Why, Oh Why, Did I Get Rejected?
Yesterday’s blog post asking writers what annoys them yielded lots of helpful comments, and a smattering of familiar complaints.
Julie Geistfeld wrote that she wants a “reason” with her rejection letters. But, she says – she’s not asking for much – just “one word, maybe two” of explanation at the end of a form rejection. A “simple category,” she says. That’s not asking too much, is it? Julie expanded her plea to agents in this blog post.
Well, sorry to tell you this, Julie (and everyone else who yearns for explanations for their rejections). But it is asking too much. The necessity to add “a word or two” of explanation could potentially triple or quadruple the time it takes for us to respond to each query. I’m not exaggerating – and we can’t afford this.
Many of us have already dispensed with the personalized salutation, finding this can significantly reduce the time it takes to respond to each query. We are trying to do everything possible to still be able to give you a response. The more you ask of us in this process, the more likely it is that agents will opt for no response at all.
But time isn’t the only reason we choose not to offer explanations for our rejections. There is a HUGE difference between knowing a query doesn’t appeal to me… and being able to put into words WHY it doesn’t appeal to me.
When you walk through the department store looking for clothes, do you stop at every single item of clothing and dissect why it’s not right for you? Of course not. And if you did, you’d spend an awful lot of time trying to identify exactly why it doesn’t appeal. Something about the style? The color? Does it seem to old or too young? Too casual or too formal? Is it just plain ugly? Or is it… (drum roll please)… just not what you’re looking for right now?
Obviously it doesn’t make sense spending all that time in the store figuring out why you don’t like most of the clothes. You’re there to find something you can BUY, so that’s where the bulk of your time needs to be spent. It’s exactly the same with queries. We must spend our time looking for what we can work with, and quickly dispense with the rest.
There’s one more reason we don’t send explanations: because we don’t want to unnecessarily confuse, enrage, or depress you. Would you really prefer we tell you your book idea is (in our opinion) unoriginal, boring, derivative, or poorly written? Any brief response we offer would only leave you with more questions than if we said nothing. Plus, we could be wrong. The next agent might love it.
You’re looking for help – I understand that! You want to know if your book is good, worthwhile, saleable, well-written. But an agent is not the source of that help. Unless, of course, they’re your agent, already representing you.
So where do you find that kind of help? Editors, book doctors, and book mentors exist to help with your book. For a fee, they can tell you what you need to know. But please get this straight:
A literary agent is not obligated to help a non-client with their book. Or their pitch, or their query letter.
And yet, we help quite a bit anyway. We blog. We tweet. We teach at writers conferences, which take us away from our desks and our families for days at time. Many agents are helpful to the writing community.
I’m sorry, writer friends. What you’re asking for is not simple and it’s not little. I hate to be the bearer of bad news.
But now you know.
(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
Good points. I think my expectations of an agent were incorrect. Valuable.
Excellent information! Thanks. I just highlighted this on the Christian Poets & Writers blog for other members of my Facebook group to see – http://christianpoetsandwriters.blogspot.com.
Very good write-up, There’s without doubt that you can create great submitting and also Certainly i’ll have discover further publish from a blog, The information is going to be search great and even In my you can also make more fine suppose.
Tryst cleaners offers domestic and commercial cleaning services in Glasgow, paisley, and surrounding areas.We are experts in our field for providing detailed solutions for cleaning offices & houses using highly trained members of staff, who employ eco friendly cleaning methods.
Do not a lot of money to buy a car? You should not worry, because this is possible to take the home loans to work out such kind of problems. Thence take a college loan to buy everything you need.
>Since the comments seem to have gotten wildly off track (and honestly, I don't know what you all are talking about) I'm going to close the comments now.
I read all the same blogs and comments and follow all of you at Twitter. Marjorie REPLIED in comments at some blogs because you all did a massive pile up on Twitter and tried to make fun of her, her blogs, and her opinions.
I saw the comments such as "My kids draw better," "I feel sorry for her what with therapy and all," "I feel sorry for her students," "I am having fun writing code to mess with her mind."
Now what will you do? The same cop out as always and say you were talking about somebody else?
Let's be real. If you provoke, be prepared for the object of the provocation to go where she has to go to reply. There were reasons she went to those blogs. And she sure did reply, with great self-effacing wit and humor and THAT is what got you so angry.
>Blogger doesn't have a tool that allows people to block users. Bouncing is the only option for particularly difficult or persistent commenters, especially if they harass your other readers.
This really isn't the forum for a discussion of this nature, though. Sorry Rachelle. I've removed the comment that was causing all the ruckus.
>Hmmmmm, Marjorie didn't name any names. Wonder why somebody would out herself and admit to using dirty tricks like bouncing.
Marjorie stated above in an excellent way that blocking would be the way to go if you don't want somebody going to your site. Just lock it up.
I was once banned from a political site and I was told to "Think positive." I was told to look at it like they did me a favor not letting me view that site.
Your remark seems sarcastic and insulting. And as Marjorie said above, bouncing somebody to another website is not very nice.
She said that blocking a person seems the correct thing to do if you do not want her looking at your site.
Just my two cents that I hope makes perfect sense.
>Anon Sep 24, 11:15 am: I'm sorry you interpret the post that way.
(1) I have given far more than "one or two words of help." I have, in fact, written more than 700 blog posts of help, and I think this does more good overall than a subjective and quickly rendered one-sentence opinion in response to a query letter.
(2) As I explained in a comment above, I typically DO use a targeted form letter that attempts to give some idea of the reason for my rejection (I have about a dozen templates) but not always.
(3) Any expert in business time management would tell us that yes, my time IS too valuable to spend too much of it giving advice to people who are not going to be my clients. When time is tight, we focus on our priorities. If you're a parent, an employee, or a student, or ever have been, I'm sure you understand this concept. There's no need to couch it in terms that makes me sound so arrogant. There are many things that YOU have to give up doing, I'm sure, because your own time is limited and you must make decisions. I'd ask you to grant me the same prerogative.
>And check above. Two people used the comment box to plan this activity. There it is right there. And they do not "block." They redirect. You can wind up anywhere.
They do it in code with ".htaaccess redirect." Very nice. And she was all "heheheing" about it.
>Thank-you. I am going to let you know just how far this has gone.
I can understand blocking somebody from a personal blog. But, what i find reprehensible is a person who redirects others through IP addresses and code to other websites. It may be legal, but it is unethical. Back to square one. I was redirected. She got me a few times, but a few is a few too many.
This is not a pretty picture. A person who wrote a great deal about what is legal now engages in activity that also may be totally legal but is also quite unethical. It is not a 'hehehe" moment. It actually speaks volumes about what I feel is quite devious and alarming activity.
Redirecting puts unwanted history and cookies and cache into a computer and impugns the computer's integrity. Several people who know about this have told me there should be consequences for this. I am also posting this because it is important for commenters to know just how far this contempt for others' opinions goes. You want to block, fine. Go for it. But to redirect? This needs to be checked into. You may not like me, but the issue deserves support.
I keep an entertainment attorney on retainer and he is here in NYC. He has a huge internet presence and is very well respected in the industry. And he speaks about internet law all over the country. This may be totally legal activity, but it can be alarming if for instance somebody is redirected to porn sites or other sites that could be illegal. Therefore, this has to be addressed and I will take care of it. For this to have happened once was one time too many. Would you like if it happened to you?
This person is quick to call and label others "stalkers" and "trolls" and "creeps." She speaks out against trolls who "hijack threads" for their own purposes. She calls people who come from personal places "entitled" and says they "self promote." Maybe she should mind her own business and be less impacted by the comments of others to the point where she is closing her own blog. Good grief! All this control seems rather odd since everybody can do selective reading and not even read the comments of others. Let other voices be heard.
I dislike weak minds. I admire writers with strong points of view who are self involved and come from places of self interest. I like the "krazees." Nobody makes the rules for agents at their own personal blogs. And, I am also tired of writers who talk out of two sides of their mouths.
You know, somebody complained that her blog was checked hundreds of times by another writer. She called that person "a creep." I would be flattered and think it was because I am an excellent writer. It's about perspective. And something is rotten in the perception that a person with a strong opinion who references herself is doing something wrong.
>Posting in support of Marjorie. I am so sick and tired of this internet mentality whereby anyone who happens to post in disagreement with the majority (no matter how measured that person's response is) is instantly labeled a troll.
Please grow a skin people and learn the art of debate.
>How do you block an iPad? Enquiring minds want to know. LMAO.
>Anon 9:34: A friend of mine and I figured out how to do it. Get in touch with me. 🙂
>LMAO I am laughing. Too silly. ROFL.
>Something else people need to keep in mind is that submitting an unsolicited query letter to an agent in no way obligates that agent to respond, especially by providing a free critique of a writer’s work. That goes way beyond their job description. If a querying writer doesn’t realize that, he is not ready for this stage of the process. It’s up to a writer to do his or her homework ahead of time as to word count, the agent’s genre preferences, submission requirements, etc., and if they have failed to do so, it is not the agent’s problem. A literary agent is a business professional seeking to provide a specific service to other business professionals. She isn’t there to coddle or babysit, nor to become the querying writer’s counselor, mentor, editor, teacher or writing coach.
As others have mentioned above, if a writer feels he needs feedback, there are people and places to which he can turn for such services. There are also forums and blogs that offer invaluable advice–even critiques, often for free. A writer who expects these things in response to his query letter has unrealistic expectations and a great deal yet to learn before he's ready to be seeking the representation of a literary agent.
>I followed Colleen Lindsay's link here, interested in seeing all the entitled and vitriolic comments – but only found about 4 and three of them are obviously from the same person spouting the same old schtick.
Can a girl be disappointed for a minute?
Drama is often in the eye of the beholder.
>LOVE the clothes-shopping analogy — perfect!
I never mind form rejections (except on a full, and then to be honest I find it disappointing — still, when I do get feedback, it feels like a huge bonus). Mostly, I'm just so glad for a response. The "no response = no" thing is hard to take, even though I can understand why it becomes necessary.
GREAT POST! You hit the nail on the head perfectly.
(And I have to say that I am astounded at the level of entitlement I'm reading in a few of the responses to your post. Um, whoa! Chill pill, people.)
>And once again a troll hijacks thread for her own purposes. Wow, how I wish you could block IP addresses in Blogger.
>I think all writers would agree its better to get SOME response whether it is personal or not. So I'm happy to get a form letter on occasion.
However, if there is clearly something wrong with the manuscript that nearly ALL agents would agree on, a writer would be wasting time sending out query letters. For example, when I first started querying a YA novel, it was over 100K words and I didn't know that YA should be much shorter. I sent out over 50 query letters and always got rejected, until one brilliant agent FINALLY told me it was too long. If one of the first agents I sent to had just said a simple, "This is too long for a YA novel" I would've saved myself months of querying. Heck, might have saved myself a whole year.
That's the only time when I believe agents should give a reason why they're rejecting a query.
>That's many words to say your time is too important for you to give one or two words of help.
>I don't slam literary agents. I speak strongly about a handful of agents who online are unprofessional and unethical and who misuse their power.
It is sadDER to me that a writer feels she has to be a lemming and a brown nose or a milquetoast in order to make her chances greater to receive personal representation.
There are agents who on the internet have participated in activity that I believe is wrong. THAT is what is amateur in the picture. And I have a voice, and my voice will be heard, even if I am shooting myself in the foot each time I hit "publish your comment."
"Sad to write and not grow?" I am proud that I have grown to a point where I can post my opinions and have no fear. I am happy that so many people have written to me and told me that my opinion regarding the issue is correct.
And yes, it doesn't have to be this way. And it wouldn't be this way if some amateur agents didn't behave like fools in visible ways that ridicule writers. They have diminished the integrity of a fine field.
>Those writers who slam literary agents brand themselves as amateurs. It matters not if they have been writing for eons. Sad to write and not grow.
I should be happy as they are not competing for my favorite agents attention. But I am just sad. It doesn't have to be this way.
>The individual criticism–hell, even a response at all–I can do without. It's the agent's prerogative. What I can do without is the universal drama attendant to agent rhetoric about how very very hard and demanding the life of an agent is. Spare me.
>I'd take that blurb more to heart Rebecca if no agents ever wrote and/or got published. It may apply to that particular agent, but not to all. We often see mention of publishing credits on agents sites. And agents do give writing advice, with many it is considered part of the job. Many new agents have a masters in creative or professional writing, as have editors.
>Hi, Anon 3:28 PM:
I actually taught mostly 5th/6th grade, not high school.
You can view photos of some of my classes and other "stuff" here:
We actually did walk over dead bodies to get into the school. The bodies were found on the railroad tracks. You can view the photo of the back of the school and the tracks here:
I no longer submit to THE NEW YORKER. Those rejections were from the 1990s. And I was motivated to post them because they were on topic regarding "Why did I get rejected?"
>Kudos to Marjorie! As a writer who worked as a sub teacher, I know how hard it is to teach high-schoolers–I only lasted one semester. Bet you have lots to write about. Good luck with the New Yorker!
>Totally agree. Sometimes, I may ask an editor who rejected my story if he could possibly expand on a statement he made in the rejection letter with the added note, "If you have time."
That editor expanded with another email. I resubmitted with the changes. On the second time, he rejected it and included his thoughts.
I thought that was nice. And what makes it nice is how rare it is. But I don't ever expect it because you all are very busy. Like responding to every commenter, it's impossible. So when you do take a question from us or do write something in a rejection, believe me it's appreciated, but we won't take it for granted.
>I posted my form and personal rejections from Alice Quinn, who was the poetry editor of THE NEW YORKER until 2007. You can view them here:
>I'm going to be really snarky here but the following is a blurb I copied from another agent's blog: I don’t often give writing advice, primarily because I’m not a writer, but…
That, in a nutshell, should show most writers/authors that an agent's interest is primarily subjective and to, therefore, take those rejections with the same "subjective" attitude…IMO
>I second Liz. Well said.
Granted there's mud throwing on both sides of the fence.
>P.S. Some of those poems now appear in my online blog:
>I have no problem with rejections. None. The finest and most appreciated rejections I ever received were from Alice Quinn, the poetry editor of The New Yorker.
She rejected my poems, but always wrote words of kind encouragement at the bottom of the form rejections.
The day I received her handwritten note complimenting my poems and telling me to always feel free to submit my work to The New Yorker was the day I literally danced in the street.
>Perhaps you could describe (in alarming detail) why you didn't choose the other ties, but are you really going to take the time to coddle each one and graciously tell it exactly why you don't like it?
No. But that's not the analogy. Rachelle's analogy implied that she could not articulate why she preferred one story over another. From your analogy, all we can imply is that one is an idiot if one spends one's time talking to accessories.
Those are two entirely different statements. I don't believe Rachelle meant what you were implying, but I don't buy what she's implying either. I understand her. I was being polite. I'll stop being polite for a second and just state that it was a bad analogy.
But again — I don't care. As an unpublished writer I know who sets the rules and it isn't me. I have no problems with agents who don't represent me yet doing whatever they want to do. That's the way things are and there's no reason to complain about it.
>This may come across as snarky, but having seen all the comments, which you, Rachelle, obviously take time to read all the way through. My thought was: why do you take so much time out of your day reading and responding when that time could be better spent reading queries and MSS?
I'm a female and the shopping analogy did not work for me either. No one sends me clothes, from a list I have posted on a blog or web site, with the hope I will choose theirs. I go out looking for what I want, and I always know why I don't want something.
From the responses here I think most comments come from people who have done the hard yards, completed professional cost-a-packet writing course, have joined critique groups, have rewritten, edited, and polished their work until it shines. And are being told here to pay out more money for a book doctor, editor, or MS assessment before sending to an agent, who will take a cut for selling the story. Then we are told not to expect to earn much from the published book.
I keep wondering which of you were forced into doing the job? Writers know why they do it – they can't not write. All most are asking for is a little respect from those whose bread we may eventually butter.
I could be interpreting things wrong, but it seems that much of the issue is that there are far more people trying to get published than there are opportunities to BE published. If there is such a glut of aspiring authors maybe what we most need to be doing is perfecting the quality of what we write rather than expending so much energy trying to sell something that is only average at best?
>I understand Rachelle's dilemna because of my experience as a hiring manager for a Fortune 50 company. If I took time to write a personal note for every resume I wrote I would never get other work done, see my wife, or sleep!
When I found I wasn't getting traction I hired Jeff Gerke (www.marcherlordpress.com)to review the first five chapters of my book. I got the recommendation from Jim Rubart whom I know through the Northwest Christian Writers Association in the Seattle Area. Jeff gave me great guidance and since then my novel has placed third in an International Contest, I have an agent, and have editors from two major publishing houses interested in seeing it.
Get to know people who are ahead of you in the writing journey, help people behind you, learn the craft, and go to conferences.
Prayer, persistence, and patience!
>sometimes i feel the way i imagine my dog must have felt when she was in the shelter. you put yourself out there and hope that the right person will come along to love you. she waited for a really long time before she got her forever home, and i love her and would do anything i could for her. i have the feeling that that's somewhat similar to an agent-writer relationship. we sit and wait and wait and hope and wait and put ourselves out there, and then when an agent comes along and picks us up we're all excited. that's what i imagine.
maybe i just miss my dog too much.
>Many jobs are hard. I taught in Hell's Kitchen, NYC. We walked over dead bodies to get into the school. I saw kids try to throw teachers down the stairs. At graduation, three teachers were shot with BB guns. One teacher almost lost an eye. One teacher had parents waiting after school to beat her up with coat hangers. Another teacher was assaulted in the lunchroom.
Wait! When I walk down stairs, I hold onto the railing. Kids would spit on that railing. How many times did I catch a handful of spit? How many times did I have to cut wads of gum from my hair?
Many agents are professional. I respect Rachelle. I do not respect agents who whine about their jobs and the poor queries to which they have to be subjected. They wouldn't have lasted more than a few days in my job. They would land in the rubber room for conduct unbecoming the job.
>I don't know how you do it, Rachelle!! Your job must be SO hard!
>I have offered to critique Julie's query. I am of the opinion that agents should only send form rejections and give no reasons. Giving a reason is tedious and opens the door for conflict in an argument.
I am retired and have a lot of time. I worked for 35 years as a teacher (1968 – 2002) and tried very hard to be supportive and encouraging.
I will come from a place of constructive criticism. I have no idea why one agent would reject work. But, I can look at it and give my opinion. And, I hope it helps.
>Remus – Please, I'm a man and I get the analogy. That's an invalid argument. The difference you are referring to is the hunt vs. gather. You obviously hunt. you know what you want, hunt it down, kill it and drag it home. However, even as men, occasionally we have to select among many of the available blue shirts. Though we might be able to specify what we don't like, it's not generally part of the process. If it's not what we have envisioned for our particular hunting trip, it doesn't really matter why not. No one identifies why we don't want each blue shirt on the rack, even though we probably could if pressed to do so.
However, I'm quite sure most, if not all, women could do so as well.
Amity – As far as an agent not wanting more vampire novels (for example) and deserving to "wade through the queries" — I would bet by looking through their bio, submission requirements or "what I'm looking for" section – you'll find out if they want vampire novels or not. The agents don't hide what their interests are, and their interests usually have something to do with their connections in the industry – what they have the ability to sell. It would be counterproductive to do that.
But if you don't take the time to research the agent and what they represent, don't be surprised when you receive no response to your queries, whether rejections with/without explanations or otherwise.
Any reputable agent will let you know what they are seeking – and no, it's not always easy to find – though it usually is clearly stated, but you can find it.
>Okay Remus, you're a man. You shop like a man. Got it. But please don't tell me you're using your gender as an excuse for not comprehending a simple (and elegant) analogy.
Maybe the analogy will be easier for you to understand if you think about shopping for a tie instead. Do you go to a store knowing exactly what you want?
"Excuse me, ma'am, could you direct me to the charcoal gray silk tie decorated with an array of 1/4-inch polka dots in alternating parallel rows of cerulean blue and navy blue set at an angle of 18 degrees from vertical that I'm picturing in my head? Thanks."
Or do you look for "something that will match the blue shirt I bought earlier (in under three minutes, mind you!)"?
If the latter, you'll be doing exactly what Rachelle is talking about – considering and rejecting a variety of ties until you see the one that appeals to you.
Perhaps you could describe (in alarming detail) why you didn't choose the other ties, but are you really going to take the time to coddle each one and graciously tell it exactly why you don't like it? Or are you going to bypass a whole bunch of them without a second thought because they simply aren't what you're looking for?
The analogy isn't that hard to understand.
Even for a man.
>Pooks — If my comment came over as aggressive, I apologize. You'll note that at the end I listed several problems with my proposition–one of which you have expounded on and is a very good point indeed. I merely was musing if there was a situation that a response may be useful to all parties. Devil's advocating, I guess. Personally, I don't mind the form reject. My job is to develop my craft. If I'm getting form rejects, either I haven't found the right agent or my craft isn't up to snuff yet. It's my job to deal with it.
Ultimately, with my comment, I was trying to think of the agent. As you said, agents are very busy people. I certainly wouldn't send a category romance to a Sci-Fi only agent. It's a waste of their time and, imo, discourteous. In the same vein, I don't want to bother an urban-fantasy agent sick of vampires with yet another vampire novel. Neither do I want to send her my next vampire novel, and my next. Therefore, it's info I'd like to know, and many agencies don't go to that level of detail, and some don't have a website at all.
Maybe I'm taking a step too far, though, and you're right — such a statement belongs on the agent's website, after serious consideration, and not in the query response. If they are sick of vamps/epic/whatever and they don't mention it, well, they deserve to wade through the queries.
My musing is over. There isn't a time-saving tack-on to the form rejection 😉
>I'm sorry, but as a man I don't understand this analogy. When I shop for clothing, I know what I want — say, a blue shirt. I walk into the store, I pick up a blue shirt, I check its price, and then I buy it. If for some reason I don't want the first shirt I see, I can elaborate exactly why I don't want it. (Stiff collar, a stupid Izod label on the front, maybe it's more green than blue, etc.)
In short, I know and can explain why I reject clothing. The concept of clothes shopping without a clear idea of what I want is foreign to me.
But more than that the analogy is simply flawed. I go out and shop for clothes. People are not sending me clothes for my review. If I wanted a blue shirt and
a thousand people were sending me green shirts, red jackets and the occasional plaid pants, then I could see an analogy that fits the agent's plight. But even then I'd still be able to explain why I rejected all those clothes being sent to me.
I'm sorry, I still just do not understand. But I'm okay with that. I'm willing to work under the rules of a system that makes no sense to me; being American, I have practice with such things. 🙂
>Rachelle, I just found your blog yesterday–first through Michael Hyatt's tweet, and second, through Meredith Blase who sent me the same link. I feel like I have discovered gold. You've answered so many questions for me–someone who knows so little about what I'm getting into having finished my first novel and wondering what the heck to do now. So thank you, thank you, thank you. This site it truly a wealth of knowledge to me and insanely appreciated!
Angela in Arkansas
>I also thought the store metaphor was perfect.
>Really well said, Rachelle.
This sums it up: "You're looking for help . . . But an agent is not the source of that help."
Emerging writers need help, and the first thing they can do for themselves is get realistic about where they will find it.
Your blog and other agent blogs are great. But one-on-one service is not going to happen.
>You certainly don’t need to apologize for taking time to shed light on a point view that now makes more sense to me, and hopefully others out there too.
If anything I realize that I should take the form rejections more literally. If they all say the same thing, vague though it may seem to me at the time, perhaps there is some underlying message in them. Maybe it does all come down to finding that right fit, so until I do, I just keep trying! (Oh, and writing!)
>Julie: Thanks for your thoughtful response. Again, I apologize if it felt personal and/or hurtful. I truly wanted to answer for the masses a request I get all the time and you put into words so eloquently.
For the record, I do sometimes include a couple of sentences explaining the reason for my rejection. I even have a dozen different "form rejection templates" so that I can be as specific as possible.
But for the reasons in my post, I can't do it all the time, and can't promise that I will. So I give this explanation so that writers will know why they sometimes won't get what they want in their agent responses.
I appreciate your engaging in this conversation. Now I'd better get offline and back to work!
Rachelle is NOT a bully. Seems to me you're the only one here calling names… 🙁
I have gotten many critique partners, readers, and sources of feedback on my writing. I have honed it to a point where I am happy with what I am sending out. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love another opinion. I like to take all ideas into consideration, accepting those that help, rejecting those that don’t. I have a brain and a will. I bend but don’t break. That’s just me though. Some don’t bend and others tend to break. What seemed to me to be a simple little addition to help us all, is obviously not as simple or helpful to everyone as I imagined it could be.
I, as always, appreciate the blogs and tweets and interviews that help us all find better ways to work together. In the end we need each other, we appreciate each other, and we somehow form a community that works together to achieve all of our goals. Thanks for helping make that possible!
Thank you for the response. As much as it does feel like a personal ‘rebuke’ to me, I understand that it was in no way intended as that. I actually do appreciate the response, and getting to hear your take on what I was thinking.
In response to your response I just have a few comments (I’ll try to keep it brief…)
First of all I meant my blog post as a plea, not a rant. I appreciate that most agents are not only forthright in their expectations, but also in what you may expect as a response. It is not a shock to get a form rejection; as I mentioned I am actually grateful when I do have that definite response.
I understand your hesitation to make any comments due to not wanting to depress anyone. “Would you really prefer we tell you your book idea is (in our opinion) unoriginal, boring, derivative, or poorly written?” The answer for me would be, yes. I would want to know, and I wouldn’t want to hide in my closet and never write again upon hearing what you thought. But that is me, and I understand that it is not the way everyone would respond. You don’t want to and shouldn’t have to be responsible for creating that scenario.
I also thought your analogy of clothes shopping was wonderful. It does make sense to think of it that way, or at least it helps show the dilemma of categorizing such a thing as preference.
>Anon 1:08, your last line just made me almost choke on my chips! lol
>Really, someone needs to capitalize on this issue by writing a book about it. I think a comedy would be a good choice, because if you can laugh at yourself and your experiences, you'll be okay.
>I don't mind "no response means no", but here's the problem, agents need to set reasonable timelines. Some don't even set timelines. I only wish that 1 month was the limit for such a policy instead of 60 days or more. But even 60 days is better than no timeline at all
Secondly, I don't mind a form rejection at all. But a lot of agents online are asking for a personalized query, just to send a rejection letter addressed to no one in reply. I spend time personalizing query letters and I've got mostly form rejections that start "thank you for your query…"
Again, I don't mind it, if it were equal on both parties' ends. If agents doesn't want "dear sir or ma'am", we writers equally don't want "thanks you for your query…"
Thank you for this brilliant post. I have been meaning to expand my Blogroll for a while, but I'm adding you right now!
>Absolutely agree!!!! It takes long enough to hear back from editors and agents as it is. Please, if you don't like it, chuck it in the wastebasket and get on to the next manuscript!
If a writer needs affirmation or feedback, she should get involved with a critique group or take a class. Agents and editors simply don't have time to take hundreds of writers under their wings, even if they wanted to.
>I will say this-I think there should be no expectation of an explanation. But please know, when you do respond with one, we are very, very grateful. So thank you.
I'll also say that when I was querying-the better the ms, the more an agent liked it, the closer I was, the more likely the chance I would get a personalized response. I don't think my exp was an anomaly either.
As far as picking on the orig blogger-lesson number one as a writer: you're putting yourself out there. In public, for all to see. You don't want people linking to you, debating your writing, or any publicity of any kind to result, then DON'T PUT IT OUT THERE.
But if you put it out there, stand by it and be proud of yourself. You wrote something worthy of being noticed.
>Anon 10:20 and 12:31: I appreciate your perspective, as I do all opinions that are expressed respectfully. Obviously I never thought I was being a bully or embarrassing anyone, or I wouldn't have done it. But I have corresponded personally with Julie, whose comment and post yesterday inspired my post today, and if she feels bullied, I trust she will let me know. I hope you will accept that this isn't a "fight" and it never was. She asked a question, I answered it. Perhaps in the context of a lot of other blogs and negative rhetoric on the Internet, it is easy to immediately ascribe evil motives to an agent; but I believe anyone who knows me or has been reading my blog for any length of time understands where my heart is.
>Looking back at yesterdays comments it appears that the commenter referred to in this blog post used her real name and mentioned her own blog post.
It didn't appear that anyone had attacked her on her own site either.
>I think only form rejections should be sent. Form rejections are the most professional and NO REASONS should be given.
When you reply with a reason, it opens the door for an argument (in a reply) from the writer whose work was rejected.
anon 10:20 here. Contacting the author in advance does not excuse this. Ms. Gardner is setting the commenter up as a target. She has 3,000 followers, and the blogger has none. It is an unfair fight. She is a bully.
>Anonymous at 10:20, please don't view this as "ganging up on" or "bullying" the person who left the original comment.
I speak from experience because Rachelle picked one of my comments over a year ago to expound on. While her thoughts were extremely helpful to me, I felt people were being "mean" to me in their ensuing comments.
They weren't being mean. People being people(and we people tend to be egocentric!), they were looking at the situation from their own individual lens and how it related to them personally. That's what I see people doing here, too.
Hope this is helpful!
At the risk of giving the wrong answer, let me respond to your "fairy tale" analogy. In the first place, we're already ignoring the entire gist of Rachelle's blog post by insisting, "But in this case, you really should take time to figure it out and answer, because…"
In this hypothetical, the agent rejected the query because it was a fairy tale retelling. You wanted them to say so, and what's more, if they said so, your plan is to post this information on public sites to "benefit" other writers, and the agent as well.
What you've done is just slam doors closed. Slammed your own door closed because the next fairy tale retelling you query might tweak the agent's interest despite the fact that they ordinarily don't like them. Agents write about this all the time. Sometimes a book comes along that grabs their interest "in spite of" rather than "because." So, you're jumping at the chance to limit your own possibilities.
Furthermore, by posting this information on other sites, you're slamming the doors shut on other people who write fairy tale retellings, who might have written a better one than yours, or a twisted approach that appeals where yours didn't, or just catch the agent in a mood where the idea intrigues.
And of course, all those doors slammed shut have also slammed doors shut for the agent who never sees these projects.
If the agent really has an aversion to a type story they will post it to their site. If they don't, it's a deliberate choice.
I understand–believe me, I do–the need to know more, to understand more, to wonder "why" and try and use that in future queries. But there is not always a simple answer, and as Rachelle has mentioned, her job is to take care of her own clients and hopefully find new ones, not to hand-hold every one of the hundreds of people who query her every month.
>I didn't view your post as being "bad news" at all. I thought it was both helpful and encouraging. The department store analogy was a good one. That's how I am with books…if I spent too much time examining why I stopped reading certain books I wouldn't have time to find the ones I do want to read!
>Beautiful explanation, Rachelle!
I'm not a fan of people being pressured into qualifying their time anyway and the idea that people criticize so many agents for their decisions in time management bothers me. I can't imagine any of those unhappy would be content if all of their activities and scheduling was suddenly publicly critiqued. Regardless, I'd take an agent who sends form (or no) rejections in order to spend time on their clients any day.
>Anon…you might not want to judge so harshly. I wouldn't be surprised if Rachelle contacted that commenter first.
I hope the writer is NOT humiliated because we've all had those hopes about our queries. When I get personal feedback, it's AWESOME. It's normal/common for us to feel how that writer does.
>Thanks for your honesty, Rachelle. I have found that the majority of the agents or publishing companies who reject me are very polite about it. About 6 months ago, I started a blog where I post my rejections and acceptances, and it really helps me cope. I try to put a positive spin on rejection and I really do notice when a publisher or agent signs their letter in actual pen or actually gives me a short comment. It's appreciated when they do, but I always try to remember that they don't owe me a thing. http://www.mymotherthinksimagoodwriter.blogspot.com
>Michael, I'd just like to point out that an agent's job isn't reading unsolicited queries or blogging. It's selling client's books and negotiating contracts and stuff like that. 🙂
I appreciate all the agents who blog and tweet and give interviews because when they share about the industry and what they're personally looking for, it helps ME.
Recently I snail mailed a query and sample pages to an agent who I could find very little info on. She did have a client list online which included one or two inspy authors, which is why I queried her. However, I just got back a rejection stating she isn't taking on Christian fiction. While I appreciate that she took the time to tell me so, it would be even cooler if that agent had a little more info online. I would've saved money (and hopes), she would've saved time.
It's my opinion that tweeting and blogging are more courteous than a form rejection. I'm sorry it doesn't pass the test for you, but the percentage of agents who blog and tweet is extremely small. The rest of them I'm just having to guess on whether or not they'd be interested in my work because online info can be pretty scarce. That guesswork plus research before I send a query takes a bunch of time.
Anyway, just thought I'd reply to your comment, maybe give a different perspective. 😉
>Michael Goodell wrote, "A little less time promoting yourself on Twitter, and a little more time doing your job, and maybe you won't have to spend so much time telling people how busy you are."
I can appreciate the frustration writers feel when their submissions don't result in the sort of response they want (acceptance, detailed notes about why they're being rejected, or at the very least a one- or two-word reason for the rejection), but that frustration is not evidence the agent isn't doing her job.
In the simplest terms, an agent's job is to find publishable authors and help them get published. How she does that is up to her. Tweet or don't tweet. Blog or don't blog. Spend 16 hours a day answering queries or 8 hours a day. She writes her own job description. If her system works, her authors will be happy and she'll be happy and the only people who won't be happy are those who think she should be doing something different.
Also, I don't see a lot of agents "boasting" on Twitter about how busy they are. I see agents who are bombarded with queries simply letting anxious writers know they can't respond to every proposal that lands on their desk.
That sounds a lot like courtesy to me.
>As a former law school professor, I can add something to this (already very well stated) point:
If agents gave reasons, 90% of people will want to argue with whatever reason they are given anyway.
I spent literally hours (often up to 2+ hours per exam) making detailed comments about students' responses. I did it to try and help them, and also because as a teacher, it was my job to help them learn. No matter how hard I tried, however, there were always a large percentage of students who wanted to argue with my statements – even when I was objectively right and they were objectively wrong (for example, about the year something occurred or what a black-letter rule actually says). This is difficult and time-consuming enough when it's part of your job description. When it's not, it starts at "thankless and tiring" and goes south from there.
I, for one, am grateful for the time agents like Rachelle (and many others) take to post information on their blogs and Twitter accounts. We have so many more resources than writers working just five or ten years ago – it's easy to take that for granted but we definitely should not.
Thank you, Rachelle, for the valuable resource you provide.
>Boy, am I going to sound like a hokey wimp, but I think the desperation writers feel to be published can create an "us against them" dynamic. Not the way to go; we all love books, we all want our careers to rock because of them.
The fact that so many agents are out there blogging, tweeting and indirectly giving us tips to push our careers is a godsend. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
>Interesting post. It seems to me that many of the agents who frequent Twitter like to promote their blogs boasting about how busy they are. Sorry, Rachelle, but your protest that you are just too darn busy to give a writer a courteous response doesn't pass the smell test with me. A little less time promoting yourself on Twitter, and a little more time doing your job, and maybe you won't have to spend so much time telling people how busy you are.
>I can't believe this. You complained about writers, asked writers to complain in return. Then you picked one person to target. You linked to her blog, embarrassed and humiliated her. With your followers ganging up on her, and your position of power, you're picking a fight and a bully.
>I'm always amazed at how much work an agent has to do; sometimes I wonder how y'all have time to breathe! So anytime an agent takes time to respond is appreciated.
I was quite impressed when an agent read the first three chapters and synopsis of my book. I had attended a seminar with him and asked if he would read the 2 page prologue, as I was quite worried about it; he not only agreed, but told me to make up a mock book proposal and send it to him. He actually encouraged me to start querying agents. I was amazed that he would take the time to read more than I had asked him to and offer feedback, even when it's clear that I won't be his client.
I was also impressed with how kindly you critiqued the query letters during your recent webinar. You had obviously put a lot of thought into what was good/bad about each one. And putting a lot of thought into something translates into taking a lot of time out of your already busy schedule.
Agents like him and you, Rachelle, give me faith that despite the agent horror stories I've heard, there are agents who treat authors with respect, are kind, and willing to offer help
>I figure if an agent even LOOKS at my query that's a HUGE compliment considering how swamped you all are. If I get a rejection it just gives me a great excuse for an extra shot of espresso in my latte 🙂
You rock, Rachelle! Thanks for the TIME you put into your blog. I feel like I get to explore your agent-mind. 🙂
>Looking over your blog, you have over 3,000 followers. This probably represents a tiny portion of people who know who you are…who have or will submit to you. I can understand your reasons to avoid the personal rejection.
Also, to add, I imagine if you were to take the time to pen a few words on why a manuscript does not appeal to you, you would probably get a deluge of defensive replies…via email, blog, snail mail, etc. Best to just say, "No thanks," and leave it at that.
(I'll try to remember my current good 'tude when I someday get the "no thanks" response from you or another agent.)
Anyhow, we are thankful for your help via the blog, conferences, etc. I've learned a lot of tough nuggets from this site.
>Oh…thanks for the tip. I'll do it right this time – when you're taking queries again that is.
This post won't win you votes, but it is needed medicine for a common complaint.
If we writers are honest with ourselves we oftentimes submit with the hopes of doing the minimum required to get to the next level. This means sending in work that is not quite ready for professional review.
As an owner of a marketing agency, I get hit with employment requests all of the time and it got to the point I couldn't respond to them all. If I did, it was like pulling the first string on a sweater. The dialogue never ended and my work never got done.
With the proliferation of agent, writer & editor Blogs, the answers are all at the bottom of the teacup. You have to take the time to drink the tea.
>This is why you get paid the BIG bucks, right?! ;D
Thank you for an analogy even I can understand. I've only had one rejection and it was in the category of "not what I'm looking for" so – I keep plugging away.
Publishing is a business and though so personal for the author, we must understand this objectively.
On a personal level, http://www.SandraByrd.com has helped me (almost) beyond words… HA! She is encouraging, tactful, knowlegeable and well-worth the resources expended to tap into her expertise. Highly recommended.
Seekerville.blogspot.com and queryshark.blogspot.com also.
>Personally, I understand, and respect, why agents do not tailor rejections.
However, my musing is this: can a short sentence SAVE the agent time in the long-run? (this applies to non-writing related reasons, ie: wrong subgenre or vampire-hatred or I like middle-grade but not for boys, etc)
I ask because I am querying a fairy-tale retelling. Many websites/listings say an agent accepts 'fantasy,' but often–maybe due to limited category options on the listings–there are swaths of fantasy an agent may not like, ie urban, epic, fairy-tales, or sword and sorcery. Only way to find that out is thru interviews, which aren't always available (or an agent website that goes to that level; many do not).
Here's the thing: If I got a form "not for me" rejection with a tacked-on "Not interested in fairy-tales," that agent has just saved herself from reading my next query for a fairy-tale retelling, and my next, and my next. Plus, I'm going to post that preference on a site like querytracker or Absolute Write, thus saving her Inbox from other fairy-tale queries. So, a few extra minutes on my query saves reading other queries. Theoretically.
It still may be too time-consuming, and I'm fine with that. It may not work, either. Last, this method prevents the agent from getting the ONE fairy-tale retelling they fall in love with. But, it's another way to look at it.
>The problem with silence or NO response after a query or ms. request is you don't know if they're ignoring you because:
a)they're not interested
b)they never got it/went to spam
c)they haven't read it yet
d)their client list is full although they still accept queries
So we STILL don't know why or IF we're being rejected or the agent is too busy to respond…Very frustrating.
>I think I understand better now. Especially the part about the full explanation perhaps being more hurtful than no explanation at all. When I think back to my rejections, it's true: the agents who gave an explicit reason left me in tears (in the essence of time and efficiency, their explanations were often tersely worded) while the non-response or the form letter at least left my dignity intact! Sometimes the truth hurts a bit too much, you know?
Perhaps we shouldn't be looking to agents for a critique, but to others — say a professional editor we pay to critique our manuscript? I think you have suggested that here before, and I think you even have a list of such professional here on your site.
I've had more rejections than – no, I won't say "hot dinners"! In fact, I've sent various manuscripts to numerous agents and all have rejected, whereas four times when I went direct to publishers I got as far as a second reading and one of those is still pending.
I have to say, I understand why neither agents nor publishers normally give reasons for their rejection and I've learned to understand that, unless the agent or publisher takes a lot of time and space to elaborate on their reasons they probably aren't helpful.
That said, it made me appreciate all the more why one of the publishers who rejected a manuscript after a second reading wrote to me at length explaining to me why, after a lot of agonising, she had finally decided to reject it. I went into the usual period of despair for several months but then revised the manuscript in line with most of her suggestions (not all!) and this is the version that is still pending.
Whether or not the revisions were sufficient to "fix" the problems I hope to know soon enough!
Wish me luck!
>Jan Cline – You only get the autoreply if you sent to the admin address. If you send to my personal address, you won't get it, you just take your chances. (Sorry – it's a limitation of my personal email service and for various reasons I won't get into, I don't want to change it right now.)
>I can only imagine it's like grading papers. Except, as a teacher, its my JOB to explain to students what's wrong and how to improve it. Not your job.
>Wow, it sounds like you have some great supporters! I too love the shopping analogy and like I said in another comment…I really wouldn't want your job! But thanks for doing it – we need you. And I will resend my query, as I never got an auto notice that you received it. 🙂 I wont expect anything other than that. thanks for your blogging – it helps.
>Great – thanks for replying, Rachelle.
>Anon 7:03: If you send a query to the Admin address, and you've put the word "query" in the subject line as requested, then you should have received an autoreply letting you know we got it. If you didn't, resend.
If you got the autoreply, then our website clearly states that you may or may not get a further response, and that if you don't get a response within 60 days, you can assume we're passing. I do my best to respond to all queries, and I respond to several hundred a month; but occasionally there's a backlog and in order to get through them faster, I don't send the pass letters. Sorry about that – I realize writers hate this. But that's why we have the 60-day policy, so you'll know when you can let it go.
>I recently opened up my personal blogs to "guest post submissions." A little something-something I did to create more time for me on my not-so creative days.
I get a lot of submissions that have grammatical errors or faulty logic. Some are not scripturally sound. Some don't flow well.
Others are well-written, but don't really fit the tone or purpose of my blogs.
When I read a guest post sumbission, I know within about 3 sentences if I want a certain post on my blog. But I can't always explain why.
So when I have to tell someone "I'm sorry, but I can't use your submission" I have neither time (remember, I started this to save me time) nor desire to explain all the reasons why it doesn't work.
I didn't understand why agents/editors couldn't always give a little feedback. Now I do.
And all the more reason I appreciate the few times I've gotten a timely and thoughtful response from editors. It's truly worth it's weight in gold.
>The shopping analogy is probably the best one I've heard for "not right for me." Thank you.
>I definitely understand this–and therefore appreciate all the more the agents who take the time to respond, period, even if it is a form. I do think, however, that it's not too much to ask for a couple of words once you've submitted a partial or, especially, a full. Even if it's "This isn't there yet" rather than "I didn't connect." The comments I got on rejections from submissions were so, so helpful. And appreciated. Believe it or not 🙂
>Thanks Rachelle, for saying it like it is. There is a reality writers may not be aware of when it comes to agenting–the reality of shortened time. Which is why you closed yourself to queries for the time being.
There have been some good mentions of critique services. Utilize those. Go to a crit group. Hone your work. If it's rejected, remember that writing is hard and those who are published have talent and grit in equal measure.
I queried you via the admin email address as requested on the Wordserve website. This was before you closed to subs i August. I still haven't heard from you, is that the right email to query you on?
>My first time on this blog and I want to thank Rachelle for her very incisive metaphor for form rejections. As you said, a project might not be right you at the time.
An outfit that looks awful on one (agent/shopper) may fit another to perfection.
>I've had my fair share of rejections, as a writer and painter (my blog dealt with this subject this week) and I have to add that rejections from open exhibitions have one positive similarity with the standard rejection letters I've received with my manuscript – they make you have to look more closely at what you've created! Yes, it would be nice to have the shortcut of someone saying what was 'wrong' but I find it more satisfying to just carry on, and explore better ways forward.
Finally, remember they are not always RIGHT! It comes down to many other factors, such as the trends of the market, taste, commercial factors, etc. So what I have taken away from my rejections is that you have to keep on going!
>When I submitted a proposal for a novel (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and you could submit directly to an editor), I got back one rejection with an "almost there" type comment. I wanted so badly to begin a dialogue with that editor–heck, I wanted to take him to dinner and have a long critique session–and in looking back I realize I wasn't alone in that feeling.
The moment an agent or editor offers suggestions, they are opening the door for such an exchange, and unfortunately they can't spare the time or effort. It's not a good situation, but there it is.
Thanks, Rachelle, for your efforts at educating all of us via your blog, even when "telling it like it is" may be unpopular.
>This is one of the reasons my husband decided to go get a "real" job after being a self-employed web designer for several years. His time was completely eaten up by "well-meaning" people who just had a "little question" or wanted "just five minutes of his time." He was working his tail off and only getting paid for half of it. And no one seemed to get it.
I get it.
As for me, I spend huge amounts of time doing things I don't get paid for. For the most part, I look at it as a ministry, so that's okay (except when I start getting resentful).
For you, I think you're just going to have to offend people. Because you're such a great agent and writers respect you (and flock to you), you can afford to step on some toes.
My five cents.
>I received a "You're a talented writer but" rejection yesterday, and was wishing she could pinpoint what it was that fell short. Your comparison to shopping gave a clear picture of the difficulty agents have with a request for "Why?"
>Rachelle, I just want to thank you with all my heart for blogging. You do give back to the writing community in this way.
I'm sorry that for some it is not enough. And I worry that you will burn out and we will all be the losers because of it.
God bless your day today and everyday.
>Do you like me? Say you like me? Please like me. Why don't you like me? Tell me why you don't like me? Tell me! Tell me NOW!
Now would you want to spend MORE time with someone like that or would you want to RUN?
>I have to give a plug for my writing coach/editor Meredith Efken at The Fiction Fix It Shop. She is wonderful and can work with you and your budget.
>I'm stuck in the middle on this one.
There are those of us who submit our work and are sane. We can accept a form rejection and move on. We understand that everyone is busy and agents/publishers only make money when they find a submission they like/need/want.
On the other hand…
There are those of us who submit our work and are NOT sane and give the rest of us a bad name. They walk that fine line of serious harassment. Even if you gave them one or two words of explanation they could probably twist it into something Mother Nature never intended.
I would rather have a form rejection.
I get tired of the excuse that the agent/publisher is unable to send one. They know how to use a computer and even the antiquated mail system just like the rest of us. If they can put up four pages of strict submission guidelines on their website they can certainly hit the send button on their laptops.
>Ah, this is why I love your blog. The honesty!
That's why Dear Author bothers me yet I understand it. I'm not those agents' client, they don't owe me anything and the time it takes to write Dear Jessica Nelson instead of Dear Author is huge when you have fifty queries a day.
Thanks for the post. 🙂
>Great post, Rachelle. What struck me about Julie's suggested categories for rejection is that nearly all of them should already be eliminated from consideration before the query lands in an agent's email. There are plenty of places to beta test both the query and manuscript before sending them off to an agent (QueryShark, Absolute Write, etc.).
The only things that aren't under the writer's control are not very helpful for a writer to know anyway, like whether an agent is currently taking on manuscripts of a particular genre. Those factors can change rapidly, and I doubt literary agents want potential clients using temporary trends or tastes as irrevocable guidelines for submission.
>The department store metaphor is fantastic. I have friends who are curious about the process of getting published (via signing with an agent) and are constantly asking me about it. And when I explain what form rejections are, they all seem to find the idea cruel, or ask how I can stand it, and no amount of explaining seems to change the reaction. I may have to use your metaphor next time!
>I love your analogy of the store, because it's a perfect one.
And sure, we'd all love to receive personal understanding of what isn't working, but I fully agree – it's not YOUR job to tell me that. Your job is to represent your clients, and I hope that when I do have an agent, that she or he will be more focused on me (and the other authors in her stable) than on answering queries from people she doesn't want to represent.
>The more I read about queries and rejections, the happier I am that I didn't discover agent blogs until AFTER I submitted my queries! I did research and read up on my chosen agents' preferred genres and queries, but I only recently found the blog world.
After stand up comedy, where the rejection is public, in your face, and humiliating, a form rejection seemed very humane. I have no complaints about not getting feedback…but oddly enough that hasn't been my experience.
I was very fortunate that two of the three agents I submitted to took the time to give me detailed feedback, constructive criticism, and (what the what?!) encouragement!
I am happy I found these blogs because I don't take responses, or what agents do, for granted now. And I have a great agent (I'm with your colleague Greg, Rachelle) =)
And now I'm considering starting my own blog. There's a need for writer's to blog, right? 😉
>Crit partners, beta readers, and freelance editors are a wonderful resource. I've used Tiffany Colter who does a wide range of editing that fits all budgets. Her honest feedback is invaluable!
Sometimes we need a different set of eyes to go over our work. It's amazing what glaring defects we can miss time and time again. I'd rather untangle the knots with my crit partner than have them written out in a rejection letter. It is tough to have no response to a query, but it should make us work that much harder.