Yesterday agent Mandy Hubbard tweeted:
Sometimes, wish I could tell an author: You have talent. But this feels like the book before the 1 you get published. #NobodyWantstoHearThat
Well, of course you don’t want to hear that, but maybe you should. Now, if I were just dipping my toes in the querying waters for the first time, that kind of statement could be devastating. But after nearly two years of querying and three years of being critiqued, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin. I barely shrug when I get a query rejection, and even a manuscript rejection merits little more than a wince. I’ve gotten to the point where I tell myself it’s a rejection before I even open it so I don’t get my hopes up. Maybe that’s a little sad, but it’s how I cope. And on the plus side, a “yes” is then a pleasant surprise.
On the other hand, when I get actual feedback, I perk up. Those rejections give me hope that I’m getting closer, and I can see that it’s true in my own journey.
With my first serious manuscript, CAVEBOY, I had less than ten requests, and the rejections were pretty much forms, with a couple of agents who asked me to send them other work. I’ve had a lot more success with DUET. I still received some form rejections on requests, but quite a few of the rejections gave me feedback, and one was even an R&R. (For those who have been following me a while, no, I haven’t heard back on that one yet. I’m still waiting on a few submissions, actually.) No matter what DUET’s eventual fate is, I can see that I’ve improved by the number of requests and number of agents who gave me actual feedback. That’s especially encouraging when I’m almost ready to send out a new project.
I can definitely understand agents’ hesitancy to give you the level of honesty Mandy mentioned. Obviously there are crazies out there who harass agents after a rejection, but I think another reason is they have no idea where you are in the process. How do they know whether the writer is seasoned and professional enough to take that feedback and accept it for what it is–their opinion–instead of throwing their laptop across the room and vowing never to write again? Ok, that’s extreme, but some people are more sensitive than others or just haven’t developed that thick skin yet.
I’m always cognizant of that when I critique for someone new. I try not to hold back if I really think something’s an issue because I’d want them to tell me if they saw a problem in my MS. At the same time, until I’ve formed a relationship with them, I don’t know how they’ll take it. If I don’t hear back from a new CP within a day or two, I start thinking, “Was I too harsh? Do they hate me now?” But then I remind myself that they asked for my opinion and that I wouldn’t really be helping them if I held something back. And when it comes down to it, it’s still just my opinion. They might not agree with it or think it’s right for their manuscript, just as I might not agree with something an agent or CP says about my manuscript. I don’t always agree with the critiques I receive, but I still appreciate them. Even if I decide to leave something the way it is, at least I know it could be perceived that way. That’s important knowledge because we all come from different backgrounds and bring different perspectives when we read. No one comes away with the exact same reading experience. That’s the beauty of the written word.
How about you? How much honesty can you take?