Do the Math

The latest issue of Writers Digest included an article called 28 Agents Who Want Your Work and I was included in the 28. A dubious privilege, to be sure. (Thanks, Chuck!) I’ve been receiving a record number of submissions since then, and it really is cool to have such a large pool of writers from whom to choose. But I have to be as careful as ever in my decisions, and I also have to decide quickly so they don’t pile up too much. In any case, I’ve sent more pass letters than ever the last couple weeks, and I’m sorry for writing about rejection again, but it’s been on my mind a lot.

What I wanted to talk about today is that I’m receiving an astounding number of responses back from my rejections. A few are very kind, like the one I told you about on Friday. But most ask for feedback on their project, others try to change my mind, and a few ask for referrals to other agents.

First things first. This may sound harsh, but I’m not open to having my mind changed. If I’d ever (ever!) seen a rationale good enough to actually change my mind, I wouldn’t be so set on this. But experience has taught me that people tend to give it their best shot in the query, and if it’s not right for me, then it simply isn’t. As a general rule, I don’t respond to letters attempting to change my mind. (If you’re now thinking I’m mean and rotten, refer to Friday’s post which attempts to show that I’m really not.)

About those letters asking for referrals to other agents: If I liked your project enough to want to refer it to a fellow agent, I probably would have told you that. If I didn’t connect with your project, I certainly wouldn’t refer you to another agent unless I wanted to make enemies amongst my colleagues! So while it doesn’t hurt to ask, realize the odds of getting a referral are slim. There are numerous ways to find agents, both online and in book form, so writers need to do their own homework.

Now, about those requests for feedback. I’ve said this before… sorry to be a broken record. I’ve sent 300 pass letters in the last two weeks alone, and on some, I’ve given a bit of critique or reasoning. But IF I had to give personalized feedback on every one of them, spending approximately 15 minutes on each, that would take me 75 hours. Yes, almost two whole weeks of work-hours spent on activities that do not get me a client, build my business, contribute to my company’s bottom line, or serve the overall good in any way. Let’s look at it this way. If you are a salesperson, do you consider it a wise use of your time to spend half of your month calling on prospects you are 99.9% sure will not become customers?

I think not.

Just as importantly, if I were to give everyone personalized critiques, I wouldn’t be doing them any favors. I am just one voice in this business, and anything I said would be (1) just my opinion, likely to differ from anyone else’s, and (2) based on only a quick read of the material, not on the kind of in-depth study that a proper critique requires. So don’t look at personalized feedback from agents as some kind of magic bullet. It has quite limited value.

Bottom line… I encourage you to be thankful when you receive any kind of response at all from a busy agent or editor, and refrain from asking for more.

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

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. Timothy Fish on September 23, 2008 at 3:45 PM

    >”Too bad there’s not some sort of filter software to run the queries…”

    If we had that, we could run our manuscripts through it before sending it out and it would only improve the quality of the slush pile not make it smaller.

  2. Marla Taviano on September 23, 2008 at 3:01 PM

    >I’m with Bossy. Your workload makes me tired. Too bad there’s not some sort of filter software to run the queries through before they come to you.

  3. Kristi Holl on September 23, 2008 at 2:18 PM

    >I do think the Internet (with email, blogs, etc.) give all of us the weird and wrong idea that somehow time will magically stretch and we can add on to the end of the day four more hours for blogging, emails, free critiques, Twittering, GodTube videos, updating websites, and making book trailers. Time pressure–if we allow it–is so stressful! I’m glad you’re doing what you can to keep your life sane and priorities in order. No one can do it for you.
    Kristi Holl
    Writer’s First Aid blog

  4. The Bossy Church Lady on September 23, 2008 at 11:59 AM

    >Rachelle, I’m getting overwhelmed just thinking about your job, and now I need a nap! I seem to recall reading somewhere that you’re writing a book on top of everything else.

    Have you ever considered getting an assistant? At least if someone could help you out with the little stuff like answering the phone, organizing requested material and non-requested, and do other stuff like that so you can concentrate on pitching books to editors and pursuing the writers you want to represent then you’ll avoid becoming burned out like the managers at Wal-Mart.

  5. Tiffany Stuart on September 23, 2008 at 10:56 AM

    >Rachelle, I continue to see you offering MORE to writers than necessary. Your blog is so important to helping writers understand the publishing business. And being rejected is part of the process for all of us.

    I applaud you for spending time to type posts that offer your perspective. Even if the truth is a hard truth. I appreciate all of your wisdom and the inside look into your decisions as an agent.

    300 rejections! That number shocks me. You have your hands full over there. I can see why you don’t give a reason for rejection. I’m amazed there are so many people trying to find just the right open door for their book.

    Thanks for all you do. Thanks for keeping it real!

  6. Matthew C Jones on September 23, 2008 at 10:04 AM

    >This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the ACFW conference in MN, and it was eye-opening to say the least. I don’t think any of us aspiring authors realize that as hard as we’re working to get our novels down on paper, improve our craft, etc, the agents and editors in the world are working harder. PLUS they’re incredibly outnumbered. At ACFW it was 15 agents and over 500 writers, and those were just the ones who attended. Any time that an agent can give to looking at our queries or proposals is a boon from the heavens. These are some busy people, y’all.

    But, as Rachelle has often said, agents and editors WANT us to succeed. They NEED us to succeed. Their livelihoods depend on it. So, if they by chance have to reject us, know it isn’t because they don’t like us or even our writing. They just need us to double our efforts and make what we’ve written better. Spend some money on an editing service. Join a critique group. DO SOMETHING. Then come back and try again. But, be nice in the meantime. The publishing world is small. Don’t burn any bridges.

    Thanks for all of your time and effort, Rachelle.

    Grace to you,
    Matt J.

  7. Susan on September 23, 2008 at 9:24 AM

    >I accepted a volunteer editor post for an anthology recently, and WOW has it opened my eyes to what it’s like to work with my fellow writers. Some people are wonderfully talented, professional and friendly. Others are hard to believe, and even harder to work with. It makes me wonder what their real lives and relationships are like, I admit.

    Good luck with those rejections and all the other work you’re doing!

  8. Kim Kasch on September 23, 2008 at 9:23 AM

    >Reading, writing (Ok) but Arithmetic – yuck!!!

    No wonder people have a problem with that part 😉

  9. Jessica on September 23, 2008 at 9:19 AM

    >Hey Timothy,
    Whoops, just read the rest of your post. That’s actually a pretty funny way to look at it 🙂

  10. Jessica on September 23, 2008 at 9:18 AM

    >Wow Timothy,
    Shattering a dream? LOL This is one response, one no. If that’s all it takes to shatter the dream, then I’m not sure the dream was solid in the first place. That was a very strong comment to make.
    Anyways, I’ve been guilty of asking for feedback. An agent said to fix the format and I was like, what? What do you mean?
    LOL Now I know but I did bug the poor agent after her rejection. Sorry out there 🙂
    Hope you have a nice day, Rochelle.

  11. Courtney Walsh on September 23, 2008 at 8:19 AM

    >I think it’s amazing you send any kind of response at all. Many of the agents I’ve researched simply say “If you haven’t heard from us in this amount of time, assume we aren’t interested.”

    I would feel blessed to have received any kind of response at all.

  12. lynnrush on September 23, 2008 at 8:06 AM

    >Thanks, Rachelle.
    You already spend so much time on those with whom you don’t even work (blogging, replying to emails, etc). There are only so many hours in a day, right?

    Have a great day!

  13. Timothy Fish on September 23, 2008 at 7:22 AM

    >I see and understand what you are saying, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that the responses you receive are coming from a rational thought process. Many of these responses are a result of you shattering someone’s dream. That isn’t your fault, but shattered dreams produce grief and we can expect to see the stages of grief in these responses. The request for feedback could be denial, “she would have seen how good I write if she had actually read it.” Attempts to change your mind are probably bargaining.

  14. Yvonne on September 23, 2008 at 7:17 AM

    >Dear Lord, I pray for Rachelle. Give her wisdom and patience and a clear mind as she handles the stress of her job. May your Spirit continue to shine through her as she strives to do her best for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

  15. Lisa Jordan on September 23, 2008 at 7:10 AM

    >As writers, we constantly ask “why?” This drives character motivation, but also writer motivation. Why didn’t this agent like my writing?

    I totally understand agents and editors can’t send back reasons why a project didn’t work for them. I was so pleased to get actual letters from those who have turned down my projects. Many agents and editors don’t respond with a no.

  16. Chatty Kelly on September 23, 2008 at 7:00 AM

    >Do you ever pass on something you like (not love) just because you have so much in your inbox. Like if you had less coming in, would you be more likely to work with a “like.”

    In that same realm, do you have a slow time when you receive fewer queries?

  17. Anne L.B. on September 23, 2008 at 4:05 AM

    >“But I have to be as careful as ever in my decisions …”

    You remain in my prayers that God will continually give you discernment and wisdom.