The Books We Lost

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Apr 20 2021

Authors are always fascinated by stories from agents about the books we lost or, maybe better put, rejected. Most authors probably don’t care about those we offered on and didn’t get. They are more fascinated by those we didn’t bother to consider and later became big hits.

In other words, everyone wants to know if I made the mistake of passing on Brit Bennett, Glennon Doyle, Delia Owens, or Michelle Obama. For the record, to the best of my knowledge, I did not.

I have however passed on other authors who went on to achieve great success, some with the books I passed on. I have no regrets.

If I passed on a book it’s because I didn’t have a vision for it. I didn’t have a clear eye to edit, to submit, or to make it the hit it became. I was not the right agent for it. The flip side is that I have taken on a ton of great books and authors who other agents passed on. Many who have become big hits. There is a balance in the universe.

I don’t live with regret because it won’t move me forward in life or career. I do however learn from my mistakes if I think I’ve made some.

Learning from Misses

I don’t usually think back to the books I missed out on, but there is one I will never forget. I don’t regret passing because it gave me the lesson I needed for future success.

It was early in my agenting career and I received a submission for a book I read cover to cover (if it had covers). I really enjoyed it, but in the back of my head, I kept hearing the voices of editors who had passed on my other submissions.

I let those voices make the decision for me to pass. The book, and author, later went on to great success. In fact, I’m very friendly with the author today. They are fantastic as a writer and a person.

I learned from that to trust my gut, to take chances, and to not let the fear of rejection control me. I still have to remind myself of those things today and will likely always remind myself of those things.

I don’t regret losing that book. I was not in a place in my career that the author needed me to be. I am now, but we aren’t a good fit today.

Agents will always have books that got away. I hope so, it means I’m getting the good stuff. I will always have books that other agents “let” get away. The books I am the right agent for.

Luckily for all of us there is no end to the number of great books and authors out there. I’m just lucky enough to get a shot at so many of them.

5 responses to “The Books We Lost”

  1. Your tag is ‘rejection’, but your theme is acceptance (acceptance of yourself, of the consequences of your actions).

  2. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    Your reasoning for not being upset about passing on a book that achieves later success is exactly why I try not to let rejections upset me. I want my book to be as loved by the agent representing it as I love it. I’ve done all I can, now I have to hope it lands on the right desk at the right time.

  3. […] Jessica Faust delves into the perennially popular topic of what agents learn from the big books they passed on, and agent Kate McKean talks about how authors should navigate meeting and communicating with […]

  4. Avatar Howard Levine says:

    Your bio on the Bookends website says that you are actively seeking fresh new voices. The rejection I received from you today re my novel Who Speaks For Aaron? states that you have a very full client list and are very particular about taking on new clients. You might want to make a correction.

    • Avatar James McGowan says:

      Both of these can be true, Howard. An agent can be actively reading queries, but selectively taking projects onto a full list.