Regularly on the blog, in message boards, and even at conferences I hear similar complaints from authors, “that agents say they’re looking for something different, but really aren’t,” authors who feel the only reason their works are being rejected is because of the shortsightedness of agents. I hear other complaints as well, that a work is rejected because no one likes a tough female character or no one likes a soft-hearted hero. What I have always wanted to ask these authors is whether or not multiple agents have told them this specifically. In other words, do you know for a fact that your work is being rejected because of one character or because your idea is too different?
Be careful when looking at rejections that you aren’t putting words into an agent’s mouth. We reject things for many, many reasons and, as you well know, we don’t always share those reasons. Sometimes we don’t tell you because there are too many to share, sometimes because the answer is nothing more than that it felt ho-hum. Sometimes an idea that might seem very different to you is one we’ve seen hundreds of times, and know isn’t marketable (like cloning Jesus, Greek god romance heroes, or insurance adjustor sleuths). By making assumptions about the reasons your work might be getting rejections is only narrowing your own possibilities. Instead of taking a look at your query letter or work as a whole and seeing what might need to be fixed you’ve decided that it’s the fault of agents everywhere and clearly your work is perfect.
Sure there are times when we all might be shortsighted, but keep in mind we see and hear things every day that give us the opinions we have. Try not to assume that a form rejection is anything other than a form rejection. Getting published is a learning experience and a lot of trial and error, as well as luck and timing. There are enough people out in the publishing world who will gladly make it difficult for you, so don’t be one of those who makes it difficult for yourself. Keeping your mind open to change and all possibilities is what will also help you maintain a career.