Pub Rants

When You Feel The Response Urge—Don’t

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STATUS: Mondays are usually just crazy but today was quite good. Lots of money came in the mail. Love that. Also, final contracts to be signed are here. My author will be so thrilled to see this deal officially concluded. I’m also have dinner with another client on Thursday. Looking forward to that.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? OTRO DIA MAS SIN VERTE by Jon Secada

I just have to shake my head. So much of what we need to know to get by in this world (and be successful) would happen naturally if we just adhered to our common sense.

And common sense should dictate that writers maintain their professionalism—even in the face of disappointment.

If I (or even Sara) send you a NO response to your sample pages, why in the world would you respond with a long diatribe of all our failings? Of how we wouldn’t know a good project (or the next Da Vinci Code–can I count how many times I’ve heard that) if it hit us on the head (although I think my sales record speaks for itself), of how we are responsible for the all the garbage that is currently on bookstore shelves (matter of opinion and certainly not fact and I don’t believe that all those books are garbage), and of how we are wasting our time representing something as mundane as historical romances (when in this writer’s opinion, only “real” historicals with “real” history should be published).

Seriously, this writer slammed a genre that had nothing to do with his work. Not to mention, what is he implying about my intelligence since I happen to rep romance (and thoroughly enjoy doing so)? What a way to win friends and influence agents.

Really, it boggles the mind.

I understand writer frustration. I understand that it isn’t easy to get NOs all the dang time. I really do. But this biz is tough. Nobody said it would be easy, and it shouldn’t be.

Not to mention, what would keep an agent from adding this writer’s name to a black list?

I don’t keep one but I know agents who do.


But this is what bothers me the most. If it’s our fault that the project isn’t being picked up for representation and then published, then writers don’t have to take responsibility for their work.

I’m positive this person did not consider the fact that maybe the writing wasn’t up to snuff, or the story idea didn’t have a place in the market, or that it simply didn’t interest me (and that isn’t a failing on my part—maybe another agent will love it.)

No. We are to blame. And I will tell you one thing I know. My guess is that writers who indulge in this kind of response will never get published because they don’t get it and if you don’t get it, how can you ever strive to be a better writer?

So when you feel the response urge? Go for it. Write it all down—every word, every feeling, every moment of frustration. Get it out.

Just don’t send it.

34 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    If you had all these supposed “failings,” like repping romance, why did Knucklehead query you at all?

    I admit to thinking some choice words about agents and editors I’ve gotten rejections from, but after a day or so I get over it. Geez Louise, if you can’t roll with the punches you shouldn’t be writing and submitting.

  2. kis said:

    Good grief! I just recently received my NO–a very politely worded and encouraging NO, but still NO–and the first thing I did was go back and look at my stuff and start making changes. Not huge ones, but ones that needed to be made.

    I realized that maybe my style or my story just doesn’t appeal to you, or that you simply might not be willing to commit to a project as big as mine when it doesn’t blow you away at first glance. Knowing your sales record, I would never have assumed that NO was the result of YOUR inexperience, lack of intuition or boneheadedness.

    Disappointed? Yes.

    Determined to do better? Yes.

    Regretting sending material before it was the best it could be? Oh, yeah.

    Angry? Not in the least.

    You close your eyes. You sigh. Then you just bloody get over it, learn from it, and try again.

    Derfwads like this guy just don’t get it.

  3. Anonymous said:

    It is astounding how many folks tend to blame unsuccessful ventures on others, rather than themselves. Personally, I feel it has something to do with our own culture… no one ever wants to take responsibility for anything. The easiest way out is to find a scapegoat and unload both barrels.

    As for professionalism, there is never an excuse for leaving it behind. I cannot blame anyone, agent or editor, for keeping a black list. If this person is causing grief now, what would they be like as a client? Imagine the ego behind a rant over a rejection, after getting something published… watch out.


  4. Anonymous said:

    I have a document called ‘whining’, and that’s where all that knee-jerk response stuff goes. No-one else ever reads it, so it can’t do any damage, and now that I’ve got my first contract, it’s cool to look back over it and read it in a different light. I highly recommend the rant file.

  5. Anonymous said:

    This rant made me laugh because the same thing happened to me. I used to run a literary arts festival and one time one of the “rejected” applicants sent me a lengthy diatribe ripping apart the festival and my obvious lack of knowledge of good poetry.

    I don’t think the writer took into consideration that perhaps we had a similar presentation the year before or even that year, or that we tried to balance the voices (young, old, male, female, ethnic representation, etc.), or that perhaps his proposal was somehow flawed or uninspiring (or, uh, he didn’t read the guidelines about performance lengths for individuals). Programming the festival was actually a painful process, because we could only take so many applicants and judges would sometimes really fight for particular people and we’d all have to compromise.

    My heart goes out to you! I’m sure you WANT every manuscript to be brilliant and it’s hard to turn people down again and again.

    BTW – I’m a screenwriter and my first rejection was so horrible (and actually a little mean-spirited) that I save it and read it every once in a while for a little perspective. Every rejection since then has been much kinder… and I keep going.

  6. briliantdonkey said:

    Hi Kristen,

    I found my way to your site the other day and am enjoying it immensely. Thanks for all the great information that you are putting out there. Great blog, and i shall be back.


  7. Zonk said:

    As we say down here in the Islands: “Good Sense and Good Manners walks one road.”

    Why query you in the first place? Why burn bridges in the second?

    Sure agents make mistakes; they’re human, hence all the stories of successful authors that were rejected over and over – not to mention books that make one wonder how they ever made it to print.

    So what? If an agent rejects you, even if the work is good, it may be personal preference as much as anything else.

    I have to to seduce an agent by my query into reading my MSS; if the agent doesn’t like my pick-up lines (or has heard them before, :D), on to the next agent. If I believe my writing is good enough to be published (I do; what writer doesn’t, LOL), I have to find someone who likes my kind of story. There are tastes in reading just as in love, which is why Agent Kristen reps fantasy and Agent Snark doesn’t, poor soul.

  8. Ig said:

    I once heard a story of a grad student who rushed to his mentor’s side when he learned that the man had broken several bones in a skiing accident. The student revered this professor, and considered him to be the wisest man he had ever met.

    When he asked the professor how the accident had occured, the man told a complex tale of trees and skiis and snow, and ended it with this simple phrase;

    “It was my own stupidity.”

    It’s a magnificent sentence, and after hearing this story I’ve learned the value of taking ownership of my foibles. I doubt highly that I’ll achieve wisdom any time soon, but lord knows I can usually recognize my own stupidity, and that’s a start.

  9. Jeannine said:

    I am astounded. Tantrums are unattractive on two-year-olds and inexcusable on adults. I got a no on my query to you. I thought you were right for me because you work hard and seem to really care about your people. I like that. You didn’t think you were right for me. I defer to your experience and go on. A no just means more time to work on my book and I need to get more queries out. It isn’t a character assassination nor even particularly a commentary on my writing. It is just a “not for me, thanks.” Will I stop reading this blog because of it? NO WAY. I have learned bunches from this and I am tickled to have an extra resource to use in my search. That person needs to grow up just a bit before they try to get anything published.

  10. Catja (green_knight) said:

    I’m sure y’all know the site, but is always worth a laugh.

    What surprises me is how many writers take a perfectly polite rejection – in some cases, more than polite rejections, they were helpful/requests for rewrites/encouragements etc – and read ‘you suck’ into it.

    If that’s what agents have to deal with, you have my full sympathy.

  11. Anonymous said:

    Amazing. I don’t understand why some people forget this industry is like any other — you have to demonstrate professionalism. I got a NO from you and Sara yesterday on a partial. Was it disappointing? Sure. But it’s not the end of the world nor the end of my efforts. I sent you a thank you response, and I’ll move on to the next agent.

  12. DanStrohschein said:

    Better yet – if you feel the response urge, do so, but do it like this:

    “Dear (insert name), thank you so much for taking the time to review my work. I understand that this project wasn’t right for you and I appreciate your time spent in considering it. I am working on a future project that might fit your needs later on, and look forward to submitting then.”

    Some variation, because you know, literary agents don’t get paid to read the giant piles of slush they receive, and it’s good to get a thank you once in a while.

  13. Janny said:

    I basically agree with everything that’s been said by the commenters here, and I especially like setting aside a file for whining! What a great idea! It pays to write out all this stuff–it gets rid of the anger, it helps you wallow for a little while, and then it helps you recover. And if no one but you ever sees this stuff, sometimes–eventually–it can probably give you a laugh or two, too.

    That being said, though, I have to play devil’s advocate for a minute on the issue of agents keeping “black lists.”

    If there are agents actually doing this kind of thing, I don’t want to come anywhere near them. I don’t care how much abuse is in a letter–that kind of retaliatory pettiness doesn’t belong in this business any more than the diatribe that may “provoke” it.

    We can all have bad days; sometimes a rejection cuts especially deep, or comes at a disastrous time in our *real* lives, and we just lose it. In that context–that we’re all human–holding one bad letter against an author for the rest of his or her professional life may feel justified, but it’s not. Sometimes we’re just at the end of our ropes, and we don’t think. Yeah, that’s wrong…but two wrongs don’t make a right. either. Unless the agents in question have never offended anyone in their lives or said something they wished they could take back (highly unlikely), then maybe they need to rethink this “black list” nonsense. That’s just plain wrong.

    Good agents can evaluate material in seconds. So if you get three lines into something and it’s one of these rant letters, why read any further? Why not just stick it in the circular file and move on? That’s what you do with my manuscript if you reject it. (!) Just toss it, write that person off as not getting what you’re trying to do, and move on. That’s what we as authors have to do with rejection; this is what an agent needs to do, too.

    A tantrum is a tantrum, no matter what side of the desk it comes from. Blacklisting someone falls just as well into that category as writing nasty letters does, and there’s no excuse for IT, either.


  14. Anonymous said:

    I’ve seen some of these people end up going with PublishAmerica and other vanity presses. They ooze bitterness and hatred against the establishment (agents & editors), and never seem to realize they might have something to do with their lack of success themselves.
    Hang in there, agent Kristin!

  15. Lara said:

    Or better yet, take the high road and actually THANK said agent for taking the time to consider you. Then MOVE ON!

    Sheesh, people! (Although I’m wondering which “people” that would be, CERTAINLY not the readers of this blog!)

  16. Anonymous said:

    Kristin rejected my novel after a full read. She liked my writing style, but not the way my story developed. It was my first rejection and stung (despite being the nicest rejection ever), but I waited a day before sending her an emotionless, professional email to thank her for her time and input.
    Nearly a year later, she signed me for my next project, which she sold a couple of weeks ago.

    Unprofessionalism is just bad business. It helps keep emotion out of it to remember they’re rejecting your manuscript – a product – not you (or your baby, dream, passion, life’s work, etc.). You’d never put your baby out for critique or sale. Keep it professional because the agent who rejects your current ms. may love your next one.


  17. J Malcolm said:

    People who hate books, and refer them as garbage, never become good writers. People who can’t take rejection shouldn’t write, and people who can’t grow from no can’t change.

  18. Bernita said:

    ~shaking head~
    You’d think, after all the advice and logic available, such as the comments above – which have been reflected and repeated elsewhere many times ( though perhaps not as succinctly or as considerately as here) that a writer would know better than to be so stupid, ignorant and rude.

  19. lizzie26 said:

    Okay, so he thinks HIS work isn’t garbage, but published authors work usually is? A different take on “I’m all right, the world’s all wrong.”

    As others have said, they’re the ones that end up at PublishAmerica or some other vanity press. And end up with a carton-full of books that eventually get eaten by bugs.

  20. down_not_out said:

    Personal responsibility. Yeah. People don’t like it so much.

    Sorry to hear you were the recipient of un-nice mail.

    When I think of things such as this I’m reminded of Steven King’s book ON WRITING when he talks about his rejection nail. He stabbed his rejection letters on his rejection nail like a badge of honor and submitted something else, or submitted the same thing to someone else. Bet he didn’t send un-nice mail, though.

    Persist through the rejection and strive to improve until the wonderful day arrives when yes-mail arrives.

    Every successful author, journalist, or freelance writer I’ve ever spoken with says the same: keep working hard and eventually the pieces will fall in place.

    Or, you can take Bukowski’s advice and accept that you don’t have “it”. “So You Want to be a Writer”.

  21. Anonymous said:

    I am guilty of a response letter, sadly enough. However, I CAN say that I didn’t go off on the agent, I just wanted to know “Why”. I specifically asked if the query letter was too weak so I could “learn and improve”.

    She hasn’t responded yet but I know she’s very busy so I’m going to wait and hope and try to make it stronger as I go along.

  22. Barbara K. said:

    Getting a ‘NO’ response means I can move on to query the next agent on my list. This shows me the agent is a professional because he or she took the time to say NO.

    What frustrates me is not receiving any response whatsoever from an agent. I always send an SASE with my query. A form letter response is appreciated. At least it’s a response.

    Not getting any response leaves me in limbo.

  23. Cindy Procter-King said:


    An agent doesn’t have to purposely keep a black list. I mean, I don’t know, but I’m surmising from my own experience “black-listing” agents. Yes, it goes both ways! If an agent treats my submission like crap (like the one who lost two fulls for 14 months and then when she finally found them, she sent them back with a crumpled rejection letter–the fulls themselves were pristine), okay, it’s not like I’m purposely black-listing her, but have I submitted to her since? No. Her name is emblazoned in my mind for a number of reasons, not just the one I’ve described here, reasons I didn’t learn about until after I’d already subbed to her. In a way, she’s on my “black list.”

    If I were an agent, it would be pretty difficult NOT to remember the name of an author who’d ranted against me, and, I admit, I might be hesitant to give that author another chance.


  24. Eileen said:

    Yikes. Rejection sucks. Tell your friends, grind your teeth, kick your copy of Writer’s Market around the room, but then cowboy up and move on.

  25. farrout said:

    Agreed, Eileen. Also learn from the rejection. Review your query. I’ve done so several times and each time my query improves. One day. . .one day. . .

  26. Gabriele C. said:

    how we are wasting our time representing something as mundane as historical romances (when in this writer’s opinion, only “real” historicals with “real” history should be published).

    Agents only ‘waste their time’ with books that sell. Historical romance obviously is on that list (again). Doesn’t that writer want an advance and royalties? Or is that too mundane?

    That said, I write historical fiction that is not romance and I don’t want to see it marketed as such and dissappoint reader expectations or twist my plots to fit them, but I won’t query an agent who mainly represents all sub-genres of romance, including historicals, no matter how much I love her blog. 😉

    To avoid misunderstandings: I don’t think romance is in any way inferior, it’s just not what I write. I’m more at home with epic plots and some nice battles, and I have problems with the concept of HEA. 🙂

    BTW Does anyone know how many rejections Brown got before he hit it big? Rowling, whose name also keeps popping up in such rants, collected quite a few.

  27. DanStrohschein said:

    If you are speaking of JK Rowling, she collected one rejection from the first agent she sent Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to, but the second agent she sent it to picked it up and is still her current agent.

    If you are talking about publisher rejections, I don’t know. The power of Rowling’s personal story is the fluke that she only received a single rejection before being picked up.

  28. Diana Peterfreund said:

    I think Rowling was rejected all over New York at first, then sold in Engliand, then was picked up for a huge amount in the states. But I could be wrong about that.

    So, the new thing, more than sending hate mail to the agent who rejected you, is to send hate mail to the other clients. The other week, a whole bunch of one agent’s clients got a very similarly worded piece of hate mail on their blogs or website comment books about how their stuff was trash at teh same time. They could only assume that it was an embittered rejectee.

  29. Termagant 2 said:

    OMW, this whole topic staggers the imagination. Do the folks in Diana’s example above have so much TIME on their hands? Time that they should be spending on WRITING?

    A very wise author of my acquaintance, when she gets a “no thanks” (and she shouldn’t–she’s a fine writer who’s gonna break big any day now), writes back with a “thank you and what did you LIKE about the submission?” This strikes me as 1) professional 2) courteous 3) a valuable way to keep learning, keep growing the writing, if in fact the agent/editor responds. True, some of ’em don’t, but she’s made the effort and done it in a positive and constructive manner.

    ‘Course, the time I tried it, I got a short e-mail saying the editor remembered absolutely nothing about my MS and they “don’t keep records” on pieces they reject. To quote Bullwinkle, my hero: “This time fer shure!”


  30. qrbmqwid said:

    In that context–that we’re all human–holding one bad letter against an author for the rest of his or her professional life may feel justified, but it’s not. Sometimes we’re just at the end of our ropes, and we don’t think. Yeah, that’s wrong…but two wrongs don’t make a right. either. Unless the agents in question have never offended anyone in their lives or said something they wished they could take back (highly unlikely), then maybe they need to rethink this “black list” nonsense. That’s just plain wrong.

    See, I don’t get the moral problem here with deciding that you don’t want to work with someone based on rude, unprofessional behavior. In this situation a “black list” is not like a the Hollywood blacklists of old, preventing people from ever finding work — it’s simply a personal mental note. Why on earth *shouldn’t* rude, insulting, unprofessional behavior be held against someone?

    If, after I declined to hire a job applicant, he wrote a letter to me ranting about my taste & insulting my company, it would be perfectly understandable that beyond the immediate sense of offense I would be concerned about his *future* behavior — and in any case I would not want to enter a close professional relationship with him. I don’t see how choosing not to work with someone who was personally insulting and rude to me would be “wrong.” Just as you suggest the agent remember that “we’re all human,” so should the author remember that his or her actions don’t occur in a vacuum.

  31. Anonymous said:

    I am not an author or an agent, so I have never received or written a rejection letter. Is it common practice to put helpful advice in the letter, or are they usually standard letters that are sent to everyone?