July 27, 2011

After The Call: Editorial Rejections -- To Read or Not To Read?

"After the Call" is a regular feature on my blog! It chronicles what happens after an agent offers you representation: how to choose the right agent, how to communicate with your new agent, what the revision process is like, etc. For previous posts in this series, please see the "After The Call" sidebar to the right.

Here on the "After The Call" series, I have a tendency to write about subjects on a more general scale. How to Fight Envy! How to Persevere! How to Pick an Agent who Doesn't Suck Ass! (<-- Hmm, not sure I've written about that last one yet.)

So today, I thought I'd talk about one of the more "technical" aspects of going on submission. It is a subject of much debate: Should you or shouldn't you read your editorial rejections? 

Okay, a bit of background information first... 

Before you go on submission, your agent will probably email or call you to give you a rundown of the publishers he plans to send your book to. Your agent might also ask if you'd like him to forward any editorial rejections to you. This is something you'll need to think about--do want to be kept in the loop or do you prefer to live in blissful ignorance? (Ignorance! Ignorance!) You have a few options to choose from:

Option A: You must know everything!
Some writers want to read all of the editorial feedback they receive, the good, the bad, and the ugly. In many ways, this is a good strategy. It keeps you abreast of what's going on and it gives you the opportunity to see why editors aren't connecting with your work. 

Before I went on submission, I thought I wanted to be one of these writers. After all, I had steely skin and an iron stomach! I could take any rejection thrown my way! But I was wrong. I am a delicate flower, apparently, and I wilt at the sight of rejection. (Ah, ignorance. So snuggly.) 

BUT! Not all writers are delicate flowers like me. And so, if you want to read all of your rejections, then make sure to discuss it with your agent. Some agents don't pass on rejections unless you specifically ask them for it. 

Option B: You must know some things!
Perhaps you have some delicate flower tendencies and don't want to read all of your rejections. At the same time, you'd like to know what the editors are saying, especially if they have any constructive criticism. 

If this sounds like you, then ask your agent to pass on any rejections with helpful feedback. This way, you get the best of both worlds: you don't have to wade through all of those sad rejections to get to the good bits.

Option C: You must know only good things!
Ah, this is also known as the Blissful Ignorance option. I like this option. Delicate flower thy name is Caroline!

The perks about Option C: you only hear good news! You don't get sweaty palms whenever you receive an email from your agent---you know that she won't be contacting you unless something good has happened. 

The downsides of Option C: well, you're kind of out of the loop. You have no idea how many editors have passed on your work and why they are passing. Still, that's kind of the point of this option, right? BLISSFUL IGNORANCE! 

So, this is just food for thought before you go on submission. And, to be honest, you might change your mind once your book finally goes out into the exciting/terrified world of publishing. Maybe you're like me and you think you want to know everything but then you decide you don't. Or maybe you think Blissful Ignorance sounds rather nice but then you decide it's not nice at all and you're developing weird tics because you have no idea what's going on. And so, give yourself the freedom to change your mind! 

Questions? Comments? Advice? Please leave them in the comments and I'll respond as soon as I can!


  1. Love this post Caroline. I thought I was the Option A type before I went on sub. Turns out my agent sneakily only emailed me when there was good news, and in hind-sight, I am SO happy she did this. The only emails I saw before my book deal were things like, "An editor is asking for synopses of b2+3. Let's pull something together."

    Even this type of good news still had my palms sweating and my nerves through the roof because it's so open and there is nothing finite about it. And that's on top of the general state of crazy that had already set in when my agent sent the MS off originally. Submission is an emotional roller coaster. I'm really glad my agent served as a filter, letting the things I needed to hear through, and keeping the rest to herself. It helped me stay sane -- or as sane as one can be on sub. Guess I'm an Option C gal after all.

    I'd love to hear what other writers prefer, in terms of communication options with their agent during sub. I still can't believe I once wanted to know everything. *shudders*

  2. After all the fun I had while trying to snag an agent, I'd definitely say I'm option A by now. Sometimes the snuggie blanket of ignorance is nice, but in the long run I'd just prefer to know everything and not be in the dark.

  3. Erin, we're one in the same! And thank you for sharing your experiences with Sara--it's so insightful to learn how different agents work.

    You also made a good point about feeling nervous even about good news! I hadn't thought of it that way but it's very true. Seems like every step of this process is a tad anxiety-inducing, hmm? Even the good parts!

  4. Shawntelle, I wish I had your steely skin! BUT, I think I would like to read more of my rejections in the future. As hard as it is, it's also important to understand why editors are saying no and trying to find ways to remedy it. Ack, I need to grow thicker skin!

  5. I am 100% option A. I am much less anxious when I know everything that's going on, because then I have nothing to speculate about. My agent sends a sort of translation when she forwards me stuff, but I always get to see the exact email from the editor. I really like it, and it's worked great so far! So you're absolutely right--everyone is different!

  6. I"m option B! Awesome Agent Jim passed along constructive rejections for Garolass, and I liked knowing what was working and what wasn't, since there was sort of a consensus about it.

    Great post, Caroline!

  7. Great post! I think my agent knows I'm more of an Option B person. I like staying in the loop, but I'm not sure if I could stomach the full-blown rejection. :(

  8. Anonymous8:11 PM

    I wasn't given a choice with my first agent, and Option A it was. Yikes. Just yikes. I'm pretty sure I didn't learn ANYTHING from that horrific experience. This delicate flower is option C all the way from now on.

  9. I fancy myself Option A if I ever get to this stage, because I'd like to know what's happening and why editors are passing. But realistically, I think I'm more of an Option B gal. :)

  10. I'm a fearless flower, therefore a staunch and solid Option A gal.

    I'd drive myself nuts if I didn't know every last thing that's happening with my sub. I'm on sub now, and have found the feedback extremely helpful -- enough for me to stop and revise before the next round, along with what I've learned, in doing so, splashing over to improve my present ms.

    I also think the knowing helps me keep perspective -- for example, I've received rejections, but I've also gone to acquistions. It always helps to remember the human/subjectivity factor, so the rejections aren't quite so flattening.

    But overall, interesting how some of us quake at the thought of reading all the rejections, while others of us quake at the thought of not! : )

    Great post.

  11. Great post! I totally thought I was tough as nails. Turns out...not so much.

  12. I was option C last time around. Next time... I don't know. Definitely not A. Maybe B? Or I might just chicken out and go with C again. Caroline, I think I will just do whatever you do, so please go ahead and decide for both of us. :)

  13. Sarah, I totally wish I could be as brave as you! But I think I like my ignorance binky a bit too much! Haha.

    Jess, GO AGENT JIM! I love how he tailors his process with each of his clients.

    Pam, Option B is pretty great, I think! I might have to opt for that the next time around.

  14. Anon, Holy cow that is so frightening! I would hate being forced to read my rejections!

    Emy, that's the key--flexibility! And I think most agents are more than willing to adjust to your needs.

    Emily, congrats on being on sub!!! That is SO exciting! And thank you for sharing what your experiences have been like. It's really interesting for me to see how an Option A writer operates and what you've learned through this process.

    Alyson, thanks! We should start a Delicate Flower support group!

    Robin, Hahaha. I think I might need to breathe into a paper bag if we decide to take Option A. Maybe we should choose Option B? But Option C is so...blissful. :)

  15. We do this rundown at work for feedback, too tho it's known as A) shoot me straight, B) tell me, don't hurt me, and C) sugar-coat it. Same difference! I always WANT to be that intrepid gal who says SHOOT ME STRAIGHT for everything, but in truth I'm more sensitive than that. Even when I've got a die-hard staff member that wants option A, I get more out of them when I aim for option B when delivering their feedback. You guys are right - customization is key, but when in doubt, B - FTW! I'm not to editor-sub yet, but I'd wanna get the good with the bad - even if I have to look through my splayed fingers at it.

  16. At this (unagented) point, I'd say that I'd choose Option A because if I didn't get to read feedback, I think my brain would come up with far worse responses than what I'm actually getting.

  17. Well, the best part is being able to (in the best case scenarios) arrange it with ones agent to receive news in the way geared to an individual writers' personality and needs.

    I was thinking further on this, and I think I'm also an Option A gal because so much of the process, from queries to subs, feels so out of my control. So, to not view rejections feels even more out of control. And I've got enough of out of control, when you add in the market, the economy, what's selling, trends, human subjectivity, (the weather?) and personal editors' tastes.

    Thanks for the congrats for being on sub. Same rollercoaster, different park! : ) Tons of luck to you, also, in your writing endeavors!