Monday, September 20, 2010

My Form Rejection Plea to Literary Agents

Form Rejections.
We get them.  We hate them, we love them, we need them.
We hate them because, well, they are rejections.
We love them because we can make a definite note on our query spreadsheet, not wait and wait and finally assume rejection.
We need them because they tell us we need to work harder, come across clearer, or in some way revamp our query.

We know you want to receive good queries, no, great queries.  We want our query to be one of those great queries.  We follow your blogs, we review your websites, we look up every interview we can find.  We research query writing, until we almost drive ourselves mad with information, we write, we revise, we share, we get critiqued, then we go forth boldly and present our finished product to you.
We get form rejections.  Sure, maybe some requests for partials or even fulls mixed in there, followed by form rejections.  Every once in a while we even get a miraculous and wonderful personal rejection.  Who thought rejection could be such an anticipated and noteworthy event?  But it is!  It tells us a little more specifically where we’re not hitting the mark.  It gives us direction, it gives us goals, it gives us hope!  In the end it will even give you something too, better queries for better books!

I want to send you the best query I can.
I appreciate your rejection, even your form rejection.
I just have one request.
Form rejections with a reason.
No, this does not mean a personal rejection, a critique, a line about our letter or our book.  Just a form rejection with one additional comment; one word, maybe two, at the bottom.  A category for the rejection, such as:
Genre (if the genre is not selling right now or you are just not wanting to look at it, even if it is just today, because we know that it is a genre you generally accept)
Not Exciting (if the pages or query itself were just not attention grabbing)
Writing (if you were unimpressed with the writing itself, either the pages or query)
Query (the letter itself did not provide enough detail about the book to give you anything to go on)
Personal (there was something about it that went against your personal tastes – like you just hate vampires even though you accept paranormal)
Considered (woohoo! - this lets us know that you did hold onto our query and re-read it at least once… you considered it but we didn’t quite hit the mark)
Not Match (yes, this would be back to the original standard form rejection – it really didn’t match with you, but you have nothing against it and no help to provide – we just move on and try other agents)

If these simple categories could be added to form rejections, and the agent then select which form rejection to send based on the reason code, then there could be several benefits to both agents and writers.  If you fall into our second or third query round then hopefully you will get a query that has much improved from round one.  In time this should lead to better overall queries in everyone’s inboxes, thanks to the small amount of direction provided by your colleagues in the agenting world.  We, the writers, would be able to send out more great queries quicker and spend less time wondering, assuming, and sending out queries that are just a tad off the mark.  We will hit the mark quicker, eliminating some of your query pain.

We do respect your jobs and the tough position you are in hashing through thousands of letters at a time.  (At least a lot of us do.)  We also appreciate your responses, even if they are short, vague, and form ones.  But maybe, maybe, you would consider adding this one element to those form rejections.  We would appreciate it, and hopefully you would all see the benefits of that small bit of direction as well.

We want to send you amazing queries!

Thank you for considering our literary works for further review (and yes, even rejection.)


Rachelle said...

A response will be on my blog tomorrow. The short answer: dream on, girl! Agents are not superhuman. Writers already expect more of us than we can (or should) reasonably do. We feel beat down constantly by complaints like this from writers. We simply can't do it all. Since I like making people happy, this fact is painful for me. But it's the truth. Sorry.

Nicole MacDonald said...

So with you on this one Julie - it'd be really nice! It's hard when you've spent months/years/decades on something and it feels like someone barely glances at then tells you its wrong. It can be very hard to take. I have found though after about the 30th its lots easier ;p And just remember it only takes 1 person to love it!

Heather M. Gardner said...

I'm stuck in the middle on this one.

There are those of us who submit our work and are sane. We can accept a form rejection and move on. We understand that everyone is busy and agents/publishers only make money when they find a submission they like/need/want.

On the other hand...

There are those of us who submit our work and are NOT sane and give the rest of us a bad name. They walk that fine line of serious harassment. Even if you gave them one or two words of explanation they could probably twist it into something Mother Nature never intended.

I would rather have a form rejection.

I get tired of the excuse that the agent/publisher is unable to send one. They know how to use a computer and even the antiquated mail system just like the rest of us. If they can put up four pages of strict submission guidelines on their website they can certainly hit the send button on their laptops.

Thanks for the blog post. It was a good one.

magolla said...

I've been getting rejections (HUNDREDS) for years--9 years and 6 manuscripts, not counting the picture books that I've written, but never seriously queried.
--if you haven't found this site yet, send your query to Query Shark READ the queries, what works, what doesn't work.
--find NUMEROUS beta readers for your query. You might have written a confusing letter filled with too much information/names/story, instead of a back cover blurb type of query.
--rememeber--it's all subjective
--chill--everything is cyclic. Right now, dark, edgy and dystopian is in, but it will slowly change to something lighter.
Keep writing what you love.
Chin up and persevere.

T. Anne said...

Julie, I remember reading somewhere that a few agents do have several different auto replies that they send out depending on the reason for the rejection. I think agents are just so overwhelmed these days with the onslought of writers.

I don't think it's a bad time to be a writer at all because we seem to have stepped into the digital age where there is lots of room for everyone.

Writers are the best people. I hope you stop by my blog and visit others as well. We love to support and encourage one another. Welcome Julie!

Rachelle said...

Julie, I hope you are getting new blog readers as a result of my link. I appreciate the comment you left on my blog yesterday, because it gave me a chance to address a question many writers have.

One commenter on my blog today accused me of embarrasing and humiliating you, ganging up on you, picking a fight, and to top it off, I'm a "bully."

I sincerely hope you don't feel that way. Since your comment to me was public (on my blog), I thought it would be fine to continue the conversation publicly. I also wanted to give you a real and thoughtful answer, since you are clearly passionate about it, and made such a strong case here on your own blog. I never felt like I was embarrassing you in today's post - simply answering the plea you posted.

But if you do feel like I embarrassed you, I do truly apologize. That was never my intention. Sometimes the protocol of this public online life is hard to figure out.

Julie Geistfeld said...

Here is the comment I posted on the new blog by Rachelle that was directed at this blog and comments I had made:
Thank you for the response. As much as it does feel like a personal ‘rebuke’ to me, I understand that it was in no way intended as that. I actually do appreciate the response, and getting to hear your take on what I was thinking.
In response to your response I just have a few comments (I’ll try to keep it brief…)
First of all I meant my blog post as a plea, not a rant. I appreciate that most agents are not only forthright in their expectations, but also in what you may expect as a response. It is not a shock to get a form rejection; as I mentioned I am actually grateful when I do have that definite response.
I understand your hesitation to make any comments due to not wanting to depress anyone. “Would you really prefer we tell you your book idea is (in our opinion) unoriginal, boring, derivative, or poorly written?” The answer for me would be, yes. I would want to know, and I wouldn’t want to hide in my closet and never write again upon hearing what you thought. But that is me, and I understand that it is not the way everyone would respond. You don’t want to and shouldn’t have to be responsible for creating that scenario.
I also thought your analogy of clothes shopping was wonderful. It does make sense to think of it that way, or at least it helps show the dilemma of categorizing such a thing as preference.
I have gotten many critique partners, readers, and sources of feedback on my writing. I have honed it to a point where I am happy with what I am sending out. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love another opinion. I like to take all ideas into consideration, accepting those that help, rejecting those that don’t. I have a brain and a will. I bend but don’t break. That’s just me though. Some don’t bend and others tend to break. What seemed to me to be a simple little addition to help us all, is obviously not as simple or helpful to everyone as I imagined it could be.
I, as always, appreciate the blogs and tweets and interviews that help us all find better ways to work together. In the end we need each other, we appreciate each other, and we somehow form a community that works together to achieve all of our goals. Thanks for helping make that possible!

I also just wanted to add on this blog... When I thought of having categories that the agents would include I wasn’t assuming they would write them into each response. I’m thinking that their form rejection is a file, and instead of one they would have say four of them, then select one rejection form to send.
But this is obviously a moot point, so…. I’ll let it go now and be on my querying way once more.
We all face it, we all go through it… it was just a thought and something that would help me. What works for one however, seldom works for the whole. I’m ok with that!

Jessica Nelson said...

Hi Julie,

I saw anon's comment about humiliation and I just wanted to pop by and say how completely happy I am to see this exchange between you and Rachelle. I read your post and think it's great, but I also see Rachelle's side. Either way, I'm glad you're not humiliated because I'm pretty sure every writer would love what you're suggesting. LOL
Ah well. It is what it is, right?
Good post and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Rachelle said...

Thanks, Julie! I responded in my blog comments.

Marjorie said...

Hi, Julie:
I am a huge supporter of writers. So, I wanted to answer this.

First of all, don't be humiliated. I don't think Rachelle embarrassed you. If it was me, I would be happy I was referenced in an agent's blog where that agent was speaking in general about a topic.

Second, I think you should learn something from this. Use it. What do I mean by "use it?" Get stronger. Now you can move forward and try to develop a mind-set where you expect no reasons for rejections you may receive.

Agents receive hundreds of queries. They simply don't have the time to give everybody a reason regarding work in which they are not interested.

And in most cases, agents are not interested simply because the story just doesn't interest them. It's not all that complicated.

If you send your query to me, I will critique it with constructive criticism if you want feedback. I am almost 64 and I was a teacher for 35 years, so you can consider my opinion of some value or no value. It's up to you. My E-mail address is in my profile.

Julie Geistfeld said...

Thank you again for the offer and for a critique that revealed things that other readers, familiar with the book, had never mentioned.
An insightful and generous gift indeed.

Marjorie said...

I was happy to help. Best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Great discussion Julie! We posted a link to it on our blog:

NCWA blogservant,
Connie Mace

Snacks from the cruise buffet said...

Thanks for your post and Rachelle's response. Very helpful!

Julie Geistfeld said...

Thanks for everyone's interest in this post and the follow-up posts on the subject. I appreciate all the great points of view and commentary it sparked.

Great feedback from everyone!

Lorena said...

Julie, maybe we should add a multiple-choice option to the bottom of our queries so the agent can pick the reason(s) for the "pass" (see reasons why some of us refuse to call them "rejections":

And no, I'm not being sarcastic. I'm thinking it could give the writer-in-question a direction to go while not taking too much of the agent's time. Haven't read Rachelle's response to you, but after a year it may be impossible to find.