Physician, Heal Thyself

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I never thought of myself in Dear Abby territory, but I do give advice to people for a living. (In response to one client’s question last week about what to do with a sticky situation, I replied, “Fire them all. And then quit.”)

A lot of my advice has to do with writing and publishing. How to find the right journal, how to frame a literature review, how to write pitch paragraphs. And a big category of that advice is what to do with rejection.

There’s really only two answers to that. The first is to read the rejection letter carefully, and either revise your work to address those concerns or ensure yourself that you had it the way you wanted it in the first place. And the second, after that’s done, is to send it out again.

That work fine with academic writing, with journal articles and scholarly book proposals, because the rejection letter actually will say something useful. Without that, you’re just left with step 2, over and over and over again.

Here’s an actual rejection letter I got last week:

Hi Herb,

Thanks so much for thinking of [agency] and giving me the chance to review your work! Unfortunately, after reading your letter, I just didn’t feel strongly enough to request pages. I’m of the belief that authors deserve an agent who will be passionate about the projects they represent, and I didn’t connect as much as I’d hoped.

Please know that every agent feels differently, and this is merely my personal preference. I encourage you to keep querying as what doesn’t fit for one agent is perfect for another. I wish you all the best in finding the perfect agent and good luck in your future writing endeavors.

All the best,

No different than the form letters I get from Verizon and AARP and the local Ford dealership. And frankly, at least this is one that I’ve gotten a letter from; over 50% of my fiction queries have received no response whatsoever.

So, literary agents and academic job search committee chairs, allow me to save you even more time. Here’s a proposed response code that you can fit into your busy texting life, that will actually give your applicants at least a little bit of information while not expending much of your energy at all. When you read an application, send back one of these three-letter codes:

  • NFW: No F____ Way
  • DQJ: Don’t Quit your Job…
  • NRM: Not Right for Me
  • NBB: Not Bad, But…
  • PHE: Probably Hirable Elsewhere
  • CRU: Close Runner-Up
  • TOP: Top of the Pile

You can knock these out in seconds, and give your supplicants far more info than you currently do.