Currently listening to: Stay the Night, by Zedd (Feat. Hayley Williams)
I’ve decided to continue querying agents for a bit longer. I’ve still got self-publishing in the back of my mind as an option, but I’m not going to back out of the traditional publishing route just yet. I’ll stick around, participate in #PitMad next week, and just generally tough in out in the query trenches a while longer. Because I do think that there’s an agent out there who will be interested in taking on my manuscript. The only trouble is finding that agent.
That’s all querying is. You do your research, find agents who you think might be interested in your project, and you agonize over your query for days and weeks and months trying to craft the perfect letter. Basically, you’re trying to make your bait pretty enough to get an agent to bite. You’re fishing.
And a lot of those agent-fish won’t bite. Most of them, in fact, since you only need 1 to say “yes”.
All of this means that when you’re querying, you will get a lot of “no”s.
So today, I’m going to take a look at the various kinds of rejections an author can get, as well as some of my own rejections. It’ll be fun!
DISCLAIMER: None of what I say below is in any way a criticism of agents, and it’s certainly not a criticism of any agent in particular. I’m strictly speaking in terms of what querying writers might feel about each of these rejection methods; I’m not passing judgment on which is better or worse than any other.
No Response Might Equal “No”
This has to be one of the most agonizing kinds of responses for the person doing the querying. And usually, it’s a problem that arises when the agent hasn’t listed a clear policy anywhere, so people querying them just go off the experiences that others have had and try to figure out what to expect. Like, for every 30 people who insist that the agent is a “no response=no” agent, you’ll get two or three people who report getting a rejection email. Sometimes people will get those rejections a year after sending the query. And so everyone who submits to this agent just stares in confusion at their spreadsheet or Word document or whatever else they might be keeping track of queries on, wondering whether or not they should consider the query CNR (closed- no response). Not too long ago, I closed out a query after around four months (it’s usually pretty safe by then to assume), and a week later I got a rejection from that agent. The rejection didn’t really sting me, since I’d already closed it out and assumed it was a rejection, so I guess that’s a plus side: if you assume they’re a No Response = “No”, and then you get a request for more, you’ll be really excited. But you also won’t be too disappointed if you end up getting a written rejection.
No Response = “No”
No question here, this agent does not send rejections. There’s some comfort in that, because usually the agent clearly says that if you haven’t heard from them in X weeks, you can assume it’s a “no” from them. Some of them also keep authors updated via Twitter or their blogs, in case they’ve fallen behind their usual pace for reading queries, or if they’re ahead of schedule. This is a nice, quiet sort of rejection, I think. You just mark the close-out date somewhere, and when that date hits, you can just cross it off your list. I think it keeps it a bit more detached than getting a written rejection, which, depending on your personality might be either fantastic or horrible.
Answers All Queries…Eventually
Some agents are really on top of their query-reading. Like, if they tell you you’ll get a response in 4-6 weeks, you will get a response in 4-6 weeks. Other agents might say that they answer all queries…but four months later, you realize that you haven’t gotten a response yet. So you check out sites like Querytracker to see if others are having better luck (maybe your query got lost or overlooked and you need to requery?). And what you find is a sporadic pattern of responses or lack of responses. Someone queried last week and got a prompt rejection, but fifteen other people are still waiting on responses to their queries from January. Did all those queries get lost in cyberspace, or did the agent perhaps just happen to see that one person’s query when they had a spare minute and the quick response was a fluke? You don’t know, and you probably won’t know. The only thing you can do is keep waiting, or requery if you want to take your chances that way. Maybe keep an eye on the agent’s Twitter feed or website to see if they say anything about where they’re at with queries. Bonus pain points if the agent literally never says anything about where they’re at with queries.
Answers All Queries Scarily Fast
On the flip side from the last entry, these agents are really quick to answer queries. They might say to give them up to 6 weeks, but they tend to answer people that day. Sometimes it’s really good to get those fast responses. After all, you don’t need to sit there squirming at your desk for two months or more, wondering if they’ll like your work. But on the other hand, there’s also a niggling feeling that they might not even have read your query. I mean, agents get a lot of queries every day, generally speaking. So what kind of magic is this agent doing that lets them knock out queries so fast? My thought is that these agents are probably looking for some pretty specific things. Maybe their client list is pretty packed, so they’re really hoping for, I don’t know, a space opera told from the POV of an intergalactic treasure hunter who is also a frog. They really know what they’re after, and what will catch their attention, so anything that doesn’t hit those qualifications is easy to exclude. Or they have an army of query-reading elves at their disposal. Who knows? Agents are mysterious creatures.
I don’t know if I love or hate personalized rejections. For me, it’s like an extra twist of the knife. Like, great. You liked my project enough to take a minute to personalize the rejection, but not enough to ask to see more or offer representation. It’s sort of a like a yo-yo of emotions: you’re pleased that they liked your work that much, but you’re also really, really bummed out that they didn’t like it enough.
“Thank you but no,” basically. Usually short, sometimes they’re personalized to include your manuscript title and your name, but a lot of them are also “Dear Author” letters. Some of them are super sneaky and are designed to look personalized, but really they aren’t. Sometimes agents seem to have a “flat “no”” rejection, a softer “I liked it, but no”, or maybe sometimes a more enthusiastic “This was great! But not quite for me.” Sometimes thanks to systems like that, that series of different form letters, optimistic authors have trouble telling whether or not they just got a form rejection. There might be a flicker of hope that it was personalized (often considered to be a better sign than a form rejection, because we like thinking we got more attention, maybe?), and then that hope is crushed when they head to Querytracker or somewhere else and realize that 150 other people got the exact same rejection this week.
For me, most of my rejections are form rejections. And honestly, I think that in general, most agents do form rejections. It’s easier, especially when an agent is particularly sought-after. If you got 500 queries flooding into your inbox at the same time, wouldn’t you get a little tired of trying to think of a way to personalize every letter? It’s hard enough trying to personalize the query letters you send off to the agents; picture them trying to do the reverse and personalize their response. There are only so many ways to say ‘no’.
This is my favorite form rejection, I think: “Thank you for thinking of me, but I am not a good fit for this. All my best [agent name removed].” How’s that for concise? And that was from an agent who responded in less than 24 hours, to boot. Remember that thing I said about how you almost get the feeling that they didn’t even read your material? I almost got that sense with this one, but I also know that like I said, agents are busy.
Then we have this:
Thank you very much for sending [my manuscript title] to [agent] and thank you for your patience while she considered it. She regrets that her busy schedule does not allow for a personal response and she has asked me to respond on her behalf.
She appreciated the opportunity to see your material, but unfortunately, she is unable to offer you representation at this time. Due to the enormous number of submissions we receive here at Writers House, and an already crowded client list, we are forced to be extremely selective when considering new clients.
Please remember that this is only one opinion in a highly subjective business and another agency may feel differently. Good luck in finding representation, and thank you for thinking of [us].
Looks kind of personal, yeah? It includes my name and my manuscript name, and it’s pretty long. But it’s a form letter, boys and girls. Sent via the agent’s assistant, and it’s a lovely form letter. It’s the kind of form rejection that lets you feel good about yourself even though you were just rejected. And that last paragraph is pretty standard in a lot of form rejections, I’ve found. Some variation of “remember, it’s subjective and someone else might want this, maybe, so good luck!”.
Thank you for your query and for letting me have a look at your work. I apologize for the impersonal nature of this email but I receive so many queries that it makes it impossible for me to respond personally to each one. Thank you for your patience.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel that this is right for me, so I’m passing. Just because I wasn’t quite drawn in, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t another agent out there who will love it. I encourage you to continue to submit elsewhere.
Thanks again for thinking of me, and I wish you all the best in your endeavors.
This is a form letter I really like. It owns the fact that it’s a form letter. There is no gray area for new queriers to suspect they’ve been gifted with a personalized rejection.
Of course, I’ve also had a few of the ambiguous “might-be-personalized” rejections. Like this one:
Thank you so much for sharing [manuscript name] with me. Though I think you have an interesting story here, I didn’t quite fall in love with it in the way that I need to in order to take it on. In this subjective industry, I’m sure another agent will feel differently, and I wish you the best of luck on your writing journey.”
This is a form rejection. I’m pretty confident in that. It’s probably from an agent who has different levels of form rejections, like I talked about above. So maybe my query was in their “maybe” pile for a little bit, or they paused and thought “It sounds pretty good, maybe” but still didn’t want to take it on. Either way, it’s still a form. But if it were the first rejection I received as someone new to the query process? I would probably totally have thought it was a personalized response. Same deal with another rejection in my folder (yes, they’re all in my email still. I have a folder for resolved queries, sent queries, drafted queries I might send, etc):
Thank you for your query. While your project sounds promising, I’m afraid it’s not a perfect fit for me, and so I’m regretfully going to pass at this time.
The rest of that one is the standard “it’s a subjective industry and someone else might want to represent you, so best of luck, etc.”. But that part? It sounds personalized. I mean, surely they can’t call every rejected project “promising”, right? But they totally can. Or, again, they can have a sort of grading system of “awful queries”, “interesting queries”, etc.
So that’s a trip through rejections. I try not to dwell on them for too long. I mean, the first few rejections I got hurt. Like really hurt. But you have to shrug it off. Maybe revamp your query, or just move on to the next batch of queries to send out. After a few rejections, the sting either dulls or it crushes you. Don’t let it crush you, of you’ll never get anywhere with your work.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I got an email about halfway through writing this, and it’s from an agent I queried yesterday. I’m about 98% sure it’s a rejection, but I should probably open it to make sure first.
Update: It was, indeed, a rejection. A very kind form rejection, but a rejection nonetheless.