Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thumbs Down

I never dreamed I would write rejection emails.

In my day job, I hire contractors, specifically market research firms. Often, I send requests for proposals (RFPs) to multiple vendors. I spend quite a bit of time on the phone with them answering questions about the project and listening to their ideas about methodology. Then I review the proposals and make a choice. This means I have to send rejection emails to the others. Ironic, isn't it?

Having rejected a number of proposals in the last eight years, I've gotten a taste of what it must be like for editors and agents. Fortunately, I don't have to cull through hundreds of query letters, but I can understand why publishing professionals send form rejections. What is interesting is that market researchers, like writers, want to know why I rejected their proposals.

When I first started this job, my colleague told me to write what amounts to a form rejection. Our decision was based on price, methodology, etc. This didn't work very well as the vendors tended to call and ask for details. They wanted to know what they could do differently next time. The problem is that my decisions are based on a project by project basis. I imagine this is quite similar to what agents and editors experience. In some instances, the proposal and the firm simply do not reflect the high standards I require. After all, my reputation is at stake with these projects. For those firms that do not show promise, I wish them well. For the ones that submitted strong proposals, I tell them I will keep them in mind for future projects. Does any of this sound faintly familiar?

The most important issue at stake is that once I've made a decision, it's a done deal. Taking time out to explain my reasons to the rejected vendors eats up valuable time. I understand how the research vendors feel. They expended enormous amounts of resources and energy on their proposals. But, they know there is no guarantee. As far as I'm concerned, the decision is made, and I have to focus on working with the selected vendor. My overwhelming workload simply doesn't permit me to spend time trying to reassure vendors, particularly if I have no intention of working with them in the future.

Recently, I read writers' comments on an agent's blog concerning form rejections. The writers' frustrations with multiple form rejections made me realize how incredibly lucky I was to get three offers of representation. And oddly enough, I had to send rejection emails to the two I didn't select. I told them it was a tough decision and wished them well. I kept it short and sweet, no explanations, because I felt it would be inappropriate. I chose the agent who was the best fit for me. She is fantastic. :-)

My final point about rejections is that unless you get specific feedback and an offer to revise, move on. A form rejection means they weren't sufficiently interested. No simply means no. Of course it's frustrating not to know what you could do to improve the manuscript, but chances are the agent/editor doesn't have time to write a detailed response. Based on my experiences in my marketing career, I can identify. It's a done deal. Something we writers need to accept, even if it means putting the book under the proverbial bed.


Pat Kay said...

Vicky, that was so well said I'm going to post a link to this entry for the students in my three novel writing classes to read. And congratulations on acquiring such a great agent! Even in the early days when you took my classes at U of H, I knew you were going places with your writing. Can't wait to buy your first book!
Love, Pat

Vicky said...

Thank you, Pat! I have wonderful memories of your classes. And anytime I get bogged down in a scene, I always remember Goal, Conflict, Motivation (or my fav - reversal - g). Cheers!