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You "Read It With Interest," My Foot

MailMail (Photo credit: Bogdan Suditu)

There's no way to stop them from happening. Rejections. I'm talking about in the publishing industry. I have yet to hear about a published author who sent out queries and never received a rejection. The only way to achieve such a feat is to never send a query. Even the most successful authors went through many a rejection before they broke through.

So what's the big deal? Someone like little ol' me should expect rejection, right? Yes. And I do. I remember back in the days before e-mail queries were acceptable (and when every agent I queried preferred exclusive submissions), I snail mailed them one at a time, each with my SASE included, and then I waited. Never for acceptance, although I pretended to keep my hopes up. Usually, within a week or two, I would find my self-addressed envelope in the mail, creased from where I'd folded it into thirds. I would carry it inside, almost not wanting to open it. If anyone was around, I would wave it and say, "Here's another rejection." I was always right.

The types of rejections varied. Every once in a while, I received my query back with a coveted, hand-scrawled note, giving me some encouragement that at least someone had read it all the way through. Other times, the agency in question couldn't be bothered to use a whole piece of paper for their form rejection. I do understand that it's wasteful to use a whole sheet on a message that boils down to, "We're not interested. Bother someone else, please," but it just adds an extra little sting.

Worse were the rejections that never came. There are a few agencies that inform authors up front that SASEs are unnecessary. You can assume you're rejected if you don't hear anything within a specified period of time. If they want to see more, they'll either call personally or go to the expense of using their own envelopes and stamps. You can guess the kind of "response" I received from these agencies.

One time, I received a form rejection that made it very clear that no one ever read my query. It so offended me that I got in a huff and wrote the most sarcastic query I could muster in response. The idea was to see if I could make an agent mad enough to respond, even if it was just to say, "How dare you!" Of course, I never sent it. The act of writing it calmed me, and I eventually decided that agent wasn't worth my time, anyway.

But it made me wonder if querying was a futile effort. Why spend my time polishing a letter that no one was going to so much as glance at before rejecting? I understand that agents are extremely busy. Some even have periods when they do not accept submissions because they have to get other work done (like working with their already-established authors). Is there some kind of magic trick for those of us who don't have an "in" in the industry?

Nowadays, more agencies are open to simultaneous submissions, and with so many accepting e-mail queries, as well, it keeps the process from stretching out for years. Already this month, I've sent ten queries, whereas I don't think I ever sent ten in a year before, what with doing them all one at a time and then waiting for the mail. Still, it doesn't make rejection hurt any less.

One day this week, I sent a query just before 5:30 P.M., and a lot of these agencies have an auto-response e-mail that lets you know your submission went through and is waiting in line with all the other millions of submissions. Most agencies have a response time of four to six weeks. I was surprised, however, that the auto-responder said someone would be in touch with me "shortly." That was different. They seemed to pride themselves on expediency.

Well, "shortly" turned out to be midnight. Or that's the time listed on the e-mail I received the next morning. And the opening was quite cordial. They thanked me for my query, which they "read with interest." But they were so sorry that it just wasn't right for them. Now, who are they trying to fool? This agency isn't two time zones over, where someone might possibly have read it before the office closed. It's in my time zone. In my state, actually, which, to be honest, was one of the few things that attracted me to it. So either someone stayed after hours to read submissions and then sent the robo-rejections, or some computer program scanned it for key words, didn't find what it was looking for, then sent the rejection when it was done. I'm going with the latter option.

There are a lot of things that bother me about this, but the first is that their response flat-out lies. You don't want to do business with me, so why sugar-coat it? Just say, "You know what, your type of submission isn't what we want right now. No thanks." I've heard this before and moved on. Don't tell me you "read it with interest" when the only person in the building was the janitor. And, of course, since this is a form rejection, all authors receive it. We're all being lied to.

Second, they asked for a writing sample. Why bother? Well, I suppose the software that reads for them could send up a red flag if the writing sample was full of typos, but even if I don't write the most gripping queries, they're grammatically correct. (Well, one that I sent out did have a big typo that I didn't catch until the next day, so when I receive that rejection, I will fully deserve it. But I digress.) I always bemoaned that, when querying by mail, the agents judged me based on a one-page cover letter. I would try to throw in lines from my book, hoping to show my style, but that approach never worked. I recently had the opportunity for an agent to critique an excerpt of my story, and she said the voice and opening were strong. So if they'll just read the bit of story that I send (and I only send the length they ask for), they'll have to admit it's well-written, even if it's not subject matter that they want to represent.

The vindictive part of me wants to become the next J.K. Rowling, so I can rub it in the rejectors' faces. But really, I just want someone out there to give my middle grade fantasy novel the time of day. They certainly don't seem to mind representing some of the absolute garbage that litters the bookshelves. But I refuse to write something sensational, just to sell copies. If no one wants to publish my story, I know a great place that's friendly to indie authors, and it's called Smashwords.com. (I've already published my short story "Stranded" there and have another story in the works.) There are many indie authors out there who are doing pretty well, even getting discovered by big agents and publishers. I was encouraged when my cousin sent me Hugh Howey's publishing story this week. It would be a stretch for the same kind of circumstances to happen for me, but. . . maybe there's hope for this girl, after all.