Saturday, April 26, 2014

Query question: reasons for rejection

I have a problem. A very irritating problem.

I know I have emailed you my query beforehand and I was delighted that you said you actually liked it (yay!) but you were very busy with other projects( nay!). But honestly, I was okay with that because you had a reason to reject me.

But one thing that irritates me beyond belief is when I get a response like: "I liked it, but it's a no for me. Thanks anyway."

I despised this answer because I don't know what I did wrong. If they mentioned something that I did wrong, I would be delighted because I could mold my query to match their (and other agents) preferences.

The question that is currently boggling in your head right now is: "What does she WANT FROM ME?!"

All I want right now is
1. is there any way to distinguish agents that give critiques and agents who just send the rejection form and
 2. how do I deal with these sort of responses. 

(1) no
(2) The same way we all do: suck it up.

You're focusing on the wrong thing. Once someone has said no it does not matter why. And it's not cause you did anything wrong.  I pass on good, publishable material, material I LIKE, every day of the week.  You can't "mold your query to match my preferences" to get past that.

The truth is you simpy have to keep querying. Or if you just can't deal with this (and it's not some sort of character failing if you can't) go ahead and publish the book youreself.

If you want feedback, you need to enroll in a class.  There are lots of good ones from seminars sponsored by Writers Digest to writing conference workshops to year long intensives by places like Grub Street.

Agents are not the people to ask what's wrong with your query. That's QueryShark, or the good folks at Absolute Write.


Susan Bonifant said...

Here's something I knew long before I understood it: The right agent is sitting out there somewhere at the very moment the wrong one is turning you down. Soldier on.

And here's another: if you try and list your beach cottage with an agent who sells mansions, and they say "not for me" it doesn't mean your cottage is too small.

Lance said...

Folks who read your blog on a regular basis know all this, but we need to hear it afresh from time to time. At least, until we get a bite. Thank you.

Wintercom said...

Haha Great question, great answer.

Another answer is just that eventually you will grow out of it (or is that the same thing as "suck it up?") - Good News! If you query long enough you will A: Get so many rejections that you very nearly ignore them B: Learn that Agents aren't really going to offer any fantastic story feedback (you pay people to do that) C: Eventually find that there are wonderful people online (ie the site Janet mentioned) who are willing to critique your work for free (or in exchange of course!) :D

Terri Lynn Coop said...

A couple of years ago I subbed a story to a highly competitive anthology.

When they announced the list and 99.1% of us were not on the list, a flaming sour grapes war erupted on their message board.

The editors were cool enough to break down the stats and discuss the process a bit. It went something like this:

2200 subs for 20 slots.

10% totally ignored the sub guidelines.

30% were not of publishing quality, even with extensive editing.

That left 60% or 1320 for 20 slots.

They cut that number in half by eliminating stories by editing priority. The more editing it needed, the farther down the stack it went. Then they cut it at the halfway mark.

Down to 660 for 20 slots.

Next, they sorted by duplicate tropes. The anthology had a definite theme, so naturally many had similar storylines. They did a cage match between competing stories and kept the ones they liked best.

This brought it down to about 400 for 20 slots. The field has been reduced by about 80% and is still unmanageable.

Next up they did sort of a jury-selection thing. Each member of the editorial team got a certain number of vetoes. They could eliminate a story that just did not appeal to them, even if another editor loved it like fire. At this point it was, "This one has a cat named Fred, my ex had a cat named Fred, reject."

300 for 20 slots.

After all this, 90+ percent were still going to be rejected. 280 stories that had passed several rounds of selection. From these 300 they chose stories for length, variety, and gut-feel for adherence to their vision to the theme.

The same cry went up, "Where's my feedback? Why do you hate me?"

2200 is probably a typical month for most agencies. And they don't have 20 slots a month.

I have no clue where I ended up in this continuum. It doesn't matter. I revised the story away from the proprietary theme and it was short-listed for another anthology, so I would like to think I made it to the final rounds.

Some days it is quality. Some days it is theme. Some days it is a cat named Fred.


Colin Smith said...

The above comments are exactly along the lines of what I've heard from agents for years. One other thing I want to mention is that, as I understand it, the agent's job isn't merely to love your work and sign you. Their job is to SELL your work to a publisher. An agent might love what you write, but for one reason or another have no idea how to market it. They may pass simply because they believe there's another agent out there with different contacts and experience that will be able to find a home for your novel. If that's why the agent is saying no, they're actually doing you a favor.

Just thought I'd add that. :)

Elissa M said...

Ditto all of the above. I especially like Terri Lynn Coop's detailed breakdown of editorial selection.

I would also like to add, writers tend to forget how often they themselves reject books, including popular, and/or award-winning books. Usually you only have to explain yourself if the book is a class assignment or a selection by your book club.

How many times have you said, "Yeah, I've heard of that book, but it's not my thing."

You can't buy every book in the store. Decisions have to be made.

DLM said...

Every word of Terri Lynn Coop's comment - I cannot comprehend how people imagine agents have time to provide feedback at the query level. On the occasions I've gotten it, I am GRATEFUL AS HELL for it, and always thank the agent, even when the feedback is a sure rejection. I've got feedback right now that is not a flat rejection and am quivering with joy about it. Because feedback is NOT standard.

You don't have to take all feedback. I ignored one key piece of feedback (thoughtful, detailed feedback) after a contest, because the specific they pointed to just felt completely wrong. It did, however, enlighten something else I could do, so I worked in that direction instead.

Feedback is valuable because it is not common - not a given. We are not entitled to it.

Elissa M.: "writers tend to forget how often they themselves reject books, including popular, and/or award-winning books." So true!! We are the worst with double-standards, expecting without any thought precisely what we'd never even consider providing.

Anonymous said...

If they don't like pistachio, they're not going to buy pistachio, no matter how amazing that brand of pistachio is.

If they do like pistachio, but none of their customers are buying it, or someone else has cornered the pistachio market, they're still not buying it.

It's not your job to force people to eat pistachio, or to force them to buy pistachio so that it can languish in their freezer for years.

Your job is to keep looking for people who like ice cream, love your ice cream, and can sell pistachio.

Janet Reid said...

Terri Lynn Coop for the win.

Kregger said...

I'm going to change the name of my cat. Cigarette was a poor name choice anyway.

Steve Stubbs said...

One thing you left out of your response is that phrases like this:

"I have a problem. A very irritating problem."

"But one thing that irritates me beyond belief ..."

"I despised this answer ..."

Are going to signal anybody that this person is a porcupine. Unless it is Norman Mailer returned from the dead this writer needs to edit those kinds of self-revelatory statements out of anything that gets sent to a New York super-agent like Janet Reid. But then you did tell the writer to suck it up, so that implicitly covers the above comment.

Anonymous said...

Querying is like speed dating. You might meet a dozen perfectly lovely people at a given event, but how many of them are going to be your perfect match, the one you fall madly in love with at first sight?

That's how agents pick the writers they sign. And that's why writers have to keep querying until they find their perfect match.

The Writer Librarian said...

"Some days it is a cat named Fred." Yes, Terri. Genius.

This reminds me when I tallied scores for a monologue contest among high school drama students.

There were three judges per round--and they all had very different approaches. Some wanted to be nice--these were high school kids, after all. The others weighed how the performances would stand in the "real world."

In addition, the scoring system was nebulous at best, and there were contest rules to adhere to.

The worst part: the best monologue performance was eliminated due to time constraints.

I broke when I heard the heart-felt encouragement from students outside the doors. To them, this was a huge deal--they had no idea how random and subjective it was.

Some days it is a cat named Fred. Other days, it's a score sheet and a stopwatch.