Today, I'm thankful for indoor plumbing. And water heaters.
When it comes to rejection, there’s definitely a hierarchy. At the tip-tip-top of the list is the “Well, I think I’m gonna pass, but I loved your characters, and that climax had me going, and your voice is really witty, and while we’re on the subject, I think you’re a great writer, and…wait, why am I passing? I’m offering you representation!” rejection. (Okay, so I kind of made that one up.) Below that is the request for revisions, and below that is the invitation to submit future work. And just below that is the form rejection.
Which isn’t the bottom of the list, I might add. I think we’d all agree that the no-response-means-no rejection is something we could live without, but I submit that, more often than not, we could probably do without those personalized rejections as well.
Let me say that again, just so we’re clear: We could probably do without those personalized rejections as well.
Personalized rejections aren’t always bad. It’s nice to get a “While your plot sounds intriguing, I’m afraid I didn’t quite connect with the pages” rejection, and I don’t even complain when I get one of those “Dear [Insert Writer’s Name Here], thank you for submitting [INSERT BOOK TITLE HERE], but it’s not what I’m looking for right now” (which is really more of a gussied-up form rejection, anyway). But most of the time, when agents send personalized rejections, they sound more like “I’m rejecting this because your concept isn't commercial enough,” or “I’m rejecting this because I don’t like your voice.”
They’re trying to be helpful. They don’t have time to tell you all the things you did right, so they focus instead on the stuff you did wrong. But when all you’re hearing is one-and-a-half lines of “You’re not good,” “You can’t hack it,” “Your idea is utter dreck,” it’s easy to get discouraged.
Most agents figured this out a while ago. They’re not out to hurt everyone’s feelings, so they use form rejections (which happen to cut down on response times, too). An agent is only one person, after all, and his or her opinion is no more or less valid than any other one person’s opinion. (Okay, so maybe an agent’s opinion is a little more valid than, say, my aunt Mabel’s (if I even had an aunt Mabel, that is), but you get the idea.)
So huzzah for form rejections! (Although, agents, if you’re reading this, feel free to just request more material. We’re okay with that, too.)