Pub Rants

With Regret

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STATUS: Heading home to work on client editing actually. One of those long days. I have two contracts to tackle tomorrow…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GROOVE IS IN THE HEART by Deee-lite

Ugh! Today I passed on a full manuscript that I’ve had since June. Now it didn’t take me five months to read it and figure out that I needed to say NO. I actually started reading it about 4 weeks after we received it. It took me five months to figure out if there was any way that I could say YES.

What do I mean? I mean that I literally couldn’t decide. I went back and forth and back and forth. My assistant Sara was fully behind the novel and really advocated for it.

What was I hung up on? Several things actually. I personally had a love/hate relationship with the writing. While I was reading, I often had moments where I thought the prose was brilliant and dang it all, manuscripts like this deserve to be in print.

Then I would read a chapter and think, “what the heck is going on here?” I’d have to reread, re-orient myself in the narrative, and then move forward. Trust me, I asked myself numerous times if an edit could fix this.

I think an edit could but it’s going to need to be an intense, in-depth edit. The key question is do I have the time to devote to what I think is a worthy manuscript? Well, I think I could have made the time but ultimately, I started thinking of my submission list and as I went down it, I could just hear the editor responses.

“I personally loved it but couldn’t get support in house.”

“This was inventive but I didn’t see readers feeling emotionally connected to the story (because it’s literary and not commercial fiction but sometimes there’s no arguing that…)


“I hated this.” (Let’s just say the novel had a very complicated narrator and a very complex narrative style and editors will either love it or hate it. There will be no in-between).

Ultimately, I don’t think I could sell it and it was with a lot of regret that I passed. I have a feeling this will be a manuscript that stays with me and that I’ll think about it. I hope another agent can see what I couldn’t.

35 Responses

  1. Deaf Brown Trash Punk said:

    trust your gut feeling.

    i wonder, do you like Catcher in the Rye? Cos that’s one of those “love it or hate it” books with an intense 1st person narrative that’s very diverse and complex.some people hated Caulfield Holden so much whilst others adore him.

    ummm… it’s a good thing i’m not an agent!

  2. Shaun Hutchinson said:

    As much as it will probably stink for the author, I really believe in the long run that agents who turn down manuscripts they aren’t 100% behind are doing the author a real favor.

    I think that in order for the agent/author relationship to be as effective as possible, the agent should be jumping up and down to get the manuscript. So kudos to you for your honesty.

  3. Anonymous said:

    in that case, what would you tell the author? would you explain all this or just send a standard “thanks but no thanks” form?

  4. MATTOB said:

    Wow. What an honest post, I must say. Having been working (while lurking) on the final edit of my manuscript and preparing to pose the all important query, I have been wondering these same questions, posing them to myself back and forth, sideways and so on, numerously. “Will she find the narrative confusing?” “Is the novel commercial enough?” “Is my style consistent?” “Does the work hold up throughout the extent of the novel?” and of course, “What the heck am I doing, why do I write at all!?”

    Alas, I do write on, like a broken machine unable to cease performing a preprogrammed task, despite how irrelevant said task is. Eventually-hopefully-this manuscript may land of your table, (a feat itself having then been accomplished!) and then these questions shall once again pour through your mind. At that point, as an unpublished author, I could only ever ask for the same level of honestly you have displayed here today. Thank you.

  5. Anonymous said:

    I think you made a terrible MISTAKE. If it’s that different, you should champion this novel and sell it, because I want to read it now more than ever since reading your post…you should at least give it a try. Send it out to a few editors and see what happens. Tell the writer: I don’t know about this, but I’m going to send it out to a few editors and see what happens. Really, would that add up to much of your time…I bet you would have rejected Everything is Illuminated based on this post. Where’s your guts? Go for it! And let us all see what happens. Why stand in the way of something like this?

  6. Sara Merrick said:

    It was interesting to read about your dilemma and the process you went through to finally reach your decision. Although you were talking about the writing, my mind went to love/hate relationships, and the adage about how important it is to trust your gut.

  7. Ellen B said:

    Kristin, don’t do that to me! When I saw the subject line, I thought for a horrible moment you were giving up blogging!

  8. magolla said:

    Bummer for both of you.
    I’m curious like Anon. did you give the author a ‘heads up’ on what threw you out of the story? I know we writers tend to be a needy breed, but some guidance can be helpful. Throw the author a bone. It doesn’t have to be much.

  9. Anonymous said:

    I hope this author goes back to the drawing board and produces a new, better draft to peddle. I mean, if it was THAT close, he/she should. Maybe that author agrees the novel needs work, but didn’t know exactly where and what needed fixing. I’ve been there before. Sometimes it’s agent responses like this that point us in the direction we need to go.

  10. Sean D. Young said:


    This is why I admire you so much. It will be very hard for that author to hear no from you. I’m sure he/she had their fingers, toes and anything else they have crossed and well as praying constantly that you will pick them up.

    I’m sure if the author is smart, they will submit something else to you that you will be able to say yes to. This way maybe down the road that same manuscript can be fixed and sold.

    All Good Things,

  11. Anonymous said:

    My curiosity question is…would you knock on doors to new publishing houses (ones which may have been around awhile but you don’t normally deal with) in order to sell something? I was recently rejected on a full–the agent loved my book but said she didn’t know where to sell it, and didn’t have time to try publishers she didn’t already know. My question for future blogsake is: is that common?

  12. Anonymous said:

    I sure hope someone picks it up. An “inventive, literary” novel is just what I’d like to see in my local bookstore. It would be a nice change of pace.

  13. Thomas said:

    Now there’s two possibilities. The author will be crushed and give up the pen in scene involving weeping and tearing of garments or another agent will pick the novel up and it will win a National Book Award.

    Why, because there is no justice in the world.

  14. Anonymous said:

    You know this might sound silly, but I’m going to say it anyway. I’ve been looking for the “perfect” bed now for about ten years (it took three years to find the “perfect” sofa, so don’t try to analyze this…I know what I like). And the main reason I haven’t been able to find a bed I like is because ten years ago I passed up a chance to buy the “perfect” bed and nothing has been able to compare since. I saw it in a small boutique outside of LA. I passed on it because the salesperson bothered me, the price was a little too high (but not outrageous) and I would have had to pay extra to have it shipped cross country. And then I gave myself a long list of other reasons not to buy it, even though I knew it was “perfect.” I’m sure another bed will come along eventually, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop regretting the decision not to buy the one I saw in LA.

    How often do you feel this way about a ms? I’m with Sara.

  15. Anonymous said:

    I’m with Anon 6:43. To know this and not tell the author would be such a shame. Writers have no way of knowing how close they came — or that maybe they could tweak something and get a better result. Unfortunately, I’ve had entire ms go to aquistions and get shot down and never knew what about the book was loved enough for the editor to take it there or what about it (specifically) made the editor decide to pass.


    I always wonder about these close calls. I understand that so much of this business is subjective, but when you look at books that break out, they break out because they are different. I always wonder why an agent, who is relatively “sound” as far as able to pay bills, having bread and butter clients, wouldn’t take a chance on a book like the one you described. I guess everyone likes “sure things” though, the comfort of selling another romance to an editor than stepping out of that box and risking rejections by editors for a work that might be different.

    I wish that author good luck, whoever they were.

  16. Crimogenic said:

    Deaf Brown Trash Punk,

    I’m one of those people who absolutely hated the Catcher in the Rye. I felt like I was being tortured.. 🙂

    If you didn’t love the manuscript, you wouldn’t have been doing it any favors by taking it and the author on. You made a good decision, tough but good.

  17. Anita said:

    If the writer is reading this: KEEP SUBMITTING! If Kristin was this close, somebody will surely pick it up. Wipe your tears, eat some chocolate and get on with it.

  18. Anonymous said:

    The ‘love it/hate it’ bifurcation is a bitch. Best to pass under those circumstances. Another agent may very well love it unequivocably. Seems to me it’s no different than when you fall in love with someone…do you really want to be with someone you have a ‘love/hate’ feeling for? Or for someone you love wholeheartedly? If you don’t want to have to ‘fix it’ then step aside. There may be regrets of ‘what might have been’…but that love you never fully committed to always seems to have a special glow not based on reality but ‘what dreams are made of’. Yep. It will stay with you, perhaps. I only hope you did give the author a nice note on why you passed.

  19. Sarah said:

    I like how your blog gives an honest account of how agenting works. From the triumphs to the crashing disappointments, it helps those of us on the other (writing) side see that it’s not always our fault something isn’t picked up.

  20. Anonymous said:

    This is a great post–I love these inside views on how agents make decisions. You clearly did this author a favor. I know I wouldn’t want to sign with an agent who had misgivings about my ms. I would worry that the agent might lose interest when the rejections started rolling in. (Heck, this happened to me with my former agent who, initially, was very enthusiastic and excited about my ms.)

  21. Anonymous said:

    The ol’ love/hate bifurcation is a sonofagun. Have to agree with your decision though in time you may regret ‘what might have been’. Hope you did take the time to write to the author a nice note on what your problems were with it and how close they came. That may help mitigate the sting or it may also, as an unintended consequence, encourage the author to ask you to look at a rewrite…and if you aren’t willing….

  22. Anonymous said:

    FIVE MONTHS??!!! I bet in that amount of time, the author could have made the edits to make it more saleable. The amount of time sent just hemming & hawing over it seems ridiculous to me. Sure, you have to be behind the project 100%, but did the author even have a chance to offer a revision? Or did he/she just wait for five months for your inevitable ‘no’?

  23. DOT said:

    I echo Mattob’s comment. A very honest and open post. I personally hope the individual finds someone who takes him/her on, especially as you have equivocated for so long – it has to have something that kept you behaving like a ball in a Newton’s Cradle.

  24. Anonymous said:

    You made the right choice in passing on this ms. It’s not only the author who would suffer if you’d taken it on with misgivings, but all of us, ultimately. Follow my logic in this way: if Kristin takes on a ms she’s not 100% behind, then her credit with editors begins to decline, because she’s sending them projects she has doubts about (and very possibly, for darned good reasons.) As her credit declines, then her ability to do good by her other clients starts to suffer. Why ask Kristin to take on something that doesn’t sing for her? Everyone loses.

    But I agree. Communicating with the author is the best way to give him or her a shot at reworking it and finding publication down the road.

  25. Elise said:

    It is what it is. If the edits required were that extensive and you have a bevy of other well-deserving, less-demanding manuscripts waiting for your attention its just not a good fit for you right now. You have to be honest and fair with the author and yourself. Five months is a long time, but hopefully if you explained that to them and give them some feedback they’ll be able to resubmit the rewrite or a different piece that might be a better fit. I’m sure you made the right decision.

  26. Just_Me said:

    Hard choice. But I think it’s the right one. The amount of work you would put into a book you didn’t really love would have tipped the scale between love and hate. This will be a great book when it hits the shelves. You can enjoy it then.

  27. AstonWest said:

    Having received requests for partials followed by rejections, I often wonder what it was that the agent liked, and then subsequently disliked.

    But I doubt there will ever be that sort of information provided.

    Hopefully with this author having a full in review, they received some feedback, as others have commented.

  28. Elissa M said:

    It’s interesting how some posters here are immediately championing the author, while others congratulate Kristin on her honesty.

    I’m in the “if you don’t love it, don’t sign it” camp myself. Another agent might well pick it up and run.

    In the meantime, the author should have been working on another manuscript entirely. No sense in having all your eggs in the same basket, as they say.

  29. Madison said:

    I like agents who are honest. I have already recieved one rejection letter from Nelson Lit, saying that the material just wasn’t right for you. That’s fine. I’m currently in the process of revamping said story and preparing a query for you for another one! *evil laughter* But, no, if that author has an attitude like mine s/he will take what you say into serious consideration and hopefully look for someone else who can “see what you couldn’t.” Ultimately, you have to make the best choice for you as a businesswoman. After all, this IS a business. Here’s to better manuscripts!

  30. Ebony McKenna. said:

    I really appreciate your honesty.
    It’s going to be hard for the author to take, knowing they got so close. Knowing you tried so hard to really love it … but you didn’t fall in love with it. This was far from a hasty decision on your part.

  31. Anonymous said:

    With respect, this is why I decided against ever submitting to an agent who blogs – I can imagine that author, having just received a rejection after five months, opening up this post to see an autopsy of his/her ms on a public dissecting table. And how does such a post actually help prospective authors? I’m at a loss to understand what this post has accomplished apart from embarrass the author it’s referring to.

  32. Twill said:

    Yo – Anon 11:38!

    How could it embarrass the writer? There were no identifying features.

    If I were the writer of the book that just received a rejection from Kristin, I would focus on the facts that (1) Kristin gave it a good read, (2) Kristin felt it needed lots of work but had brilliant bits, (3) Kristin said some people/agents/editors would love it, (4) Kristin said she couldn’t give it what it needed but that she hoped someone else could.

    Awesome review, for someone trying to get an agent. That’s 9.8 on a scale of 10.

    That writer is almost there.

  33. Anonymous said:

    I know this is a late reply, but my point was precisely that Kristin said it was almost there but would not GET there. There is no ‘almost there’ in this post. And the writer will certainly know who he/she is. I’m a writer: I can be embarrassed all by myself when insult is added to injury.

    Sincerely, with much, much respect. I find this site very useful and insightful, and am grateful that Kristin takes the time.