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Why I Can't Tell You Why I Rejected Your Work
Not even just for you, this one time
I want to talk today about something I see often, with the hopes that you select few will spread this message among your writer friends and create change in the community. And so you don’t do this yourself, either. (If you have done this, I absolve you of all guilt. Now you know.)
I know it is tempting. When you query an agent, it’s a direct link. My fingertips to yours. When you get a response, from me at least, you can tell it’s not an auto-response. (I really do send all my own rejections personally.) The reply button is right there. You can just email me back and ask a quick question and maybe I can send a quick answer that will totally change your whole book/project/career/life and unlock the mysteries of publishing and the world.
Lol, of course not. That’s not how any of this works.
But there are many reasons why I can’t respond to rejections, and many reasons you don’t want me to. Here are some:
—It takes way, way too long. I know you’re thinking that it doesn’t take so long to write an email, but you forget that you’re not the only one making this ask. If it takes me 3 minutes, just 3!!, to write you an email, and 20 people do that, then that’s an hour of work I’m doing, for free, for people who are not my clients. I am not on salary; I only get paid when I sell books for my clients. My clients tend to get mad when I am not working on their stuff. You would too if you were my client.
—You don’t actually want to hear what I have to say. Sometimes, I reject things because I do not think they are good. Some books aren’t good! Some ideas aren’t great. Some ideas have already been done. Some ideas are ones I’ve already tried and failed at. But also, there are LOTS of definitions of “good” when it comes to books. I’m not going to like all of them. Other agents might, though, so if I write back and tell you something isn’t “good,” to me, and you scrap everything and quit writing, when the next agent you would have queried might have loved it and carried you off to fame and fortune, then what good was my response anyway? I am only one agent with only one opinion.
—Some reasons have nothing to do with quality. Sometimes, my answer will not be helpful in the least. I get queries for genres I do not represent. I get queries for books that have complicated publishing histories that I can’t begin to untangle. I have a full client list, so I have to be very, very choosey. I pass on things all the time that I think will sell, but *I* can’t sell them for whatever reason. Sometimes my tastes change. Sometimes I have too many on one kind of book and I need to diversify. There are many reasons I reject a query that have nothing to do with how “good” a book is.
—Sometimes I don’t know why. When I read a query and sample pages, sometimes I don’t know why I don’t want to represent it. I just don’t. It’s not standing out to me among the hundreds of other queries I’ve gotten. So, I don’t have a helpful, actionable answer for you. As cliche as this has become among agents, it just wasn’t for me.
—Some reasons are too complicated to get into in an email. I’ve seen many times queries for things that are time-dependent—an historical anniversary, a sporting or cultural event, an election. Most don’t realize it takes the better part of two years to write and publish a book, and that’s from when you sign the contract. So if you want to do something for 2020, you needed to have sold it last year. Yes, sometimes publishing can “crash” a book into production, but that’s a special case and with recent problems at book printers, crashing isn’t always even possible. Explaining all this in an email, for free, to someone who is not my client, takes way longer than 3 minutes.
I know—this sounds really jerky. Like I’m a cranky, old agent, yelling at writers to get off my lawn. But agenting is my job, as well as a passion and a vocation for me, and I have to make sure I do the things that pay my rent, and my clients’ rents. That’s why there is a free and paid version of this newsletter. I want to help the community, but I can only do so much.
I hope this puts agent work in perspective, and helps you understand why we all can’t just this one time answer detailed and nuanced questions. Tell your writer friends. Don’t be that querier.
Here’s some fun stuff:
Queries Received This Week: 121
Books read this week: SADIE by Courtney Summers. THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD! If you like “Serial” and absolutely stellar prose, you should read this ASAP. I could have read it in one sitting, if time allowed. I gobbled it up, even when it was breaking my heart.
Pieces of Pizza I’ve Eaten This Week: 5
Episodes of Netflix’s Trolls Cartoon I’ve Watched With My Kid This Week: 876,345
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