09 December 2011

Critiques: Vital Information or Ego Crushers?

Yesterday Angela James (editor at Carina Press), posted her regular edit report tweets, which you can read here. During the tweets, someone asked Angela whether the rejectees would see any of the comments, and she replied in the negative, stating that authors' egos are too fragile for such frank comments.

During the night I received my form rejection from Carina for my previous MS. Frankly I don't know why they bother with four paragraphs. It's a form rejection, so there's little point reading it. I have to say I disagree with not including any feedback, particularly as Carina has a freelance editor read it and make comments. It's a golden opportunity to receive some insight into my areas for improvement.

I found myself combing back through the edit report, trying to figure out which comments might apply to me. I don't think they're too harsh, and I'd love to know which ones are mine, if any were. I'd long given up hope of the novel seeing the light of day, but it would have been nice to know what the editor thought of it.

The best rejection I ever got was on a full, for my first completed MS (I have two). In a few brief sentences it told me I had problems with pacing and character development, but that I had a strong voice and feel for the genre. (It was a little more specific than that.) At the time I struggled to understand, but now I can clearly see what the agent was telling me, and as I began to understand it pushed me to develop in those areas.

I know that with most rejections agents don't have time to make any comments. However my worst rejection came this year - a form on a full. I'd hoped for even a little personalisation. And the form had the standard paragraphs about subjectivity and fit, etc. I wish they would just say "this is a form rejection" and leave it at that. When you don't know if it's a form, you pore over the sentences, looking for something that seems relevant to you, before the final realisation kicks in. If no actual feedback is to be given, I think the rejection should be as brief as possible. Otherwise there's the danger that we try to read something meaningful into those painful paragraphs.

What about you? Would you like to receive any and all feedback, regardless of how harsh it seems? Do you appreciate the multi-paragraph form letters agents send?


  1. I'd definitely like to see feedback from professionals. The form reject on my full was tough to take. And they're all so vague now; "not right for my list" seems to be the popular excuse. I wonder how much of that is true. I think I'd rather see, "It just didn't capture my imagination" or something similar. From my readers though, I prefer it to be a little less harsh. :-)

  2. I couldn't agree more. I don't think most writers are as 'fragile' as editors suggest! Most of us agree that a brief critique would be of great benefit. I think it is far more likely that editors either do not have the time to be politely subtle (as opposed to harsh or dismissive)in their responses. I do not doubt for a single minute that many writers are rejected in-house with one brief four-letter word! Haha. Publishers are also rightly conscious of the litigious nature of the modern world and frankly, most of them would not want any negative publicity. Writers talk. And write!

  3. I'd prefer some sort of feedback, even a couple of lines. Especially if it's for a requested full. A lot of work goes into preparing a manuscript, and it's nice to hear that professional opinion that can help make it shine.

  4. Wow - really fantastic post Charlotte! I prefer feedback that is 1)honest and 2) meant to help. I've received some pretty harsh feedback in my time. The only time I ever was upset was when a person giving feedback gave cursory advice that was highly critical without managing to be specific or offer any suggestions. Every other time I've found the feedback to be helpful and insightful.

    Best of luck on your MS - it's a great story and will eventually find its way to the perfect person =)