I had just read and responded to an interesting blog piece on rejection letters when I received an email from an agent I know telling me that she’d just received a response to her gentle rejection letter to someone I’d given her name to. Apparently, this writer was under the impression that she was owed some constructive criticism–free advice, that is–by an agent who was not going to take on her project.
Now, I’ve often given writers free advice about where to take the project next–I don’t work with young adult or children’s books, for instance, so if someone contacts me about a project in that genre I will suggest where they might submit the book, or if they contact me about a sci fi novel I may, if I’m not too busy, note where they should begin their search for a sci fi agent. However, like most industry professionals, I do not believe it is an agent’s or in-house editor’s job to give constructive criticism unless they have strong interest in a project and are turning it down with great reluctance. In fact, if a writer receives a reject that gives a specific reason, such as, “I’m not big on novels featuring cats as protagonists,” I would suggest that writer make a mental note and move on. If she gets a cluster of responses that are similar, then she can start thinking about the possibility of rewriting her book proposal to address the criticism.
It simply makes no sense to give someone subjective advice when you have no intention of representing the book or offering a publishing contract. And it makes no sense to demand free constructive criticism from busy professionals. In fact, I would call that rude.