Anatomy of a Lengthy Rejection Letter, Part II

Dear James,

So I read your pages, and then went back and reread your query. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they were good since you teach writing, but hey you never know what to expect.  I think what you’ve set out to do is impressive, not so many people who’ve been in the drug culture have the level of self-awareness as you have, nor the ability to write about it so matter of factly.  I like that and susect others will as well.

But I am also too old for this – too removed from this world to really know how to advise you editorially, as well as whom to market it to. Yes there’s an audience of your peers, and younger who probably will relate, and maybe even learn a thing or two from what you’ve been threw and taken away.  And if I were handling that’s who I’d be sending this to – but as I said, this is not my crowd,, and it would be a mistake for me to get involved knowing I wouldn’t really being doing the best by you.  So keep it out there  and I’m confident you’ll connect.  And hey, thanks for nice words about [redact name], I think [redact book title] is dynamite, just too bad not much has changed in that world all these years later.

That’s it.  Signed her name, sure, but you don’t need that info.  Right away I’m a bit flummoxed because, unlike before, the cut and paste seems to have formatted seamlessly.  As I type this, it’s prior to publication (duh) and I can already see that there’ll be no difference between the text I just pasted and the rest of the post.  So you’ll just have to take my word, again, that this is an authentic rejection letter–as if the original post seemed more cogent for its contrasting fonts.  I suppose I could just put the letter portion in italics, but would that make it more believable?  (You see how my mind works?  Agonizes?)

Anyway it’s a new day, thus another one of these.  (I don’t get rejected every day.  I wish I did.  Just seeing something in my inbox makes me feel like I’m still in the game.  When I’m feeling particularly pathetic, I’ll even check my spam.)  I wanted to share this, primarily because I suspect it will be seen.  I check my “stats” daily, sadly, and I’ve noticed that “Anatomy of a Rejection Letter” has gotten more views than any other post.  Must have something to do with the title.  (As for “Referrers” or “Search Engine Terms”–I’m still too dumb to interpret that data, but I kinda get what “Top Posts and Pages” tells me.)  And though sequels in my opinion are a bit pedestrian, I’m doing one here because I want hits.  And also because I felt that this  letter was simply too good to keep to myself.  It’s a total anomaly.  Agents rarely go this far, and it was all based off a partial: a mere 25 pages.  In keeping with the “anatomy” formula, I’ll go line by line, like last time, only I suspect it’ll be trickier, syntactically, with this one.

1. “So I read your pages, and then went back and reread your query.”

–Okay, so she likes cliffhangers (perhaps I should’ve written a thriller).  In order to get the gist of this sentence, we need to move on.

2. “Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that [the pages] were good since you teach writing, but hey you never know what to expect.”

–I find it curious that she opened with this.  What she’s saying, basically, is that she expected the pages to stink, was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t, and then she went looking for an explanation.  Wait this guy’s actually good, I smell a rat.

3. “I think what you’ve set out to do is impressive, not so many people who’ve been in the drug culture have the level of self-awareness as you have, nor the ability to write about it so matter of factly.”

–Grammatical issues aside, this sentence is not only flattering, it’s quite keen.  Having only read the opening pages, this woman has essentially captured the essence of the entire memoir.  Ex drug dealers rarely, if ever, tell their stories.  If they’re not dead, then often they’re in jail.  Or they’re trying to conceal the past, not use literature to make sense out of it.  In any case, what this agent has gleaned is precisely what I hope to convey: That I’ve written a memoir that works AS a memoir.  A narrator that engages with the experience.  A character with an arc.  A man who is redeemed.

4. “I like that and susect others will as well.”

–I suspect there’s a p missing from that word there in the middle.

5. “But I am also too old for this – too removed from this world to really know how to advise you editorially, as well as whom to market it to.”

–I knew the but was coming; I’m no Pollyanna.  And I’m not under the impression that I’m owed any excuses, but here she’s offering one up: her age.  Granted, it’s probably been decades since she’s puffed on a joint.  Groovy, man.  I get it, but I don’t really see how that translates “editorially.”  Suppose I’d written a YA novel.  Forget about the joint, how long has it been since she’s stood by her locker, her heart all aflutter, when Jonny boy walks by?  Or what if I’d written about unicorns?  Let me be clear about this: I don’t think she should have taken on the manuscript if she didn’t want to.  And clearly she didn’t want to.  But if agents and editors only took on projects with subject matter that they could “relate” to, then they’d all be starving.  And I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, but at least then they’d know how most published writers feel, let alone the unpublished ones (wink, smile).

6. “Yes there’s an audience of your peers, and younger who probably will relate, and maybe even learn a thing or two from what you’ve been threw and taken away.”

–Just to get this out of the way: I, like most writers, am a stickler who believes in exceptions–relies on them, even.  Sometimes a word oddly used or a grammatically incorrect turn of phrase just fits better, sounds better, or looks better on the page.  I can’t remember the difference between homonyms and homophones, but are there really grown people–literary agents, no less–who don’t know that “threw” and “through” mean completely different things?  I mean, this is a professional correspondence; we’re not texting (and if she were merely trying to shave keystrokes, then why didn’t she just use thru?).  But that’s all petty, okay, fine.  What she’s acknowledging here is that there is in fact an audience for this kind of material.  And not just Williamsburg or Silver Lake, either.  The world is full of tattooed hipsters who’ve been on the snorting end of a coke straw at one point or another, but honestly, I really don’t think my story is all that esoteric.  I mean, I’ve never worked on Wall Street, but when I see the movie, I can relate to Bud Fox.  The Faustian bargain, the lure of easy money.  Same thing when I see Boogie Nights.  Never been a porn star (God knows, if only my cock were big enough), but I get Eddie Adams, aka Dirk Diggler.  I get how an impressionable kid would get corrupted by that environment, all those enablers.  We see these characters–rendered beautifully by Charlie Sheen and Mark Wahlberg–losing their innocence in increments, their souls slowly hemorrhaging.  And then we see the consequences.  And finally, some form of redemption.  These films weren’t targeted toward a “finance” or “porno” crowd any more than Fifty Shades of Grey was published for a BDSM reading audience.

7. “And if I were handling that’s who I’d be sending this to – but as I said, this is not my crowd,, and it would be a mistake for me to get involved knowing I wouldn’t really being doing the best by you.”

–A bit strange, almost contradictory.  Two lines ago she’s saying that she wouldn’t know who to market this to, and now she’s kind of saying that she would know, but that those people aren’t her “crowd.”  It’s all moot anyway.  She’s not into it, regardless, and I respect that.

8. “So keep it out there  and I’m confident you’ll connect.”

–Every personalized rejection letter I’ve received, I’ve gotten this: actual encouragement.  This thing is good.  Don’t give up.  It’s just not for me.  And all my jokey shit aside, if you’re a frustrated writer, reading this, this is what I hope you’ll glean.  Agents really mean this stuff when they say it.  If they didn’t, they wouldn’t bother.  They don’t make shitloads of money.  They’re in it, by and large, because they love books.  They respect authors.  All agents who stay in the game long enough will see a manuscript they’ve rejected go on to become successful.  And they take a lot of no’s.  They just don’t whine about them as much.

9. “And hey, thanks for nice words about [redact name], I think [redact book title] is dynamite, just too bad not much has changed in that world all these years later.”

–Didn’t actually read the book.  I fibbed.  Sue me.

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