on rejection and response time

This afternoon my agent asked, on her blog, what the most frustrating thing about rejection was. I ended up saying that it’s not really rejection that I find frustrating, but rather the amount of time it takes to get rejection letters, which has nothing to do with the rejection itself.

Jenn then asked, So….what do you think is a reasonable amount of time for consideration and reply? I know on initial queries I’m usually good at answering within two weeks now (though not during holidays). On requested partials and manuscripts, I take much longer and my response time varies wildly.

My response got very long indeed, and I thought I’d post it here as well as in her comments. Behind the cut, because it really *is* long. :)

It’s a hard question. I’d love to see responses — whether from editors or agents — within a month. It reduces the angst and the chilled hands when you go to check the mailbox. Above all, though, I think what I’d like best is for the guidelines for individual houses/agents to be posted and to be *accurate*.

If somebody’s guidelines say they’ll take 4-6 months to reply, okay, I can live with that. It’s when the stated response time passes six months and hits nine, or twelve, without any kind of answer, that panic sets in. One doesn’t want to *nag*, but good *God*, what’s going *on*? Has the building imploded? Have several key people died? Is your partial so very good that they keep passing it around the office, but have somehow failed to actually ask for the whole book? Worse, is it so bad it’s been turned into kitty litter and forgotten about? What’s going *on*?

It’s not having any understanding what ‘a quick turnaround’ is, if someone in a publishing house tells you they want to do a quick turnaround on something. It’s seeing that a query letter/partial submission will be (at least theoretically) responded to in 6 months, but having no equivilant information on how long it might take to get a response on a requested manuscript.

It’s the utter lack of control. As an unpublished/unagented author, when you’re sending things out, you’re completely out of control. You write the best story you can, of course, and you format your manuscript properly, and you put it in the mail and at that point someone has the ability to break your heart and crush your dreams. You’re desperate not to offend anybody, but you don’t *understand* the process that’s going on, on the other end. You hear about hideous slushpiles and know your manuscript is in there somewhere, but even if you appreciate the fact that editors and agents have a lot more to do than just read the slushpile, when the stated time for a response comes and goes … and goes… and goes… and *goes*… and there’s not a great deal you can really do about it.

We all read TNH‘s blog and see that once in a while someone does something clever like sends her manuscript an anniversary card, but — well, that’s been done now, are you really sure you want to be the next in a flood of anniversary cards? At what point does that cease being a clever way to get attention and become an irritating gimmick?

Literally the only thing you’ve got, as a beginning writer, are the times claimed, either on a website or in the Writer’s Market or — those are really the only places I can think of — as to how long it’s going to take to respond to your submission. If the publishing house or agent, for whatever reason, doesn’t respond within that time, you feel like you’ve got *nothing*. It may be a very weak contract, but it’s all a beginning writer has, and if it’s broken, you really have no idea how to respond. *That’s* the frustrating thing about rejection, to me, and it’s not really even about rejection.

How to deal with it? That, I’m not sure about. In a perfect world — well, in a perfect world an editor or agent would always be able to get responses out within the stated time period. :)

In a slightly less perfect world, a system that allowed for, “Hey, Jr.’s book has been here 5 months and 2 weeks, send him a postcard to let him know the ms hasn’t been lost, at least” would be *so* much better than the uncertainty. I do understand the flaws with this — it requires manpower to flag incoming submissions — but boy, from the writer’s side of thing, which feels very powerless, it’d be nice to have something like that in place. Anything that says, “You have not been entirely forgotten, grasshopper.”

If you know your response times vary wildly on requested mss and partials, as the person sending those in to you, I’d *much* rather hear, “It will probably take three months for me to respond to this; it may take six (or whatever the absolute upper limit of your response time is),” than to hear nothing or to just not know. Without the information you (or an editor, or whomever) gives me, I have absolutely *no* way to reasonably guess at what point it might be okay to send an email or a letter or a phone call (and which of those is most appropriate is also a piece of information that, for a writer, is invaluable) to say, “I submitted X to you on Y date; could you tell me its status?”

And once more, from the writer point of view, you feel terribly out of control and out of power. It’s *desperately* important to Not Offend The Agent, or The Editor (even if that importance/chance of offense is mostly in the writer’s mind, it’s still *there*). You *want* to build a good relationship, and you also want to know what’s going on. Because all the power (percieved or otherwise) is on the editor/agent’s side, literally *any* information I’m given is going to be tremendously important to me.

Apparently what I’m coming down to here is: I will accept almost any sort of response time as being legitimate, but when I’m given that response time as my window of expectation, I will *believe* that it’s the amount of time it will take. If it turns out, for any reason, that it’s going to take longer, I’m all right with that — but I want to be told. It’s the *not knowing* that’s worst, so *any* communication makes me, as a writer, less frantic and more willing to take the deep breaths and practice the mantras and accept that, yes, okay, agents and editors have other things to do besides answer query letters and read manuscripts. I just need the bone, to know what’s going on.

2 thoughts on “on rejection and response time

  1. I think that probably ties in somewhat with what we discussed the other day about ‘when’ as opposed to ‘if’. :)

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