I've been querying agents the last couple of weeks and so far have received some polite and/or encouraging passes. Today, though, I got my first painful rejection. This was what the agent wrote:
Thanks for sending me [TITLE OF MY BOOK]. The premise and setting are exciting, but I didn't feel the writing was special enough. And while the main character's actions are understandable and realistic, I thought he was a little too unlikable to pull in readers.
My writing is not special enough and my MC is unlikeable. Not good, Moonie. I can fix my main character's likability, but my writing...? That's not really something I can fix. I'm very, very sad. What are your thoughts?
Oh, XXX, don't be sad. There are a couple of things to unpack here, but sadness shouldn't be one of them. I'll explain why.
I need to frame my argument with three important points.
1) taste in writing is subjective
We all know this. You've read one person's take in this letter--and let me go back to the earlier part of your note where you mentioned the constructive and helpful feedback you've heard from other people. I, for example, would have passed on Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHT in half a second because the writing isn't to my taste... and I would have been out 8 bajillion dollars. You know? You absolutely cannot let one person tell you you can't write. However, there's one thing you can remember to make sure as few people as possible tell you can't write:
2) writing is an evolutionary process
One incorrect point in your letter to me is that your writing isn't really something you can fix. LIES. Writing is a growth process, and even if you were the best (or the worst) writer in the world, your natural instincts become better with every project you work on. I look back on blog posts from a year ago and wince at word choice; it's because (I hope) I'm a better writer now. You WILL develop as a writer, and it's important you keep that in mind, and that you also remember to focus on developing craft and reading other people's good writing as you go along to capitalize on natural growth. But regardless of natural growth, you have to remember the most important thing of all:
3) you wrote originally because you loved it, and you should keep writing for that reason and no other
Whether or not this agent or any other agent picks up this book or any other book you write, you're not in it for the agents or their opinions. Don't lose sight of this. And because you love it, try to let other people's opinions roll off of you. I know this is easier said than done, since it's hard when everyone else doesn't love what we love as much as we do. But remember that YOUR love is the most important and satisfying thing, and any other successes and rewards should be secondary. And, frankly, probably will end up being secondary. Regardless of what he thinks, for example, I don't think anyone loves Salman Rushdie's writing quite as much as he loves it himself.
I hope this made you feel a little better. Kudos to you for one really big thing--you aren't saying "Humph! This agent just doesn't get my book! What a jerk." Writing is subjective, and you're clearly open to doing your best in a subjective arena. Congratulations on your energy and flexibility, and my very best wishes for your future success!