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Passion and the Razor’s Edge of Rejection

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The educational blog for the agents at BookEnds, LLC has an interesting post on disagreeing with your agent.

A writer contacted Jessica Faust with a situation where the writer’s agent “suggested she remove a chapter in the novel, and while the author was concerned, she did it anyway (and made some revisions). Now editors are rejecting the book and the author is feeling that removing this chapter was part of the problem. And of course now, after expressing her concern to her agent, the agent has become nonresponsive.”

First of all, I’m hearing of more and more unprofessional behavior like this from agents. God knows there are legions of nutjob aspiring authors out there who give us all a bad name. Unfortunately, agent horror stories seem to be reaching a similar level of prevalence. I keep hearing about well-established, supposedly “professional” agents who just disappear without a trace. Maybe one of those nutjob authors finally cracked and we’ve got a serial killer targeting book agents, bludgeoning them to death with rejected manuscripts. Faust addresses this agent’s behavior in her post.

She also provides a number of good points about communication between author and agent. Her points succintly explain the collaborative nature of making revisions.

But I do have a question about her closing paragraph. “One chapter is not going to make or break a book,” Faust writes. “If editors really felt passionate enough, that can be edited. I think blaming it on one missing chapter is making this process all too easy.”

We have no way of knowing if the original author’s rejections are a result of the missing chapter. But aspiring authors are constantly reminded at just how narrow the razor-thin the margins are between acceptance and rejection.

We read interviews, submission guidelines, and blogs from editors and agents that say we will be rejected if we get the name wrong, if there’s a typo, if the opening sentence isn’t compelling, if the hook isn’t strong enough, if the book is too long, if the book is too short, if the book is too similar to an editor’s bigtime title, if the book is too similar to an editor’s bombed title, and on and on.

Let’s say it’s possible to rate this book on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 means the editor destroys the book in a vat of acid and takes out a contract hit on the life of the deluded soul who submitted it. 10 means the editor immediately cuts a check for a million dollars and offers to name a firstborn child after the genius writer. And let’s say that 7 is the cutoff point for offering a contract. Sure, if the book were a 10 on this editor’s scale, maybe they deal with the missing chapter. But if it’s hovering at a 6.5 to 7.5, then I’m guessing that chapter might make a helluva lot of difference.

So then how can we say that a missing chapter wouldn’t cause an editor to reject the book? “If editors really felt passionate enough, that can be edited.” But if they felt passionate enough, they wouldn’t care if the author got their name wrong or littered the text with errors, etc.

Ultimately, there’s no formula for acceptance. It’s not an objective math formula. So maybe Faust is correct in her assertion for certain circumstances. But it’s also true that authors get rejected for a lot less than a deleted chapter that throws everything off so we can’t dismiss the original writer’s worries either, particularly if her text was a borderline case of balancing on the razor’s edge.