Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thank God for Rejections!

This week I got three—count ‘em, three—rejections in two days. I’m querying agents widely about the book of my heart, and in bunches. So it figures that, at least some of the time, I’m going to get rejections in small bunches. But I have to tell you, I’m glad for these. Glad because of the way they’re arriving...but mostly glad they’re arriving at all.

One was a small form postcard. Some people turn up their noses at small form postcards. I don’t. Not when the first line on the postcard is an almost abject apology for time constraints that make this kind of response a necessity. It came across as a very elegant way to say “No, thanks,” that still made me feel like a person.

One was a sweet “No, thanks” sent to me hours after I queried by e-mail. The man in question promises that he does, in fact, sometimes respond in minutes. I would have been happier had he said “Yes” in fewer minutes…but I was happy that at least he was a man of his word.

Several others have been form e-mails, of the kind that begin, “Dear author.” I think of those slightly less kindly at times (!), but they, too, get tallied on the spreadsheet.

Which is, of course, the point. That something can be tallied on a spreadsheet. That I can know “whether or not” on that particular agent, and I can know who should be taken off the “will they or won’t they?” list. In this submission round, I’ve become even more grateful for the ones who do this—and more irritated by the ones who won’t. Ever. The ones who declare up front, “If I don’t respond, it means I’m not interested.”

I’ve tried to objectively “understand” this approach over the years. But I confess…I simply can’t. It’s not right, on many levels.

Many agents protest this complaint as being “unrealistic.” They’re busy people. They’ve got their actual profitable clients to tend to. They’ve got contracts to deal with and bargains to make and editors to woo. Surely we can’t actually expect them to respond to us all if they’re not interested?

Well, yes, we can. Because we’re busy, too. For most of us, writing isn’t our primary means of income. We’re balancing it around kids and pets and jobs and houses and relatives and cooking and cleaning and all the rest. We carve out time to craft something we believe is worthwhile, and we send it out. So the “busy” thing? Yeah. We get that. We’re living it, too.

But more to the point…responding is good business practice because it’s just plain human courtesy.

Last time I checked, both agents and writers were human beings. (Yes, even unpublished writers qualify, despite some impressions we get to the contrary. :-D) We all try to do the best we can to give the “professionals” in our trade exactly what they ask for in terms of queries, formats, etc. What doesn’t get recognized, however, is that the moment we take those steps to send material to an agent, we declare ourselves professional, too. So we deserve to be treated as such. And silence is not professional treatment—on either end.

I know agents get thousands of submissions a year. I understand this. But I also know that many agents continue to solicit new clients, even in the face of this overload. They then fall back on the “no response is a ‘No’” escape hatch—when maybe, just maybe, it’d be a far better idea to just stop asking for material for awhile.

I have no problem at all with agents periodically taking themselves “out of the dance” to do justice to what they already have on their plates. In fact, the longer time goes on, the more I respect the courage it takes to draw those boundaries—and the less I respect the “no response” curtain as a way to do business.

So thank God for agents who respond, even with form postcards or form e-mails saying “No, thanks.” Any response, even a “No,” is better than being left in limbo. It’s more respectful. It’s more courteous. And, in the end, it’s far more professional.



  1. It's especially discouraging when the publisher who seems to be the perfect fit says it responds within three months and you haven't heard anything after six. I'm working up the courage to send a "I just want to make sure your received it" letter.

  2. Janny, I hear you! I finally gave up trying to get an agent (even though I got their attention) and went directly to the small publishers who didn't require a submission via an agent. I should add that patience is not one of my personal virues. Sure, my book's not in every Wal-Mart or Christian bookstore, but it's published by a royalty-paying publisher and it's selling well for a debut author and a new, small (Canadian) publisher.

    I understand your comments and agree that any response is better than none. One of the top agents responded to me without a couple of hours, and I've always admired and respected that fact. Another agent responded in minutes but ultimately "lost" my chapters in cyberspace. There's another agent I really like because of the quality books "their" clients produce and I sent my query online with the first chapter (per the instructions). It was a case where if I didn't hear anything, I was to "assume" there was no interest on the part of the agent. I always wondered about it, and yes, it's very frustrating, especially now that some of my writer friends are clients of that very agent and tell me, "Oh, so-and-so would LOVE your writing style." I shrug my shoulders - "they" had the opportunity. It doesn't mean I won't query that agent again, but I'll probably think twice about it.

    For now, I'm doing fine on my own, but I'm sure the day will come - especially if I keep publishing this series - when an agent might come knocking, or I'll work up the "gumption" to query one again. ;-)


  3. It's always nice to validated. Even with a short no thank you!

  4. I appreciate your point about our being professionals--agented, unagented, published or unpublished. We're sure not hobbyists! (If we wanted hobbies, we'd pick easier ones.)