All of the talk lately about whether "no means no" is an appropriate response for agents to give to query letters had me thinking about my own rejection letters over the years. I agree with Janet Reid when she says that a response is not only important, but pretty easy. It's something we've always done at BookEnds--responded to all queries and submissions--and something I think we all agree is important and plan to continue to do.
That being said, it's amazing how things have changed in the past 12 years and how much my queries, submissions, and responses have changed. When we first opened the agency we were hungry agents looking for great authors. Everything in those days (2001) was done by snail mail, so we had an open policy to unsolicited partials. That meant that without even getting a request you could snail mail us a copy of your query/cover letter, the first three chapters of your book, and a synopsis. Man, you should have seen the piles of mail. More often than not it took multiple armloads just to get from the mailbox to our desks. That was every day.
At that time, because we were hungry, I somewhat personalized every rejection. I had several forms, sure, but I actually took the time to type into each letter the name and address of each person I was rejecting. I'd love to know how much time that took me each week.
Over time, within probably 3 to 5 years, we were getting busier and busier, actually tending to our clients, because we actually had clients. So instead of the personalized rejection, we started to go the way of the "Dear Author" form. Away went the address and name and instead we had a stack of letters printed out that we could just stick into envelopes and send off. This was for unsolicited material. For solicited proposals we were still writing in the names and addresses.
And then email really took hold, at least for submissions. Agents became less afraid of being inundated with queries in their email inbox and opened to email submissions. We were right there with the rest. By this time we had done away with the unsolicited partials and were accepting queries only via email and we came up with a very clever way to reply to those queries. That magical signature line. Most email programs allow you to have multiple signatures to choose from. Maybe you have your business standard and another for personal use. Well, we have somewhere around 10. I have my standard signature that goes on the bottom of all email, and then I have the "letter" signatures or the form rejection signatures. I have one that says I'm closed to queries, one that requests material, one that rejects material, one I can easily modify to make more personal, and those that give some specific information (like the book is too short or too much like a magazine article).
I've found it's never hard to pop on that signature and hit send, and hopefully it allows me to keep networking with authors and helps them to keep thinking of me.
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
All of the talk lately about whether "no means no" is an appropriate response for agents to give to query letters had me thinking about my own rejection letters over the years. I agree with Janet Reid when she says that a response is not only important, but pretty easy. It's something we've always done at BookEnds--responded to all queries and submissions--and something I think we all agree is important and plan to continue to do.
Monday, January 23, 2012
I'm pretty sure we've covered this before, but it's come up again so I don't feel it hurts discussing it again.
Should you respond to rejection letters, and, if so, what is the appropriate response?
I don't think there's any reason to ever respond to a rejection letter, and some agents will even tell you not to, ever, for any reason. That being said, for me personally, it never hurts to hear a polite "thank you" now and then. Most agents use form rejections of some sort or another, and for that reason I see no reason to send a response. In fact, one of the reasons form rejections are used is to help prevent responses to every email we receive.
If, however, you receive real feedback from an agent that actually sparks something in you or helps you "see the light," for lack of better phrasing, I think it's definitely nice for an agent to hear that her advice was helpful, and something simple is all you need.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
I was reading a Tweet from a colleague in which she said she had recently sent a rejection to a friend of a relative and hoped it was nice. As I hope you know by now, when it comes to sending rejections, agents work really hard, maybe too hard, to be nice, but when it comes to rejections from referrals from family or friends we try extra hard. I mean, who wants to hear what a nasty shark you are over Thanksgiving turkey?
However, when I read this Tweet my immediate thought was that the only person who will know for sure whether that rejection was nice enough is the person who receives the letter, and whether or not she thought it was nice will depend entirely on her expectations.
For example, it might have been the nicest rejection in history, but if the writer was fully expecting heaps of praise and a contract, nice probably isn’t going to be enough.
If the author is already beat down from hundreds of rejections, even the nicest letter will possibly be one rejection too many.
And for a writer who has heard nothing but horror stories about rejections, a really polite form rejection might seem like the sweetest thing she’s ever heard.
So, no matter how nice we’re trying to be, I suspect it’s all going to come down to the experiences of the one reading the letter, just like everything we read is impacted by the “baggage” we bring in before reading.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
After reading a batch of e-queries, I tracked some of the biggest reasons they received a rejection.
I think the number-one reason is that the query just didn’t interest me. The book was in one of my genres, but the story didn’t feel different or special enough. For example, it was a mystery that didn’t have a hook or felt very similar to every other mystery on the market or a romance that felt like something I’d already read before.
There were also a number of queries that felt either like pre-queries or felt very incomplete. They were queries that told me nothing about the book, often times going on and on about the author’s credentials in a completely different field, or they were queries that simply fell short.
As always there were a number of queries for books that just aren’t for me at all. Sometimes I think they are queries that would be better for Jacky, but since she’s no longer in the business, the author decided to simply send it to me instead. Examples of books like this would be nonfiction spirituality or new age titles. These are areas that Jacky previously handled that neither Kim nor I represent. Now that Jacky has left I get a number of queries for books like this and they are automatic rejections. I also received queries for screenplays and children’s books, neither of which anyone at BookEnds has ever handled.
Believe it or not I get a number of queries that I just do not understand. I think the biggest problem with queries like this is that the author is too much in her own head. She knows the story so well that she forgets she’s talking to an audience who knows nothing. It’s either that or the query has been edited so much that the author left in only her favorite lines and they don’t necessarily match or make sense.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I don’t care who wrote it, I don’t care if it was an editor, an agent, or another author. Do not, ever, quote a rejection letter in your query.
I just received a query in which the author said, Your Best Friend from Top Literary Agency called my book, “a beautifully written book similar to Bestselling Author,” and my first thought isn’t that I need to nab this book because Best Friend Agent has impeccable taste. It’s what else did Best Friend Agent say that made her reject the book instead of offer representation, and how many other agents have rejected the book before you even thought to query me?
And then I think I’ll just trust Best Friend Agent and reject the query too because I don’t have much time on my hands and she really does have impeccable taste.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
If you were to put a percentage on the reasons you most often reject queries, what would they be? (ie: the writing, the premise, the wrong genre, etc.). Knowing that feedback from agents regarding rejections is next to impossible, considering their excessive workload, I'm just trying to get a feel for the most common problems.
Without keeping a tally while I’m reading queries, I don’t know if I could give a percentage of the reasons. I can give you some overall thoughts though.
While there are definitely times when I get an influx of inappropriate queries—wrong genre, wrong agent, unprofessional—for the most part I think the queries I receive are serious and well thought out. There’s no doubt that agent blogs, writer forums and the Internet in general has given writers an edge. While it’s probably making you all more anxious, it’s also giving you the knowledge you need to succeed.
I think the biggest reason I reject something is that it just doesn’t excite me. The idea might be okay, the writing good, the query fine, but the idea just feels done, like I’ve seen it a million times. In all the research you do on querying and all the work you do on writing the query, there’s one thing that writers will never be able to fully grasp unless you sit on my side of the desk and read the queries, and that’s what everyone else is doing. If I get 50 queries a day and 35 of them are vampire romances you’re going to have to work really hard to convince me that your vampire romance is going to excite me. After a while they all start to sound the same. I’ve talked before on the blog about insurance adjustor mysteries. How, to the best of my knowledge, there’s never been one published and yet regularly I receive a query for a mystery featuring an insurance adjustor as the sleuth. This just does not excite me.
That does not mean it’s all about the idea because certainly in reading the queries there can always be that one author who, with her voice, writing, and the presentation of her idea, can convince me that everyone wants to read about a vampire insurance adjustor.
So I think the most common problem is that the query just doesn’t resonate with the agent for some reason and often that reason is nothing more than “while I found it intriguing I don’t think it’s for me.” The truth more times than I can count.
Monday, September 14, 2009
I’m sure this recent submission question, sent to the blog questions account, came primarily out of frustration, but it presents a question that I would like to clear up.
On Saturday at 4:10 pm I submitted an e-mail query to you and on Sunday morning, 10:09 am, I received the following rejection response, obviously program-generated: [copy of rejection letter deleted for space considerations]
This response is identical to a response I received from you about a year ago for a different book.
After spending weeks crafting just the right query letter for my new novel, I find it incredibly discouraging to get an automated brush off like this. If you are so busy you can’t entertain new work or new authors, why not be honest with your followers and just say so. I chose your agency, and you in particular, because your website and blog offer encouragement to unpublished writers – from your website: ‘So often we hear about authors caught in the middle of publishers who don't want to see their work if they are unagented and agents who don't want to see their work if they haven't been published. What's a writer to do? Luckily you've found BookEnds, a literary agency accepting queries from both published and unpublished authors.’
I realize my work may not be good enough to be published, but the only way to determine that is to get someone who knows what they are doing to actually look at it.
While I definitely use form rejections for many things, the only time I use automated responses is when I’m out of the office, at which time you’ll get an out of office message. If I am closed to queries I will clearly alert readers and writers through my Twitter account, the blog, and the Web site.
Any queries that are sent to my email account are read by me and responded to by me. In fact, at least a few times a week I do take that extra step to give some feedback that may or may not be helpful to the author. As for the times you mention, I assume you gave them as a representation of how quickly I responded. In the same way authors often spend their weekends querying, agents often spend their weekends responding to queries. Sunday is the quietest morning of the week for me and I can get a lot done before the world even wakes.
I can only imagine how discouraging the query process is for authors and I do wish there was an easier way, but the fact that I’m using the same letter after a year does not mean I’m not looking for new authors. In fact, so far in 2009 I have taken on roughly six new clients in both fiction and nonfiction, many of whom have sold already. I’m always looking for something new and exciting for my list, but keep in mind those six new clients came out of roughly 1,500 queries.
I hope you’ll stick with your writing and keep sending out to agents. You’re right that there is no way to know if your work is publishable until you can get someone to read it, and for that to happen you just need to keep plugging away.
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
I often share the frustrating and sometimes humorous tales of responses I get to rejection letters. Why? It gives me something to write about. The truth though is that most of you, most writers, are kind, courteous and professional. I frequently get thank-you notes (which we’ve discussed ad nauseam at this point) and I’ve noticed a real improvement in queries. People are listening and learning and I’m delighted by that.
So why is it that there are those who feel the need to respond in anger? I’ve thought about this a lot. Of course I can’t really get into the heads of the writers who are responding. I’m not an Author Profiler after all, but I do have two theories.
The first is the newbie. The beginning writer who is at the beginning of the query process. My rejection letter is one of the first received and proper query etiquette is not yet known. The author really thought, after the glowing reviews of friends and family, that everyone would be as delighted as she is by her book. She failed to really accept that publishing is a business.
The second is the frustrated, end-of-her-rope author. She’s been querying for months and months and is running to the end of her list. She’s never taken the time to think maybe it’s something she’s doing (like the query itself) and for whatever reason, the letter I send is the one that makes her snap.
I’m sure there’s also the arrogant writer who just thinks all agents are a bunch of idiots, but I would prefer to assume that these authors, with these horrible replies, are not replying to every query this way. Can you imagine the time and energy that would take? But instead, once in a while, they feel the need to vent and, let’s face it, agents are often the machine that gets raged against the most.
Never fear though, when I share these I share them as a way to vent as well as a way to maybe add an astonished smile to your day. Rarely, very, very rarely, do these angry replies ever get me down. There are a lot of other things going on in publishing to do that.
Monday, June 01, 2009
I have to admit while some of the things in my LOL posts definitely make us laugh out loud, others are more of a bemused shaking of the head. Today’s list is a little bit of both, I’m afraid.
From an unsolicited query letter: “What do you think about this? Let’s talk. Lunch?” and I have to say, there wasn’t much else there.
Why is it that, often enough, authors think the best way to respond to a query rejection is to insult me, tell me I’m an idiot, too quick on the trigger, and then call me demeaning names like “dear” and “hon”? Is that supposed to inspire me to want to read the book? I have to say, though, the condescending “dears" and “hons" get to me the most. Clearly these are not written by authors I would want to work with anyway.
I received a query recently for a book that was 2,000 words. I rejected the query and kindly explained to the author that most novels are between 70,000 and 100,000 words in length. The author replied to explain that she had a typo in her letter and the book was actually 20,000 words. How was I supposed to respond to that?
The opening line in a recent query: “I am writing this query in hopes you will reject my manuscript.” I abided by the author’s wishes and didn’t bother to read the rest.
And of course, another fun and “enlightening” response to a rejection letter: “Vapid responses such as this one that ostensibly come from you or, worse, a know-nothing intern, indicate there is a ambient low-level of awareness at Bookends, no one there capable of out-of-the-box-thinking.” Sigh.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
I know in the past I’ve written blog articles letting authors know that if they really feel the need or desire to send a thank-you note to an agent, go right ahead. It won’t hurt anything. Well I also know that there are a few agents out there who find these nice little notes irritating. They are a waste of time and a waste of inbox space. And I understand that too.
A reader recently received a rejection (via email) from an agent who had added at the end of her letter, “And you don’t need to bother replying to this email.” While the reader understands that there are a lot of writers who send scathing email replies to rejections, she was still a little put out by this line and wanted to know my opinion on why an agent would do this.
I’ll tell you exactly why an agent would do this. Because email invites conversation, conversation that many don’t know how to end and conversation that most agents don’t have time for. Sure, some of it is a simple thank you, but a lot of it includes requests for recommendations for other agents, requests for a more detailed explanation of why exactly the work was rejected, scathing, horrible, insane replies, snotty, in-your-face, “I already have an agent anyway” replies, requests for query critiques, and the list goes on.
Think of it this way: most agents are getting somewhere between 50 and 100 email queries everyday, and if every single one of those queriers decides to reply with something, anything, even a thank you, the agent is now getting somewhere between 100 and 200 queries a day. Queries that still need to be opened and read, or at least skimmed. Time that could be used for other things.
I wouldn’t be offended by this line in the agent’s letter. It’s not meant as a personal statement to you, she had no idea that you frequently send thank yous for rejection notes. Instead it was just a strongly worded request that the conversation stop here, an agent’s attempt to keep her incoming email to a minimum and protect her own time.
Monday, May 04, 2009
I've only recently started querying for my first manuscript. I'm wondering: Should I ever respond to a form rejection with a quick "Thank you for your time," or is that just needless clutter? I like to think I'm offsetting those angry authors who send nasty replies, but I also don't want to be a nuisance.
I also had someone respond to a query with a request for the first 5 pages. After I sent that, she replied with an extremely gracious email saying she wasn't interested. I replied back with a thank you, but also asked, *if she had a moment*, if there was anything that came to her mind that I could do to improve the writing or query. (I even said she could ignore the email if she was swamped and I wouldn't be offended.) So, basically, when is it okay to ask an agent for more info?
I’ve written about this before and mentioned how I don’t mind receiving thank-you notes, however I know other agents have written blog posts or mentioned what a colossal waste of their time it is (my words, not theirs) to receive thank-you notes for form rejections. So while I stand by my previous statement that it can never hurt to send a thank-you note, it’s not necessary to do so when what you’re receiving is a form rejection, and really just a waste of your time as well as the agent’s. I would suggest you reserve your thank-yous for those agents you felt really went above and beyond for you. Maybe they gave personal feedback or spent some time answering your questions at a conference. I think that in those instances a thank-you is definitely nice.
The problem with email is that there’s always this sense that you need to reply. You don’t.
While it’s always okay to ask an agent for more information, my guess is that more often than not you’re not going to get an answer. Typically if an agent has more information or specific feedback she feels she can give, she will. If you receive a form rejection it’s likely that either the agent didn’t have anything specific to add or won’t remember enough about your book to give specific information. Keep in mind that rejection letters aren’t always written the minute a proposal is finished. Sometimes they’ll sit with an assistant before the letter is written or in some cases, notes will be made and rejections written later.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Very frequently things happen at the office that keep us talking and laughing for weeks to come, so to spread the wealth I thought I’d share a few with you.
I rarely say that there’s anything in a query letter that is an automatic, instant rejection, because truthfully you just never know. However, this particular line really did floor me, and made me burst out in laughter: “I do not think my book is a work of art but honestly I have read worse.”
Or how about this paraphrased reply to my rejection and suggestion that maybe the author work on strengthening the query: “your sniveling, self-indulgent reply to my query . . . I suspect your 'literary agency' is nothing more than a hobby that you use to make yourself feel superior to anyone unfortunate enough to ask you to read their work.” Oh, and it was signed off with a very professional, “go F--- yourself.”
Apparently our Web site isn’t nearly as clear as we think it is since I’ve received numerous emails of late asking for submission guidelines because the reader claimed that after reviewing the Web site she wasn’t able to find any. Maybe the link labeled “submissions” wasn’t big enough.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I get a ton of questions emailed to me for the blog and I appreciate each and every one. I apologize if I haven’t yet gotten to yours, but I’m working on it. Some are hard and I haven’t figured out how to answer them yet, while others are too short and don’t necessarily warrant a full post. So today’s blog is dedicated to those that are just too short.
Here’s a collection of random blog questions and answers.
How long should women’s fiction be? Is 270,000 words too long?
In the author’s own words, “yikes!” 200,000 words is too long. Women’s fiction is general fiction, mainstream, whatever you want to call it, it should be like most novels, in the range of 80,000 to 100,000 words. Of course there’s always some leeway in there, but keep in mind in this crazy economy, publishers are really not happy to see longer books. They’re more expensive for everyone.
If an agent’s Web site doesn’t specifically mention to send snail mail or email queries, but provides both addresses, how should the query be sent? How can I ensure my query gets more face time?
However you want to send it, and as for guaranteeing more face time, that’s on your shoulders. Write a really great query.
When you (or another agent) ask for a chapter or pages to be pasted into the body of an email, does it need to be in any certain format? When I paste from Word into my email program, all formatting is lost. I've tried plain text and rich text with negligible results.
First let me clarify that I would never ask for material to be pasted into the email (other than the query itself). If I did, though, and even with queries, I want it to read as if it were the email. Maybe the best thing to do is paste it in and then reformat it using your email program? I don’t have an answer to this, but maybe other readers have some advice?
Earlier this year you mentioned that an editor was looking for “strong, poignant, commercial women’s fiction, not chick lit.” Can you elaborate a little on what type of stories we're talking about? What sort of heroines? What are the editors looking for?
What do you have? They would like to see older, younger, married, single, divorced, widowed, grandmothers, mothers, childless. . . . The key to these types of books isn’t necessarily that editors are looking for a particular story, but they want a story and characters that evoke certain feelings. How that’s done is up to the writer, that’s the beauty of a book.
Can you interpret the phrase: "I didn't make a strong enough connection with the manuscript in order to offer representation." I've had three agents respond in this way after reading my full manuscript and one agent respond this way after reading fifty pages. Is there some revision work I should be considering based on this information?
You’ve been rejected with a form rejection. Make revisions if you see the need, otherwise simply continue to plug away.
I have completed 41,00 words of my manuscript, which is approximately 50% of my book. At what point should I begin to contact literary agents?
When the book is done.
Several of us were comparing agent responses and noticed a weird trend . . . or lack of trend . . . with some agents and wonder if there was a rationale behind it. A group of us use the same query tracking system and have noticed that there will be huge gaps on no-response and we'll never hear back (we're talking 12+ months). But scattered in there will be a couple of rejections. When checked, these rejections are form letters that state nothing more than the typical "not for me" rejection. I'm all for the form letter. Is there a reason a very small number receive the rejection but the majority receive nothing? Is there something going on we don't know as writers?
I want so bad to say something really funny and snarky here, but I don’t think I’ve got it in me. What I will say is quit over-analyzing. Agents just don’t have that much time to plan elaborate ruses. I’m sure it’s just a fluke.
I have finished writing my first fiction novel. However, when I typed it out it ended up being about 75 pages. Is it me or does that seem a bit short? Of course, I haven't gone through and edited but the point of the story is completely in there. Can anyone give me any advice on this?
Let me clarify first that “fiction novel” is redundant. Learn to erase that phrase from your vocabulary. Second, even if you still need to double-space, 75 pages is far too short. I think the best advice I can give you is keep writing and join a writer’s group. You have about 250 pages to go before you have a book.
My professors keep telling me that student publications count as a publication, but I was wondering if they were worth mentioning in a query letter? What about writing articles for internships?
I’d definitely mention them, but only if you are newly out of school. Ten years later they aren’t going to have the same significance.
I have a question regarding query etiquette. Is it appropriate to mention, in a query letter, work that has not been published yet if the author has it on good authority that their work will be featured in a future magazine publication?
If by good authority you mean a contract, then yes, go ahead and mention it. Otherwise I would just be patient.
Monday, March 09, 2009
You hear stories all the time of authors who can’t take no for an answer and insist on responding to rejection letters in an angry manner. Well, we’ve had more than our fair share of these letters and some of them are just downright hysterical. So, to lighten the mood today I thought I’d share some of our funnier moments in rejection history.
The Author who became incensed that I would call her work spam. As I’ve frequently reminded you, no matter what we do, queries will end up in our mail server’s spam folder and, as most of you probably know, that means the server marks the subject line with the word “spam.” In this case I fished the letter out, read it, and responded (obviously with a rejection). Well, the author was hurt and angry that I would accuse her of spamming, reminding me that she was a struggling writer who wrote better books than most of the “debris that litters bookshelves.” Reminder to writers: you never charm agents by calling everything else being published trash. The real irony is that the author’s irate response also ended up in the spam filter, so when I responded again to explain the misunderstanding it was marked as “[spam] [spam].” I hope I didn’t hurt her feeling twice.
In response to a query for a YA (young adult) novel, I replied that I’m not taking on any new YA or middle-grade novels at this time. Unfortunately, the author had obviously not done market research or understood that middle-grade is actually a category in the book publishing world (it’s for middle-grade readers) and, once again, was offended. In this case I received an irate email accusing me of calling her work "middle grade" (I guess mid-level) and suggesting that in the future I try to temper my wording. This is still one of my all-time favorite replies because it never once dawned on me that someone would take offense at the fact that I’m not looking for middle-grade books and frankly, no matter how you define the term, I’m really not. Once again I tried to kindly explain my wording, and of course I hope in the future this author has a better understanding of the market she is targeting.
I often try to remind authors in my rejection letters that publishing is a subjective business and hopefully they’ll find another agent who feels differently than I do (not the exact wording). Now, the truth about this is that I’ve struggled with that phrasing over the years and changed it a number of times because I just wasn’t always happy with it. Well, apparently I was right to be concerned. One author, not reading carefully, assumed that I was telling her to forget submitting to anyone else because there wouldn’t be anyone else who would be interested in her book. Again I attempted to explain myself.
Funny thing, while the authors were all quite quick on the draw to point out my flaws, none seemed as inclined to thank me for my explanation.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
I think it’s not surprising that a lot of authors wonder what to do next after rejection: How do you handle a rejection letter if it’s clear it was more than a form letter, and can you use that to your benefit when it comes to finding another agent?
The first thing I want to say is that it is absolutely, perfectly acceptable to send a thank-you note or a thank-you email if you felt truly touched or learned something from a rejection letter. In fact, I have a file of thank-you notes that authors have sent me over the years. Not only are they appreciated, but I actually use them to track some authors and their future careers. It’s fun to see success even if I have no part in it, or just a tiny part.
In a recent post comment, though, a reader specifically told the story of her experience with an agent who worked with her on a project for six months before eventually deciding to pass. The author was wondering if it would be okay to mention this experience with other agents. And my very strong answer is no, absolutely not. Don’t ever share a rejection, no matter how kind it might be, with other agents. Listen, we can be an egotistical bunch and each of us likes to think that we’re your first and only pick. Most important, though, is why would you want us to go into your proposal wondering why someone else already rejected it? Think about it this way, if you read a really scathing book review by a reviewer you trust, aren’t you going to go into that book (if you read it at all) looking for what’s wrong with the book?
My other bit of advice on this subject has to do with resubmissions. If an agent sends you a kind rejection letter with advice that you find you can use and do use to revise (heavy revisions) and strengthen the book, always, always give that agent the option of seeing the book again (even if she didn’t specifically ask for it). Unless you really feel this is not the agent for you, why not send the book to someone you know has already expressed an appreciation for your work. The worst that can happen is she can say no a second time.
Monday, December 01, 2008
I think one of the most frustrating things a submitting writer faces is how do you read those rejection letters? What exactly is an agent saying when she says that the book “didn’t grab her” or “the writing isn't strong”? Do you need to do revisions? Should you stop submitting? Or should you just ignore them all and carry on.
The truth is that these phrases are simply gentle ways for the agent to say “thanks, but no thanks,” and unless you know and understand exactly what an agent is saying to you I wouldn’t read it as a sign that revisions are needed. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, but unless you know what those revisions need to be (either from an agent’s feedback or your own evaluation) there’s really nothing you can do about it.
The reader who asked this question said that one of her fears is spending a year sending out what could possibly be a flawed manuscript. Well, the truth is that even agents spend time sending out “flawed” manuscripts, or at least manuscripts that don’t sell. This is why I encourage authors to work on something while submitting. Working on something fresh can help you worry less about the book that’s on submission and puts less pressure on that book. If it doesn’t sell and if it does have flaws, hopefully it can be okay if the next book is even better.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I think I’ve told you more than once that many of my clients had been previously rejected by me. They had voices I loved, but the first book just didn’t pan out. Thank goodness they kept at it, because it’s so thrilling to me to take on a new client, especially when she’d previously written something I couldn’t stop thinking about.
But what about all of those queries or proposals I passed on before. Can this client now send them my way, especially since I am her agent, and expect that I’ll submit them on her behalf? Will I even look at the books again or is it automatic that they’ll go under the bed never to see the light of day again?
As always, this is an “it depends” answer. If the author still really believes in those books we should absolutely talk about them, and there are definitely times when I’ll take a second look. Typically, though, in all of these experiences, the author has made the decision herself that they aren’t ready. Once the offer is received I think in most cases the author was able to see that her current work is so much stronger and that if she’s going to want to sell those other works they are going to need to be completely rewritten.
I can’t think of a time when I sold or even submitted a book from a client that I had previously rejected. I think in most cases it was either completely rewritten or placed under the bed. Though I do have a story of a mystery writer that’s kind of fun. Back in 2001, the author and I had tried to sell her mystery. The hook wasn’t what editors wanted and eventually we shelved it. Well, about a two years ago, in 2006 actually, the author and I were talking about a new hobby of hers and I suggested maybe that would make an interesting mystery series. Well, she pulled out that first manuscript, took that heroine and made her into someone new and exciting. And guess what, the first book of a six-book deal just released this year. So don’t completely give up on those “other” books, but know that maybe by the time they come out again they are not going to at all resemble what you first intended.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I was reading through some of the posts on my own blog as well as those of my colleagues and started to think about some of the dangers to authors that can occur because of these blogs.
Oftentimes we are asked to give advice, guidance, or further explanation as to some of the biggest causes of rejection we see, and certainly there are a number of things that pop up again and again. Some of these include telling and not showing your story, stiff and awkward dialogue, or lack of description. So how can knowing what often sets us off be dangerous to you? It’s dangerous when you try to generalize too much.
Sometimes, for example, a lack of description can be a good thing. Sometimes it can set a certain pace and tone. Have you ever read Robert B. Parker, especially his Spenser series? Parker has a unique style of writing that is clipped, quick, and full of energy. There is just enough description, but not too much.
My fear is that by writing about why we often reject things we are giving authors the impression that it’s just that easy. That there are only three to five reasons for rejection, and if you can get past those you’ll easily sell your book. Nothing is ever that easy, and when reading these agent blogs it’s important to remember that. I also fear that you’re getting the impression that publishing is that formulaic. That there’s a magic guideline out there and that if you find it and follow it you’ll have written a bestseller. Alas, folks, if it were that easy we’d be blogging from the beaches on our own private Agent Island.
Each agent has a unique perspective. We all work differently, we all have different tastes, opinions, and ideas. What I think might make an amazing and dynamic query letter might not work for Agent Kristin or Nathan Bransford. What Nathan sees as an instant rejection might not be the same for me.
So what am I saying? I’m asking you to of course keep reading our blogs. We enjoy writing them and enjoy hearing from you. At the same time, though, I’m asking you to understand that each of these blogs is the opinion of one agent in a sea of many. And it’s one voice, one opinion. I am not a goddess and never pretended to be. I’m just an agent who likes to share my opinion, what I know and what I’ve learned from 15+ years in this business.
So take it all with a grain of salt. Learn what you can, but write your own book and sometimes, just sometimes, forget all of the rules and let yourself go. Those are the books and the queries that really end up being the winners.
Monday, June 23, 2008
It’s been a long time since I’ve reported in on my submissions—what I read and my decisions. I know readers like to see this from time to time, so here we go. . . .
The weekend was incredibly productive for me. I was able to get a lot of queries read from Friday to Sunday. Keep in mind, I did not look at requested material that may have come through via email, but simply unsolicited query letters. I was about a week behind in my reading, which means that some things might have been a week old, but nothing had been sitting in my in-box any longer than that and, frankly, most of what I read was between 5 and 7 days old. In other words, this was roughly 2 to 3 days' worth of queries.
In those 3 days I read 79 submissions. The sad thing about that is that I sill have over 100 queries sitting in my in-box.
- Of those 79 I rejected 73.
- I requested 5 partials and 1 full (the author had wisely included about 3 to 5 pages in her query).
- I received 2 queries that told me a great deal about the author and her background, but nothing about the book (other than title).
- 2 queries I forwarded to either Jacky or Kim because, while I rejected them, I thought Jacky or Kim might have some interest.
- 2 authors sent the letter and/or other materials as an attachment rather than in the body of the email, while 5 authors sent no letter, simply author name, title, genre, and the synopsis. I really prefer a letter.
- Only 11 of the 79 queries were nonfiction.
- 3 were sent to my assistant instead of me and needed to be forwarded
- 4 of the emails were simply asking questions about a previous rejection, submission policies, or something else publishing-related.
- And last, 2 of the emails, both from the same person, were haranguing me for giving advice on writing a stronger query, called me stupid (among other things), and told me point-blank that all authors are superior to me. Interesting weekend reading.
I feel pretty good about my weekend. You? How was your weekend?
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
A good number of the science-fiction/fantasy imprints accept unsolicited manuscripts or unsolicited queries. While searching for an agent, I ran across one that stated authors should look for an agent who has sold to a publisher that doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts. If they only submit your manuscript to publishers that do accept unsolicited manuscripts, then your manuscript isn't going to be treated with any more priority than if you submitted it yourself.
I kind of doubt this claim since at least an agented manuscript has successfully passed one professional's crap-o-meter, so it's bound to be looked at more quickly and closely. However, it did make me wonder about another statement that I've heard from several agents. They don't want authors to shop manuscripts around by themselves because, once a manuscript is rejected, they can't try a publisher again. They might have submitted the manuscript to a different editor at that publisher who would have liked the book, but that chance is lost now.
But isn't there one editor--the acquisitions editor--that the manuscript will have to get past whether the author submits it or the agent does?
I would love to hear more about the things authors are being told on other agent Web sites. That’s crazy. What that says to me is that this agent doesn’t know enough people in the business. Of course my submissions are going to get read faster than those that are unsolicited. I already have a relationship with that editor, and that editor, or any editor, knows my name and my reputation, and, more important, the editor knows that sitting on my submission for too long is likely to mean either I won’t submit to her again and/or I’ll sell it out from under her. In other words, from most agents a submission is going to get preferential treatment, but if you are with an agent who doesn’t have contacts, then no, it’s just as good as submitting it yourself.
As for your other question, that’s very true, and let me explain why. If you send your manuscript to Joe Dell at Bantam and he rejects it, I have no real idea what process the book went through. Did Joe simply read it himself and reject it? Did he pass it on to an assistant who rejected it or did he pass it on to a freelance reader who rejected it for him? Or, did Joe like the book enough to bring it up at an editorial board meeting, get second reads, and ultimately reject it based on the decisions/opinions of his peers? Even if I think the book would be better for Jill Bantam at Bantam, I can’t go over Joe’s head (even if Jill is Joe’s superior and even if Joe had a reader reject it for him). Now, there is the rare instance when an agent might be able to resubmit to the same house, but as we know, this business is tough enough. Why depend on a rare instance?
Of course there are exceptions to every rule. Always exceptions. If an editor asks you directly to submit, then submit. Don’t wait around and don’t miss a golden opportunity.