The Rave Rejection

An online writers' group of which I am a member, has recently been discussing the phenomenon of the Rave Rejection. It used to be customary to be turned down by publishers (or magazines, or theatres, or even the BBC) in one of two ways. There was the standard letter of rejection, and then there was the personalised 'We like this but...' rejection, which was hopeful, and could most certainly be helpful, in that it usually contained a modicum of information about why a manuscript had been rejected. Sometimes the suggestions were perceptive and inspirational. You felt you could take them on board and move forward.
However, an increasing number of us have been victims of the Rave Rejection in which the novel in question receives fulsome praise but 'it isn't what we are publishing right now' or 'I didn't love the book.'
Many moons ago, my husband and I used to have a craft shop, and that was exactly the rock we perished on, so I know a bit about the hard realities of selling. We only stocked things we 'loved'. What we should have done was stock a whole cross section of stuff, from things we loved, through things we quite liked, to things we really didn't fancy but knew would sell. That way, we might have made a go of it. The public at the time were buying pottery dogs as though dogs themselves were on the verge of extinction, and we should have changed the name of the shop to Pot Dogs R Us and stocked masses and masses of them... but that's another story.
So no publisher in their right mind would only sell books they 'loved'. Nor, I'm sure, do they. But I'm equally sure that an editor has to champion a book through the whole thorny publishing process, which must explain a good many of the rejections. Perhaps what they sometimes mean is 'I'm looking for the next massive blockbuster, and I don't think this is it.' Or perhaps they mean 'I really like this, but the marketing department doesn't.' Or perhaps they mean that the writer (as a friend of mine was so memorably described by a BBC producer) is 'tainted by experience.' Or perhaps they mean exactly what they say. This is well written, but I'm not mad about it.
The problem with the Rave Rejection, from the writer's point of view, is that there is nowhere to go with it. What can you do? They haven't suggested changes. On the contrary, they think it is beautiful just as it is. Nothing wrong with it at all. And there's the rub. It is completely unanswerable. Get a few of them and you're left with 100,000 words of unloved, but beautifully written text, fit for nowhere except the bottom drawer - and perhaps, sadly, that is what is intended all along!

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