Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Agent Cheek

“Large offers and sturdy rejections are among the most common topics of falsehood.”

- Samuel Johnson

On my way out the door to drop the kids off at school, I noticed that a pile of letters was sitting in my mailbox. As I shuffled through them, I found a letter with my handwriting on it, addressed to myself. Ah, a rejection. As more agents are taking submissions via e-mail, I get less snail mail rejections. Sometimes, they depress me, but other times, I barely give them a second thought. One time, I opened the letter and got a request for a full manuscript, which was a nice surprise.

Today’s rejection letter made me pause. Oh. I’ve included it below. Note: names have been changed to protect the innocent (Or the delusional, since my manuscript is fabulous).

Dear Author,

Thank you for your submission. We are sorry but it is not for ----.

Do try Publishers directly and if you need help negotiating a contract our legal staff can help you.

We wish you every success in finding the right place for your work.

------ - ------

I once wrote a post, called “Positive Rejections”*, which explains different tiers of rejections. This one is a form rejection, but it has the cheek to basically say, “We don’t think your work is worth our time trying to get your manuscript a publishing contract, but if you happen to get one on your own, contact us, and only then will we represent you.”

Now I know that agents say that if writers submit directly to publishers, and get a contract, they can contact an agent, and it’s often easier to get representation that way. This seems best if a writer has at least gotten a detailed rejection from an agent, demonstrating that the agent saw promise in the writer’s writing. It would be nice to have established some sort of relationship. I’ve never seen a rejection letter offer like this one. It’s certainly not based on my writing or it wouldn’t begin, “Dear Author” and end with just the agent’s name (Sincerely would've been nice).

I decided to do some research, and looked on the Absolute Write website**, which has a forum section, allowing questions and responses. With so many agencies, it’s important for writers to make sure they’re sending manuscripts to reputable ones. I’ve used this webpage to avoid agents who charge fees or have been known to behave in ways that are against industry standard***.

Of course, I’m not stating this literary agency fits in this mold. The comment thread from Absolute Write sounded more like speculation than fact. But it’s hard enough to break into this business. If I happened to send something to a publishing company, and I’m offered a contract, I don’t think I’d call an agency that sent me a form rejection. I’ve submitted to several agents who have taken the time to give me advice on my manuscript. Some writers don’t think representation is necessary, but I’d be wary of handling the financial ends of a contract on my own.

I just hope that someday I’m in that position.

“I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get me going, rather than retreat.”

- Sylvester Stallone

* Here’s a link to that post:

** This site has a good forum section:

*** This site is a great resource. They have a “Whom Not to Query” link on the right:


  1. I don't usually follow links but did decide to pop over. Most bigger houses don't take unsolicited submissions. I would definitely try getting an agent first, because they'll get you seen in front of big publishers. They'll also be able to tell you if your work is editor-ready and, if not, will be able to guide some revisions for you. Bad advice, rejection letter, bad advice!


  2. Thanks, Mary. That's what I thought, but it's good to hear it from a professional.

  3. Lame rejection. And yes, why in the world would you go back to them once you have a contract? Or why would you submit direct to a publisher when you are clearly, at this point, submitting to agents. Lame, lame, lame. But your two quotes are awesome, I'm going to write them in my quote book.

  4. I agree- that one's weird. I've gotten quite a few rejections and never had anything like that. I did have one once that said my "writing showed promise but I wasn't a fit for their agency/market right now" and I wondered- would they say that bit about the promise to everyone just because they feel? They shouldn't, if its not really true.

  5. I'm reading the biography of Ayn Rand, she got lots of rejections.

  6. Karen, that's my thinking exactly. Like Mary said above, agents help writers polish their pieces and can send to publishers that writers don't have access to on their own.

    SusieJ, I've wondered the same thing. Many e-mail rejections seem more personal, but I wonder if that's the on-line version of a form rejection.

    Sheila, I try to keep that in mind. There are authors who get lots of rejections, but never get published too!

  7. Hi

    There's an actual sensible quote from Sylvester Stallone!


    And of course your ms is fabulous. The letter from these publishers is to be ignored and consigned to the dustbin of history.

    Take care

  8. Thanks, Old Kitty. Your comments always cheer me up!

    As for Sylvester Stallone, I decided (without doing research) that he had a hard time getting someone to want to make the first "Rocky". If he's talking about anything he worked on after that, the quote doesn't work for me.

  9. @Sheila, the biography of Ayn Rand? How did I miss that? I need to go check that one out!

  10. KarenG, the name of the book is Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller.