Thoughts on Sending Rejection Letters
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 08 2015
I’m not going to lie to you. More often than not I send a rejection letter without even thinking twice. In fact, sometimes I send a rejection with some relief. Relief that there’s one less email for me to attend to.
Last week however the great authors in the universe got revenge on me by handing me two manuscripts that I felt I had to reject, but did so with much regret. Now to be fair, both of these manuscripts had been sitting on my Kindle for quite some time and in both cases I’d read a good chunk, but had put them down for one reason or another.
In the end, the fact that I had put them down and not rushed to get back to them, or thought about them since, was a huge factor in why I decided to reject these works. There were also some other issues/concerns I had with each book, but I don’t need to get into those details here.
Rejecting a book isn’t always easy. There are plenty of times an agent feels that a book needs more work than she’s ready to take on or can clearly see why she wouldn’t be able to sell the book despite the fact that she loved the writing, was riveted by the voice and maybe even finished it well after she knew she was rejecting.
In both of these cases I won’t be at all surprised if some other agent jumps on board and sells the book. Proof that I just wasn’t the right agent for either of them.
I've heard these kinds of comments before, and as someone who is out in the trenches querying a novel, of course, it's hard not to get discouraged when an agent says they liked your book but it wasn't quite what they need for their list at the moment, but they're sure someone will end up repping it.
Out of curiosity, why would an agent feel that they personally couldn't sell a well-written and marketable novel (or get it a deal that does it justice), but another agent might be able to? It may seem like a naive question, but it's one that I've wondered about.
I get the "this is promising but it needs a lot of work yet" rejections some people get. All else being equal, who wouldn't prefer to take on a manuscript that needs a minimum amount of polishing before shopping it to publishers? But all else being equal, what makes an agent think they personally can't sell a given manuscript when someone else might be able to?
These are what I call 'Almost-Rejections' the ones where the Agents almost offered, or really did want to offer, but their Spock-logic lined up the facts and successfully proved that it wasn't feasible, so they had to pass on the manuscript.
I'm currently stuck in Almost-Rejection purgatory.
But that's okay, because nine times out of ten, those almost-rejections come with at least some feedback, and all that feedback is priceless. Not just in regard to the manuscript that was rejected, but because it's also something I can use for things that I'm currently writing on. In a way, it's experience I can gain without doing anything, because the agent is passing on their knowledge and experience through their feedback.
In response to the question above, I think it's because the agent does NOT think it's marketable. They do, however, accept that these things are inherently subjective, and they know that someone else might have a different view of said market. Of course, that's just the most obvious reason. They might also reject it because it's too close to something else on their list, because it's good but not good enough to add to an already full list, or other reasons. But at heart, I think a lot boils down to thinking it's not right for the market, but knowing someone else may disagree.
E.L Wagner. You have to remember that literary agents, like any agent, has to pair up clients with buyers. So think of it in terms of real estate: if you are offered a listing for an amazing beach house in Miami but most of your clients live in New York, you might not have anyone to sell it to. You'll be stuck with something fabulous with the hopes of someday maybe having one of your clients express interest in moving to Miami, whereas a real estate agent in Miami has maybe 50 clients lined up to take to the beach house tomorrow. Literary agents have wish lists from their contacts in publishing houses, they know the tastes, wants and needs of said publishers and deal mostly with those contacts, so repping something that is too far out for them can be bad for the agent and the book because they would almost have to start from scratch, there is a learning curve for every genre, you have to find out what events go on for that particular type of book, how to market them, how to arrange for the author to be a speaker at a key event to get exposure, lots of things that agents do that don't have to do with just liking a book and thinking it has potential. It's a business. Hope this helps.
I think I'm going to expand on your comments in another blog post. They are all valid questions. In a nutshell though, it's never as simple as the letter might lead you to believe.
I have found, as a writer who hasn't yet sold a book, that I have come to really appreciate rejection letters. I had an interesting experience with a piece I finished a while back. I queried it twice, once after I'd finished a really good draft, and again after I'd done a complete re-write, tightened it up, and changed the starting point.
The first time around, nearly all responses were partials or fulls. The partials were rejected with form rejections and the fulls included great feedback.
The second time around, when I knew I had a better story and better writing, the market had changed. I didn't get a single request to read more. And that's okay; what had been fresh the first time around no longer was.
What frustrated me from the second round was after months—and even some follow-ups—some queries never went answered, even with a form rejection. Personally, I'd always rather have the rejection than the silence, and appreciate that you do send those rejection without thinking twice.
I was rejected after a full by one agent who said they really liked it and thought it would find a home with someone, but it was too close to something they'd sold recently.
But if there's only one editor out there in the world that would take on that kind of MS right now, then why would another agent be able to sell it?
Then there's the other kind of rejection. The kind sent when a query and MS is well written, but it's simply not the sort of story within the genre that the agent cares for. I got one of those after a different full request.
So somewhere between an agent who takes your genre and likes your kind of story within that genre, but finds yours too similar to something they rep already, and agents who take your genre but don't especially like your kind of story within that genre, lies the perfect match.
No wonder the process is so difficult 😛
I agree, getting the 'almost there' rejections, the ones that usually come with feedback, are priceless. The first time I got one of them I was so excited, The Hub thought I'd been sent an offer!
[…] response to last Friday’s post on Thoughts on Sending Rejection Letters there was a great comment from a reader that I thought would be better addressed if I broke it […]