The Hard Truth About Querying Feedback

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 18 2022

Querying is a really difficult business, especially in the days when a lot of agents have the no response means no policy. It means leaving a lot of authors hanging which I think is unfair. At BookEnds we believe in responding to all queries. What’s difficult though is that we can’t respond to all, or even most, in a way that gives the feedback a lot of authors want.

I had previously done a harsher post after receiving intense criticism from an author who thought all agents needed to supply feedback on queries. That post received its own criticism. Rightfully. When I wrote it I was upset and ranted. It’s painful sometimes to try so hard to do our best for authors and others and be told it’s not enough. I apologize for my tone and have edited this post to more clearly, and humbly, make my point.

The query business is inevitably difficult. In any world it’s inevitable that someone is going to be mad. In this case, authors get understandably frustrated because we can’t give them, or don’t give them, a thorough enough reason for rejecting a query. This is hard for us to hear since we’re trying to give what we can, but feedback isn’t always an option. Primarily because the truth is that the book just didn’t grab us. But the hard truth about why agents don’t give a ton of feedback is that it takes a lot of time.

Clients Come First

My job is working for my clients. They are the people I’ve committed to and who are paying me. My energy, when it comes to feedback goes to them. They are the people I have promised and owe feedback to. These are the people I have made a contractual obligation to and agreed that I will make every effort to work with them to build a writing career. I owe them feedback.

Spending time personalizing every single query rejection (roughly 500 every month) would take away from the time I promised clients. It’s not fair to them or to me. Mostly, it just doesn’t make sense.

Imagine if every company you sent your resume to was required to send a personalized rejection. This is not after an interview, this is just from the resume. How would they possibly have time to make the thing, sell the thing, or take care of the people? They wouldn’t. I wouldn’t either.


The Reason is Actually There

The hard truth is the rejection you receive does contain feedback. Most authors just don’t want to see it because it’s not what they want to hear. It’s not a fixable, revisable solution. The truth is you don’t want to know why your book was rejected, you want me to give you revisions so you can fix it and sell it. Those are two different things.

The rejection I give you basically says that I’m not the right agent for this book.

Agents are no different than readers in a bookstore. We have limited time and money and need to choose the books we read carefully. The same way you make decisions as a reader. Do you have time to read 500 books a month? I don’t, so I curate those that not only excite me the most but also sound like something I can sell. And when I reject you, I’m telling you that your book just didn’t excite me enough.

However, that’s not such a bad thing because it might very well mean that the next one will. Because it really is just about the book.




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3 responses to “The Hard Truth About Querying Feedback”

  1. Avatar Tim Thoits says:

    Wonderful post. I’m admittedly new to the whole writing thing, but I’m amazed at how poorly people react to a rejection. Every agent reports being inundated with queries. There are not enough hours in a day to construct meaningful feedback for the enormous number of queries that you receive (~125/wk). Thank you for everything you do. tim

  2. Jessica, I saw the mess on Twitter today and just wanted to say I’m sorry — that sucks. I haven’t been in your position (am not an agent), but I was once at the bottom of a dogpile of people who had been benefiting from a free service I’d happily provided for years. I don’t know what felt worse–the fact that some of them were so willing to attack in a way that seemed unfair, or the fact that so many others stayed silent and let them. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed your blogs and videos for awhile now and I appreciate the time and effort you put into them and your desire to help. I hope you are getting lots of other positive feedback too.

  3. Avatar Jimmy Blakemore says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I appreciate this post!

    It is helpful when writers have resources that address these kinds of issues. I can relate to this post in a few ways. One as a writer, a real estate broker, and because of classes in my Creative Writing and English program. It is understandable to want feedback regarding why our work was rejected because there is such a strong innate desire and excitement for getting our writing published. However, we mustn’t dwell on it if we don’t receive feedback. I think it is that we can get caught up in the excitement and disappointment and forget that literary agents have fiduciary duties and owe their clients a certain level of care.