Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Agent Catch Phrase Bingo!

Status:

One big fire to launch the day. So far this one issue has created over 40 emails and 3 phone calls before noon. Hope nothing else pops up today.

Listening To:

SMOOTH OPERATOR by Sade

I saw this post on Writer’s Digest and it totally cracked me up. Totally reminded me of the buzzword bingo Dilbert cartoon strip. We definitely need to create this for agent rejection speak.

Raises hand. I’m guilty of these two:

1. “I just didn’t fall in love with the work as much as I had hoped.”

An oldie but goodie. I’m sure every writer has heard this one before! Lots of times it’s true though. Sometimes it’s decently written, an interesting concept, but it’s just not speaking to me. I do try and give a personalize comment or two if I read sample pages though.

2. “Although an interesting story concept and some solid writing, I didn’t see this work fitting into my list”

This means I honestly have no idea what to do with the work. It’s outside of my wheelhouse as an agent. Or, I don’t know what the market would be for it or no editors are popping to mind for submit list. Probably another version of this response is “it’s simply not right for me” or “I don’t have a vision for how I would handle this work.”

So why do agents resort to some typical or canned responses? It’s not because we don’t want to be helpful but it’s often a question of time and not wanting to be hurtful if a writer’s work really isn’t ready for an agent to see quite yet. Also, if an agent personalizes responses, invariably writers want to get into a dialogue about the why of it and how they can improve. There really isn’t time for that….

Now like I said, if I read the sample pages, I do try and constructively point out one thing that didn’t make it work for me. Often times I can see another agent thinking differently and if that’s the case, I’ll say so in my response.

There has to be dozens more writers see regularly.

So what other agent rejection responses should go on this bingo card?


15 Responses

  1. Amanda said:

    “The story was good, but the market is too saturated right now with (insert genre).”

  2. Maya Harvest said:

    Here are some agent rejection responses (how could I resist this challenge?):

    “I have all I can handle already.”

    “I’m going to reluctantly step aside and wish you the best of luck.”

    “This is a very subjective decision and I’m certain that another agent or editor will disagree with me.”

    “I know your book will find the perfect home.”

    No reply.

    My favorite (that probably shouldn’t go on the card), but I can’t resist: “Dear Author, Thank you for writing me. You might notice that I’m responding from a different e-mail address, that the subject line is different, and that your original query letter is not copied below… Technical difficulties aside, the point is I have read your query letter and have decided not to pursue your project.”

  3. Kelsey Keating said:

    Great post! I’m sure there are many “Buzzwords”.
    I’ve often heard “Your work isn’t right for us at this time.”

    My first thought is always “Is there a better time you’d like me to send this to you?”
    😉
    I’d almost prefer “We don’t want this. Thanks though.”

  4. Wendy Spinale said:

    This one was my personal favorite.

    “I wish you all the best of luck in finding a home for your book.”

    Sent to me by a very sweet agent who took the time to read the entire manuscript and gave me a thoughtful critique. I chuckled at this because it does feel like instead of finding an agent, I’m trying to find a lost puppy a permanent home.

    Rejections can be no fun, but I look at them as battle scars. I pull them out and remind myself of the time “that agent” felt my story was compelling enough to read and I keep writing. Maybe if I get enough rejection letters, I can switch to art and make a replica of Michelangelo’s sculpture of David out of them. How many rejections letters do you think it takes to make David’s…um,…ah,…slingshot? LOL! Thanks for the fun blog!

  5. Jon Gallagher said:

    Dear Author:

    It means that even though the agent INSISTED that we research and make sure we know how to spell their name correctly, they didn’t take the time (or spend the money for a program) to insert my name into the greeting.

  6. T.L. Bodine said:

    *consults pile of rejection slips*

    “I couldn’t connect with the story” is a big one.

    Also, “Due to the size of my list, I must be very selective about new clients. I am simply not able to take on new work right now.”

  7. Jeff Seymour said:

    Not sure about agents, but one I fall back on as an editor is: “I just didn’t see the spark I was looking for.” It’s another one of those, “This is technically proficient but I’m not connecting with it” sort of responses.

    Not the most fun to deal with as a writer, but sometimes it’s the easiest way to explain in a sentence or two why I’m not interested.

    …I might have to try that frowny-face one sometime though. 😉

  8. Tiana Smith said:

    How about: “Publishing is subjective and I am sure another agent might feel differently than me.” <–Not that I've gotten that one or anything … 😉

  9. David Jarrett said:

    Here’s a few from my archives:

    I just don’t feel I have the passion to represent your work.

    We only take on a handful of clients a year

    This kind of book just isn’t selling at the moment

    We review our list over many months, we may come back to you in time (of course they didn’t, nice get out clause though)

  10. Jaquie said:

    I really like Jeff’s “This is technically proficient but I’m not connecting with it”

    To me this is saying that the writing is of good quality, but it’s just not for me. Someone else might like it.

    I think authors spend a lot of energy querying work that isn’t ready. If agents could be more honest like, “The writing wasn’t as good as I’d hoped but I liked the concept” then the writer knows to continue working with that idea but get some help.

    If both the concept and the writing doesn’t work, then I’d say, “Most writers go through many projects honing their skills.” Or something like that.

  11. Her Grace said:

    One I get from short story editors all the time is, “I enjoyed the story, but it doesn’t fit in with our current theme/issue/needs.”

    I get a similar reply from agents with my novels: “I don’t know if I can take on this project, but I’d like to see more from you.”

    It seems that I’m considered publishable, but it’s a case of hitting the right market at the right time with the right project. I wish I knew how I could better target my arrows.

  12. Rachel said:

    As a publisher who is not taking on new material, I explain exactly that but do wonder how many authors think that I am just fobbing them off…..

    I do like to be honest though!

  13. J. F. Smith said:

    I will start querying very soon, so it’s good to see some of what I’ll get back!

    As a professor, I say the same exact things but in different language to my students. Except I’m allowed to jot things like “vague,” “awkward,” and “unclear” with wild abandon. 🙂

  14. Phoebe Fox said:

    I made a beat poem of several of mine, to make myself feel better:
    Sometimes we must pass on books,
    (even very good books,)
    which are either out of our range or
    require an amount of attention we feel
    unable
    to
    provide.
    In addition, we cannot
    afford
    to take on projects which we’re not absolutely
    confident
    we will be able to sell.
    But we do very much hope
    that you
    will find
    an agent
    with the right
    enthusiasm
    for your work.
    Because our staff is small
    and the volume of submissions we receive is so high,
    we cannot offer a personal response to every query or submission.
    But I assure you that, before responding,
    each is reviewed with great
    attention and care.

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