Blogger: Wendy Lawton
The long-awaited letter arrives in that dual creased self-addressed, stamped envelope you remember tucking into the proposal and sample chapters you sent an agent many months ago. When your query resulted in an invitation to send that proposal, you were over the moon. You carry the SASE reverently into the house. Hope wrapped up in a number ten envelope. Do you open it immediately to see what it says, possibly destroying that last shred of hope? Should you hide sharp objects? Do you put it aside until you’re in a stronger mental state, armed with a Starbucks and a friend? Snap out of it, you tell yourself. After all it’s either yes or no, right? You finally receive enough self-therapy that you can slit open the envelope.
You read the letter. Twice. What does that mean? Interesting concept. Great voice. Unfortunately not for me at this time. What?? It makes no sense.
Or what about that full manuscript you submitted when an editor requested it. When you finally received it back with a polite little decline, the only feedback you got was, The story just didn’t do it for me. What’s a writer supposed to do with input like that?
It’s happened in person as well. You sit down at an editor appointment at a writer’s conference and the editor hands back your manuscript, saying, “I’m very interested in you as a writer, just not in this book.”
What does a writer do with all this non-specific feedback?
Realize that editors and agents are reluctant to give specific feedback for a number of reasons:
- Sadly, it takes a tremendous amount of time to give meaningful feedback. Anything less just raises questions. No agent or editor has time to invest in a book or author he is not going to pursue.
- Critique is highly subjective and what bothers one editor may not even be an issue for another. What if the writer revised using feedback that was specific to that one particular editor? A writer needs to be secure enough in his writing that he keeps submitting until he finds the editor or agent who loves it.
- Specific feedback seems to invite debate. Many a disappointed author is only too happy to reference the book that says to use the exact technique he employed. No agent or editor has time to engage in debate over a book he’s not going to acquire or represent, so he avoids giving critique.
- In our examples above the writer really did get some valuable, if nonspecific, input. Interesting concept. This is a big one. It means the book or story is appealing. It means you’re on the right track with the idea.
- And, great voice. This is only something that comes with time. Those two comments alone should give encouragement to keep going.
- The example of the in person meeting? That’s a good thing. The agent or editor is impressed with you, impressed with your writing but just not that particular book. That’s okay. This is a long haul, not a one-time shot. You’ll have lots of different books.
- If you hear the same thing over and over, you need to do your best to analyze it.
- In the example above– it’s not for me at this time-– you cannot take anything personal from this. It could mean your idea is so fabulous the editor just acquired something similar two months ago. That would be a huge encouragement that you are on the right track.
- It could mean that the number of slots just got cut and “at this time” he can’t acquire anything.
- It might mean that though yours is interesting he didn’t fall in love with it.
- It might be a sign she had a fight with her teenage daughter that morning and the nothing in the entire world appeals to her today.