I see that, I tend to sit up and take notice. What people enjoy is so subjective that a single comment usually isn't enough unless it's accompanied by "change this and I'll take it!"

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

"I'd hire myself out as a rewrite expert if I could type." -- Bill E. Goat

"My novel is unique. No other book was ever written by a Goat. You might say my novel is novel." -- Bill E. Goat

Hi, Killer Yap. Want to run away to the Rivera? We could stow away on a freighter. Lots of cute poodles in France I hear. And, I've decided French Alpines are adorable. So, wanna meet March 1 in Battery Park, say at 2 am, and we'll make plans? Ouch! Hey, I'm practicing my typing here that's ....

Sorry, KY, Bill's plans have been canceled.

R de V

Anonymous said...

Although workshops are a controversial topic, I think that is one thing a person can get out of them, the ability to sift through different critiques. As MS said, if there's one or two global issues that everyone gets stuck on, you need to pay attention to that. Everything else, if it resonates, look at it. If it doesn't, forget it. It all comes down to your own gut instinct anyway. The hardest thing in the world is to learn your own voice.