Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Rejection code

I've been querying my upmarket/book club (I think!) novel for a few months now. Last week I had a full requested and the agent was very enthusiastic--so much so that she's already read it and turned it down.

My question is, is "wouldn't break out at a commercial level" code for something else.....?
"Thanks for sending me this -- I was keen to dig in as I thought the premise was very interesting. I liked a lot about the novel - your prose is really lovely - but I'm afraid in the end, particularly given that I don't have room to take on much at the moment, I thought this probably wasn't a work I'd be able to break out at a commercial level. I wish you great luck with it."

I'm wondering if that means it's too slow--which I can fix. Should I ask (but just yesterday you said don't ask)? Or are there multiple flaws this comment might encompass?

This means she thinks it won't sell enough copies, early enough, to be a book people notice.

There's no way to know if that means it's too slow, or not vivid enough, or the plot doesn't have twists to it.

BUT this is ONE agent's opinion, and thus should not be taken as some sort of edict from on high about your book, and even more important, what to revise.


Don't write back to ask what she means, or for elaboration on what she said: it does not matter.
I've passed on books that went on to do well.
We've all read published books that utterly mystified us about how the hell they got published.


Kathy Joyce said...

We spend our time crafting every phrase to radiate layers of meaning. When reading, it's hard to stop at, "It just means what it says, nothing deeper." Good luck OP.

Kitty said...

We've all read published books that utterly mystified us about how the hell they got published.

And I've tried to read several of them, too, only to quit partway through and wonder the same thing.

Keep querying, OP, and best of luck to you!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I have exactly Kitty’s comment. I have also beta read lovely books that never got published that were miles better than some of the books that grace coveted bookshelf space in stores. Keep querying. Agent taste varies wildly.

Aphra Pell said...

OP - it's understandable that rejection, especially from an entuhusiastic source, is going to hurt. But...

You've got a query that's good enough to net you a request for fulls. That's win no.1.

You've got a concept that's intriguing enough not only to net a request for fulls, but for the agent to bump it to the top of her pile. That's win no.2

Your writing is lovely - win no.3

I'd snap up Janet's advice and get as many agent eyes on that query as possible so they can be intrigued too.

And also treat yourself to cake / ice cream / whiskey / indulgence or vice of your choice.

LynnRodz said...

Yes, writers are schizophrenic in the sense we hear multiple voices in our heads, but I just realized we're also masochistic. Who else works for free for hours each day, waits months for replies that sometimes never come, all for a dream?

Keep writing, OP, keep querying, and keep dreaming!

*heads toward kitchen to make some herbal calming tea*

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

With the magazines I submit to the most, I feel like I can glean some meaning from their rejections, but with an agent I've contacted once? Reading those coffee grounds/tea leaves/tarot cards? Yeah nah. It means what it means, no more, no less.

Believe in yourself, believe in your book!

C.M. Monson said...
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C.M. Monson said...

LynnRodz- that is so true. :)

Op- we, writers can go mad trying to decode the hidden message within an agent's rejection letter. But, as Janet has said before, agents aren't perfect (except Queen Sharkiness) and they pass on good books all of the time.

Keep querying...keep writing. Good luck!

Craig F said...

Somewhere around half of the rejections I have gotten were of the 'I'm busy, frick off' variety.

I know my concepts are top notch, so there is some other reason for this response. See if you can find some fresh brains to peruse your work. It is easy to become accustomed to a particular story and miss a few things that might glare at everyone else.

I tend to think that others already know some of my stories, I leave out a few things that would better ground readers to the story. All I have to do now is find a way to modify that quirk in my personality.

Julie Weathers said...

OP, until an agent gives you some solid advice on what's not working, don't start changing things around willy-nilly. You should be very heartened by the good response part of this.

Get some more queries under your belt. Hopefully, you'll get some solid feedback along the way.

Good luck

Morgan Hazelwood said...

It's SO hard not to immediately think, "I can FIX it! Then you'll love my MS!" whenever you get a rejection, especially one with feedback.

But before you follow your knee-jerk response to change your MS to suit that particular agent, I like to take a few days to think if it really would IMPROVE my story, or if it would just change it. And, I think about the OTHER feedback I've gotten and if the other feedback agreed. I follow it maybe half the time.

One agent saying something is just an opinion. Several people all coming at the same issue from different directions... that's probably a sign that you want to take a 2nd look at your novel.

BJ Muntain said...

What I take away from that rejection is:

A) Interesting premise, good writing
B) The agent is well-established and has a full stable of authors. She'll only look at really promising submissions (good for you, OP!) and has to be very choosy about what she takes on now.
C) She doesn't feel she's the best agent for your work.

That's it. Nothing more.

Barbara Etlin said...

OP, congrats on have a successful query that got a full request. You can feel good about the positive comments the agent made about your writing. You only need one "yes," so keep sending out that great query.

I have a question for Janet. Is "upmarket/book club" a usable category or is this the same as either "commercial" or "literary"?

Jf Adf said...

And not too offend anyone, but her writing should be a clue. Do you really want someone so special trying to sell your stuff. Is it You that is slow?

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Janet's response to this motivates me. KEEP QUERYING.

Best of luck to you, OP!

Lennon Faris said...

Janet once said that advice from ONE agent who did not ultimately resonate with your writing/ story is probably not the one to take advice from. I'd say that applies here.

Exceptions, of course, if there are more than one saying the same thing. Or if you really trust that agent to produce quality advice (like if you read her helpful blog and know she's stellar, for instance).

Good luck, OP! You must have something eye-catching!

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Lennon, your comment is helpful to me, even though I'm not the OP!

Colin Smith said...

Amen to the above advice. Keep querying. All you need is one agent to say yes. And that agent may the next one on your list.

One more thing: buy WRITING WITHOUT RULES by Jeff Somers. It's an awesome book. My new go-to writing craft book, in fact. I still think ON WRITING is excellent and worth reading. But King now has company.

BrendaLynn said...
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MA Hudson said...

‘...given that I don’t have room to take on much at the moment....’
This says to me that SHE doesn’t have time to help prepare your book for submission, probably because she has a full stable. But other, maybe younger, hungrier agents, would have the time and motivation to work with you. Keep querying until you’ve hit the 100 mark. I bet you hit success way before that, or at least got lots more feedback.