Friday, May 03, 2019

Three form rejections

I have three form rejections. The one I use most often says simply not for me, I don't have a lock on the market so query other agents.

The second is a bit more terse. I use it for queries that are slapdash, noodle against the wall, what the hell, I'll just wing it. In other words, the PERSON is someone I don't want to work with even if the book sounds sort of interesting (and they hardly ever do.)

And then I have "No, thank you."

And  thank you is there ONLY because my finishing school teacher has a hatpin she can and does wield from the afterlife.

So, what gets a plain no?

For starters, sexual shenanigan memoirs/thinly disguised memoirs by young men.
You think you discovered sex, and self-service, and clever pick up lines.
Oh honey, you didn't.
And the idea that anyone else is interested in what you do with your "lady tamer" makes me laugh so hard I can barely type.

Anything ANYTHING that victim-blames/shames.

She asked for it?
I don't ask for your book.
Res. Ipsa. Fucking Loquitur.

Anything that undertakes to explain religion to me.
I've got that covered thanks.
The idea that you and you alone can explain the vagaries of faith is text book delusion.
I prefer my delusions to involve Idris Elba (who is a god as we all should acknowledge.)

Anything I think is non-publishable cause it's such bad writing.

In good conscience I cannot inflict this on anyone else so I don't encourage querying widely.
On the other hand...Finnegan's Wake.

What does this mean for you?

I know you fret about your work, and worry that all those rejections and vast silences mean you can't write for spit. Unless you heard "no, thank you" you're worrying needlessly.


Timothy Lowe said...

Interesting -- glad I've never gotten any of these 'nos' from Janet. Before y'all start worrying too much, I should say from experience that there are a whole heap of agents who said "No, thanks" to projects that got requests from other agents.

In other words, some agents use "No, thanks" as their typical form.

Pericula Ludus said...

Now that's a handy checklist. Let's see...
Sexual Shenanigans — No
Victim sh/blaming — No
Explaining Religion — No. Well... I mean it is historical and religion played a very important role in the events and... yep, rodent wheeling away.
Bad Writing — Ah, there's the cause for today's pre-emptive self-flagellation!

Dena Pawling said...

Does this mean that if I have my query personally delivered to you by Idris Elba, you'll request pages?

I'll get right on that

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I hope to frame my rejection from our Queen once I gather up the guts to query her. I pray it's not a simple "No thank you". It's a big frame.

*Shivers and re-examines all previous life decisions and recasts Idris Elba as god*

Aphra Pell said...


For the love of flying wombats and indeed all over marsupials, monotremes and placentals... please tell me no-one actually put that in a query?

They did, didn't they?

Jennifer Mugrage said...

Ah ... This is nice, thank you

Love the hatpin wielding schoolmistress ghost. She ought to go in a crime novel.

julie.weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karl Henwood said...

Have you ever shouted "FIRE ZE TORPEDOES!" while hitting send on a #3? I did that once while rejecting a very, very stupid request from somebody I was managing, long before I got involved with writing. Given how hard he'd worked to earn it I found it oddly satisfying.

Brenda said...

Oh Dena, would he take mine, too? I do hope he’s cast as the new Bond. Now I’m. All distracted. And can’t remember where I was.
Oh yes, religion in your story. That’s an area where I struggle. To write honest characters you have to include any religious experience they have in the course of the story.
A common response for bear attack victims is, “God make it stop, godmakeitstop, godmakeitstop.” Those exact words are recounted so often that you get to expect them. When I asked one gentleman if he prayed during the attack, he snorted and said, “Anybody who hasn’t prayed hasn’t met a big enough bear.” Pithy words coming from a cuss-infected old farmer.
But how to do it well? I feel my sphincter tighten up as soon as I start typing the religious scene. Agents, and the market, are not kind to characters who pray, even with grave provocation. Particularly female characters. When I write that scene there are 1,000 critics on my shoulder and, as as a result, the writing is stilted.
At the same time, I understand the hesitancy. Religious mania and compulsive writing are clearly documented symptoms of schizophrenia and it only makes sense that those writers would seek a large audience which, in turn, makes agents gun-shy.
The answer, I think, is to write a story so compelling that religion (and even lady tamers) are accepted.
I’ll get right on that.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

I really don't see how having a character call on God during a horrible experience is pushing religion. If someone rejects based on that kind of mention of God ... Well, I really don't know what to say.

What Janet said got a #3 kind of rejection is any book that sets out to EXPLAIN religion. I take that to mean non-fiction books that take a know-it-all stance, or possibly fiction that is clearly contrived to push a religious veiwpoint (The Left Behind books) or to debunk one (The Da Vinci Code).

I agree with the mandate to write a compelling story. And I think most compelling stories will include religious experiences of some kind, because it is an organic part of the human experience.

Finally, thanks for giving me my shot of horror today with your description of a bear attack. "God make it stop" raised the hackles on my neck more than any clinical description of what the bear bit when.

julie.weathers said...


One page in on The Rain Crow:

"Clutching my crucifix with the one-armed Jesus, I bowed my head to pray yet again. Was God tired of hearing from me?"

If agents object to praying characters, they aren't going to like Rain Crow and that's fine. People were more spiritual and it's part and parcel of the story and time.

Be true to your story and stop worrying.

Janet Reid said...

y'all are obsessing again. Religion books are generally not novels.The writer wishes to publish a Non-Fiction treatise explaining the One True Way.

Since I think the One True Way is MY WAY you see why I'm not a good fit.

julie.weathers said...


Agreed, and yet it still surprises me at how many people have "the" answer everyone has been looking for. Millerites, Russellites, and every other ite out there. They all know the way.

I'm sure there's a market for the books. I see agents requesting them. People should just be aware other agents, such as LeSharque, are not.

Steve Stubbs said...

Many thanks for another great post on all the categories of loser MSS out there. I am marking thie for future reference. It is very helpful to have an occasional heads up on what is dead on arrival.

You wrote: "My finishing school teacher has a hatpin she can and does wield from the afterlife."

Don't feel like The Lone Ranger. If you have not seen it, there is a DVD called NEW YORK STORIES tha deals with a similar theme. It is three short features by A-list directors, and the one by Woody Allen concerns a Jewish mother who is so pestiferous she refuses to leave her son alone even after she is dead. Not only is it uproariously funny but it is interesting to the student of the storyteller's art because humor is sooooo hard to do.

One thing threw me off:

You wrote: "Unless you heard 'no, thank you' you're worrying needlessly."

I am sure that is valuable and important advice. But for some reason I am unable to figure out what it means.

Brenda said...

Thanks for clearing that up, all.

Lennon Faris said...

I always like these lists.

Brenda, I know Janet said not to worry but I wanted to point out that sometimes novels do push something that the author believes - not usually religion, but politics or philosophy or social stuff. I can always tell when it's the character's character vs the author talking. One is interesting and believable and draws you into the story, and the other is just annoying.

And I agree with Jennifer: "Godmakeitstop" pulls you right in.

Steve Janet was referring to the terse "NO THANK YOU" that means you screwed up. If you get the kinder form rejection, you didn't fall into one of these reprehensible categories from the post.

Timothy Lowe said...


Your comment brings up a fascinating point: at what point is "philosophy" in a book too much? It makes me think of The Fountainhead, which I read a long time ago and which involves insanely long blocks of dialogue that strain the reader's credulity. All Ayn Rand's political ideology, voiced (thinly veiled) through her characters' dialogue.

I remember thinking that while reading it (even when I was pretty young). For some reason, I finished the book and even liked it. It also sold a few copies.

That doesn't change the fact that about 100 pages in the last quarter of the book are straight-up political opinion.

I love The Stranger, too. Straight up philosophy, thinly disguised as fiction.

And Animal Farm. Orwell could barely publish that at first for the fact that the Soviets were briefly allies of the US and Western powers.

I'm probably citing a lot of examples that will get people to roll their eyes,say "he's just buying into the old classicist crap".

But I read them and I enjoyed them.

There's a lot to chew on, here.

Lennon Faris said...

Timothy, I guess I was thinking of fiction where you don't expect a 'lesson,' like YA or MG fiction, and it comes across as a "let me teach you readers this lesson" vibe.

In particular I was remembering a moment in a YA fantasy book where the m.c., a teenage girl, witnesses an act between the future-enemy-girl and future-love-interest-guy that she "knows is wrong" because x, y, and z - mainly that it didn't fit into the category of (the character's/ author's idea of) verified feminist actions. The m.c. lists out these reasons in a textbook kind of way in her mind. Um, really?

It prob. didn't help that the m.c./ author then only applies this disdain towards the future-enemy-girl caught in the act. From the alias, obviously future-love-boy gets off the hook.

Anyway, as in all things art, I think it's how it's done that matters. Animal Farm was one of my most hated books ever and I will never read it again, but I am glad I did and feel like it made me a better person (in a horrible sort of way). The Narnia books are also an allegory and they are some of my very favorites.

Timothy Lowe said...

Yeah Lennon, I have a hard time reconciling the two halves of my brain, the literary (aka the stupidly analytical) and the human (aka the emotion-starved). I am glad Animal Farm keeps making people hate it, because I am terrified that's where we're living. That said, spoken word slam poetry about parent-child relationships is what I am currently prepping for next week's classes: it's ripping me in two.

NLiu said...

This is such a fascinating discussion!

The best philosophy-as-plot novel I read recently was Scythe by Neal Shusterman. The future world has become "perfect" (no death apart from at the hand of the titular Scythes, no sickness, no crime), but... [spoilers!] It's a fascinating look at the human condition and death, written as a YA novel with a compelling plot and exciting characters. Plus a midnight black sense of humour. (FYI: high body count.)

Personally, I think everyone has some kind of agenda in their work, since everyone writes from their own worldview and experience, but I only tend to "notice" it when I don't agree with it. I guess a lot of stuff people love nowadays would have been banned in even most of the 20th century. Similarly, books from that time can look bigoted and racist now. Perhaps we prefer reading books that affirm us in our own biases? Hmm.

Leslie said...

I assume religion in fiction becomes a problem when it's barely disguised proselytizing, lecturing, etc.

The list of what gets a terse "No, thank you" is a lot like a list of how we'd describe someone with serious anti-social tendencies. If you're a (relatively) sane person who possesses some social skills, you're likely not doing anything on this list.

AJ Blythe said...

Alas, The Wire is still not on Netflix here. I hope one day it makes it so I can finally watch it. I had babies when it aired originally and the only television I got to watch back then was The Wiggles.