Saturday, November 17, 2007

The (Possibly Explosive) Dangers of Feedback

Not as many questions for the magic eight ball of editor speak as I expected, which perhaps means that my colleagues have not been making as much of a nuisance of themselves. Or maybe you guys are taking the 8 Rules of Rejections to heart and not thinking much about the rejection letters you get. (If so, good for you!)

I've had an ed say she loved the voice, the plot, and the premise but not the dialogue. There were literally all of three lines of dialogue in that ms.

Yes, here's an example of wanting to give feedback and avoid the problem at the same time, which editors ought to know are mutually exclusive goals. Sure, editors are sometimes skittish about approaching the problem, since some of the things you definitely can do while giving feedback are confuse, anger, frustrate, and offend people. Still, if you're going to skip the problem, skip the "feedback". This sort of letter just makes people wonder what you're using for brains.
"the writing is thin"

This most often means the writing didn't have enough color or personality of its own. This doesn't necessarily mean you need more description, though writers are frequently in danger of taking it that way. Good, muscular writing knows what its goal is in the manuscript, and gets it done with few words. If you choose the right few words, the right few telling details, you only need a few.
"it's too quiet"

This is a topic problem; the editor is saying there isn't enough of a hook. There are now so many books on the market with lovely writing and illustration that those facts alone will not sell a book. If the writing or art is breathtaking, then that can be a hook of its own. Otherwise, the book also needs to be about something people know they want.
"not substantial enough"

This could mean "too thin" or "too quiet" (see above). Hard to say which.
I have a friend who just got a rejection from an ed who said she loved the concept, loved the genuine voice, loved the really great writing, but rejected the ms b/c she wanted to see more b/w 2 characters. As writers we hear over and over that plot can be fixed. But believable voice, solid writing, original concept, etc...have to be there first. So what was the deal-e-oh here? Not even a revision request. Although she did ask to see anything else of the writer's. Is there a subliminal message, like, "I adore this, but my publisher will never green-light this project," huh?For writers, these kinds of rejections are both exhilarating and excruciating.

Sounds like a letter I would have ended with a revision request. It's sometimes hard, though, to be sure a writer's able to change a manuscript the way you think it needs to be changed. And while we'd love to give people the benefit of the doubt, we see a few hundred manuscripts every year that have distinct strengths and that are simply not ready to be published. If we gave all of them an open door for resubmission, we'd regret it almost instantly. My advice: think hard about this feedback, and if you like it enough to make some real changes to the manuscript, do resubmit it. And submit it elsewhere. And keep submitting.
My husband has noticed that I get more vague yet personal rejections of the "I loved this, really enjoyed it, want a copy for myself but...no." variety between May and September... Even worse are the friendly, unsigned replies from publishers who told me not to include a SASE b/c they only respond if interested... so someone actually SPENT MONEY to send me a vaguely polite rejection..His diagnosis? Summer Interns.(Though I half-wonder if the polite rejection from the "only respond if interested" publisher was, in fact, a veiled attempt to say "please don't EVER submit to us again." Then I stop being paranoid and make another pot of coffee to make me feel better...)

I would attribute any rejection in the vein of "This was so great! I can't think of a single thing to criticize! Not on your life!" to interns.
The friendly, unsigned replies from houses who don't promise a response, however, I would take as actually friendly (while obviously not real personal or helpful).

Now, I do know what you mean about a polite letter that was sent in the hope that the author would never submit again, but you can be absolutely sure you've never received one. You seem perfectly sane. We don't send those letters to the clueless or the people who need to work on their manuscript some more. We don't even send them to the people who we feel could really work on their writing some more. They are solely for the very occasional certifiably insane person whose manuscript and/or cover letter actually scares us. They are "Oh my god, send this person a very nice but vague letter and let's hope the next thing we get from him isn't a bomb" letters.

So far we have not gotten any bombs, but trust me, some of the slush is just that terrifying.

6 comments:

Colorado Writer said...

Thank you for taking the time to post this one.

No is just no. Until it is a yes!

Anonymous said...

I, too, got a "too quiet" rejection letter. But it was basically one huge compliment after another on everything else -- the MC, the setting, the swoon factor over the MC's object of desire, the writing, dear God, the editor loved the writing...

But in this day and age, doesn't that "too quiet" rejection simply mean, we don't wanna spend any money on promotion, so sorry, sucker?

In the day of major deals for YA fantasy and the saturated market of prom/popular/homecoming queen books, isn't there ANY room for a quiet book to get some promo bucks?

(I'll stop whining now.)

Editorial Anonymous said...

Swoon factor is a hook of its own. Sounds like you just haven't found the right house yet.

Anonymous said...

EA, you may have answered this, but I was wondering about the rejections you give to agents, are they more honest than the ones to authors?

Before an editor said yes to my manuscript, several said a variety of things like what you've described here, "strong writing, character, plot, but not right for me." There was also at least one, the writing isn't strong enough.

I'm curious if you work harder to be clear about your rejection with an agent, because you are trying to educate the agent as to what you are looking for, and developing a relationship, or if the bottom line is you don't have much time to spend on manuscripts you don't want because you've got to find and work on the ones you do?

ae said...

Above anon, I am sorry to interrupt, but, I have had the same thing with the "writing isn't strong enough" and others complimenting the writing. ALL it tells me is that one person does not see things the same way as another, or truly, this editor cannot find a place for your ms which is a legitimate reason.

But you found the right editor!! So there you go!!

Anonymous said...

AE -- yeah, I winced at the "writing isn't strong enough." even though I know that for every great published book, there are also stories of rejection and allegations weak writing. I don't know why writers, myself included, give so much more attention to the negative than the positive. It's the most ridiculous behavior.

A rejection just means you haven't found the right editor for the manuscript. It's the truth.