More on rejection letters

I bucked up last night and finished Publish This Book! which got a little better, mainly because the guy stopped trying to impress me with how much he drinks and how often he's gotten laid and did you know he occasionally takes drugs? He does! Because he is just that cool and not at all an exact clone of every other insecure 20-something out there, ever.

Anyway, the interesting bit for the purposes of this blog is that he includes his rejection letters for the book in the book. Recently I got my hair cut, and my hairdresser and I were discussing this whole decision to forgo traditional publishing, and she asked a question I often asked myself when I first started getting The Letters: When they say the book is good, entertaining, and enjoyable, are they just bullshitting me?

I don't know how true this is, but I've heard that when actors audition for parts in Hollywood the rule is: If they tell you that you're great, it means you're not getting cast. If they're really super-nice to you, it means you sucked. The more they lay on the praise, the worse you did. (Noncommittal hms are much more likely to lead to callbacks.)

Of course, New York City is culturally very unlike Hollywood--people rarely try to spare your feelings there, especially if they feel that doing so is not going to benefit you in the long run. So there was that general argument against that analogy, and that Very Honest Agent didn't seem to think the positive feedback was bullshit at all. The rejection letters in Publish This Book! offer further confirmation for that perspective. The letters offer very specific reasons for not taking up the book: The editors think the concept is thin (having read the finished product, I would agree), that it's not enough to support an entire book (even the author would agree with that one), and that it won't appeal to an audience other than frustrated writers. They don't praise the book, although there is some interest in other projects by the writer.

So I think it's pretty clear that rejection letters do tend to say what the person writing them thinks. They may be very frustrating, as they were in my case, and they may be couched in terms that require a native to translate, but they are, at the core, honest.