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Write on, Wednesday: Agent Toolkit #2–Rejection Euphamisms

By Leslie Lindsay


It’s much more satisfying to blast out a blog post than it is to say, get that manuscript ready for an agent’s eyes.  Here’s why:  a blog is short and sweet; done and over with.  I can post it and move on, check it off my list.  A manuscript never seems to be done.  I could toil away on it all afternoon and have not one thing to cross of my list.  Finish novel.  “Oh, that silly ol’ thing!”  A wave of my hand, “Did that earlier today.”

A novel is long and messy.  I’ll surely open the document and play with words for hours.  Should this go or stay?  Can I say the same thing in fewer words?  Is this scene really necessary? 

Oh yes, it is! 

I must work on that manuscript.  And I will.  After this.  

Herein lies the pressures of the publishing world from an agent’s point of view: “one must rely on a body of conventional and received wisdom of what sells and what doesn’t…”

Yet, if we all wrote what sells, then we’d all be reading–and writing–the same thing?  Humm, that doesn’t bode well for me, either.  And so you think, “Ah, but I’ve got something new, something fresh!  You must sign me now.” 

And when you get that expected rejection letter via your in-box (very rarely do they come in the actual mailbox), you’ll read some form letters, and others that are more encouraging.  It’s those encouraging ones that will eat away at you. 

For example, my critique partner just received one that said something like, “Your writing lacks some tightness in areas.”  What?!  Okay, I get it–tightness is good.  Yet, she had these qualifiers–*some* and *in areas,* which to me means, well…the agent had to say something as to why she didn’t want to represent my lovely critique partner.

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So, I did a little digging and found this book I’d once read by a former editor-turned-agent, THE FOREST FOR THE TREES.  Author Betsey Lerner breaks it down for us in what she calls, “edititorial rejection euphamisms.”  Here goes:

1)      Pacing problems = boring

2)      Exhaustive = academic/boring

3)      Somewhat heavy-handed  = preachy

4)      Not without charm  = too precious

5)      Nicely written but ultimately unsatisfying  = plotless

6)      Underdeveloped characters = totally stock

7)      Nice sense of place = is this about anything?

8)      Not enough tension = mind-numbling slow

9)      Feels familiar  = road trip/coming of age/ugly duckling, dysfunctional family story

10)    Entertaining  = over-written

11)    Crowded marketplace = not another!

12)    Too special = it won’t sell

I don’t see anything that says, “lacks some tightness in some areas.”  Honestly, my critique partner is still trying to come to terms with that one.  She writes tight.  Period. 

So, the thing is–keep writing.  Keep sending those queries.  Someone will say ‘yes.’  It only takes one.

Write on, Wednesday!

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