What Query Backlash Says About the Author

There’s something about the beginning of the year that brings out backlash from authors. Responses to queries berating agents for our stupidity or insincere and condescending rejection letters (I’ve received both).

Unlike some other agents, this backlash doesn’t bother me. In fact, often they make me smile. Just like query rejection has nothing to do with an author, an author’s backlash has nothing to do with me.

Querying is frustrating and can be discouraging. Authors have spent weeks and months on a book that’s been seemingly dismissed in less than five minutes and only from one page. You know, the same way readers make a decision to buy or not buy a book.

I suspect there are two types of authors who lash out at agents. Those new to querying who don’t expect rejection and those frustrated by the constant rejections. They are often the same people who troll agents on social media.

What I Learn from an Author’s Backlash

When an author lashes out for a rejection I’ve learned one thing. I’ve dodged a bullet. This is not someone who is ready to face the tough world of publishing where rejection is common, bad reviews happen, and edits can be brutal. Someday they might be, but not today.

Whether you’ve written your first book, or published 20, finding an agent means doing the work. It means writing a strong and marketable book, writing a solid query, and finding just the right people to champion it.

You won’t see me railing against authors for their responses to queries. I get it. Hang in there, do the work and let’s all keep in mind that the response has nothing to do with us.

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12 comments

  1. Appreciate the honest post. Since it’s about queries, may I ask you how many words you think a a debut author’s commercial thriller should be? Some agents say never over 90k. Some say whatever it takes. Would alarm bells go off in your head if a query had 93k novel in it? Is this too large for you? Thanks.

  2. Hello Jessica,
    I’m editing / rewriting a general fiction / action adventure manuscript. Unedited it comes up at 126k words I am trying to be extremely surgical with my cuts but if it came out between 100k and 110k, would that be a no go?

  3. Well said! As an author who is in the midst of querying agents and thus receiving rejections, I’m shocked that agents receive such a backlash.

    It’s important for every writer to always remember that this is a subjective business. That’s why doing the research is so important when finding an agent a query, and even then, what might appear to be a good match, in the end, is not. It’s merely part of the process. Like everything else, some days are better than others in this business, on both sides of the query letter.

  4. You actually get people who do this? Talk about burning bridges. This reaction is hard for me to imagine as I spend a lot of time finding out about the agents I hope to query. I try to get a feel for their personality from their social media, which I guess results in me thinking of them as a person on the other end of my manuscript rather than a faceless, critical rejection-machine. Oh well, guess you’re right—you’ve avoided a potentially agonizing partnership. It’s very diplomatic of you to say these folks are “not someone who is ready” at this time. I’m ashamed to say I would feel a little less gracious. Thanks for the consistently informative and entertaining posts.

  5. I’m always stunned at writers who do this. Would you contact a prospective employer who has turned you down for and berate them? This is a profession – act professionally!

  6. Wow, what a compassionate reply. One of the reasons I love coming here. Thank you for being such a writer’s advocate, even to the ones hiding their manners.

  7. Hmm. If you think authors have spent just weeks or months on their m/s, that’s a serious misconception about how long it takes to write a polished novel tbh. But that aside, agents are overwhelmed by submissions, underpaid for what they do, so 5 minute rejection is an acceptable part of the game.

  8. It’s so disappointing that writers choose to respond that way. But, as always, I’m so grateful to you all at Bookends for being classy and compassionate.

  9. Seems to be an unfortunate but standard byproduct of the job. Food servers, airline staff, customer service reps, etc. have to deal with the same. Yet its agents who are constantly posting on social about it. Its like no one ever told them. I once worked at a pizza place and I couldn’t believe how crazed people got over their pizza.

  10. I recently received a rejection for a PB. It was gracious and kind. I considered sending a thank you note. I didn’t. Now I plan to do just that!

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