When everything is wonderful – ‘but,’ what do you do?
A week and a half before Christmas, I got another rejection. It had been months since I sent out my last batch of query letters, still seeking an agent for my YA novel, The Practical Orphan’s Guide to Surviving a Fairy Tale. Four of the agents in that group never responded at all, even after follow-up e-mails.
I’ve always said I’d rather get a quick form rejection than be stuck waiting for any response at all. They are, by far, the easiest types of rejections to handle. You glance over the, “I’m sorry,” close the e-mail, and move on with your life. The ones that send many a novice writer into a pit of despair and/or rage are the rejections that come after partial or full manuscript reads and carefully explain why your writing is not worthy. I’ve had a couple of those, and it’s always an epic struggle to put fingers to keyboard the next day.
But one type of rejection I haven’t had much experience with is what I’ll call ‘the beautiful blow-off.’ It’s the nicest dream-crusher your inbox will ever see, and after the glow of the compliment fades, you’re left agonizing over the vague, subjective reason for rejection, understanding there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
On December 16th, I received one of these.
Many thanks for sending me The Practical Orphan’s Guide to Surviving a Fairy Tale! I liked so many things about this — your opening is powerful, and I really like Kate. But, in the end, I didn’t fall in love with this world, and given that, I’m afraid that I can’t offer representation.
I’m sorry not to have better news, but do truly appreciate you thinking of me, and send this with the very best wishes for this and all your writing projects.
This agent requested the full manuscript back in August – but she wasn’t the first to do so, so I tried to keep my expectations at a reasonable level. When I hadn’t heard anything by October, I sent a follow-up, and she responded almost immediately that it was still in her to-read pile. After thanking her for her quick response, I put it out of my mind.
My first reaction to the final response was, ‘Yay?’ She was complimentary, and made an actual, personal, reply. These are good things, encouraging things. She said she liked my protagonist, and thought my opening was “powerful.” Why, then, wasn’t she sending me a contract full of legalese?
It’s that tricky, horrible, bane-of-an-artist’s-existence thing: subjectivity. Published books run the gamut from prize-worthy to cringe-worthy, but they all have one thing in common: someone believed in them enough to fight for them on the author’s behalf. Even if an agent reads and likes a book, if he or she doesn’t feel passion for the project, they won’t take it on. The work they do means they have to feel compelled to take on editors, publishers, and critics. Their job is to convince everyone else to love it, which is something they can’t do if they only ‘like’ it.
Understanding all this doesn’t remove the sting, or the doubts. The trouble with understanding that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure is that it doesn’t help me understand why that one man thought it was trash, and if there was anything specific I could do to alter his perception. The question becomes – do I take this as a sign of hope, revel in the positivity, or come to grips with the possibility that it will never be anything more than ‘likeable,’ that there is no white knight out there waiting to be the champion of Kate Kincaid and The Practical Orphan’s Guide.
Giving up completely will never be an option. 2014 is a new year, and hopefully there will be many more beautiful blow-offs to come. In the mean time, a new YA novel is begun, a story immersed in a culture I look forward to learning more about, and a different sort of culture I look forward to sharing.