The Art of Fiction: Dear Author

October 31, 2006
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Dissonance
Dissonance, a Novel by Lisa Lenard-Cook
Buy This Book via Amazon.com

The Art of Fiction: 

Dear Author

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
November 2006

Lisa Lenard-Cook is a regular columnist for Authorlink. She is an award-winning published author and writing instructor. This is another in the series, The Art of Fiction. Watch for her insights every month on Authorlink. Read more about Lisa.

". . . what editors (and agents) write in their rejection letters are code for very specific things."
—Lenard-Cook
We regret to inform you that your [pick one: story, novel, poem, essay, article, submission] does not meet our current needs. We wish you best of luck placing it elsewhere.

Sincerely,
The Editors

Yes, I’ve gotten that letter, or some version of it, as many times as you have—and possibly more. Sometimes it offers a bit of encouragement, or, better still, “ink,” or, perhaps, the name of a real, live human being. Sometimes such a letter goes still further and makes suggestions for how you might improve the piece so that it might be reconsidered by the same magazine or journal.

Other times, though, these letters make no sense whatsoever. And sometimes they say what you think means one thing, when in reality the editor means something else entirely. It turns out that much of what editors (and agents) write in their rejection letters are code for very specific things. In this column, I’ll translate some of the more common phrases for you.

". . . just didn’t fall in love with it."
—Lenard-Cook

Let’s Fall in Love

Dear Author,

Thank you so much for sending me the sample chapter of your novel. While I found your writing lively and the story interesting, I just didn’t fall in love with it. Best of luck in finding an agent more suited to your work.

Sincerely,
Agatha Agent

"If they “don’t fall in love with it,” they can’t passionately sell it."
—Lenard-Cook

Your initial reaction: What do you mean you didn’t fall in love with it? How could you not love my polished prose, my pointed plot, my charismatic characters?

What Agatha Agent really meant: “Didn’t fall in love with it” is agent-ese for a lack of the most important thing an agent does for a client: adores his or her writing. Agents are not only salespeople, but enthusiastic salespeople who believe utterly and completely in the product they sell: your work. If they “don’t fall in love with it,” they can’t passionately sell it. This doesn’t mean you, or even your work, isn’t lovable. It means this particular agent (Agatha, in this case) just didn’t love it enough to provide the representation she feels you and your work deserve.

Someone Will Buy It:

Dear Author,

Thank you so much for sending your story. You are a writer of considerable talent, and we here at The Poor But Mighty Review loved reading it. While we couldn’t find a place for it here, we’re confident you’ll find a journal willing to take this wonderful story on. Please keep us in mind for your future work.

Sincerely,
Eddie Editor

Your initial reaction: Wait. It was wonderful. You loved it. I’ve got considerable talent. Why didn’t you buy it, for goodness sake?

"We think you’ll make it, though, so keep us in mind when you do."
—Lenard-Cook

What Eddie Editor really meant: Our circulation is 750. We publish one issue per year, with two stories, five poems, one creative nonfiction piece, and three reviews. We receive 500 stories a week, and if just 1% of the writers who sent us stories subscribed, our circulation would be twice what it is. You’re a gifted writer, but because we can publish only two stories a year, and you’re not a subscriber or a well-known or oft-published writer, we had to go with someone who is one (or, still better, all) of those things. We think you’ll make it, though, so keep us in mind when you do.

"Don’t send out a story (or a novel, or anything, for that matter) without letting it percolate."
—Lenard-Cook

Listen Up

Dear Author,

Thank you sending your story. We regret that it does meet our needs.

Sincerely, Isabel Intern

 

Your initial reaction: Stuff this one in another envelope along with yet another SASE and send it out to the next journal on your list.

What Isabel Intern meant: (a) I didn’t read past the first (1) sentence; (2) paragraph; (3) page. (b) Put this one away for a while and then try revising or rewriting it . (c) Have you ever read our journal? (d) All of the above. (e) None of the above. It’s just not for us.

Don’t send out a story (or a novel, or anything, for that matter) without letting it percolate. (See my December 2005 column, “Why to Percolate a Manuscript.”) Writing a draft is only the first step in creating a polished fiction. Revising and rewriting are the steps that will lead to this letter:

". . . we hope no one else has already snatched this beauty up."
—Lenard-Cook

Congratulations!

Dear [your name here],

I’m the fiction editor for The Hopeful Journal. You submitted the very fine story “Very Fine Story” to us by letter dated October 19th. Is that story still available? If so, we’d very much like to accept it. Please let me know if it’s still available, and we’ll go from there.

Best regards,
Fern Fiction Editor

Your initial reaction: Yippee! Hallelujah! Amen! Etc.

What Fern Fiction Editor really meant: We love you and your work, and we know you’ve done the hard work to make it “very fine,” so we hope no one else has already snatched this beauty up.

A Few Actual Rejections From Real Editors Written to Live Authors

I thought it would be fun to ask some other writers for some of their more choice rejection letters. I must say I was overwhelmed with responses, so had to choose amongst them. But here are a few of my favorites, offered without translation, just for fun.

Dear Author,

Your piece is not what we are looking for. We don't know what we are looking for, but this is not it.

Sincerely,
The Editors

Dear Author,

Thank you so much for you patince during this unfatuately lengthy review process. I read you pages from Your Novel and enjoyed then very muh. The voice was engaging and the narrative eye was acute.

However, after carefil consideration I've decided the agency is not right for the mausinpt. Unfateately, I simply didn't fall in love with it as I had hoped to.

I wish you nuch siccess in you queires.

My best,
Spell Check R Not I

This last letter was forwarded by Tekla Miller, a former prison warden.

Dear Author,

I won't make any money on this and neither will you.

Tekla’s memoir, The Warden Wore Pink, was released in 1996, is in its third printing, is used at several colleges and universities, and is referenced in class bibliographies and nonfiction books in women’s studies and criminal justice.

Keep the faith!

   
About
Lisa Lenard-Cook
Lisa Lenard-Cook's novel Dissonance was short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award, a selection of NPR Performance Today's Summer Reading Series, and the countywide choice for Durango-La Plata Reads. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, where she is currently adapting Dissonance for the stage.

 

 

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