Pub Rants

Going Standard

 26 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: Where has this day gone? I’m a little stunned that it’s already after 7 p.m. Feeling perky though. Two contracts are almost complete. A new contract came in this morning though. I’ll have to devote the tomorrow morning to that one. Sigh. So close to finishing all the contracts for all these deals. Best news? New assistant starts on Monday.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? DON’T ASK ME WHY by the Eurythmics

When I first started my agency, I had a very nice standard rejection letter that I used to respond to my email queries. I would inject the writer’s name and the title. Ah, those were the days. I only got 10 or 20 queries a day. It wasn’t a big deal.

I felt wretched when I had to switch to a really standard form with no personalization (and I even apologize for it in the letter) because the number became overwhelming when my agency was successful.

That letter is obviously standard.

In truth, so is my letter that I use to respond to 30 pages that I have requested. Why don’t I include a line or two about the manuscript? How much time can that really take?

A lot actually. Do you know how difficult it is to sometimes create a succinct line or two that will really encapsulate why I passed?

I actually did that the other day. It was a YA project. I occasionally do include a couple of lines of feedback because I thought the writing was strong enough or whatever. I feel compelled to encourage the writer even though I won’t be moving forward by requesting a full. Not often, but if something captures me but I didn’t think it was quite right for me, or strong enough for the market, I’ll let the writer know.

But for this YA, it was rather complicated on why I passed. I thought about a couple of lines that I could include. Then I realized, ten minutes later, that there was no easy way to sum up why I was passing. I ultimately threw my hands in the air and just sent the standard letter. It was too hard and taking too much time to organize my thoughts.

So, I won’t do it because

1. it might signal to the writer that I’m open to a dialogue about the work and the reality is I can’t spare the time.

2. sometimes the writing is so bad I’m not sure what in the world I would say and I’m not into crushing people’s dreams—even though a NO from me might feel crushing but I hope not.

3. sometimes it’s just my opinion and the project might very well work for another agent without him or her blinking an eye. (Every once in a while I’ll get a triumphant email from a writer that will say, “you passed but so-so took it on so you were wrong.”)

4. invariably I’ll get a reply from a writer saying that I’m wrong or I didn’t get it or whatever.

5. the extra minutes times 100 (or 200 or 300) adds up.

I know that writers would really like some feedback. You need to rely on your critique group, writer discussion boards etc.

Don’t agonize over whether a letter was personal or not (and how can you tell). Trust me, you’d know.

I’m asking a favor. Don’t email me back asking for more info on why I passed. Chances are good I don’t remember the partial well enough (between when I read it and when the email letter actually got sent) to give any feedback.

I end up just feeling mean when I have to delete the inquiry. That’s an icky feeling.

26 Responses

  1. writeaway said:

    I’ve been waiting all day for this comment and now that I read it, I feel bad for you and the writers that are passed on. Me, being a writer, I would’ve killed for a personalize rejection. (I would’ve killed two people for an acceptance)but as a writer, every time that form rejection comes in, it hurts. Every time that personalized rejection comes in, it hurts but a little less. I’ve learned to take my rejections with a grain of salt. I’ve seen plenty of writers get upset (you don’t want to know the expletives used) when getting a form rejection. In my opinion, it’s not up to agents to baby a writer. If you don’t have time, you don’t have time and I respect that. I don’t use submissions as a form of critique (although it helps). I have a critique group to do that.

  2. Anonymous said:

    Yay! I’m so glad you’ve hired your new assistant and he or she is starting so soon. From what you’ve said about being swamped, I’m sure that will be a huge relief. 🙂

    If you’re open to suggestions from “Rantlings” (hey, if Miss Snark gets Snarklings…), I would love to hear more on your blog about what happens after you do request a full–how you tell someone you want to represent them, how rejections for full manuscripts go (are they personalized?), what sorts of things go through your mind when you’re deciding (like you’ve talked about with partials), etc.

    After all, if we’re out here submitting, we’re all probably either hoping to get to that point or already there and dying of curiosity as to what happens after that big stack of pages or huge email attachment gets sent out. 🙂

  3. Eileen said:

    We writer types are giant black sucking holes of emotional neediness aren’t we? Heck, we have the ability to read the standard rejection form letter and find all kinds of secret meanings.

  4. David the Multi-tasked said:

    Well, as one of the writer’s waiting to hear back from you, I can tell you a form type letter would probably better than a personal note. Why? Personal rejection would cut deeper for me. This is my work, heart and soul, and if you point out why that work doesn’t fit your needs then I would question it and myself. A simple thank you, but no thanks means hat you passed and that is that. Yes, I may wonder why, and my imagination may get the best of me but if you tell me you didn’t like it and name specifics, that makes the personal rejection…..well PERSONAL!

    Hope this make sense……kind of rambled.


  5. Sara Dennis said:

    What perfect timing, as I’m writing an article on rejection.

    I’ve heard that writers will sometimes write back asking for clarification on a rejection, but in my opinion, that’s just asking to have a wound opened up again. Why would you do that to yourself?

    Also, I’ve heard that it’s considered tacky to do as you said and email an agent who’s passed on you with a ‘nyeah nyeah, they’re representing/they bought me anyway’. Am I wrong?

  6. Shelli Stevens said:

    I’m so glad you pointed that out. Not emailing back for feedback on why an editor passed. I almost did that with another agent, but fortunately realized it wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But as a writer… sometimes we just want to know why. But we need to suck it up and realize it’s not personal. Fun, fun!

  7. NL Gassert said:

    I’ve received form rejections. No big deal. And I received one personalized rejection. It was a gentle three-line critique and before I even read the rest of the rejection I sat down and wrote a Thank You note to the agent. Thanks to blogs like this one and others, I can appreciate the time the agent took and the danger involved (nasty replies, hate mail etc).

    Bottom line, though: a No is a No.

  8. Jana DeLeon said:

    I think it’s incredibly childish to send a nananana email to the agent who passed. What are we, six?

    Many agents passed on me before Kristin and one other made an offer. I went with Kristin and I am exactly where I needed to be. I don’t think I would have gotten the same directness and input from other agents that I get from her. She is truly a professionals best friend in this business.

    If you have talent, if you have dedication, you will find the agent you need to have. But don’t ever settle. I did that the first time and regretted it. I know you always hear “no agent is better than a bad one” and most people desperately searching for an agent probably think that’s bull – it’s not. Been there, done that – not worth wasting your time on.

    I’ve gotten personal and form rejections – once, even a rubber stamp in red ink that read simply “not for us.” Did I care? yes and no. I wanted representation, but not from someone who didn’t fully “get” and appreciate my work.

    Your agent is out there, I promise. But everyone’s timeline is different and timing is a lot of this business. Keep looking and more importantly, keep writing.

  9. Catja (green_knight) said:

    Do you know how difficult it is to sometimes create a succinct line or two

    Three words: Query letter. Novel.

    Believe us, we know *exactly* how you feel, trying to compress all those concepts into something that is distinctive and coherent at the same time.

    I feel a warm glow at the thought that you’re going through the same process…

  10. Anonymous said:

    I want to know the truth about my writing even if it crushes my dreams (see because #2). My wife, kids, and friends all tell me my writing is funny and entertaining, but I would never trust them to tell me it sucks. Most of us write because we love it first and because there is a dream of being published second. Heck, I have been writing creatively since eighth grade and have never queried or submitted anything for publication. I may someday, but I may not. I still want to know the truth about my writing. If people tell me it’s no good, I’ll change it. If it is good, I’ll try to make it great. But, I need to know the truth first. JTC

  11. Bernita said:

    JTC,that’s what critique groups are for.
    Remember there is no “truth” – only opinion. In good cases, professionally qualified and trained opinion.

  12. Stephen D. Rogers said:

    While I appreciate the time spent by editors/agents trying to craft a personal rejection, what I’ve found more often than not is that the explanation/feedback is rarely helpful. Whatever the reason given, the answer is simply “It didn’t work for me.”

  13. Anonymous said:

    I have to second Jana’s words on the folly of responding unprofessionally to a rejection. Kristin is also my agent. I sent her a manuscript, she passed. A year later, she signed me for my next manuscript.
    Be professional. Don’t burn bridges. It’s a cliche, but it works.


  14. Anonymous said:

    You know, I think I like that red rubber stamp idea. Mind you, I don’t like rejections, but as rejections go, it is totally impersonal and has the added bonus of containing nothing you can rejectomancy over. It also saves paper (if you are a papered agency.)

  15. Anonymous said:

    This is what I find amusing: we send out work and hope for the best and then form rejection comes and we’re temporarily crushed, but we kind of expect it. Then an acceptance arrives and we’re stunned. “Are you sure?” we ask (hopefully to ourselves, not out loud). “This must be some kind of joke. Really?”

    Although personal comments would spare us from the awful things we conjure up in our own minds about why you passed, it’s not your job to coddle us.

  16. susanw said:

    Hi! Long-time lurker, first-time commenter.

    I did, just once, ask an agent for clarification on what was obviously a personal rejection. I’d queried on a historical romance written in first person. (A tough sell, I know, but when I started writing it, I wasn’t thinking of selling–I’d never finished a manuscript in my life, and was just going through the ritual of writing the first few chapters so the character would stop insisting I tell her story. 400 pages later, I had a novel.) She sent me a rejection with some comments on my use of first person, and I wasn’t clear if they were market- or craft-related. So on the advice of a published friend, I emailed her to ask. She replied that it was a little bit of both.

    I did query her again over a year later with a new project, which also got a personal rejection, this one saying that it was an intriguing story, a great fit for my voice, but she wasn’t sure she was the right agent to place it in the current tough historical marketplace, and, oh, BTW, the pacing struck her as a little slow, maybe because there was too much narrative backstory in the opening chapters.

    This time I just sent her a nice thank-you note and looked for ways to tighten the pacing and cut down on backstory before querying anyone else. About two months later, I got an offer from an agent who seems to really click with my writing, so I accepted.

    Anyway, as a result of our interactions, I have a very positive feeling about the agent described above. But while I’d recommend her to a friend, I wouldn’t necessarily query her if I found myself in need of an agent again, because I got the sense from her last letter that she’s just not in love with selling the kind of story I’m in love with telling. OTOH, I *would* re-query an agent who sent me a form rejection, because I have no way of knowing why they rejected me the first time, so why not try again?

  17. yossarian said:

    Don’t be so sure that “we’ll know” whether a rejection is personalized. Some form rejections are designed (for some reason) to sound personal, and the writer only discovers the reality by comparing notes with another writer who got the identical rejection.

    This happened to me once. I felt like a chump and an idiot when I found out the letter was a form. And it honestly did sound real.

  18. M.E Ellis said:

    Am I unique in that a rejection just doesn’t bother me? I just send it on to the next, simple.

    One man’s tat is another man’s treasure.

    As an editor I crit the work and personalise the rejection (because I have the time) and the emails I recieve back from those writers when they say thank you for the best rejection ever – well it makes my day. If the submissions grew though, I’d obviously have to reconsider those crits!

    As for rejections of my work, oh who cares. I write because I like it, not for a living or recognition on the book shelf though I do understand those who dream of those two things. It’d be nice, but it isn’t essential. Having three e-books for sale floats my boat!


  19. Jillian said:

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say something that might come off a little wacky.

    If you’ve ever read about the five love languages, you’ll understand that different people “give” and “receive” love in different ways.

    A writer whose primary love language is “words of affirmation” is going to take a written rejection, whether form or personal, much more to heart than a writer whose primary love language is, say, physical touch or quality time.

    Not that querying agents has anything to do with love (I think…), but I do believe there is a correlation.

    Me? I’m an even mixture of “Words of Affirmation” and “Physical Touch.” I really don’t want any hugs in response to my manuscript, thank you…but when a rejection letter comes that calls my writing “smooth” or “strong,” I feel like I can conquer anything.

  20. lottery ticket said:

    This is my first time commenting here, so let me start by saying how much I enjoy your blog!
    Like most of the other posters here, I’m awaiting replies to my queries. Sure, I’m disappointed when an agent takes a pass, but I can’t imagine responding in anger or demanding to know why. And I understand the need for form rejections. A personal note would be nice, but let’s face it, it’s never going to say what I’d really want it to say; “I would love to read your manuscript, but the stunning power of your prose has moved me so greatly that I had an attack of the vapors. I’m not sure my fragile constitution could cope with the entire piece. I am not worthy.” Short of that, a no is a no.
    I nearly responded to an agent’s pass last night. Not to question him, but because the reply came around midnight and my only thought was, “Thanks for taking the time to reply, but dude, you’re working too hard. Go to bed!” I fear I lack the killer instinct. 😉

  21. Anonymous said:

    I know several writers who are offended when they don’t get feedback on their partial or full ms. It’s something I’ve never understood. I’d rather spend my energy on writing, instead of crabbing.

  22. A. J. Luxton said:

    Is there anyone here on the other end of the business (agents, publishers) who thinks it rude when an author sends a brief thank-you note for a rejection with some personal commentary?

    I’m very curious about this, because the thank-you note is my first impulse (I think of a personalized rejection as meaning “we spent a few seconds, at least, thinking about buying your work or wanting to buy your work, and/or value your future submissions enough to invest a few minutes of our time in encouraging you to give them here”) and I don’t want to annoy anybody.

  23. just Joan said:

    Thank you for this post!

    Rejections don’t mean your work stinks (unless the rejection actually says your work stinks), they mean that the work wasn’t right for the particular agent/publisher you sent it to. Have a moment of sorrow if you must, but eat some chocolate and send it out to the next agent/publisher on your list. 🙂

    And just because you write fiction/nonfiction for juveniles, doesn’t mean you have to act like one (unless you really are one and can’t help it) and send a nah-nah-ne-nah-nah letter/email to the agent/publisher who rejected you. I’m embarassed to know there are authors out there who actually do this! For shame!

  24. Termagant 2 said:

    Please read the following aloud in a very respectful tone of voice (g):

    I don’t believe crit groups can do the same job as feedback from a professional. Reason: I’ve been in crit groups and unless you find a group that totally “gets” your voice and your sub-genre, your precious MS will get trashed at times for reasons having nothing to do with craft, theme, skill, storytelling ability or anything else. Instead, they’ll nitpick on why you set your story in Chicago rather than Peoria. I’m serious!

    I’ve had an agent and her feedback, though it didn’t result in any sales, was worthwhile because she knew my market and wouldn’t home in on picky little crud like why you didn’t describe the smell of the apple your heroine ate for brekky. She instead talked of saleability, why a given theme wouldn’t work in my market, what I could do to improve pacing. Professional stuff.

    None of which I ever got from said crit group. So agents/editors, don’t sell yourself short. Writers, don’t bank on your crit group giving you the same quality of advice a pro would do.

    T2 (okay, I’m done now)

  25. M.E Ellis said:

    Agree with t2.

    Crit groups pick up on the small things. Editors have been my main help.

    When my novel was edited I listened to the editor and not the crit group and I’m so glad I did. A much sharper, cleaner tale emerged. My Ed’s doing a sterling job with novels 2 and 3 too.

    Professionals win with me very time.


  26. Ronni said:

    Every once in a while I’ll get a triumphant email from a writer that will say, “you passed but so-so took it on so you were wrong.”

    That is so wrong. Just… completely distasteful and unprofessional. 🙁