Monday, January 23, 2012

Why you get form or "no response means no" rejections in 3 easy steps

1. Query is an unholy mess from the subject line ("Query. I think")  to the closing:
>> Any suggests or advice would be appreciated. Thanks for your time.

2. My reply:

> It's a blog about how to revise your query so it's effective.

3. His reply

I didn't ask for ideas about queries. I asked about how to go about getting an agent. I thought you would be kind and just look over what I had sent. It's called being decent to a fellow human being. It would not have taken any skin off of your nose just to look.

Okedokey! Back to form rejections.

And the next person who asks why I don't personalize things or offer help will get a link to this post.


JE said...

#mademyday Seriously.


Anonymous said...

Holy wow. Another prime example of the "one bad apple" syndrome.

People need to realize that agents are professionals. Their time needs to be respected, and ANY input or advice appreciated. You did more than reasonably expected by referring him/her to the blog.

Suppose a smoker goes to a doctor and asks for help in kicking the habit. I think if the doctor refers this person to a "quit-smoking" site, they have more than fulfilled the Hippocratic oath. It's not the physician's responsibility to walk around all day with the smoker and pull the darn coffin nails from his mouth.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Why is it always the one guy you try to help turns out to be the creep who spoils things for everyone else?

Dear author:

She did look over what was sent, which is why she linked queryshark. Ironically, QS is also full of ideas on how to go about getting an agent (those ideas are called queries). It's called being a kind and decent human being who offers advice for free while she's also keeping up with her actual job. (Which is not to "look over" things that are neither queries for prospective clients or manuscripts for current clients.) It would not have taken any skin off your nose just to click the link and check it out.

But the good news (<--- this is called sarcasm; it's a literary device) is you made an impression.

Rachael Hanel said...

Wow, that was pretty nice of you to respond to such a mess in the first place!

I think this person actually makes it easier for the rest of us who know how to do things professionally and politely. It makes us stand out by default!

Rachel Menard said...

He obviously didn't do his research or he would've realized you're not a decent human being, you're the shark! J/K

You gave him the information he needed to get an agent: write a good query. Professionalism doesn't hurt either, but you can't really teach that.

Kathryn Elliott said...

If you want a decent human being - join the Peace Corp. Want an agent? Do your homework. If you're literate, less-tool-like and marginally polite, who knows, you may score both!

Elissa M said...

It's pretty clear the writer doesn't read your blog because it's an excellent tool for discovering "how to go about getting an agent". I'm dying to ask him why he contacted you without first doing a little research and reading this blog. Why didn't he follow the link to query shark and see what it's all about before he replied with a shot in the foot? Why do some people insist on being idiots?

swedishfish said...

this kind of thing makes me sad. You took an extra step, and he turned on you for it. Now you're far less inclined to take an extra step for a nice person who would take that advice and run with it. Sigh.

Stephsco said...

I always knew everyone and his brother wants to get a book published, but it wasn't until I started reading blogs and agent sites that the reality of HOW MANY submissions agents get every day hit me. Hundreds. Hundreds A DAY. Thousands a month. This is all in addition to what agents are doing for the work they actually represent.

I'm sure it's a matter of education. Query-guy, if you're reading this: critique partners and writing groups are the ones who can take a look for you. Workshops and blogs can help you learn about publishing. There's a TON of information out there!

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

And I'm with Stephsco, it was reading blogs that gave me an insight into the life of an agent. It's not even just how many queries you get, it's how many clueless ones you get and how many rude and arrogant people you have to deal with.
Lord knows I couldn't handle it. Thanks to those who do, and a bigger thanks to those who have blogs to help us aspiring writers.

Chemkara said...

Ugh. The brown-nosing that goes down on this site...

Anyway, ::clears head:: I was commenting...

It seems to me that, though an "unholy mess" and certainly misguided, the querier/query'er was probably being earnest in his quest. The two-line reply was--though accurate--snarky, for lack of a better word.

I'm glad everyone is amused. I was amused today when a Query sent to an agent resulted in a form reject with a closing para dedicated to advising rejectee's that the "blame" for their rejection probably lay with their query. And then it linked me to Queryshark.

I rolled my eyes and though yeesh. What century is this agency in? Who hasn't heard of QueryShark?

I stand corrected.

Sara said...

This makes me mad. Of course the one guy you take the time to advise/not send a form rejection to, is a huge jerk. Beyond that, I second Josin L. McQuein (above).

Feaky Snucker said...

Wow. Way to unleash the douchepocalypse. I can't believe the author was so rude. How to get an agent - do NOT make a bad situation worse. Maybe if he'd fixed the query and tried again, he could have been successful. Now, I suspect it won't matter how great the query gets - I wouldn't want to work with someone like that.

HollyD. said...

Somebody thinks a bit too much about themselves. If he wants to make it, the first thing he needs to do is check that attitude at the door. Then go to Queryshark and study the do's and don'ts.

I did have a question about the rejection letter. If it suggests contacting other agents in your agency were you just being kind and everyone gets that letter or were you serious? Just wondering if I should send to one of the other agents or not.

Thanks for all that you do. I never would have had the guts to send a query letter if not for all your helpful advice on both websites.

Josin L. McQuein said...


FWIW - if Janet suggests another agent at FP, LISTEN TO HER. That's how I ended up querying Suzie Townsend.

Agents who work together know each other's preferences, and they know who's looking for a specific type of book.

Brooks Sherman said...


Speaking as a former Peace Corps volunteer (and current agent), we aren't necessarily decent human beings, either. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Reminds me of the old joke, why do men walk upright? Someone put beer on the top shelf.

Okay, calm down boys, I'll change that to 'some men'. Happy now?
Aw shut up and have another beer.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

This reminds me of the people who audition for American Idol and then tell the professionals they don't know what they are talking about. Some people just don't understand...

Terri Coop said...

Um . . . Janet was telling him how to get an agent . . .

Fix your #$%^ing query!

With a passive-aggressive attitude like that, I'm sure he gets skin taken off his nose regularly.


Kristin Laughtin said...

That's a pretty sad letter in this day and age, when Googling "how to get an agent" will bring you loads of advice that's easier and more helpful than emailing an agent.

Unknown said...

One word...Wow

Ali Trotta said...

That Basically, that's someone who didn't want to put the time/effort to learn. *shakes head*

Tara Tyler said...

who are these arrogant people?!

The Writer Librarian said...

I'm with Ali and Tara. The nerve of this guy. I hope he learned his lesson, at least.

Lynn(e) Schmidt said...

Sorry people suck :(

Kate said...

No good deed goes unpunished. It reminds me of Josh Olson's I Will Not Read Your ****ing Script.

Apparently it's just not enough that you're already recognized as the most generous agent alive. Who cares if you've produced volumes of sage advice available on demand, for free, to everyone? If you didn't personally spoon feed this one guy exactly what he wanted to hear, then clearly you're a selfish bitch.

I'm tempted to start extrapolating about his relationship patterns, but that would just be mean.

Robin Becker said...

"It would not have taken any skin off of your nose just to look."

One can't be too careful about nose skin. What if looking did, in fact, take nose skin off? Very scary indeed.

Anonymous said...

So, can I be brave and call #agentfail?

Yeah, that person's a jerk. So what? We're constantly told to grow thick skin. Send me a link to something I didn't write and tell me that's why I'm getting blown off?

To me, this is a fail.

Kate said...


"Fail" implies that the agent was not doing her job. The agent's job was done when she replied with a 'no'. She is under absolutely no professional or moral obligation to provide a professional critique or "advices", any more than a random doctor on the street would be obligated to treat you if you walked up to her and said, "hey, look at this mole."

You might as well ask her for $50 from her pocket, because that's probably how much the time would cost her.

The irony, lost on some, is that she DID go above and beyond the call of duty. The ungrateful querier was too ignorant and self-centered to notice.

Anonymous said...

Kate, if you read this agent's post on the #agentfail, you'll find that the term does not, as you interpret, apply only to the agent not doing his or her job. It also refers to agent oversight or intentionally or unintentionally doing things that can be perceived as negatively by writers.

So your interpretation is too narrow. Next, where do I defend the writer? Where do I condone his behavior? So my question is why do you harangue me as if I had defended him? The fail is her willingness to use one bad encounter to retreat behind form rejections or rationalize no-response rejections (a practice which this agent spoke out against, which was to her credit).

Perhaps it is better stated this way. Many writers have bad encounters with agents. They are expected to shrug it off, and soldier on. An agent has a bad encounter with a dispirited writer and it's an affront deserving universal scorn. That's a severe disconnect. A fail, if you will.

I'll say it one more way. Writers are surrounded by negativity and doubt and find one reason, any reason, to keep going. Agents are surrounded by what comes dangerously close to idolatry and find one reason, any reason, to shun personal contact with those not screened as worthy.

And, I know, woe betide he who questioneth the oracle.


Anonymous said...


There is a response to your post...somewhere. That response addressed your post in detail, but didn't make the cut. Suffice to say, your interpretation is too narrow and your response does not remotely address what I was talking about.

My other response was better--more specific. That's the worst part about censored materials...

So much for bravery and #agentfail. Just rhetoric.

Kate said...

@Aeolus, I appreciate your clarification, and see the distinction you're making. (As you can see, your first response was NOT censored.)

That said, my response remains the same. You say, "The fail is her willingness to use one bad encounter to retreat behind form rejections." I say it doesn't matter what an agent's reasons are for sending a form rejection - whether she overreacted to one bad experience, learned over time from a lot of bad experience, or would rather spend those accumulated minutes looking for something she can actually sell - she needs no justification.

I gather, however, that what really offends you is a perceived power imbalance. "Many writers have bad encounters with agents. They are expected to shrug it off, and soldier on. An agent has a bad encounter with a dispirited writer and it's an affront deserving universal scorn. That's a severe disconnect." My scorn for the writer is my own, born of parallel experience in my own professional life. As for Janet, come on. Agents lose books they love to other agents, editors they carefully cultivate relationships with get laid off, and books they pour their hearts and souls into fail to sell. One dispirited writer is nothing. This post was nothing more than a little vent and a helpful warning.

At this point, I think you're just trying to raise hackles, and I'm ashamed of myself for rising to the bait, but...

"Agents are surrounded by what comes dangerously close to idolatry and find one reason, any reason, to shun personal contact with those not screened as worthy." Seriously? What would you have of them? Agents are not divas who surround themselves only with yes-men. But they do have hundreds of people asking for their attention every single day. Not hundreds of worshippers laying flowers at their feet, mind you, hundreds of people trying to get a piece of them. They have to prioritize and automate in order to stay sane and make a living.

As for agent-worship and brown-nosing in comments (which another poster mentioned), I suppose there may be some, but I wouldn't presume that's any one commenters' motivation. I suspect very few here are actually seeking representation from Janet at any given moment (certainly I'm not), and fewer still clueless enough to imagine she would represent them as a reward for loyal comments. Besides, almost none of us post under our real names, and nowhere have I seen Janet suggest we start queries with, "hey I comment on your blog under the handle XandSuch." But it's true I haven't read every post.

Anyway, I wish you luck. This has been fun.

Anonymous said...

It was censored actually. It wasn't posted until, 24 hours later, I sent the other message. Then both messages were posted at once. There is the chance that they were posted together deliberately in order to make me seem over-reactive. Though possible, I do doubt this. Nonetheless, the response was censored until I called her on it.

It's dangerous to insist that nobody needs justification for their actions. Plus, once again, you're missing the point that the writer was met with universal scorn by you and the other commentors for being a jerk, when the resolution to suddenly swear off personal interactions because of THAT writer (and what's more, throw that into the face--sending the link--to anybody that asks her about personal interaction in the future) is the actions of a jerk.

On top of that, the agent also uses that to *possibly* excuse a behavior she earlier wrote as bad practice--no responses. She even harangues other agents about how non-time consuming responses are. Thus, the only reason one is left with for her adopting (or excusing) this practice is spite. Again, the actions of a jerk.

This post is nothing more than a little vent? Okay. Then why isn't the writer given the same benefit? He or she is not given the benefit of just venting. The writer were straight crucified on the comment board, and the agent offered that writer to the crucifixion.

And here's where we're at. The agent (in your eyes) has done no wrong, and you've bent over backwards to relieve the agent of any overreaction or poor behavior. The writer, on the other hand, is blasted. The agent is "only venting" the writer is not.

No, agents are not divas. In fact, I do wonder how hard it must be for them to be constantly fawned over and told how brilliant their words and advice are. I did not say agents have god-complexes (which is what you described), I said that agents are worshiped. Your complete refusal to acknowledge that the agent's reaction is as much an overreaction as the writer's. This is idolatry--couples have this same problem at the beginnings of relationships.

Finally, read the comments and tell me there's "some". Anybody who reads even this thread, but especially if they read comment section after comment section will notice that this is an excellent example of groupthink. Let me be clear, this is not the agent's fault.

Thank you for denigrating my contentions to simply looking for a fight. That's not what I'm doing. I do wish the agent would comment here and say that my first response was, indeed, withheld. But neither here nor there.

Thanks for the exchange. Have a good time.

P.S. #agentfail ;)

Stacy said...

From my perspective, the real problem are the writers who don't present themselves professionally. Expecting an agent to take time to critique a query letter, when there's so much good information right at a writer's fingertips, smacks of Special Snowflake Syndrome. And that "writer" (a term we should probably use loosely here) suffered from an acute case of it.

Janet Reid said...

comment moderation is engaged. Comments are approved when I get to it. Thus several comments over a period of time may appear on the blog at the same time.

Get a damn grip.

Unknown said...

We've all received form rejections at one point or another -- if I'd received a personalized one, I'd be thankful for it rather than biting the agent's head off.

If you're trying to land a job with a company, you can't blame the recruiter if your resume's terrible.

Christine Tripp said...

The writer, on the other hand, is blasted. The agent is "only venting" the writer is not.

agentfail, the difference is, the writer approached the agent, for his/her own personal gain, and not the other way around.
The agent replied, form, no form, some info, no info, doesn't matter. A professional that any of us contacts, is under no obligation to even acknowledge they received an email or mailing.
If I google, then email a lawyer with a question, do you really think it's wrong if they do not respond to me? Publishers do not reply anymore to submissions.

Perhaps, since the "writer" insists he/she was not asking about how to query but how to GET an Agent... Ms. Reid should have directed him to one of the many pay per rep agents out there on the internet. He/she seems more fixated on getting representation then learning about the business.

Steve Stubbs said...

My deepest sympathies. I can't believe anyone could be that arrogant. To steal and paraphrase a line from the movie ANIMAL HOUSE: He can't be that arrogant.


And today I am feeling humble and meek.

Anonymous said...

Your censorship is despicable.


Anonymous said...

Seriously? This is the one you post? You don't post the other two? Just this one?

With people like you acting as the gatekeepers to publishing, no wonder American letters are in their current state.

A thoroughly shameful display on your part, Ms. Reid. Thoroughly shameful.

Bess said...

I think "okeydokey" is really the only response here: absolutely nothing else can be done, really.

One question: HOW does somebody with an absolute inability to even try to understand someone else's stance ever come up with a book? That involves other people?

Anonymous said...

And still, my earlier refutations are not posted, with no explanations from Ms. Reid about why she deems me unable to defend myself.

HOW does somebody who seems unwilling to even try to empathize with an emotional outburst come up with a book? That involves other people?

Easier to judge others than empathize with them, huh?