Tenacity is not the same as not taking no for an answer

I am currently awaiting word from an editor on my full MS. If I receive a form "not right for us" I intend to drop him a line via email and ask them something along the lines of:1. What made you decide to request the full?2. How did it not meet your expectations?I don't know if that's nitwittery or not, but it's where I'm at now. I do believe there is a certain sort of tenacity one has to have in the profession.Opinions?

I cannot fully express how much I hate and despise receiving those kinds of "why not" letters. Mostly I throw them away or delete them. Sometimes I simply send my reading notes which have things like "can't write his way out of a paper bag" and "aliens don't arrive soon enough to kill this putrid novel" and let them chew on that for awhile.

They remind me of the people who won't get off the phone when you say "I need to hang up now" or this bodega exchange:

Woman buying cigarettes at bodega, takes change from clerk, and collects pack of cigs.
Clerk: would you like a bag?
Woman: no thanks.
Clerk: need matches?
Woman: no thanks
Clerk: need a lighter?
Woman: can I just get the fuck out of your store now please?

You demonstrate tenacity by sucking it up and realizing that rejection is just part of the process. Then you move on. You demonstrate tenacity by realizing one person's opinion, even MINE, is just that: one person's opinion. There are a lot of good and successful books I can't stand, wouldn't take, and make horrid, nasty and dismissive comments about. Quit asking me why I said no, and go find someone to say yes.


Mary Akers said...

Wonderful!! This is a very important distinction--thank you, Miss Snark, for spelling it out.

BorderMoon said...

One is permitted, when one receives a "not right for us" or any other rejection letter, to rage, cry, and demand to know why not of one (1)(count this, one) other person. Pick this person carefully. He or she should be a rock, willing to listen, and also willing to forget he or she ever hear a word you said when whining, bitching, and moaning that the Publisher Doesn't Understand Your Vision and that your book Is Just Like the One on the NYT List, and Why Not Me? Don't ever say these things to anyone else, and don't ever write them down and e-mail them anywhere. (In fact, never e-mail anything you'd object to seeing on the billboards in Times Square.)

And when one receives a "not right for us" rejection, do, please, I beg of you, consider that it might mean what it says. Asking for further elucidation will probably only end in tears. Yours.

Anonymous said...

Even blanching from that a "Snark down" I still don't accept your point. (yes, snarklings, in your eyes that makes me downright stupid, I know). The only thing I'm getting from you Miss Snark is that it really pisses you off.

But if there is a chance that the editor is not so pissed off and decides to say "It was the aliens landing on page 42 that ruined it" is that not worth the effort?

Bordermoon, in no way would I pose a question to an editor that involved raging or crying.

In other business ventures I have seen both sides of this question. A client rejects my employer's services over another vendor we ask why. Whether they are polite in their response or not--well, who can control that? I've also had to be the one to tell a vendor when their work isn't up to snuff.

Is the publishing business so different?

AT the risk of mortal of a wound I must also point out that Microsoft Word does define being tenacious as "difficult to loosen, shake off, or pull away from"

(Suddenly I'm not so proud of being tenacious, but anyway)

I await the flames of hell.

Anonymous said...

Before the "Do Not Call" list, (one of my favorite things) hardly a day went by without some unwanted phone solicitation.

Me: "Hello"

Annoying, self-serving solicitor: (subsequently referred to as Ass) "Hi. Is this the lady of the house?"

Me: “Whatever you're selling, I'm not interested."

Ass: "Oh, no. You don't understand. I'm not selling anything. We want to give you something."

Me: "No, thanks."

Ass: "May I ask why you aren't interested in hearing about a free gift?"

Me: "No."

Ass: "This is a chance for you to get in on the....

Me: Click

For the love of all that is holy, if someone says no, accept it and move on.

Now, granted, this example isn't quite a dead-on comparison, but it's close enough. Yes, agents want the option of adding new writers to their list of potential clients, but once they decide YOU are not one of those writers, don't think you'll change their mind by becoming a nitwitted pest asking for a time-consuming explanation.

You: Please, Ms, Snark, can you explain what you meant by the “not for me” comment and tell me how to fix it so I can turn my 200,000-word romantic story of vampire love into a best seller?

Ms. Snark: Click

Anonymous said...


Not looking to change their mind.

Miss Snark said...

Michele, I neglected to mention that you also burn your bridges with that editor or agent. Yes THIS one might not be right, but you start demonstrating that you're "tenacious" and I assure you every subsequent thing is also never going to be right.

I not only hate it, I do remember who keeps yapping at my heels, and it's not cause I want to send them Christmas cards.

You're welcome to ignore this advice if you want to. Not for nothing is advice called "a word to the wise".

Stacia said...

Michele, I think if it was just the aliens on page 42 that ruined it, and they liked it otherwise, they would send you a note saying "Remove the aliens and resubmit" or even one of those famed Personal Notes inviting you to submit something else one of these days, when you are less alien-inclined.

Just my 2p.

And Miss Snark, the bodega clerk is hoping that the "Anything else" you might need would be his phone number. Trust me. I've had to switch gas stations so many times it makes the head swim.

Beth said...


No flames, but how about another perspective on this? Just because the agent or editor turned down that particular novel doesn't necessarily mean she won't like the one you'll write next. She might not even remember rejecting you for the other one.

Unless, of course, you make yourself memorable by breaking the rules of submission etiquette and knocking at a closed door. Why burn bridges if you don't have to?

Anonymous said...

michele - I think December Quinn is right. If the editor/agent is of the type who wants to share some extra illuminating info...they already would have done it. If they were bothered by the aliens and thought it was worth telling you that...they would have included it in their rejection.

Miss Snark has posted about the numbers before, and I think that's helpful to remember. Obviously, you're focused on your submission. But if the agent has sent 100 "not for me" letters out this week, and got a hundred follow-ups...Yikes!

Anonymous said...

This is the opposite of what I've been wondering.

At what point do I thank the agent for his or her time? Here's what I've been doing:

1) Query agent
2) Receive request to see partial or full
3) Send partial or full, thanking the agent for her time and interest
4) Wait
5) Receive rejection, the usual "writing is polished but I couldn't work up the enthusiasm" etc.
6) Move on

Now my instinct is to write back at number 6 and thank her for her time and speedy reply. No questions, no comments. No asking for more information. Simple.

But I've heard the agent should have the last word, so I haven't sent a thank you at this point. I have, after all, thanked her ahead of time for her time.

What think you all? This seems a small enough point to get Snarkling feedback but maybe not big enough to bother Miss Snark.

Jean Bauhaus said...

I tend to view submitting manuscripts as akin to applying for jobs. Having been a secretary--and thus the "gatekeeper"--for various people in charge of interviewing and hiring for various things, I know that interviewers generally hate over-eager applicants who make follow-up calls. You've submitted your resume, you've had your interview, now it's our job to get back to you. Once we let you know you're not hired, that's that. You've been rejected. Let it go and move on. Calling back to ask why won't make you any friends, and calling back to thank the interviewer for his time kind of looks like you're a brown-noser with an agenda.

This is, of course, my observation of how things work in the corporate world. But I'm betting the publishing world isn't much different. The bottom line is that busy people in general hate any unnecessary communication that wastes their time. And also that you want to think twice (or maybe even 3 or 4 times) about any communication that will make you look like anything less than a professional. I know that if I'm remembered by an agent, I want it to be for my writing, and not for my attempts at achieving nitwittery.

Anonymous said...

Kaytie, last time I thanked an agent for a rejection, she emailed back to ask to see the next thing I wrote. I didn't get that request before my note.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, Miss Snark. As one who ends her day with bleeding eyes from all the manuscripts that lay skid marks across her desk, I find this advice about the dreaded "why?" question most welcome.

We see hundreds of manuscripts and partials every month. It's my practice to include a critique with almost every rejection. I realize this is unusual and time consuming, but it's one of my foibles. If I don't inlcude a critique, it's because the work was so insanely horrible that it wasn't worth my time.

Whenever a writer asks why I rejected them, I instantly know they're a newbie and lack that professional attitude we so love. Sorry, but it smacks of whining, and it bugs me. I liken it to golf. There are standards of etiquette that one follows in order to make the game run smoothly - like not shouting when someone is putting and screaming "FORE" when they shank miserably on the adjacent tee.

I will say that when I recieve emails thanking me for a)my promt reply to their submission or b) taking the time to review their work, I hold them in much higher esteem.

I realize that everyone wants to know why they were rejected and, if they submit to us and get as far as being offered to send in a partial or complete manuscript, they will invariably get satisfaction in knowing. But that isn't always the case, and they need to accept the rejection and move on. I have a memory like an elephant and I remember those who bugged me. If they submit to me in the future, I am less apt to feel kindly.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong or that I'm a screaming hosebag. It's simply the way it is.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark wrote: Sometimes I simply send my reading notes which have things like "can't write his way out of a paper bag" and "aliens don't arrive soon enough to kill this putrid novel" and let them chew on that for awhile.

Miss Snark is the Simon Cowell of the agenting world.

Anonymous said...

But if there is a chance that the editor is not so pissed off and decides to say "It was the aliens landing on page 42 that ruined it" is that not worth the effort?

I don't know about agents, but I've read for publishing houses. Some editors, under some circumstances, will tell you why they're rejecting you. When a book was good but not good enough, or not right for the publisher, sometimes I'd throw in a note that explained why ('The character development and style are strong, but the plot wasn't followed through in the second half of the book... This is a powerful book, but we don't do this genre...').

If an editor doesn't do this, or didn't do it for your book, then a note isn't gonna change his or her mind.

Also, by the time you send the note and it gets read, he or she has quite probably read a bunch of other manuscripts and doesn't actually remember yours well enough to say anything sensible about it.

incognito agent said...

I absolutely, positively remember the tenacious types.

Unlike "bleeding eyes", I do not have a memory like an elephant -- I have a file. If I've told a would-be author "no thanks" and that person insists on inviting me into an unwarranted dialogue about his/her work, they get flagged.

I once made the mistake of allowing a "rejectee" to ask questions about my decision to pass on her work. The end result? She wasn't satisfied with the answers. The conversation didn't help her and it took up my valuable time. But, there's more. Once I opened the door; I couldn't close it. She kept calling and e-mailing, wanting to know what she could do to improve her manuscript.

This isn't endearing behavior; it's the equivalent of a literary stalker.

Authors who are professional in their approach, and graceful in their exit, will get another chance -- that's not the case with writers who can't let go of a bone (something even Killer Yap would never do).

Wesley Smith said...

Okay, maybe I'm just confused because I'm an idiot, but are we saying that if an agent requests a full manuscript and rejects it, the agent doesn't have the obligation to tell the author why it was rejected?

I mean getting a form rejection for a query or even a partial I can understand, but when an agent request a full manuscript that implies that the it's under serious consideration, and he/she knows why it's being rejected. Why not share that with the author instead of a "Not for me" form letter?

Anonymous said...

Sesley Smith said:
"(snip)if an agent requests a full manuscript and rejects it, the agent doesn't have the obligation to tell the author why it was rejected?"

No. There is no rule that stipulates an agent is under any obligation to state their reasoning for passing on a project.

"when an agent request a full manuscript that implies that the it's under serious consideration, and he/she knows why it's being rejected."

Just because an agent requests a full manuscript, it doesn't mean that it's under serious consideration. It simply means that your writing has captured their attention enough for them to want to read more.

"Why not share that with the author instead of a "Not for me" form letter?"

Some do. Others don't. It's up to the discretion of the agent.

Anonymous said...

Wesley, of the 4 agents who recently requested fulls from me, 3 sent form rejections. Sure, it would be nice to know why they rejected the full, but they're not a critique service. Their only obligation is to respond to my submission.

To expect more will only bring you frustration and disappointment.