Old Fashioned

Dear Miss Snark,

After one year or so of editing my manuscript, testing it at two different school's and having it critiqued by reading groups I felt it was ready to submit to agents. Two form rejection letters left me thinking, 'okay, not for them'. I didn't read into what the letters said. One agent wrote back with a personal, 'please send something else', which my other stories are not ready at this stage. That agent didn't represent what I sent her, even though her website listed the genre I submitted it as, as one she represented.

More rejections left me feeling neither upset or confused about my ability to write until I received one in particular:

"this one is a bit old-fashioned for me," she wrote and has passed.

I have moved on from all the rejections but this one has me confused. Is my writing worse than I thought? Since I have never heard an agent use this phrase before, I was hoping you might shed some insight.

Without seeing the actual text, it's hard to know what might have engendered this comment.

I don't think I've ever said something is old fashioned but I've seen it. It's usually what I call "same old same old" in that the characters and plot are things I've seen seven gazillion times before. "Fresh and original voice" means "don't send me anything I've seen before". Of course, coupled with "send me the next DaVinci Code", it makes authors crazy...as well it should. I buy pharmaceutical stocks for just that reason.

Get past this. Button up your union suit and go kick up your plimsolls in a rousing jitterbug. Put the kibosh on those "old fashioneds" and we'll have ourselves a pail of gin.


Anonymous said...

Seems like there might not be a large enough sample size. One agent thinking something is old fashioned (and perhaps a very young agent) ... don't stop! Keep going!

Now if every rejection said the same thing that might be worrisome. Although I don't know what "old-fashioned" means. They don't sleep together right away? They have morals? They talk like the 17th century? Could mean anything.

Wendy said...

I'm guessing this is a children's book submission, from the way the writer mentioned "testing" the manuscript at two schools. (Which is sort of an unnecessary step to begin with.)

And if it is a children's book manuscript, "old-fashioned" is a pretty common criticism, since so many aspiring writers make the mistake of emulating books they remember from childhood and have little sense of the current market.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I've used "old-fashioned" in the occasional rejection letter, mostly in response to romance or women's fiction submission that are much bigger in scope than the market currently prefers. Sprawling family sagas or historical romance in which the history is denser than the relationship were once quite successful, but now would be tough to sell. (That is, until the next brilliant one comes out of "nowhere" and we all start demanding sprawling family sagas!)

JJ said...

Uh, not meaning to be snarky -- that the divine Miss S's job -- but this e-mail wasn't very well written. (I count eight typographical, punctuation, or grammatical errors.) Any chance the work is similarly sloppy or that your critique groups haven't taken the kid gloves off yet? And if you're testing at schools -- which, by the way, nobody puts any weight behind, because kids in those situations typically "enjoy" anything that's not math homework -- I presume you're writing for children or teens. Are you plugged into the SCBWI and its critique resources?

Anonymous said...

It might be your writing... "school's", "one agent wrote back...WHICH..." Maybe it needs a polish? just a though

Anonymous said...

wendy said:"And if it is a children's book manuscript, "old-fashioned" is a pretty common criticism, since so many aspiring writers make the mistake of emulating books they remember from childhood and have little sense of the current market."
If I had to take a guess as to the reason of the agent's response, this would be it.

ORION said...

I was at a conference once and an older writer showed me her children's book she was pitching about living in a town...ie the postman walked up the sidewalk...the friendly butcher at the small market...trees...birdies singing...everyone white...I asked her which one was the crack house. She was not amused.

Jeb said...

Two schools and x number of critiques by reading groups, and nobody mentioned the punctuation problems?

Get thee to a copy of 'Eats Shoots and Leaves' and stop worrying about whether the story is old-fashioned. It probably is out of date - many first books are, for the reasons mentioned above - but at least when you catch up to the current marketplace, you'll have more salable sentences.

desert snarkling said...

A couple years ago I sold the book I was told by a couple of editors was too old fashioned. One person's opinion is not always everyone's opinion.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the way a person writes in an email is usually a very good indication of what their "proper" writing is like, and it's quite likely that the writer of this one knows perfectly well where apostrophes and commas should and shouldn't go, and is cringeing over their mistakes at this very moment. (And, in any case, correcting puncutation is no big job.) However, this email does also contain some very odd sentences, which is more worrying. I can't make any sense at all of the last sentence of the first para, for example. I wonder if the manuscript might benefit from professional editing, or at least from having a trustworthy friend proofread it.

Maya said...

Jeb: While I thoroughly enjoyed "Eats Shoots and Leaves," I would NOT recommend it as the definitive text to an American writer. It is a British book and some of the punctuation is not accepted American usage. In fact, I ended up with a free copy when a friend who teaches English and Creative Writing on the university level gave it to me. She didn't want it hanging around her office where students might pick it up.

Anonymous said...

A person's email style is as different as his/her query/business letter style and his/her fiction style. Then there's newspaper style and magazine style, and hoorah for the writer who knows how to craft each and every.

Anonymous said...

Yep, many fun and interesting comments here.

Thank goodness I queried via smail, because my writing IS different than say, emails to my college enrolled daughter, my retired schoolteacher mother, and of course, my sergeant brother (presently serving overseas on his fourth tour since 9/11).

I did a no-no and asked the agent what she meant by her comment, it went something like this:

A: I suspect you wrote it a decade ago.
Me: Yes, but I revised it two years ago.
A: Old fashioned to me is nothing new or original, however, I like your voice. You need to reinvent.
Me: Thank you, Miss Agent, for taking the time to clarify what you meant by 'old fashioned'. So, does my writing need practice?
A: Every writer must keep honing his or her craft.

I thanked her and ended our conversation.

I do appreciate words of encouragement and criticism. However, I feel that most of you spend way too much time perusing Miss Snarks’ comment sections with your own take on things rather than where you should be--writing!