Friday, February 27, 2015

Query Question: responding to suggestions in a rejection letter

I received a few requests for my full manuscript about six months ago. One agent told me that she liked the story, but one specific part at the end seemed a bit unrealistic to the situation. I thanked her for her time, said I was sorry it couldn't work out, and went off to go weep in my keyboard. A couple of days went by, and I started to think about what she said a little more. I realized that the issue she had with the ending could have been fixed with a few added sentences of explanation, or something of the like. It really think I could have made it work. I kicked myself for not realizing it sooner, and even though I've moved on from that novel (it never worked out), I still keep thinking about it.

So my question to you is:

Would it have been out of line to email the agent back with my suggested fixes? Or is a rejection on a full manuscript considered the end of the line?

I tried to convince myself that if the agent thought the manuscript would work with a few changes she would have said something, but I can't help wondering just the same.

It's the end of the line. Absent the phrase "revise and resend" or "fix this and send it back" or "if you fix this, I'll take another look" the agent has said No, thanks. In other words, absent a specific request to get in touch after revisions, don't.

Often I can point to one or two things that will help a manuscript improve and I try to give that info to writers when I'm passing on their work.  The piece of information you're missing here though is this: that's not the only reason the ms is not right for me.  There are a lot of good manuscripts out there that aren't right for me. A pass from me (or any agent) doesn't mean anything except it's not right for them.

Expand your query search. It's really easy to focus on the agent who wrote back, but you need to look for other agents because the right one won't know about you till you query her. 


Lisa Bodenheim said...

I was confused in the first paragraph because the word 'rejection' wasn't used. Until later.

So, per Janet, the writer could fix the ending and send this ms out again but to other agents. There is something good about this MS because the agent pointed out what didn't work. It's a personalized rejection. Am I wrong in thinking that's a great step towards eventual publication?

Colin Smith said...

Gahhh... I see both sides on this one, though, I have to say, I sort of lean a bit more on the side of the writer here (sorry, Janet). It's very easy for us to see any suggestions to improve a ms as implicitly saying "I'll love it if you do x, y, and z" (that's zed, btw). It really would help cut down the chattering in the forest if agents would be clear and honest in their feedback to the woodland creatures. "I liked your writing, but in the end I didn't love it enough to feel I could give it the representation it deserves. If I might, let me make a couple of suggestions that I think will help you win over another agent..." Something like that. I can see an agent thinking "Wow, that's a bit presumptuous, that the writer would want MY feedback after I've just rejected him/her!" BUT hopefully the comments on this blog over the years have shown that most writers--MOST writers--love agent feedback. And the personalized rejection with helpful notes is like gold dust to us. Please, agents, if you mean "no never" then say "no never", even if you offer tips and advice. The rejection may be tough to swallow, but the helpful suggestions make it so much easier to digest, like the ham hock in Donna's lima beans. :)

Colin Smith said...

(Of course, as a vegetarian, I don't need no stinking ham hocks in my lima beans. I'll eat them boiled and unseasoned. MmmmMmmmm!)

Ardenwolfe said...

Yep. A no is a no. Don't bother with a thank you either. You move on.

Because the agent already has.

Colin Smith said...

Ardenwolf: For a query, I definitely agree. But with a full ms request, given that the agent has invested more than a few seconds on the writer's story, I don't think it's inappropriate for the writer to respond to a rejection with a "thank you for your time." But that's just me. :)

Ardenwolfe said...

Oh, my bad. I'm only talking about the query. ;)

Unknown said...

"Absent the invitation to revise and resend"... is the writer's cue to move it along. I'm not sure a "thank but what if I..." would be much appreciated in an inbox stuffed to the gills.

Make a clean, professional break. It's great that she received a few tips for the ms; use it to better your story. Now you get to return to querying with greater confidence.

Ardenwolfe said...

Agree with MB.

Unknown said...

I dreamed about rejections all night long last night and woke up depressed as all get out. Getting a rejection normally doesn't bother me terribly unless it's a full I'd been hopeful about for some reason.

However, my mantra is: Rejection is part of the journey. Dejection is a choice. So, it remains. All part of the journey.

Steve Weddle tweeted me this morning regarding rejection. Another lady had received a rejection and she was depressed. I told her to keep the faith. Steve responded: "A rejection means you've found a place that wasn't a good fit. Also, means you're a step closer to the right fit."

I think he's spot on.

I follow hashtags like #tenqueries sporadically and you see this subject come up now and again. "No means no. Pass."

Unless they invite you to resend or it's really, really and I mean totally been gutted and revised to the point it's almost unrecognizable, move on.

Next summer, I'm doing my bathroom wall in rejection letters printed off on tea-stained paper interspersed with pages from the manuscript so I'll have my fifty shades of nay room.

Karen McCoy said...

Yep, learned this one the hard way a few years ago. Here's hoping that agent speaks to me again when my new projects are submittable.

But if not, the advice to query widely is sound. And a reminder that mistakes can be opportunities instead of limiters.

Jenz said...

On a certain writing forum, I've seen people advise each other to email back and ask for an R&R. Sometimes the agents say okay. But I've never yet heard a story of someone trying this and actually getting the agent to accept the revisions.

I suspect that agents say okay for the same reasons they tell you to go ahead and send pages to them when you pitch them at a conference--it's not that they think it'll work, it's just much tougher to say no when you're put on the spot.

Craig F said...

I hate going back to the doom, despair and agony on me thing but this is the place. I am really sorry this writer was let down but it was the giving up attitude that hurts worse than the rejection. Hopefully you learned from it.

Have more confidence and when you have an agent in a conversation use it to ask questions. It almost sounds like you triggered the rejection by saying you were sorry it didn't work out.

You did make it all the way to having you full read several times and you trashed it? Your time and effort deserve more than that. Reread it in editor mode and work it out. Point it out to your betas and CPs and ask for suggestions.

It might be that the agent was having a bad day and you could have changed the outcome. Instead you caved. Maybe the agent stopped at the liquor store to find out that they had run out of her 18 year old Scotch and she had to buy 15YO. Maybe last night's rutabaga was a nightmare or your manuscript lost out by two lines over the one read yesterday.

Don't waste how far you have gotten with that manuscript and move on. If you can't quite figure it out set it aside for a month or two but keep at it.

Megan V said...

Julie, I may have to steal that mantra.

Christina Seine said...

Well, I see it like this: if a guy proposed to me saying, "Gee I like you a lot, and I suppose if you change this and that we might be able to work it out," I'd run for the hills. I say, hold out for someone who's passionately in love with your MS. If it's meant to be, it will happen.

Which is not to say, kick back in your tower like Rapunzel eating harmless beans all day - query far and wide. Just don't settle.

Christina Seine said...

Spell checked. That was ham-less, not harmless.

Colin Smith said...

Lest I be misunderstood and hauled off to the dreaded Pit for being contrary to the wisdom of the blog:

When it comes to the initial query (or query plus pages), if the agent says NO, then I say take that as a final NO unless they plainly state: "R&R" or something to that effect.

When it comes to requested partials or fulls, I think there should be more room for back-and-forth--again, unless the agent has said "Not Interested Ever." I'm not saying the writer should badger the agent, but I don't think it would be inappropriate to respond with a "thank you for your time" considering the agent has taken time out to read the submission. And if the agent offers some editorial advice, I think the writer is within his/her rights to ask the agent if s/he would be interested in seeing a revised version, if the agent hasn't made his/her feelings on that clear already.

But we certainly shouldn't try to convince the agent to turn a no into a yes. We're not beggars, and there are plenty more agents in the ocean. All I'm saying is it doesn't hurt to show gratitude (an agent might remember that, especially if they've just read a nastigram from a dissatisfied querier), and to learn as much from the rejection as the agent is willing to share.

That's all.

OK, I'll pack my bags. I hear the Great Pit of Carkoon is sunny this time of year...

LynnRodz said...

I, too, agree with Janet and MB and think the questioner should move along, query other agents, and stop playing the "what if" game. What if I had told her I could make those changes she suggested? What if I blew my chances because I didn't say I would? What if I write to her again...? As others have said, you've received full requests, that's already a big step. Take it as a positive, continue to query, and good luck.

Colin, I hope that's not how you eat your Brussels sprouts (boiled and unseasoned)! Here's a great simple recipe:

Preheat over to 200°C (400°F). Cut off the ends and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Place Brussels sprouts on a sheet pan, drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30 - 40 minutes (depending on the size of the sprouts) and that's it. After 15 - 20 minutes turn them over so they brown evenly. You want them to be brown and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Bon app├ętit!

Anonymous said...

My earlier comment got zapped somehow, and I've tried to resurrect what I originally said.

Here's what I've come to realize. Writer's face two heavy duty, heart wrenching layers of rejection.

What I mean is, you query, query, and query some more. One day, you get an agent. Holy all that is moly, wheeeee! HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE!


The ms goes on submission. You begin to think you're in that GROUNDHOG DAY movie. The ms is getting feedback from editors that sounds a lot like the feedback you had from agents.

>>>"I wanted to love this story, but...,"
>>>"Not for me, pass."
>>>"I hope you find the right editor for this story."

Etc. Etc.

I mean, talk about deja vu. What's the point of pointing all this out? You can literally take QOTKU'S advice on agent rejection and use it for editor rejection too. No R&R? Maybe some feedback? Gr8, but, move on.

Now, if the editor likes the writing, and says "I'd be very interested in seeing what else the writer is working on." THAT, IMO, is an invitation for your agent to send something else in the future.

This question and answer just struck me how much alike a rejection is from an agent as it is from an editor, and how the same advice/rules apply.

Colin! You're missing out on the BEST L B's (I dare not say the words) without HAM HOCKS for seasoning. Now that's mmmmm, mmmmm! (stop retching 2N's.)

Unknown said...

This has NOTHING to do with anything except that this is fast becoming a Food Blog.

Here's my 2cents: Never Boil Your Beets. Ever. Roast them. They become Earth's sweet gems of goodness if you do.

Colin Smith said...

LynnRodz: Brussels sprouts are good roasted (sounds like a tasty recipe), but I'll eat them raw, boiled, with butter--anyway except with meat. :)

Donna: Sorry, but I've been veggie more than half my life (more than 20 years), so the thought of ham hocks in lima beans does nothing for me. The opposite, actually. *shudders* That must be what 2Ns feels when we even talk about our beloved bean. :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

It's like we are all on The Bachelor wishing and hoping and praying we will be the chosen one. Is what we do, when no one is looking, good enough? It's beginning to turn me off because I'm thinking we will never satisfy the star of the program. It just seems demeaning. We are not beggars...oh yes we are, at least I feel like I am.
Listen to us, the depression, the tears, the crap we go through because we are turned down. I am so close to switching channels and yet, and yet, and yet, maybe, just maybe the next bachelor will be the one professing everlasting love.
I do. Magic words for the bride. What about us ?
We have to keep going I guess, keep showing up because if we don't we wither.
The Bachelor, I hate that show. Query ? Not hating it yet but almost.
BTW hammocks make almost anything palatable. ALMOST is the keyword.

S.D.King said...

The whole process strikes me like a steep climb up a muddy slope. Just when it feels like you are getting some traction (request for full), another rejection comes in and you slide face first back to where you started.
Today cleaning the basement seems like a more productive activity than aspiring to publication.
And to come full circle, I only started writing 2 summers ago to avoid cleaning my basement.
But "dejection is a choice". Thanks, Julie.

Colin Smith said...

OK, friends. Before everyone descends into the Pits of Despair, let's do a little publishing refresher.

The analogy between getting an agent and dating/The Bachelor breaks down and here's why. The end result of the romantic relationship is to entice that person to be with you long term. The purpose of getting an agent is NOT to get an agent. The agent is an important part of the process, but s/he is NOT the goal.

If Janet were to sign us all up tomorrow, and our names became enshrined on the list of The Fabulosity on the side there, how many of our novels do you think she could sell? Maybe a couple?


1) She won't love all our novels equally, which makes it hard for her to sell them.

2) She won't love all our genres equally, which makes it hard for her to sell our books in those genres.

3) She has a fine roster of writers with contracts who are earning money for themselves (and her) and who deserve her attention. Because she knows she can sell their books.

4) If, a year or two down the line, Janet is still our agent but we are no closer to being published, what was the point of getting an agent? Wouldn't it have been better to spend those years hunting down an agent who loves that novel and has a track record of selling that genre? An agent who can give a clear strategy for who s/he will call and which editors s/he is confident will be interested? Wouldn't that get us closer to the REAL goal here: getting published?

Just because an agent rejects your novel, it doesn't mean s/he doesn't love you. Indeed, maybe the kindest thing they'll do is say NO.

There is nothing new in what I've just said. You all know this. But I felt as if we needed a reminder. :)


Laura said...

I'm with Julie's Steve. Rejection is just a step. The trick is to not take it personally.

To paraphrase Meghan Trainor (and it helps if you sing it to "All About That Bass":)

My ms won't be no romcom erotica dinosaur.
So if that's what you're into, just go ahead and move along...

(Of course it should be "dinosaur erotica," but that didn't scan as well.)

Take it back outta the drawer, revise to make it better, not because you'll send it back to that agent, but because you'll query new ones. If rejection tells you it needs more work, awesome; if it prevents you from sending the revised manuscript out again, that's tragic.

Eileen said...

I’ve been in this situation several times with two different manuscripts. Fulls are rejected with positive feedback and suggestions for improvement. Sometimes there’s (a) an invitation to resub after revisions, (b) an offer to look at future work, or (c) a sincere wish for good luck in finding representation elsewhere. I only resubmit after (a). For (b), I thank Agent Awesome for her time/suggestions and tell her that I look forward to querying my next project when it’s ready. For (c), I thank Agent Awesome for her time/suggestions and I close by saying I hope our paths will cross again someday on a future project. The point is to keep it professional and leave the door open for the future.
Finally, to weigh in on the Great Lima Bean Debate. You can all keep your lima beans, beets, Brussel sprouts, and evil stinky turnips. Cauliflower for the win!

Colin Smith said...

Eileen: MMMmmmm!!! I love cauliflower. I could just go for a plate of lima beans, beets, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens, and cauliflower. Boiled, roasted, however you want. :D

Anonymous said...

MB Owen has a point about roasting beets. That makes'em "slap yo mama" good.

Actually I've come to the conclusion roasting makes anything good, just like ham hocks makes any vegetable better.

Oh. And brown sugar.

Hey, Ms. Janet talks about paint colors..., that means we can talk about food right?

Christina Seine said...

I would eat all of those, as long as they were covered in Hollondaise sauce.

Lizzie said...

I thought I was ready for rejection when I started querying five months ago. Form responses rolled off my back, and I was proud that the process hadn't gotten to me, as it had so many others. I was all doors and windows, no means yes somewhere else, this is a breeze. But then the partial requests came in, and the fulls. The stakes felt impossibly high when I remembered where I began, twenty-something me with a whim to write chick-lit. Chick-lit? So I tried not to think about it. I obsessed over Twitter and reassured myself when agents tweeted pitfalls I didn't enter. "No More Unicorn Samurais with Cancers" #checkmywishlist, or the very Breaking Bad pleas for us to remember their names. #I'mNotDearAgent. It's no surprise that I got a personalized rejection on a full. But what I didn't know, what nobody had told me in this rush to stay positive, was that the compliments, the glimmers of someone almost on board with my writing, would be the hardest part to swallow.

Unknown said...

Bill - poignantly said.

Colin Smith said...

Bill: I know what you mean. "I like your writing, but..." "You're clearly a good writer, but..." "This was an interesting premise, and you write well, but..."

If you liked my writing, why aren't you asking for more? Or why don't you sign me up?

Because it's not enough. Imagine you offered to represent every writer whose writing you liked. Or compare the number of books you enjoyed to the number of books you loved so much you told everyone, and maybe even bought extra copies of to give to friends? The agent is looking for the latter, not to be picky, but because those are the books they will be able to sell.

But we know all that. And knowing it doesn't make it easier, but hopefully it gives us the strength to press on. :)

Unknown said...


That mantra is meant to be shared far and wide. I want writers to cling to hope the right agent is out there for them not just an agent. Don't you dare give up.


Megan V said...


Then it shall be shared.:) And don't worry about me. I wouldn't give up even if it meant getting dragged through the desert while seated on a typewriter. What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment.

Aren't we all?

Karen McCoy said...

Great sermon, Colin. It also reminds me of something that I heard recently--that as writers, we are vessels for words, like musicians are vessels for music.

The music is not always synonymous with the musician, as the words are not always synonymous with the writer.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Just got home and reread my comment, "hammocks" hahahaha I meant ham hocks. Although hammocks sound good too.

DLM said...

Yesterday, the light in my living room was unlike I've ever seen it. It was a snow day, and the sky was clearing, and the sun came out in that peculiarly platinum-colored glare it does over a world gone highly reflective white. I saw the paint color in a way it has never appeared, and it was an almost creative experience - the pleasure we as writers can take in seeing something a new way. Literal new light.

I chose that paint color with a lifetime's taste, expectations, some wisdom, and a lot of creative hope. I'd lived in this house and had strong ideas about what would work and what I wanted to see. Yesterday, it told me (as it always has) I made the right choice.

When you are a professional in the business of choosing creativity itself for a catalog of product you can believe in and SELL - as well as you can - it takes that combination of experience, expectation, and creativity.

I'm nothing like any of the rest of you as an author. None of you is like the rest of us. Each of us has demonstrated here - we're not merely good with words, we're good storytellers. But how many of us does Janet rep? Janet, who clearly appreciates our ways with words - she says it, with highly specific examples, over and over again, and not even only in the WIR posts. She sees and supports every one of us.

But she's not the right agent for MOST of us.

I can't wait to find out who the right agent is for me. I've had theories, some of them haven't borne out; some may still come to something. We'll just have to see. Like when the sun comes out after the snow.

DLM said...

And LLAP, everyone.

Anonymous said...

Well. Shut the f-----ront door.

I somehow read hammocks as ham hocks and harmless as ham-less anyway. Although that harmless did make me laugh.

It's all good. My eyes bumped right over those and somehow inserted the right word. :)

Amy Schaefer said...

I apologise if this has been said - by the time I get on the computer in the morning, there are always 30+ comments. I skim, but this is rapidly becoming a tl;dr situation for me.

I think it is important to note that there is a big difference between getting useful feedback as part of a rejection on a partial/full and an invitation to R&R. On the face of it they look similar, but we are talking about very different animals.

When an agent gives useful feedback, she is pointing out a few concrete issues she has with your manuscript. But - and this is key - she is not giving you a full and exhaustive list of what is wrong. You might happily go away and fix the issues she mentioned, but it is more than likely that there are ten more that she didn't bring up. Feedback helps to point you in the right direction (from that agent's POV). It is not a detailed road map to perfecting your manuscript. A helpful rejection is still a rejection - accept it gracefully and move on.

An R&R, on the other hand, suggests that the agent connected with your work and is willing to try again if you can deal with certain finite issues. It suggests you have fewer problems to fix (again, from that agent's POV). I would assume that, in this case, the agent will share all of her problems with the manuscript.

But the same old advice applies: read, revise, think carefully, query widely. Go out there and find the love.

Anonymous said...

Diane, I was plopping my late (and rather lame) comment out here as you were typing up this eloquent comparison of a light filled room with new eyes b/c of the snow, and following that makes me cringe.

Well said!

*I still love "shut the f---ront door, though! :)

DLM said...

Donnawith2Ns, thank you. :) But I've read you, and all I can say is, "Girl, please."


Sam Hawke said...

The thing I've learnt in all my query research and first hand experience is to take agents at face value, not to try to read in meanings or speculate as to motive. While there may be exceptions, agents are generally pretty clear; they say what they mean and they mean what they say. If they want you to revise and resend, they'll say so. If they don't, they won't. If they say not for me, they mean it. And on the flip side - if they say they like you and invite you to submit to them again, they mean that too.

Now a form response, all you can take from it is 'no', and there's no benefit in second guessing or speculating further. There's no meaning to be gleaned.

Sounds like you're doing well to get requests, and you've gotten some valuable feedback that may help turn a future request into an offer. All the best and good luck!

Kalli said...

I responded to an agent who rejected my full - she was the first agent I'd ever sent anything to and I had no idea what I was doing. She had given me some really nice comments about my writing, saying she thought it was engaging and the story was enjoyable, but ultimately she didn't know how to sell it to the UK HF market because it wasn't 'high concept' enough. I replied to ask her what she meant, and when she explained, I pitched some rewrite ideas to her. She said she thought it sounded great and she'd take a look at the rewrite when it was ready. I never did contact her again, because my rewrite got agented before it was even finished. But I will always be grateful to that agent who took the time to explain her feedback and encourage me to be more ambitious. If she hadn't, I'd never have embarked on that rewrite.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is... sometimes newbie mistakes can lead you to wonderful places. And I never regret messing up half as much as I regret missing an opportunity.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Using the Stephen King submission/rejection (and this is a rejection) hierarchy (slightly paraphrased:)

1. Unsigned mimeo reject,
2. Signed mimeo reject,
3. Mimeo reject with coffee stains (indicating agent/editor let it sit on desk for a while before sending,)
4. Mimeo reject with a note,
5. Personalized rejection with notes,
6. Personalized rejection with specifics to revise and resend,
7. Acceptance.

That one was a Step 5. Still a rejection, but with a note. You caught their attention, but didn't land it for whatever of a million reasons.

I got a bunch of Step 5s in my journey and most were pretty specific (such as, "it went too far into romantic suspense territory for my editorial contacts.") It was heartening, but, yes, still a clear reject.

However, a Step 5 should be kept as first list sends for a new project (should this one not receive representation) because they liked your style enough to write a note. If it wasn't email, you might have even seen a few coffee stains.


Gingermollymarilyn said...

Thanks, everyone, for your input. For sharing your experiences and providing hope and inspiration. Such a comfortable place to come to for support. DLM, particularly loved your post. Onward and upward, we query on!