Episode: "We Regret to Inform You: The Form Rejection"
Originally aired: Monday, November 2nd, 2009
For those of you in the know (and there are more of you than you might think), there have, over the past several months and years, been periodic imbroglios re: the use of the form rejection by literary agents. I don't usually foray into this territory, but I thought a patented PMN Analogy® might be of some use. It's actually not my analogy—I'm shamelessly appropriating it from a guy I was talking to last week—but I find it too good to pass up.
Remember when you applied to college? Fun, right? The standardized tests, the trips to the guidance office, the teacher recommendations, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, &c &c. The point being: remember when maybe you didn't get into that one college? Did they send you a personalized four-page essay on how you were super great, but they just didn't have room for you? Or did they send you a one-page "thanks, but no thanks, better luck elsewhere"?
As I've said before, you, gentle (though as-yet-unrepresented) readers, are not any given agent's primary focus or responsibility. Their time and efforts go first and foremost to their clients, and only after they've negotiated contracts, calmed down their own hysterical authors, sat through endless rounds of auctions, and attended every known (and many an unknown) conference on the planet do they have time to sit and read your query. This is why said query has to be good, and this is why you can't be upset with a form rejection. Not only does an agent not have time to respond to every individual person who queries him or her, but to be completely honest, he or she wouldn't owe you a personal rejection even if he or she did have the time. Disheartening, perhaps, but true.
Caveat: this doesn't mean I wholeheartedly endorse the form rejection for, say, partials or fulls, and I've never been a fan of the idea that no news is bad news (i.e. no response means rejection). And I do realize that most (if not all) writers view their work as reflections or extensions of themselves, and often (perhaps subconsciously) equate rejection of their work with rejection of their overall abilities as writers, or even with rejection of themselves, period. But this is not the case, bros and she-bros. It's simply a rejection of your novel, not an indictment of your character.
I don't mean to sound harsh here. I write, you write, we all write, and we all get rejected. None of us likes being rejected, and I'm sure agents don't relish the opportunity to reject us. But it's a necessary evil of the system, cats and kittens, and if you want to graduate from the Publishing School of Hard Knocks, you've got to be able to take a form rejection or two. Or ten. Or two thousand.
All I can say is: soldier on, dear readers. Never give up! Never surrender!