Let's see, let's send a manuscript I've been working on for months or years to some agents, wait up to three months to hear from them as they judge your baby, then when you get the response, its NO. That's it, not even, "you suck, your manuscript is terrible, don't quit your day job", or "haven't you ever heard of a period?" There is no way to glean any useful information out of it. This is a system designed to cause nervous breakdowns and thumb sucking.
On top of that, the agents tell you how important it is that you spend lots of time preparing the submission. Make sure that it is EXACTLY the unique manner they request and PERSONALIZE it. Suck up to them: "Dear Editor, I love your work. I saw you on Oprah. I love the book blah blah blah..." The implication is clear, if you don't jump through these hoops, you will get a simple response: NO.
There are entire websites devoted to reading the minds of agents on the off chance you will get a maybe. Heaven forbid you should try to increase your chances by sending the result of your blood, sweat and tears to every agent in the world.
This is enough to put anyone with any pride on their high hobby horse of righteous anger.
Of course, after the string of soul destroying rejections, if you don't just give up, you start trying to understand WHY they rejected your manuscript, even without any clues. For me, I started consulting the sages, reading books on writing, sending my work off to friends and, as I mentioned before, even paying strangers to read it and give me their thumbs up or down.
Now, to be fair, I probably should have done this BEFORE, Not AFTER being rejected. This became painfully clear to me just yesterday as I was reading The First Five Chapters by Noah Lukeman. Mr. Lukeman is an editor and he is trying to reveal what editors look for at first glance to relegate a manuscript to the rejection pile. It's a really good book and it's pointers are not at all surprising after considering that a typical agent can get 20 manuscripts a day.
I plan on discussing the books and other oracles of writing quality later, but I wanted to share a quote from old Noah. It perfectly summed up what I have been coming to realize in the last year.
"In order to even begin to learn how to play his instrument, it takes the guitarist weeks to build calluses on his fingertips; it takes the saxophonist months to strengthen his lip so that he might play his instrument for only a five minutes stretch; it can take the pianist years to develop dual hand and multiple finger coordination. Why do writers assume they can just "write" with no training whatsoever-- and then expect, on their first attempt, to be published internationally? What makes them think they're so much inherently greater, need so much less training than any other artist"
Yep, that loud thunk you heard was me falling off aforementioned hobby horse. I've learned a lot about the craft in the last year through books, editors and general feedback. I can't really hold a grudge against the agents and editors for rejecting my books. But, it still would have been nice to hear why.
So, am I going to go back to traditional publishing? Hell no, I'm not a masochist.