I’ve been sending around my YA novel to agents in the hopes of representation. While no one has yet expressed interest, I have received a handful of rejections. They all express the same sentiments: they are regretful, the book world is so subjective, I deserve an agent who is as passionate about my work as I am, I should continue.
I am delighted to know about this world of polite “no’s.” I’m not unperceptive and I know these are more or less form letters, but I enjoy their courteous encouragement. And for people as busy as agents—in this world of instant electronic submissions—just receiving a reply can be interpreted as a form of success. But having run the gamut of iterations of “no” for a while, I now want to know why. To that end I have an idea: How about a form rejection letter that would have suggestions or comments built in that the agent would underscore or make bold or put an X next to. It could look something like this.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to review your work. However, I am not going to offer you representation based on this manuscript because:
X Your writing needs to be tightened up
Your characters are flat/tropey
Your plot lacks sufficient development
X This subject is not selling right now
Best regards, Agent
Does that seem too harsh? I think it would be helpful and I don’t think it would take up any more of the agent’s time than cutting and pasting a form letter. I know brusque is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I prefer it to bland vagaries. (Well, I like to think I do.) I belong to a writing group that gets straight to the point. I review books professionally and I’m a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Yes, I sometimes get that “ouch” feeling when I get critiqued, but I always, eventually, appreciate it because it always makes my work better.
Stephen King wrote that it was a game changer for him when an editor scrawled a note on his rejected manuscript that it was too puffy and that the second draft equals the first draft minus ten percent. He took that advice to heart, pared down his stories and started getting acceptances.
Agents want to get good books out to the marketplace, and what better way to help that process than to give serious writers a teeny signpost, included in a form letter, that reflects the agent’s perspective?