Darn Lazy Agents!

An anonymous commenter on Friday wrote: “It’s hard to know if agents/editors are rejecting you because of the economy or genre or market or what. All they say now is they doubt they can sell it – well, then I don’t want a lazy agent anyway.”

I’m sure most agents reading that would just have to chuckle, which is what I did. I don’t think anyone who’s “lazy” would be an agent for long. Since we work on commission, we can’t put food on the table if we don’t get results. So there’s no place for laziness. Not that it couldn’t happen (nothing’s impossible, right?). But I’d have to say, there are a lot of reasons agents don’t get everything done as well or as quickly as they’d like (a problem for people in most lines of work) but laziness wouldn’t be at the top of the list.

More importantly, agents don’t say they doubt they can sell it because they don’t want to work hard. They assess your project, assess the market, and make a calculated decision about whether this would be a good way to spend their time. The more they love the project, the more they might be willing to take a risk, even if the market isn’t completely favorable. They know they might spend months trying to sell it, to no avail (and no money), but they feel that particular project is worth it.

But if it’s a project they perceive as good but not great, and they don’t feel the market is open to it, or they don’t have any editor contacts who seem right for it, it just won’t be worth their time. Like most of the things we talk about on this blog, it’s a business decision. Sometimes, a project can be great in an agent’s estimation and they’re wildly in love with it – but they still doubt they can sell it and they say no.

Regardless of our line of work, we all have to make wise decisions about how to spend our time. So if someone says they doubt they can sell your project, take their word for it. No need to demean their character (“lazy agent”). Just move on and find someone who does think they can sell it.

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Sharon A. Lavy on July 3, 2010 at 8:18 AM

    >Until we learn that writing is re-writing we just don't get it.

    And no one else gets our writing either!!!!!

  2. Ty on July 3, 2010 at 1:48 AM

    >I believe this is common thinking among newbies in any field. Newbies don't have thick skin and their product isn't as polished. A good writer can go back to the well over and over again to get the product right. A newbie doesn't yet realize this. A good writer doesn't run out of ideas or words. They keep going. A newbie shuts down and falls into depression or they start pointing the finger at everyone but themselves. I guess a newbie is like a teenager. They believe they know it all and you can't convince them otherwise. It's not until years later when they've been around the block a few times do they realize the problem in the beginning was them.

  3. NikoleHahn on July 2, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    >I think the person is simply not very far along in their writing career. The misinformation they vented shows a lack of experience. It's not that I have had any experience at all with agents yet, but I have researched enough while I wrote to know agents are definitley not lazy. In fact, they are quite valuable. I suppose I could send my book proposal to a publisher directly, and if I am blessed, get a contract. Then, I have to spend hours with a legal dictionary and the contract to make sure I am getting the best deal ever. An agent is said to try to get you the best contract because it not only benefits you, but them as well.

  4. Shannon on June 30, 2010 at 7:28 PM

    >The wrong book at the wrong time is one of the reasons why so many of us keep our unpublished and unaccepted works on our hard drive and in hard copy – in the vague hopes that one day, after we get published, it will be the right day for our book…

    Unfortunately, when you go back and take a look at that book years later you normally realize why it didn't sell!

  5. Beth on June 30, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    >Let's face it, there are probably even quite a few great books that are just hitting the world at the wrong time. It's nothing personal. Like you said, it's just business.

  6. nightwriter on June 30, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    >It seems that many agents seem to submit to the same publishers and editors over and over, likely because they have contacts there and are assured of a read, if not a sale. That doesn't make them lazy, but perhaps these agents don't or won't venture out of their "inner circle" or comfort zone.

    I do agree with Richard and Dan, and yes, it'd be nice to have some sort of clarification–and Dan's "In Yo Face, Lazy Agent" comment made me LOL!

  7. Terri Tiffany on June 30, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    >When I owned a Christian bookstore, I had to turn down so many sales people who came in the store with great products. Why? Because I knew what my market would sell there in that small town. I had x amount of dollars to do it with and I needed to make a living.
    So really, I do understand.

  8. Regina on June 30, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    >Do you ever put on the t-shirt that says "I can only please one person a day…and today isn't your day!"?

    I feel like I need that one at home. lol There is always someone playing the blame game.

    Rejection is hard on everyone, and if the agents weren't out there working hard, then no one would have anything to read. We writer's just need to work harder to give our best work to be represented.

    Your humor about it makes me smile. Thanks for the post.

  9. Timothy Fish on June 30, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    >Richard Waskiewicz is correct in that it really wouldn’t be that hard for agents to provide more feedback. I really don’t expect we’ll see that because agents don’t have the same priorities as authors. Besides, maybe we’re better off without feedback. If the agent doesn’t tell us why she isn’t interested we can just make it up. If we’re honest with ourselves, a lot of times we can guess correctly anyway.

  10. Richard Waskiewicz on June 30, 2010 at 1:04 PM

    >I don't defend the poster, but I have to admit it would be nice if more agents could take the time to customize their form rejections.

    In this day and age, and understanding what little I do of the business end, it would be easy for agents to setup several rejection letters and then use the appropriate one for the specific query: Don't represent it, Can't sell it (market), Weak/confusing plot, etc. I know the query isn't much to go on, but there must be some reason behind the rejection, and it would be nice to at least know what that agent sees as the overshadowing issue. 🙂

  11. Michelle DeRusha @ Graceful on June 30, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    >While I'm not defending the commenter, I do have to admit that I've had my tantrumming moments in which I've tried to blame a rejection on anything or anyone other than myself. I'm not proud of the bitter, envious part of me that occasionally rears her ugly head, but she's there, and every now and then she gets the better of me.

    That said, name-calling is never fair, especially when it's entirely untrue. Personally I have to remember to keep the big picture front and center. Usually when I resort to name-calling, it's because I'm not understanding the whole story and am judging a person on just a slice of what I think I know about him or her. Totally not fair or right, but like I said, I've done it.

  12. Reena Jacobs on June 30, 2010 at 12:30 PM

    >The comment represents a slight logical error. Hopefully the writer will realize it. The issue isn't necessarily the agent but rather the work. That doesn't mean the writer doesn't have something great. Maybe they do. Perhaps the agent doesn't have the right connections to make the sell. Perhaps the work is just a tough sell all around.

    As others have said, rejections are tough. Making false accusations may make a writer feel better, but it doesn't solve the real issue: What is it about the work that makes it unsellable for the agent? If he/she can determine that, maybe they'll find a better fit or a new direction.

  13. Katherine Hyde on June 30, 2010 at 11:39 AM

    >I can't imagine how anyone who reads any agent's blog can imagine that agents might be lazy. It's obvious to me that you all work incredibly hard, and that you do it more for love than for money. THANK YOU!

  14. Andrea Coleman on June 30, 2010 at 11:25 AM

    >I actually just received a rejection very similar to the one you quoted. I tweeted about it last night. I never assumed it was the agent's fault or that she didn't feel like putting in the effort to sell it. Geez, the fault was entirely mine. On Query Tracker she's listed as repping mystery. She doesn't rep mystery and said she didn't feel she had the right contacts to sell it effectively. It was one of the few times I didn't double-check genres on the agency site. That was my mistake, not hers.

  15. Shawna Marie Bryant on June 30, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    >Anyone who can keep the pace your agenting duties demand, and still find time to maintain a blog like this should never get slapped with a description like "lazy." In fact, she deserves a vacation!

    I hope when you finally take yours (are you counting down the days?) you will print out the picture at the top of this post and use it as a bookmark for your summer reading… and I'm not referring to query letters and submitted manuscripts!

  16. Sarah N Fisk on June 30, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    >"All they say now is they doubt they can sell it – well, then I don't want a lazy agent anyway"

    Really? Rachelle, sometimes I think that you agents HAVE to make this stuff up to make us non-crazy (relative term, here) writers feel better about ourselves.

    But then I'll hear a writer at a group or conference say something similar and realize the truth: there are many more crazy people than I originally thought.

  17. T. Anne on June 30, 2010 at 10:57 AM

    >I doubt 'lazy' describes any literary agent. Most agents offer a list of clients on their website and it's evident from the number of people they're serving they have a lot to juggle. Also look at their sales records. Those deals don't spring out from nowhere, real hard work has to be put in to achieve them no matter how 'easy' the sale is perceived to be.

  18. Roxane B. Salonen on June 30, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    >Rachelle, makes sense to me. I'm really glad I'm at a place of being able to sort of understand that rejections do come despite great work, and that rejection simply means you haven't knocked on the right door at the right time, and not that you're a failure or a horrible writer. But I think because most writers are, by nature, very sensitive creatives, it takes us a while to figure out how this works. Some will have it figured out before others. Your post is an important, logical reminder of how things are, and a nudge for frustrated writers to just keep plodding ahead (or should that be plotting?).

    I like how you put things in perspective in a straightforward but respectful way.

  19. Faith on June 30, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    >It's really too bad when commenters (and writers in general) choose to focus on the negative and forget all the incredibly hard work that agents do… I don't think any agent can afford to be lazy. It amazes me how hard agents work, and I don't even have one yet so it's all hearsay!

    Yes, the industry is a rough place, but what business doesn't have its pitfalls? As writers, we need to stop blaming others (the "industry", agents, publishers…) and take ownership of our own actions and success.

    Focusing on negative things, demeaning others, and pointing fingers will only harm yourself in the long run.

  20. Durango Writer on June 30, 2010 at 9:21 AM

    >I agree that anonymous seems to be lashing out at the most "obvious" block to getting published instead of looking inward at that frustration and channeling it to something more positive. Write, write, revise, revise, refine the query letter. Take responsibility for your career rather than blame the next step in the process (agents).

  21. Sharon A. Lavy on June 30, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    >Rachelle I appreciate you sense of humor. You do so much to encourage all wannabe published writers. And often times we just are not patient enough or accepting enough of where we are on the journey.

  22. Lisa Jordan on June 30, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    >I had a make a business decision a few weeks ago and finally understood what agents and editors must go through when they reject manuscripts. It's not easy, especially when they know how it's going to make the writer feel. Business decisions that improve our careers don't make us lazy–just the opposite, in fact.

  23. Anonymous on June 30, 2010 at 9:00 AM

    >Amanda, that's great you have such a sharp agent. BTW Who is she? Still, I have friends who complain their agents grab the first offer they get, and don't hold out for a higher advance or better deal or publisher. Agents are human and it seems, as in all professions, some agents work harder than others. Perhaps it'd help other writers if agented authors could give a shout out and name their great agents (besides Rachelle).

  24. Em-Musing on June 30, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    >Recently, I watched an episode of Sex in the City when Carrie's boyfriend, Burger, gave advice as to why guys don't call after the first date. "He's just not that into you" was his remark. From that phrase, the book, "He's Just Not That Into You," by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo came out. Unpub'd authors should think of the query as the first date. If the agent's "just not into you/your story . . . MOVE ON.

  25. Amanda on June 30, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    >A lot of the commments in regards to agents lately come across as lashing out, in my opinion.

    My agent works hard and in return, I work hard. We spent two months revising my manuscript so it could go out to some great editors. When she signed me she said, "We could put this out as-is, but we're not going to…" She pushed me to perfect my MS and I became a better writer for it. I put my best possible work on submission thanks to her. Lazy?? I think not!

  26. A. Townsend on June 30, 2010 at 8:08 AM

    >Agents can't afford to be lazy, and neither can writers, if we ever hope to come together and experience mutual success. As many of us are aware, the newer an author is to the query process, the more rejection is going to hurt. Not that we're ever immune to rejection, but as we continue to write, read, and learn, we improve our product and its presentation; we are able to take a more rational (by that I mean a less emotional) attitude toward rejection; and we are quicker to file the rejection away and continue the query process. And in no way does any of that practicality diminish how hard it is to wait for the fruition of that dream.

    The week of June 7, Wendy Lawton presented a five-day blog series about what to do "While U Wait." These articles helped my focus tremendously. If anyone is interested, the first article is at http://www.booksandsuch.biz/blog/while-u-wait-perfect-your-craft/.

    Thanks, Rachelle. Have a beautiful day!

    ~ Angela

  27. Teenage Bride on June 30, 2010 at 8:06 AM

    >Being rejected is frustrating, but like you said, it is the market not the agent.

    Just as attorneys will not take cases that they know they can't handle, or doctors won’t treat patients that they can't help, an agent has to do what is good for their job and their clients.

    Good things happen, we all just have to be patient.

  28. Susan Bourgeois on June 30, 2010 at 7:26 AM

    >The truth hurts. Everyone has their own way of coping with disappointment.

    Some lash out at others while others analyze how to make their work better the next time around.

    I happen to believe the agents know more than I do. I respect their opinions and welcome any information they're willing or able to provide whether it's what I wish to hear or not.

  29. Timothy Fish on June 30, 2010 at 6:59 AM

    >I don’t see that it matters if agents are lazy or not—perhaps some are. I think the real issue here is the frustration on the part of Mr. Anonymous and other authors. Agents are just a convenient outlet upon which to vent this frustration. It’s tough when a person dreams of adding their name to the list of published author and someone comes along and shatters that dream. I don’t know that it does any good to tell frustrated people how they should respond because that makes it seem that other people don’t understand the frustration.

  30. Krista Phillips on June 30, 2010 at 6:55 AM

    >I think by "lazy" the commenter meant that the agent(s) only take "easy" sales (or better said, things they feel will sell with little problem.)

    But geez. I don't know about you all, but I think those are the first ones agents SHOULD take. Granted, easy is in the eye of the beholder, but as you pointed out, this is a business. Any business would be OUT of business very shortly if they didn't focus on their higher profit-margin items (i.e. greater $$ and less expenses–time) Yes, you make room for some MS that are tougher because they could lead to greater sales in the future or because you personally like them, but if you spent all your time on the hard stuff hoping for that one, huge bestselling diamond in the rough, well, it'd be difficult for said agent to put food on the table in the mean time:-)

  31. Tabitha Bird on June 30, 2010 at 4:20 AM

    >Lazy! Well, that is one I have not heard. Imagine if that were true. You agents would never eat. All literary agents would be lining up outside the Salvation Army.
    Maybe this comment says more about the writer's frustration at not being able to find a home for his/her work. If an agent ever told me they doubted they could sell my work, I would look first at my work, and if I still believed it was the best it could be, I would try again for an agent who is the right fit my work. Isn't that what it is all about anyway? Partnership? The right partnership?

  32. Lauren on June 30, 2010 at 1:55 AM

    >I think the frustrated person who wrote that is trying to name the problem.

    When it's really, as you said, the market.

    Because of the large number of submissions agents cannot sit down and say specifically why an author's work is being turned down.

    The frustration comes in because sometimes, authors don't get an answer at all. By reading, we can't market your book sounds, it sounds like a cop out.

    But without being a literary agent I cannot say this to be true or false.

    I've been reading a lot of literary agent's blogs lately and it looks like authors try to read into what little they're given from a rejection letter.

    If an agent says there's no market, an author may really hear, you've got no shot, you suck, give up now.

    But that's only my interpretation of the situation.