It’s About More Than the Book

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 03 2011

In a comment to a thought of the day, one reader said:

Frankly, I don’t understand why you would necessarily reject the next blockbuster just because an author has an ego problem (‘all other books suck’ etc), or because someone says their book ‘needs an edit.’ You know very well they all do.

Because no one knows that your book is going to be the next big blockbuster. Heck, I don’t even know if your book is going to sell. Every agent has taken on a project confident that it would sell and become a success, only to find neither was true. Every single agent has had what she deemed a “sure thing,” only to find it surely wasn’t. Why would I reject a book based on the negative things an author says in a query letter? Because I’m going to have to work with this author for the long haul. I’m intending to work with the author through revisions and rewrites, rejections and offers, negotiations, next books, career planning, career moves, market lows and market highs. Because I’m expecting that we’re going to be together for a long, long time and that it’s not always going to be pretty, and I want to know as much as possible that the author is ready for all of that, is ready to work hard and, more important, that we can work together.

In addition to that, if you’re telling me that your book isn’t its best, then isn’t that telling me that reading it is a waste of my time? I’m looking for fabulous books that are ready to be sold to the market. Sure, I might need a tweak or revision or two, but if you, the author, are telling me up front that you don’t even think your book is ready to be seen, then isn’t that reason enough for me to know it’s not ready to be seen?

And just to be fair to the reader, I wanted to share the last statement of the comment: These sorts of poorly thought out rejection lists harm an agent’s credibility.

And say that I’m sorry if telling the truth harms my credibility. I thought it might actually help you write a stronger query.


29 responses to “It’s About More Than the Book”

  1. Avatar Donna Weaver says:

    Hit some tenders feelings with that commenter, I guess. I don't think it harms your credibility explaining why you do what you do. It's good for writer to know–even if they don't think they want to.

  2. Avatar RayMorgan says:

    Personally I think it's great knowing what an agent is looking for and knowing what an agent will most likely avoid. True, it'll be different for all agents but to at least have some idea gives the writer a good starting point.

    And really, you're right – a query is not just selling the book, but also the author.

  3. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Ms. Trite says:
    Submitting a book that the author KNOWS is not it's best is like going to a job interview with make-up on one eye only. To not look and act your absolute best is like showing up in PJs. That doesn’t work unless you want a job at Sleepy’s.

  4. Avatar Rebecca Kiel says:

    I imagine if I were an agent, I just wouldn't want to work with a person like this. Or present him to publishers. Or even have coffee with him. People can have any reaction to rejection they want – privately. I just don't see how burning bridges could help. Rage in private and put on a professional face. This is business.

  5. Sounds like the commenter is one who assumes they have the next blockbuster and doesn't like having someone disagree.

    There's a big difference between handing someone a MS and saying "This needs an edit" (which is to imply that you know there's something wrong with it and couldn't be bothered to fix it) and handing someone a MS and saying "Yes, your editorial suggestions will make my best effort even better.

    When you a submit a MS, you should do so hoping that you've gotten everything right, but understanding that you probably haven't. The book should be as clean as you can get it.

    And I'm not sure where the commenter got the idea that the rejection "list" is poorly thought out, but it's not. It's fairly standard and logical. As a writer, I'd rather have an agent who only wants my best work because it takes the best to compete in the market.

  6. Avatar Jill Thomas says:

    I haven't sent out my queries for my new manuscript yet, and I may be going about this the wrong way, but I want a PARTNER. Someone I can work with (not work for them or have them work for me), someone I can build a relationship with, someone I can trust. I think of it as one of the most important partnerships I will have in my life. Am I looking at this wrong? Are my expectations too high?

  7. Avatar A3Writer says:

    I've never understood how some authors can act so unprofessionally. Rejection is a fact of the business. Sending out a snide remark to an agent is not going to benefit anyone.

    We've all gotten rejections. Yes, they hurt. Yes, it's frustrating. Shrug it off and move on. This is the Majors. If you can't hack it, or you're going to be a prima donna, go back to the Minors.

  8. Avatar Melissa says:

    I don't think it would harm your credibility with anyone you would want as a client — at least not at their current level of knowledge.

  9. Avatar Rena says:

    I have very much appreciated all the time and effort you have put into helping us noobs. I much prefer upfront honesty, and I think it's ridiculous for someone to suggest that they don't look for that in an agent.

    I agree that many writers just loose their cool, and I think what we really need in the query/rejection process is a penalty box. In hockey, the reason they throw the a skater in the box is to give them enough time to chill out (and to penalize them for bad behavior, but it really is more about spending some time calming down). If writers went to the penalty box every time they got a rejection, I think there would be a lot fewer of these crazed How-stupid-can-you-be-to-reject-me-and-my-bestseller? letters.

  10. Being a professional in this business requires you to both put forth your best work and, at the same time, be humble enough to acknowledge that no one is perfect.

    I work as a full-time freelancer for magazines and newspapers, and if I submit work that I feel "needs an edit," I'm looking at rejection. If I submit my best, I still need to be willing to make any changes an editor deems necessary for the project to work in their publication.

    Please keep up the honestly. We can't improve if we aren't told what's wrong.

  11. Avatar sewa mobil says:

    Nice article, thanks for the information.

  12. Avatar Laila Knight says:

    If someone is querying, they should have confidence in their writing. All books need edits, but if that's the first thing that comes to mind, then go back and edit it before submitting. The finished product should be the very best.

  13. I always find it sad when writers put negativity and defensiveness out on the web like that. Like someone said, your query is your job interview. You wouldn't go to an interview all sloppy and tell the manager that you really aren't the best person for the job but he should hire you anyway because you'll do okay.

    You want to get that second interview. So put your best business attire on, and be a professional.

  14. If you ever get the opportunity to intern for an agent or publisher, do it.

    I read script submissions for a small LA agency for a few months. It was an eye-opener. From what I understand, there are parallels in the publishing business: they're overloaded with submissions, some awful, some good, some good enough. Then it comes down to personal taste. Those are deep in that pile somewhere. How does yours get found? Through a process of elimination.

    That word, "elimination," is key. Because so many manuscripts must be eliminated, I don't want to give them a reason to eliminate mine. If I submit bad grammar, poor formatting and a negative query letter, why should the reader bother with my submission when there are others in the pile who took the time to submit with good grammar, perfect formatting and a good attitude?

    Don't give them a reason to say no. At every step–query, pages, partial and full–keep them saying "yes" and asking for more.

  15. The agent-writer relationship is a partnership. Who would willingly go into a partnership with someone they would dread working with?

    Money is never enough to be miserable everyday. Ask any teacher who left the profession in their first five years.

  16. Avatar AmyJo says:

    Thank you Jessica, I read your blog because you’re honest and credible, and that helps me as I grow and evolve as a writer.
    Without déjà vu, how can anyone say they’ve written the next blockbuster? To my ears this sounds like the writer has a huge ego and wouldn’t be willing to budge an inch on anything to do with the story. It’s like meeting someone for the first time and, as you shake hands, he/she tells you they are the best person you ever met, guaranteed.
    And as for saying a novel will need an edit, as writers we’re supposed to edit our own work until we feel confident it’s the best it can be before we query about it. Telling someone the novel will need an edit before they read it makes me think the writer knows they haven’t finished the story and is looking for someone else to do their work for them. Makes me think of meeting someone and having them say “Hello, I’m maladjusted. Fix me.”
    That last comment sounds like pouting to me and makes me believe the poster has had their query to you rejected.
    Anyway, perhaps it’s just me, but using those statements in a query would make it sound like the author is looking for someone to babysit their writing instead of a partner to grow their career with.

  17. "Next blockuster" and similar phrasing seems to be indicative of particularly delusional hopeless cases.

  18. Just using Kathleen Battle's name, an opera singer with a magnificent voice, sells out seats. She's got a marvelous stage presence and incredible musicianship.

    Battle's backstage behavior was so arrogant and demanding that stage crews began sporting shirts that said, "I Survived the Battle." She was fired from the Met for her shenanigans.

    There comes a point in which artistry takes a back seat to common decency. I imagine it's much the same in the literary world.

  19. Avatar BreiW says:

    Really great points. Why would you want to work an author who isn't really willing to do the necessary work to better himself or isn't willing to work with you and accept feedback? Thank you for sharing with us your knowledge about the agent/author relationship. It gives me great insight.

  20. Sounds like someone got a rejection and took it a little too personally.

    Regarding admitting your book needs an edit: yes, it probably does. I bet very few books make it from query to publication with no changes. But it's a competitive landscape out there, and you don't want to admit your book isn't in the best form it can be when there are other aspiring authors who have polished and honed their work and gotten it as good as they can before querying.

    And it's not fun to work with big egos in any industry. A little humility goes a long way.

  21. Avatar London Crockett says:

    Jessica, when I start submitting queries, I hope that potential agents would reject my work if they felt they couldn't work with me. I'll certainly be picking them on similar grounds (among others).

    To me, it's like any other work relationship. Enjoying working with somebody makes me work better and enjoy the parts I don't want to do more. I'd never accept a client who I hated working with or join a company with people I greatly disliked. Why should agents be different?

  22. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    One thing I've learned as a published author is that you really have to leave your ego at the door. If you can't take criticism, and if you don't think an agent or editor's suggestions can make your work stronger and your writing better, you really don't belong in this business.

    It's not about you–it's all about the book.

  23. I worked in the legislature for 13 years. No one has bigger egos than elected officials. 🙂

    Some business advice for every writer, aspiring or published: Don't burn bridges. This business is small. Agents and editors and publishers and book buyers and sales reps talk. They move around. They are friends and neighbors and often colleagues or former colleagues. Senior editors started as assistant editors. EVERY writer has been rejected. Smile publicly, vent privately to a small trusted circle of friends, and move on.

  24. Avatar Lia Mack says:

    I love it! Kick his ass, Sea Bass! 😉

  25. Avatar Anna Zagar says:

    Lia! Kick his ass, Sea Bass! One of my favorite all time quotes! Sigh. You made my night.

    And Jessica, very good reminder, but it's sad that it has to be said over and over again. Just be professional, courteous, and informative. That should pretty much do it.

  26. Avatar Sari Webb says:

    I wonder if this commenter has sent previous query letters committing these errors. I'm surprised they needed you to explain your reasoning for that list. I'm sure it seems obvious to most writers who take the time to educate themselves on the industry through following blogs like yours.

  27. Avatar Alaina says:

    Goodness… All novels will have tweeks, that is true. Some may have more work than others… But if your novel has miss spelled words on every page, parts of the storyline that don't match with other parts, or use commas when there should be another punctuation , then yes, the novel is not ready to be seen.

    After reading my first draft, I thought I had a lot of mistake. That is until someone I know asked me to edit his work and the page was literally red everywhere. I had so many spelling and grammatical corrections alone, that the document really should have had a few once overs by the author before I got it.

    It seems to me that no matter how good your novel may be, that does not mean it will be a best seller. Sometimes the marketing does it, other times the writing. Or both… But there is a lot of hard work involved, and it may not always pay off. Saying it is a best seller, or will be, does not actually 'sell' the book.