Friday, April 06, 2018

Is this a coded message?

When an editor sends a pass but includes revision notes, is this a revise and resubmit or a definitive pass? They said “you’ve definitely got something here” twice but “it’s not quite there for me right now and a bit more work than I can take on, so therefore I must pass”, and included about 2-3 paragraphs on what they think doesn’t work and what would work better.
So the question is, could you revise this novel and send it back to them - or is this just a nice way of saying no? (Happy to send on the letter.) It’s a major editor at a major publisher my ex-agent had previously submitted to (I am currently unagented, seeking new rep).

It's a pass.
A revise and resubmit contains the words "I'd be happy to take another look" or "I'd be glad to see this again after some revision."

Absent those EXACT words (maybe in different order) it's a pass even if it sounds like a compliment.

And if you want to see writers in a snarl, bring up passes on a requested full without any feedback offered at all. Writers will spontaneously combust in front of you they get so incensed.

Thus, editors and agents have been trained (so far as such a thing is possible) to offer some sort of feedback. But that feedback often is perceived as "fix this, and only this and we're good."  It's the merry go round in hell I tell ya.

It kills me when writers mistake feedback for requested revisions. When they send the revisions, I always look back at my notes on the manuscript. Often what I say to myself "this is a red hot mess" is NOT what I write to the author "the plot doesn't start soon enough, the characters aren't fully developed."

That said, when I pass, which I almost always do, I know I'm crushing hopes for real.  And honestly, that's just not as fun as you'd think.

Crushed hopes and dreams are pretty tasty though.


E.M. Goldsmith said...

I suppose feedback is better than a straight no thanks? Well, no. I am hardly practiced at this, but after my last jaunt through the trenches and my time here, I do believe I would rather a simple no.

Here’s why. Agents and editors taste vary widely. Whatever their feedback, it may be very different from an agent or editor who would say yes. Be careful of revisions based on feedback from a no.

Seems to me, rule of thumb- if query gets no bites after 20 or so attempts, revise the query and possibly pages requested with query. If partials and fulls yield nothing, find an unbias, border-lime harsh pair of eyes to look at your work. Then revise.

And yes, agents are clear on R&Rs. For the one I did, the agent actually said, let’s do an R&R. Then she gave me intensive revision notes. It still ended with no. So I wrote more books. Ah well. Keep at it, OP

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I latch onto compliments like a newborn to a first meal. They sustain me. I used to miss the point, as in, here's a bottle if you're hungry but I'm not your mother so get over it.

Now, I realize there are many different ways to say no. No matter how nice the agent may be, no is no, so get over it.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Sounds like agents try to cushion the blow of crushing hopes and dreams by giving any kind of positive feedback they can. Which gives the struggling writer the thought, hey, if I only do this I'll have it! The reality is so much harder.

A friend gave me a children's book she had written and planned to illustrate. There is no way I can tell her how bad it is. There is no way I can point out to her what I think she would need to do to make it work. I know how bad much of my earlier work is but I can only see that now as I look back.

I imagine the numbers of hard working writers who have finished novels that are bad, or simply not good enough and I can't imagine what I'd tell them. It's a long, long road and I have huge respect for the authors I love.

Reading Elizabeth George's latest: 690 pages!

Colin Smith said...

That feedback with a "no" can also tell the writer, "See? I'm not just dismissing you out of hand. I actually read your work, and my no is based on REAL THINGS!" Which can be kind-of comforting. But at the end of the day, when all's said and done, and the last cliche has been tucked in bed, it's still a NO.

All the best to you, Opie! :)

Kregger said...

I had my first dream/hope crushed fifty something years ago. Although I may still harbor resentment, including vile revenge, I have learned since then to temper my expectations.

By that, I offer an example: look at the percentage of queries received by our illustrious, pointy-toothed shark that go on to requests and then get offers for representation let alone acceptance.

It's a daunting business.

Nothing personal, it's just business.

Treat it that way and everyone will sleep better.

Julie Weathers said...

Feedback is nice, but always take a look at what is offered. People often take it ass, if I fix this then I'm good to go and resubmit. Unless they specifically say they'd like to look again, they don't want to. Most times. Occasionally, you can fix things enough they say sure I'll look again, but not often. I have a friend who used to follow up every pass with a request for "why" and often got some feedback.

OP, just rejoice you have some feedback. Congratulations. Good luck on your journey.

Colin "See? I'm not just dismissing you out of hand. I actually read your work,

Sometimes. I've received some feedback that is really puzzling. They've called characters by names that aren't remotely close, said I should introduce whatever sooner and it's already been introduced, etc.

As always take what you can use and dismiss what you can't.


That's why I don't like reading work for friends. I have a possee I trust, but it's taken years to get there and someone else from here has offered to read Rain Crow when it's done. I'll take them up on it because it could use fresh eyes. It's hard to find people you can trust to be honest and also know what they're talking about.

Sam Mills said...

Sometimes no feedback is easier on the rabbit heart. I submitted to a magazine that let you opt in to seeing the slush readers' notes. Two out of three liked my story, but guess whose comment stuck in my head all day? XD

On the other hand, I got an increasing number of very encouraging, personalized rejections before selling my first short story. They all told the same tale (writing was there; plot wasn't) which gave me a big picture idea of what to work on.

John Davis Frain said...

Everything tells you something.

If an editor or agent sends notes with their dream-crushing rejection, set it aside for a couple days and then come back and read them again with fresh eyes. Good chance those notes will help your future. Persistence is a challenging friend.

Good luck, OP. Keep writing.

Doug said...

What really makes me spontaneously combust is no response to a requested full. This is just downright rude.

Anonymous said...

I envy my friends who can write back to an agent and get more feedback when the agent gives next to no helpful comments on a query or full. I have one who does this well and she has a 75% return rate on getting more info, granted sometimes she doesn't want to hear it after all.

Love reading your posts because they always end with a little humor. Something we all need in publishing!

Joseph S. said...

I’d like the feedback. I make a lot of decisions during the writing and revision processes, and would like to know which ones worked and which ones didn’t (one of the most helpful to me was a friend’s little smiley faces when she really liked something (and also Julie Weather’s comments when she really didn’t like something)). An agent’s (and an editor’s) comments may just be their personal opinion but it’s an informed opinion, and is as good or better than the typical beta reader’s.

There is the problem of giving their comments too much weight or, even worse, not being able to accept them. You got to evaluate them seriously, and reject the ones that miss the point for what you’re doing, and appreciate the one that give you an “oh I see“ moment.

Kristin Owens said...

Opie - Hang in there.
My agent feedback has been all over the map. In the end IF THEY LOVE IT, they will work with you on edits.
I met an editor from a big-time publisher at a conference and she requested my full. She read it from cover to cover and gave me the most helpful feedback. "Helpful" meaning I could see how her suggestions made the story better. I incorporated about 85% into a new draft. She wants to see it again after I secure representation. You would think having an editor poised for a submission would be a nice carrot for agents - so far, not so much.

Claire Bobrow said...

OP: a pass is no fun, but if you got helpful feedback I'd say that's a plus. Good luck going forward.

Perhaps there could be lexicon or companion book for deciphering these letters, like the one for the Master and Commander novels. A guidebook for the disoriented or despairing writer!

Crushed Hopes and Dreams sounds like an excellent cocktail. TGIF, anyone?

Lennon Faris said...

I also see the feedback as something really positive. At least it's a few ideas to possibly make your book even better!

This editor is essentially one of your betas, albeit one with more clout and less comprehensive honesty. Word on the street is, if more than 50% of the betas say the same thing, they might be right.

Good luck, OP!

MA Hudson said...

I agree with Julie;

‘take what you can use and dismiss what you can't.’

Apply the changes that make sense to you and get back on the query train... and continue writing that next, even more awesome, novel. Despair not, you must be doing something right, having previously landed an agent as well as received feedback from a big wig editor. Well done and good luck.

Steve Stubbs said...

One thing that could be added is that the statement, "itÆs ... a bit more work than I can take on" means OP needs more than a two paragraph critique.

Check it over for mechanical errors first (bad grammar, missing commas, bad punctuation, bad spelling, passive voice, etc.) Those thigs are easy to fix and not subjective, even though everybody says writing is "very subjective."

Then go over it for tell and not show, lost performatives, characters who appear out of nowhere, etc. That's not subjective, either, but harder for the original authot to spot.

Then look for sentences that are so long the reader has forgotten where they started by the period. Look for stuff that is just plain boring (twenty pages about how it rained last night, etc.) Look for dialogue that does not sound real, especially if every character sounds alike as well as phony.

That is far from a complete list. Thus the old saying, "Ways to foul up, thy name is Legion."

It can take as much effort to clean up a bad manuscript as it did to write it in the first place. I can empathize with the edditor's position.

As for "crusihng hopes and dreams," I like the crunchy sound they make as agents stomp all over them.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Steve Stubbs liking the crunchy sound of "crushing hopes and dreams" as agents stomp all over them may mean his other name is Jason.

Anonymous said...

Janet, I have a question after reading this. I'm trying to figure out how to ask it without being insulting, because that's not how I mean it, but tact is not my forte.

[delete] [delete]

Maybe I'd better sleep on it.

OP, congrats on getting feedback from "a major editor at a major publisher." That seems like a positive sign, even with the pass. Best of luck in the agent search and the next steps to publication.

Anonymous said...

One of Us: I know you're relatively new here. One of the major reasons this community "works" is that we try really hard not to criticize each other personally. There are people who comment here with whom I am just never going to agree on certain topics. And that's fine. I will occasionally disagree with Janet, usually on writing (vs publishing) topics, but I keep criticisms of fellow writers to myself. I value the relative peace of this place and the mutual trust inherent in the exchange of diverse ideas. I hope you do as well, because I enjoy your perspective on the topics presented.

Craig F said...

Damn straight it is a coded message. All of the conversation you have had in your life is a coded message. I once had a German Enigma coder to help with those questionable messages. It only gave me enigmatic returns so I decided to muddle on by myself.

Since you said there were gives and takes, do that. See if there are any gives and takes that apply to your own personal coded message, your book. The query on. You have something on the ball to elicit such comments. It could even be that it was something that the editor liked reading but wasn't in the wheelhouse of the company they work for.

The only thing I know is that you have gotten further down the trail than I have. Good luck in the future, though I need it worse than you do.

Julie Weathers said...


One of Us was referring to a recent twitter pitch contest in which a kid posed as a literary agent and was favoring pitches to get people to send to him. His persona was a 40-year-old mother of three, which he said he chose because everyone trusts women, especially those with kids. He got busted fairly early this time and admitted on another account as Jason what he had done. When someone asked why he had done it, he responded: "Because it's fun knowing you hold the hopes and dreams of someone in your hands." Last time he sent terrible rejections to the people who submitted to him and howled about how their dreams must have been crushed.

So, while some of us realize Steve is sometimes being sarcastic in his biting remarks, this one hit pretty close to being a Jason remark. To those of us in conversation with Jason and watching the debacle, it wasn't that amusing.

Going to have to side with One of Us on t his one.

Anonymous said...

Julie: I'm not taking sides. That implies there's a fight or argument and I'm over here like Switzerland, trying to avoid one. But if you want to look at it that way, I'm on her side too. I'm on the side of her, or anyone, not letting themselves be provoked to the point that Janet yells at us for throwing sand in her sandbox. If it were just the one comment on this post (yeah, I got the reference), I'd never have said anything. But added to a few on the prior post, and given that apparently the provocation will continue ad nauseam or until morale improves, I was concerned about things escalating. I'm on the side of saying it's just not worth it.

Julie Weathers said...


Given past history, I think perhaps you are speaking to the wrong person about this.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you're right, Julie, and I thoroughly regret saying anything at all. I apologize to everyone for thinking it was any of my business to begin with. Lesson learned.

:wanders off, muttering about the perils of good intentions: