Pub Rants

Secret Language Of Agents

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STATUS: We just had one big whopper of a thunderstorm roll through. Chutney has decided to hide under Sara’s desk. Thunder—not her favorite thing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GOOD by Better Than Ezra

Oh wise one, share with me the secret language of agents. (Sounds like it should be a title of a book.)

Actually, we don’t really have one but I’m convinced that writers think we do. I’m amazed at how much time is spent interpreting and analyzing sentences in rejection letters (for sample pages) that may ultimately be throw-away lines (as in they are somewhat “standard” and writers shouldn’t read too much into them).

So for fun, I thought I’d tackle a few this week. Now remember, I can only give the translation based on my unique perspective, and I certainly don’t speak for all agents.

Here’s a sentence that I’m guilty of using fairly often. It really fits what I’m trying to convey. I don’t want to go into too much detail (too time-consuming) but I want to add a little comment beyond the standard NO letter.

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

Translation: The writing is solid or good but for whatever reason, I didn’t feel connected to the characters or the story or something. The “click” just wasn’t there for me, but I can see it being possibly there for another agent.

16 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    The “I didn’t fall in love with this story” is fine. All art is subjective, and not every agent or editor will love even a very good book or proposal. No problem.

    However, without in any way meaning to rag on Kristin (whose blog I recommend on my “So You Want To Be A Writer?” page, after all!), I find the words “as much as I had hoped” irritating in rejections. To me, it conveys a sense of disappointment, a tone of, “You haven’t met my expectations.

    Which is why I think it’s best to stop at, “I didn’t love it.” That’s the point, after all.


  2. Anonymous said:

    He-he…having just received that particular comment, it’s fun to read your interpretation — and complimentary, as you say the writing is solid. That’s certainly better than, “The writing stinks but I don’t want to come right out and say that!”

  3. Kimber An said:

    Every industry I know of has it’s own language. The people in that industry are so used to it that they forget outsiders are not fluent. The aviation industry even has its own time warp. Basically, you multiply normal time by three. In any case, great topic for a column!

  4. R.J. Anderson said:

    I just received that particular comment from an agent as well, and it’s a great consolation to know that it really does mean exactly what it says — it isn’t Secret Code for “…but your plot was weak and uninteresting” or “…but I found your characters completely unsympathetic” or anything major of that sort, it just means the chemistry wasn’t there. Okay, I can live with that. Heaven knows there are published books that have become wildly popular and received rave reviews that I didn’t “click” with either…

  5. Anonymous said:

    I think the “as much as I had hoped” is fine. If an agent requested a partial or full, obviously they had high hopes that it would rock their world and was no doubt disappointed when it didn’t.

  6. Jana DeLeon said:

    rj – I totally agree with your comment on reading works that had rave reviews and not “getting it.” We all have different preferences and that’s clear in our opinions on everything. But one person’s flop is another’s bestseller – Thank Goodness! 🙂

  7. The Home Office said:

    “As much as I had hoped” is fine. If the agent requested a full or partial, she “hoped” to read a story by a new client. When she decided not to make an offer, the book didn’t move her “as much as she’d hoped.”

  8. Min said:

    The only time I don’t like “as much as I had hoped” is when it’s a form rejection for a query letter. (Yes, I’ve gotten that one before.)

    How could anyone have expectations for a query letter they didn’t know they were getting?

  9. Anonymous said:

    I’ve gotten that one from both agents and editors. It doesn’t bother me. But this one “After a careful reading, we are sorry to say that we don’t believe that we are the right agency for you.

    You deserve an enthusiastic representative, so we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one “yes” and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match” makes me wonder if that’s meant just for this project, or does it mean please don’t send us anything else? 🙂

  10. SJB said:

    A submission to an agent or pubisher is like any other tender in any other business. You make the cut or you don’t. A no, not this time is just that. Accept it, move on, work on your tender (manuscript) and submit elsewhere.

    When it comes to the next tender (manuscript) you might just have what the agent/publisher wants. Nothing wrong with submitting again, nothing wrong with getting another no.

  11. Judy Schneider said:

    Part of the reward for completing a manuscript and submitting it is interpreting what an agent intended to convey through certain phrases, whether they be in a rejection letter, a request for a full manuscript, or even in comments on accepted work. It’s fun to make the best and worst of it. After all, it’s a milestone in the writer’s journey to receive correspondence from agents and editors.

  12. Colleen said:

    The only criticism I have of any rejection letter is when the verbage is insincere or misleading. For example, it’s best to avoid statements about the quality of writing or plot if the message is delivered in a form letter. Not every writer is strong and not every plot is interesting. Anything else is fair, IMO.

  13. The Anti-Wife said:

    Wow! I should have used this on some of my old boyfriends. “Sorry. I just didn’t fall in love with you as much as I had hoped.” It would have saved a lot of shuffling and excuse making. Think I’ll try it next time!

  14. Anonymous said:

    My personal favorite (in response to my query letter): “I don’t feel enthusiastic enough about this project to offer representation at this time.”

    Um, I wouldn’t expect you to offer representation after reading my two-paragraph pitch.