Ask the Agent: Rejecting Bestsellers
“How many bestsellers have slipped through reputable agents’ hands? I am curious to know how an agent deals with such a loss when a bestseller was in their hands and they rejected it.”
This is an interesting question, because most editors and agents have passed on books that went on to success (if not bestseller lists), and most don’t lose any sleep over it. In fact, most stand by their original impression of the book. If it was a huge bestseller, they might regret losing all that money for the sake of their company’s bottom line. But they didn’t change their opinion of the book just because it was profitable.
It’s probably more common for an agent to “lose” a bestselling book not because they didn’t want it, but because there was competition for it (many agents offering representation) and the author simply chose someone else.
I don’t think agents would say bestsellers “slipped through their hands” unless it was a case where they were too busy to give it adequate consideration. But agents usually say “no” after careful and experienced evaluation. If they determine they can’t personally get behind a book, or they don’t have the right publishing contacts or it doesn’t fit what they represent, they make the right decision in saying “no” even if the book is a potential blockbuster.
Sometimes I say “no” to someone for representation, and then I hear a fellow agent agreed to represent them. My response is generally to think, “Cool, I’m happy for both of them.” As a newer agent, trying so hard to make the right decisions, I might re-evaluate whether I made the right decision, but I haven’t experienced regret. I believe I have to keep moving forward with confidence. I always pray for wisdom in making decisions, and I also pray for authors to find the best agent for them, even if it’s not me. That helps me to trust that everything is working out as it should so I don’t need to waste energy regretting a lost opportunity.
So, to the question “How many bestsellers have been rejected by reputable agents?” the answer is something like, “All of them.” How many agents have rejected books that went on to become bestsellers? Probably a quite a few. Do we ever kick ourselves over it? Maybe sometimes, but mostly we just keep moving.